Top Five Pieces of Gear for an Individual First Aid Kit

Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Mark Kakkuri, a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, 2nd Amendment issues and the outdoors. His writing and photography have appeared in many firearms-related publications, including the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @markkakkuri.

Read Mark’s previous articles in this “Top Five” series:

Top Five Pieces of Gear for an Individual First Aid KitThe notion of having an individual first-aid kit (IFAK) on your person or at least quickly available to you has been gaining momentum. And we’re not talking about the first-aid kits you buy at the local drugstore for treating minor cuts, blisters or bee stings. There’s a place for those kits, yes. But, nowadays, there’s a need for a kit that will allow you to deal with a far more serious injury involving major bleeding — true life-or-death situations where the type of gear matters and every second counts.

IFAKs run the gamut of options and pricing and you’ll see a review of some of my favorite kits later. For now, here are my top five pieces of gear for an IFAK. As always, seek the advice and input of medical, law enforcement and legal professionals in your area when deciding what kit to carry and how to use it in an emergency situation.

1. Personal Protective Equipment

Nitrile latex gloves top the list of equipment you should use to protect yourself when providing virtually any kind of medical treatment. Easy to carry and inexpensive to replace, latex gloves should be on your person, in your kit, in your vehicle – virtually everywhere. You can double up on gloves when needed and even wear them under winter gloves or leather gloves.

In addition, adding protective eyewear is smart too, not just for protecting your eyes against foreign objects but also against bodily fluids. Make sure the glasses are safety-rated and provide protection not only from the front but also the sides. Finally, add some packets of antiseptic wipes and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

2. Trauma Shears

Dealing with more serious bodily injuries might require cutting away clothing in order to better access and treat a wound. While you can use a knife to do this, it is far safer and more effective to use trauma shears. These are specially designed scissors made not only to accommodate a user’s gloved hand but also to facilitate cutting through virtually any type of clothing. Plus, the bottom shear is usually flattened at the tip to more easily get under a clothing layer while protecting the patient from being hurt by the scissors.

Trauma shears are relatively inexpensive tools often costing less than $10 a pair, although higher-end models are much more – and could not only be in the IFAK but also in a vehicle glove box or kitchen drawer simply as useful household tools.

3. Wound Dressing and Closure

Basic first aid requires attention to the ABCs – airway, breathing and circulation. There’s a reason for that order and typical first-aid classes will reveal why first responders treat their patients accordingly. But the kit we’re discussing here is mainly focused on the C – circulation.

Assuming a patient has an open airway and is breathing, we then attend to any major bleeding. This is the kind of bleeding that is beyond mere Band-Aids. It requires a dressing, a multi-layered pack of sterile gauze or other type of pad you press on to a wound and apply pressure to. Depending on a variety of factors, if the bleeding stops, you might then need to wrap the dressing to the wound, so some type of closure system is helpful at this point.

4. Blood Clotter and Tourniquet

For wounds with bleeding beyond the treatment capability of just a dressing, it might be necessary to use a blood-clotting or hemostatic agent, such as Celox, to slow or stop the bleeding. Such agents are comprised of small granules that are poured from a small package directly into a wound or are impregnated into gauze to reduce the risk of over-application. The granules turn into a blood-clotting gel that can be easily removed when the patient finally gets more advanced care at a medical facility.

Medical protocol might also call for the use of tourniquet, basically, a means of applying a constricting force around the major artery supplying blood above the wound area, again as a means of restricting blood flow and loss. Tourniquets have come a long way in recent years as has post-tourniquet trauma care, and they’re a far more reasonable option for stopping bad bleeds than they were even 20 years ago.

5. Space Blanket

Treating a life-threatening wound usually means a patient will have to remain immobile for at least several minutes and, depending on the circumstances or environment, could result in hypothermia or hyperthermia. As such, a space blanket can be eminently useful.

To keep a patient warm in a cold environment, you can use the space blanket to wrap them up, but be careful to maintain the ability to check vital signs and not aggravate the injury or their condition. To keep a patient cooler in a hot environment, you can use the space blanket to create shade.


Remember, an individual first-aid kit should be able to help treat a life-threatening wound between the time it occurs and the arrival of advanced medical personnel or transport in an ambulance to a medical facility. It is thus meant to be a quick-deploying but short-term solution. As such, how your IFAK gear gets transported deserves just a bit of consideration too.

Most off-the-shelf kits will include a small bag or pouch in which to carry all the gear. Usually these attach to a belt or pack and include a quick access pocket or pull-away strap to quickly lay out the gear and allow care to begin immediately. Whatever IFAK you end up with, familiarize yourself with the location and deployment of all the contents; check to make sure all gear is in working order, not expired, etc.; and, if not on your person, keep it in the same spot at all times.

Finally, keep in mind the need for a holistic solution when helping someone with a life-threatening injury. Don’t become a second patient; do what you can to ensure your safety. Make sure you communicate with emergency personnel so more advanced medical care can at least be on the way while you provide immediate care. Above all, get basic and advanced medical training so that you can effectively care for someone in a medical emergency in the first place.

What other items would you include in an IFAK?

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  • richard carabillo February 23, 2018, 7:56 pm

    Very informative for some one like me who is trying to put together two IFAK for the first time. I’ve taken some training classes and the IFAK is the next step toward being prepared.

  • Butch February 23, 2018, 6:33 pm

    I like the information and all the comments they all give you great information and a good place to start on learning and how to build a kit. The thing that worries me is how quickly our society is to sue and or blame any and everyone but themselves. Yes if your helping a loved one or friends but what if it is someone you don’t known or just a person hit by a drive by shooting for example , you want to help but should you ? What happens if something goes bad or the person dies , now someone tries to blame you for who knows . Sometimes the best thing to do may be do nothing just call for help . Due to this some training must be the place to start and include it as a regular number of your kit. I myself would try and do anything I could partly because of being ex military and partly because of the same reasons I joined the Air Force in the first place ,because sometimes someone just needs too . But what happens if you do wrong ? I thing today each person needs to take this into account .

  • Ryan February 23, 2018, 1:13 pm

    Sorry, but the experts basically disagree with most of this. Tourniquet, pressure bandages, and training are top priority. Lists expand from there depending on types of injuries you want to prevent.

  • Realspark21 February 23, 2018, 8:51 am

    I would add training, chest seals (these can be found very reasonably) pressure dressing (Israeli style is an example), and some tampons with plastic applicators in the two largest sizes. Tampons can be very effective on an entry wound for a quick plug or in use with a pressure dressing. Additionally, for those willing to learn: a decompression needle…look it up.

    Great starter article…

  • Mike February 23, 2018, 6:52 am

    What you suppose that rock climber guy who had to cut off his trapped arm keeps in his trauma kit?

  • Michael Lindley, M.D. February 23, 2018, 3:49 am

    Great write-up. I keep a personal trauma kit on me at all times when in the field. I also have duplicate dedicated medical kits in a waterproof/floating Pelican case that gets placed in both the boat and in the truck at all times. I would add a combat style tourniquet to your kit above. They can be had for $10 to $15 now. Also, there have been some updates to the life support algorithms. The order is now; C.A.B. Circulation, Airway, Breathing.

  • Dale February 21, 2018, 11:02 am

    Good opening and timely but some details:
    1) Add stress on TRAINING and regular practice, just having the gear doesn’t help (much), someone else might know how to use it. You can do more good with training and no gear than you can with gear and no training.
    2) Yes, PPE is #1, but “… Nitrile latex gloves top the list….”! Glovers are either Nitrile or they are Latex, but I’ve never seen or heard of any that are both. Latex has been de-stressed for some years now (a few folks have serious allergic reaction to Latex.) Nitrile is the evidence-based answer these days.
    3) Yea, modern tourniquets are much better but more importantly, the trauma medicine community now understands that they really do work in survivable cases where you can’t stop bleeding w/ pressure, packing, or clotting agents.
    In addition to an IFAK, I’m a big fan of a small, heavy duty “zip lock” bag in my pants pocket w/ a pair of Nitrile gloves and a couple of bandaids – used much more often then the more serious gear in my IFAK.

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