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:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target.
- Always be sure of your target (and I will add, what is beyond your target, too).
It’s simple, really: follow the rules.
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
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)
- Trauma Shears
- Survival Blanket (AKA Space Blanket)
- Diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl)
If you’re trained in their use, include:
- Decompression needle
- Chest seal
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
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.
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.