Build Your Own First Aid Kit – IFAK

Last updated on October 9th, 2023

Before you decide to build your own first aid kit, you should start by answering a few questions and go from there. Choosing the items you decide to add to your first aid kit is very subjective and personalized. Much like a bug-out bag, what items you add to your kit, may be meaningless to others. This article will address the train of thought you need to build your own perfect FAK and make a few recommendations and suggestions for items to add to your kit.

Questions to Answer Before Building Your Own First Aid Kit

  1. What Emergency are you preparing for?
  2. Where will you store your kit?
  3. How long will it take to get professional medical help?

What Emergency are you preparing for?

Tourniquet being applied to severe leg wound.

We are all exposed to potentially hazardous conditions every day of our lives. However, the hazards that we are exposed to may be unique. For example, a person who hikes in the mountains is exposed to dangers that a city dweller may never experience, however, the urban resident is also exposed to dangers the hiker may not need to consider. While falling off the side of the mountain or being attacked by a wild animal is something a hiker may need to consider, the person who lives in the city needs to worry about vehicle accidents and violent attacks from two-legged predators. At the same time, a person who works in a factory is exposed to hazards that an office worker might not even consider.

For this reason, before building your own first aid kit, we must identify the hazards you are exposed to. It would also make sense to prioritize those hazards. A plane falling out of the sky is a hazard but is incredibly unlikely. A person who will never touched a firearm is less likely to experience a gunshot wound than someone who works at a gun range. Start by paying attention to the world around you and taking note of injuries people just like you have experienced.

Where will you store your kit?

Many of us have kits in our house. I often refer to these types of home first aid kits as “boo-boo kits”. They often include bandages and antiseptic for everyday cuts and scrapes. These boo-boo kits are often about half the size of a shoe box or larger. If you are storing the kit on a shelf in your home, size doesn’t matter much. However, you may be surprised to learn that many thousands of people wear their kits on their person as part of what we call “Every Day Carry” (EDC). In many situations, these kits are often worn around one’s ankle.

An Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) is usually smaller than the kit you keep at your home or in the trunk of your vehicle. For that reason, size and weight matter and one would only keep the direst of necessities. Whereas the larger kits may include less emergent gear like the bandages and antiseptic.

Another thing to consider when deciding where you will keep your first aid kit is the temperature of the storage location. Storing a first aid kit in the trunk of your vehicle will be hot in the summer and cold in the winter. These temperature changes may affect the life of the items inside, specifically adhesives. Yes, many of the items which you may include in your kit do expire. Chest seals are known to prematurely fail when stored long-term in a hot vehicle.

How long will it take to get professional medical help?

I want you to consider how long it will take to get professional help, whether that help is coming to you or you are evacuating to an emergency room. Either way, how long will it take you to get the professional help that you need?

According to a CBS News article in 2019, the average response time for Chicago emergency medical personnel to arrive is approximately 7 minutes. The state standard is 6 minutes. I’ve had to call 911 twice for medical purposes, once in Niles, IL, and another in Glenview, IL and though I didn’t time either call, I can tell you they were roughly around the state standard. Can we agree that a tremendous amount of bad can happen in 7 minutes?

7 minutes may seem like a dream to the hiker with a compound leg fracture in the center of Pere Marquette State Park or someone living in rural America. Pere Marquette State Park exceeds 8,000 acres. Hypothermia may even be a consideration if one isn’t within walking distance from a warm shelter. The response time could be hours and most likely the victim will need to self-rescue. These are things that must be considered when building your own first aid kit.

Items for Your First Aid Kit

Let’s talk about a few different types of first aid kits and some of the items you may want to include in these kits. I’ll also talk about a few of my first aid kits and the items in those kits. From the gunshot wound kit to the range kit, and of course, the boo-boo kit.

The Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) is often an ankle-worn kit and part of one’s everyday carry. Most of the pre-packaged IFAKs include a tourniquet (TQ), medical scissors, clotting gauze, chest seal(s), and pressure bandage. Some people may even include nitrile gloves in their IFAKs.

Even if you carry a pocket knife every day, it is still recommended that you include medical scissors as part of your kit. Under stress, it would be very easy to fillet yourself or your patient with a pocket knife while trying to remove their clothing. Medical scissors are rounded to prevent you from cutting flesh.

Individual First Aid Kit shown by Mountain Man Medical
IFAK by Mountain Man Medical

Tac Med Pro First Aid Kit by NAR
NAR Tac Med Pro Kit.

The Range Kit or Gun Shot Wound (GSW) kit is a step up from the IFAK. It’s often slightly larger because one can simply include the GSW kit as part of their range bag. the range kit will often include everything the IFAK includes but may also include multiple of the same items, larger “Israeli” style pressure bandages, or larger chest seals. The range kit should also include a black marker for marking your TQ. Actually, your IFAK should include the marker, but space is sometimes an issue with an IFAK.

I have a range kit which is a step up from my GSW kit. The range kit includes the GSW items and this kit accompanies me to our Defensive Pistol classes where we are performing dynamic shooting drills. However, there are some items in the range kit that years of firearm training experience have convinced me are necessary. Those range necessities are toilet paper, sanitary wipes, bug spray, sunscreen, sunburn lotion, burn cream (brass burn… ouch!), pain meds (ibuprofen), and the boo-boo kit. I keep these items in a very large, very red, and very visible backpack for all to see.

A Hiker’s kit would likely include a splint and a mylar blanket, in addition to the IFAK. It also couldn’t hurt to include survival items like a fire starter and a signaling mirror in a hiking kit. Pounds equal pain when it comes to hiking, so you’ll want to spend some time thinking about what you may really need.

My home boo-boo kit was bought off the shelf at a big-box retailer and is marketed towards contractors for use in their vehicles or on job sites. These kits often are designed around requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and include the bare boo-boo essentials. My wife, a licensed nurse practitioner and medical professional with over 18 years of experience added a few items to our home boo-boo kit. This kit includes various sizes of gauze dressing and bandages, various size band-aids, anti-itch cream, medical tape, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, and antiseptic wipes.

Typical "boo-boo" First Aid Kit by American Red Cross.
American Red Cross Home/Office First Aid Kit

Larger kits, such as a range kit, or a home or office kit, have room for more objects. CPR masks or maybe CPR face shields provide a sanitary barrier between you and the affected person when giving breaths. This is something you may want to consider. Also, simple medications like chewable aspirin could save someone who is having a heart attack. However, it is important to know the laws of administering medications in the locations where you are.

Michael Jordan, You Aint.

I own a basketball, but I can’t dunk and can barely hit free throws. I am not Michael Jordan. I own a baseball bat, however, I miss more than I hit. Nobody would ever call me Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, or Willie Mayes. There is a point to this sports analogy.

An image of a backetball.

What makes the great sports figures so great? The reality is training and practice are what make them great. Owning the tools to stop bleeding or save a life is very important, but is only half the equation. Knowing how to use those tools is of the utmost importance. What good is a TQ or pressure bandage if you don’t know how to properly apply them?

Start with basic CPR and First Aid training and then progress into a Stop the Bleed or TCCC type training.

You may buy your first aid kit kit or build your own. Building your own kit ensures you have the exact items you need. Now that we know how to build our own first aid kit, it’s time to get training. If you can’t get training with Alpha Koncepts, there are many online and in-person courses available to learn CPR and basic or advanced first aid. Find a medical training class that fits your schedule and get started today!

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