How-To: Building an IFAK

Dark Angel Medical IFAK

If there ever was a wildly underutilized and misunderstood piece of gear in the gun world it’s probably the IFAK (or what’s in it). An IFAK – Individual First Aid Kit – is the name given to a small pack of vital medical gear that you carry with you, typically on your body. IFAKs are smaller than the full-on medical bags some of us throw in our trucks and contain the items you are most likely to need in case of a life-threatening emergency. Those pieces of gear can be packed into tiny carrying pouches that fit on your belt or around your ankle. So, why don’t more gun owners carry an IFAK – or at least a tourniquet? Good question. Read on for our suggestions for what to put in your IFAK or where to get a solid complete kit from a company.

But First, Safety

Before we wander off into the weeds about IFAKs and proper first aid training, remember the best way to stop gun-related injuries is to follow the four golden rules of gun safety. Those rules according to Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target.
  4. Always be sure of your target (and I will add, what is beyond your target, too).

It’s simple, really: follow the rules.

Why

Yes, you really do need an IFAK. At the very least you should be carrying a tourniquet (TQ). Statistically you are far more likely to need a TQ than you are to ever need that handgun you carry on a daily basis. TQs are useful for responding to that rollover car accident you witness through your windshield, handling a horrific injury during a hike, and, of course they’re ridiculously important for gunshot wounds. If you are going to carry a tool designed to start the bleed you should also be armed with a tool made to stop the bleed.

Basic IFAK Breakdown

Dark Angel Medical EDC IFAK

Since what we’re going for is a relatively basic IFAK consider this list a starting point, not a stopping point. And if it seems like a lot just start small. Where? Get the TQ first.

  • Tourniquet (SOFTT-W or CATT)
  • Rolled gauze
  • Nitrile gloves
  • SAM Splint
  • Hemostatic gauze (QuikClot BCD)
  • Silk tape (3M Durapore 1-inch-by-10-yards)
  • Tape (3M Micropore Paper Tape)
  • Band-Aids
  • Tweezers
  • Trauma Shears
  • Survival Blanket (AKA Space Blanket)
  • Diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl)
  • Aspirin

If you’re trained in their use, include:

  • Decompression needle
  • Chest seal

Tourniquet Details

SOFFT-W tourniquet (Photo courtesy Dark Angel Medical)

Not all tourniquets are created equal. Just because a product has the word “tourniquet” in its name doesn’t mean it’s a good choice as a life-saving tool. It’s also worth noting your belt is not a TQ. Neither are your shoelaces, paracord, or whatever other cord-like material is around. That’s not to say they cannot or should not be used as last-resort materials but simply to say those items are not appropriate or truly effective TQs and must not be treated as such. There’s nothing wrong with improvising when there are multiple injuries or victims to treat in a short timeframe but there is something wrong with failing to be prepared. Get yourself a proper TQ.

There are quite a few options out there when it comes to tourniquets. The top two are the SOFTT-W – “W” for Wide – and CATT. The SOFTT is also a good choice, it just lacks the wider strap of the SOFTT-W. Additional features of the SOFTT-W – ones you should be looking for on any tourniquet – include a 1.5-inch wide constricting band and rugged windlass machined from aluminum bar stock. When you’re treating someone who’s bleeding out, rapid constriction is of the utmost importance and so is a tough windlass that’s simple and straightforward to use.

Other considerations: a second tourniquet can be placed overlapping the first for further constriction. In addition, a R.A.T.S. tourniquet is useful for children and hunting dogs, so consider including one in your pack.

ID’ing a Wound

(Photo credit: First Aid for Free)

Wound identification can be tough especially if you don’t have the training or experience to go with it. This is why training matters. If you end up in an emergency you have to do your best based on whatever training you’ve done. Of course, that means actually taking the initiative to get good first-aid training. In short, a life-threatening arterial wound pulses and spurts. In addition, the blood has a bright red, oxygen-rich color. Because veins return blood to the heart the blood from a venous bleed will be darker red and produce a steady flow without the tell-tale spurting of an artery. That doesn’t mean a venous injury can’t be deadly. Think of it this way: arteries pump and veins dump.

Bottom Line

Galco Gunleather Ankle Trauma Medical Kit

This list is meant to get you started. It’s not a comprehensive first aid supply list for the medical kit I hope you’ve got stashed in your truck. And much like owning a gun, having an IFAK doesn’t mean you can handle an injury. Get some training. I highly recommend Kerry Davis’ classes he teaches through his company, Dark Angel Medical. His gear is quality as well.

It does take effort to carry an IFAK but you learned to carry your handgun on a daily basis, right? Can’t you get used to carrying something you’re more likely to use? Galco Gunleather has an Ankle Trauma Medical Kit – ATM Kit – available designed for ambidextrous use. The ATM-Kit is made from neoprene, fits ankles up to 16-inches in circumference, and holds everything from a TQ to QuikClot to trauma shears. Dark Angel Medical has several options as well. There’s no excuse not to have a properly-stocked IFAK with you.

Get to work. If you can start a bleed you should be able to stop one.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Paul Lech June 7, 2020, 11:01 am

    People, The name of this is IFAK, Individual First Aid Kit. I don’t think I’m going to preform a trach on my self (or anyone due to legal ramification. FYI trachs are not covered under good samariton law!) And if a hole is big enough for a tampon then I don’t tink I’m going to be able to apply one. Maxxy pad work well for small truma dressing.
    As far as the ETOH. I do not know of any ranges or GOOD instructor that would let any ETOH on the range. GUNS & ALCOHOL DON’T MIX. Not to mention the open containor laws in most states.
    Also if you put any drug ( asprin or any other) in a kit ment to be used on you that your are allergic to, you should not be allowed to carry a gun.
    Asfar as taking an EMT course. Hear in Pa. it is over 580 hour & $700 not to mention 24 credit every 3 year to keep it up. Most people do not have enogh time or money to train with a firearm let only take a course like that.
    I am former EMT (28year) & a firearms instructor (20 years)

  • NormB June 3, 2020, 10:09 am

    As a physician, family practice with some ER experience, retired Army, former medic, combat casualty care course (ATLS) trained… I added a couple of tampons and one thing available only to licensed doctors: ketamine and a couple of tuberculin syringes.

    Experience in the field (and in short stint in an anesthesiology residency) has shown me how quickly and well this agent works for controlling pain without affecting airway gag reflexes or respiration. In sub-anesthetic doses (less than 1/2mg per kg) you have an awake, aware, and mostly pain-free patient ready for transport.

    I keep two such IFAK-based blow-out bags for range exercises (I’m also an NRA-certified instructor in pistol, rifle, shotgun) “just in case.”

  • Bruce Raymond June 1, 2020, 4:51 am

    Forgot … you’ll also want a couple of sharp blades with you. One with a small fine point that can be used to male a trach (ADVANCED Paramedic technique or chest tube opening. The second – 6 ” or so blade to make splints & in emergencies, shelters. (a sharpener should also be carried. And one last thing …. sewing thread (nylon for strength) and some different size & shaped needles. Fire/Alcohol for disinfectant.

    Yes I realize we’re nearing the wt limit of “portable” but trust me … you’ll want all this stuff !!!

  • Bruce Raymond June 1, 2020, 4:11 am

    Being an ex-paramedic & E.R. R.N. I’d add 2 things – tylenol, (for those with ASA (aspirin) allergy) & 2. some sort of ETOH (the drinking kind – 2 reasons, 1. makes a good disinfectant & 2. can be a pain killer. ….. your choice on brand & flavor.

    Another things is some vaseline gauge for any sucking chest wound. (Take an EMT training class ASAP !) – add clear plastic wrap to the kit as well.

    I might also include some tampons – they do great at keeping blood IN the body, not such a great job of stopping the bleeding. But blood works better inside than it does outside the body.

    These are just a couple of my personal opinions. Others will vary. ( But if you don’t share info, what is going to make you think & maybe come up with a good idea ???)

    Stay safe !

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