DIY Your First Aid Kit (And Learn to Use It, Too!)

Fractures, bruises, muscle strain, and dislocations, these are just a few of the most common injuries Americans end up in emergency rooms for and the numbers of visits are not small at all.

Lots of articles will give you the basics of a first aid kit (FAK for short) or for an individual FAK (IFAK for short). None of them will go that extra mile and tell you what each item is for AND how to use it.

As you can probably imagine, in a medical emergency, you won’t have that much time to Google. And if it’s a SHTF event, you may not have Google. At all.

Keep in mind that I’m just a prepper. I’m NOT a doctor and thus, my advice being is intended for information purposes only. Let’s start with the things to keep in mind when you assemble your DIY first aid kit. By the way, did I mention that it’s actually cheaper  to make your own kit than to buy those pre-packed ones?

Where Should You Store First Aid Kits (FAKs)?

Ideally, you’ll want more than one kit. You’re gonna need them in places such as:

  • in your bug-out bag
  • inside your safe room
  • as part of your everyday carry kit (EDC)
  • at your workplace
  • in your bunker
  • at your bug-out location
  • and, of course, in your car

Instead of just buying multiple first aid kits that are all the same and storing one in each location, customize your first aid kits according to where they are stored and how they will be used.

A first aid kit in your safe room for example, will have different items than a first aid kit in your bunker, or your car. If you are in your safe room, chances are there is an intruder of some kind in your home or attempting to get into your home.

A conflict with an intruder could mean someone is attacked and injured, possibly shot or stabbed. You’ll want to have supplies in the safe room to treat those kinds of injuries.

For the first aid kit in your car, think about not only minor issues you need to treat when you’re away from home, say at a child’s soccer game, but also major injuries due to a car accident, such as bleeding, broken bones, or shock.

You’ll also want to be prepared to treat severe issues such as hypothermia or dehydration if you are unexpectedly stranded on the highway for a long period of time.

What Types of Medical Issues Can a First Aid Kit Help Fix?

First aid kits are just for administering temporary first aid relief, and are not meant to fully treat a condition. But they do help with:

  • cuts
  • burns
  • scrapes
  • stings
  • splinters
  • fever
  • puncture wounds
  • nasal congestion
  • issues with your skin
  • respiration problems
  • bites
  • and various conditions such as allergies that you or your family members may have (if you’re smart enough to prepare for)

Who Will Use Your First Aid Kit?

Before you start to put together a first aid kit, you need to carefully consider who might be using the kit and who you might need the kit for in an emergency or SHTF situation.

A kit you will primarily use for your family at home, might be different than a kit you would need to have at your jobsite if you work construction, for example. At home, most of the injuries you’ll treat will be cuts, scrapes, splinters, perhaps an injured ankle or finger.

Because there is an increased risk of trauma injuries on a construction site due to falls and power tools, you’d want to have additional supplies such as a tourniquet, defibrillator, eye wash, etc.

If you live in a rural area however, where professional medical personnel are 30 minutes to an hour away, you’ll want to have what you need to treat a trauma until you can get them to the hospital.

Your First Aid Kit Essentials

Enough talk, let’s see the full list of things to consider when you’re building your FAK…

Band-aids and Bandages

There are lots of bandages available because there are lots of types of wounds. Wounds are unpredictable and you don’t know what size it’s going to be, how deep, or which part or parts of your body it will affect.

This is probably the biggest problem with first aid kits. They have bandages, but often not enough. Rest assured you’re going to use to bandages A LOT, especially while bugging out or in a post-collapse society where hard physical labor is going to be the norm and not the exception.

This is why it’s a great idea to have as many bandages as possible from the list below:

  • adhesive, such as skin glue or super glue for minor cuts
  • gauze for wrapping wounds
  • triangular bandages for wounds but also as a makeshift splint
  • H bandages, a universal trauma bandage used for hemorrhaging and arterial bleeding
  • pressure bandages, which are used to apply consistent pressure to stop a wound from bleeding
  • tensor bandages, also called ace bandages
  • 4×4 and 2×2 bandages, used for cleaning wounds, applying medicine, or for covering smaller wounds
  • Butterfly closures to keep wounds shut
  • a couple of eye bandages, just in case

You’re also going to need some adhesive or medical tape to hold those 4×4 and 2×2 bandages in place, by the way. The band-aids already have that. 

Cleaning Wounds

Before you use your band-aids, you need to make sure the wound is clean to prevent infection. Be sure to include the following items in your kit to clean and sterilize wounds:

  • alcohol wipes
  • baby wipes
  • antibiotic ointment (this is also good to use for burns)
  • saline pads

One thing you don’t want to use to disinfect wounds is hydrogen peroxide. It’s intended for external use only.

Burn Dressings

If you’re affected by a house fire or a wildfire, burn your hand on the steam from a radiator, or while cooking over a fire, and there’s no doctor, burn dressings such as these might save your life until you’re taken to a doctor to be given proper treatment.

For more minor burns, use Neosporin plus burn relief ointment which you can find in the pharmacy section of stores like Walmart, Target, or CVS.

Nitrile Gloves

Every first aid kit should have at least a couple of pairs of gloves, but the more the better.

Forget latex gloves, some people are allergic to them. Nitrile gloves are stronger, puncture resistant, and offer more protection than latex gloves.

Trauma Dressings

You’re gonna need these to stop the severe bleeding so make sure you get them in several sizes. Here’s a quick video on how to apply one:

Scissors and Trauma Shears

These two items are a very important addition to your FAK because they protect the victim’s skin when you use them. Use them to cut gauze, tapes and even clothes, to gain access to the wound.

Tweezers

Tweezers will come in very handy when you have to remove dirt, splinters, glass or even stingers from a bee.

Finger Splints

As the name suggests, you use finger splints to take care of broken fingers. Here’s a video on how to apply a finger splint:

A CPR Mask

Of course, the prerequisite is that you know how to give CPR. A lot of the times, performing chest compressions is enough but a CPR mask can be helpful.

A SAM Splint

SAM splints take up very little space and can be a lifesaver when it comes to broken limbs, for example. Here’s how to use them:

A Couple of Thermometers

You’re gonna need at least one oral and one rectal thermometer. If you can get more, that’s even better. These will surely have barter value post-collapse because it’s just not something people can make at home( and the DIY alternatives need to be calibrated, anyway).

Tongue Depressors

Lightweight and cheap, you use tongue depressors for examining someone’s throat. Get as many of these as you can because they’re disposable, so you should only use them once.

Instant Cold Packs

Instant cold packs are a great replacement for ice, which will be unavailable if the grid collapses and your fridge stops working. Keep some of these in your bug out bag, in your car, at work, and at home.

They’re great for minor bumps and bruises and will be invaluable for more serious injuries during a SHTF event.

Hand Warmers

If you can assemble a first-aid kit that can keep you both cold AND warm, your kit will be much better and more advanced than anything else on the market.

Hand warmers will last beyond their expiration date but, to make sure that happens, you should seal them in airtight containers to prevent the air from entering the package. You can put them in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. They should last you 5+ years with no problem.

Hand Sanitizer

Purell is a great choice. Staying clean and preventing infection without access to clean water will be difficult, and for some nearly impossible.

Access to hand sanitizer will not only keep others more comfortable, it could truly be the difference between life and death when it comes to preventing an infection.

A Tourniquet

Useful for stopping blood flow from an extremity for a short period of time. Recommended: New Military Issue Combat Application Tourniquet. Here’s how to use a tourniquet:

Ibuprofen Tablets

You need an anti-inflammatory in your first aid kit and Ibuprofen is the best choice you can make. For about 20 bucks you can get 300 tablets on Amazon here.

Benadryl (DIPHENHYDRAMINE HCL)

Benadryl is useful for allergies, rashes, colds. I won’t go into all the details, you can find out more about it here.

Anti-Diarrhea Pills and Laxatives

These two “opposing” problems are going to be very common when SHTF, so it’s best to be prepared. Speaking of which, you may want to check out another article on toilet paper alternatives for survival situations.

Aspirin

Aspirin typically lasts longer than its two-year shelf life and you can maximize that if you can store it in a cool, dark place.

Other Items To Consider

If you have the room, you’re going to want to stockpile some of the following items as well, you just never know:

  • birthing kits
  • dental kits
  • bandage scissors
  • a first-aid instruction book or booklet to have it on hand (although training and experience are much more important)
  • an emergency surgical and suture kit (some people think it’s better not to have something in your FAK unless you know how to use it but what if you run into someone who does?)
    • operating scissors
    • alcohol pads
    • 3-0 and 5-0 black nylon sterile suture
    • stainless steel surgical instruments such as forceps, scalpel, handles etc.
    • syringes
    • needles
    • staples and staple remover
  • mole skin
  • a spare flashlight or a headlamp (you might need to treat someone or yourself in the dark)
  • eyewash
  • eyedroppers
  • eye drops for lubrication
  • assisted breathing masks
  • a survival blanket
  • (sterilized) cotton balls
  • paper bags (for hyperventilation)
  • sticking wrap tape (you can tear it without the use of scissors)
  • soap
  • q-tips
  • finger ring cutter
  • a bite kit
  • a sewing kit
  • aloe vera
  • water-jel burn relief
  • sting-kill wipes
  • surgical thread
  • Neosporin
  • antacid tablets
  • Bactine
  • Betadine
  • Zantac
  • Imodium
  • Iodine tablets
  • Advil
  • Tylenol
  • …and so on and so forth.

First Aid Kits for Kids

Whether you have your own kids or are looking for a first aid kit that will have what you need to provide first aid to kids you might oversee, kids do have somewhat different needs than adults.

Most older kids could also carry or have access to their own mini kit containing only age appropriate items from the list below:

Band-Aids in assorted sizesEmergency contact numbers
Chapstick Tweezers
Small absorbent towel or washclothBottled water or water packets
Small bottle of GatoradeSunscreen
Fingernail clippersNail file
Ace bandageFinger splint
Baby wipesGauze pads
Moleskin bandages (to prevent or soothe blisters)Personal hygiene products
Latex free glovesBug spray
Headlamp or hand crank flashlight

Additional items to add to caregiver or older child’s kit

NeosporinBurn relief cream or gel
Anti-itch cream or gelBenadryl (Children’s liquid) and tablets
Epi-pen (only accessible to those trained to use it)Dramamine (for nausea)
Lidocaine spray or cream (for numbing skin)Personal medications
Infant or Children’s liquid Tylenol (Acetaminophen)Children or Infant’s liquid Motrin (Ibuprofen)
CPR Kit Instant cold pack
Thermometer

First Aid Kits for Pets

We all know that when it comes to an emergency, our human family members come first. This can mean that our pets can suffer additional injuries or need our help for first aid care when a vet is not immediately available.

It’s always a good idea to carry a first aid kit for your pet whenever you travel and to have one stored and ready to use at home too. When the unexpected happens, you’ll be prepared to give your pet a fighting chance to survive.

  • Spare nylon leash and muzzle (to prevent biting just in case)
  • Collapsible water dish
  • Pet carrier or pillowcase (to confine small pets)
  • First Aid Instruction book for pets
  • Important documents in waterproof bag (last rabies shot, vaccination record, photo of pet, copy of pet license ID)
  • Self-stick bandage (that won’t stick to fur)
  • Small blanket, towels, or emergency mylar blanket
  • Tweezers and needle nose pliers
  • Pet nail clippers
  • Q-tips or cotton balls
  • Neosporin
  • Ear cleaning solution
  • Non-stick Gauze pads
  • Vaseline or other lubricant (for thermometer)
  • Rectal thermometer
  • Blunt-end scissors
  • Saline solution
  • Hydrogen peroxide (use to induce vomiting only under direction by pet professional)
  • Benadryl or equivalent (use only correct dose by weight as given by vet)
  • Corn syrup (for dogs with low blood sugar)
  • Small flashlight/penlight

Make sure to keep your pet first aid supplies separate from your human first aid kit supplies. Keep all supplies organized and out of reach of children.

Storing Your First Aid Supplies

Now that you know what you should have in your DIY first aid kit, the question is, where will you store everything?

Medical bags are expensive but there are alternatives such as Ziploc bags, Pelican cases, resealable sandwich bags, oven bags, even tightly sealed kitchen containers. The one important thing is that they’re waterproof.

The size of the bag is determined by where you intend to keep it. If you’re keeping it inside your home or at your bug out location, you’re looking at a static FAK but if you keep it in your car or your bug out bag (BOB), then you’re looking at a mobile first aid kit.

If you do a lot of hiking or find yourself working in the fields, you’ll want to ramp up your EDC first aid kit by adding a fanny pack or some other lightweight kit that can be easily worn or tucked into a pocket or backpack.

Organization is Critical

No matter what kind of bag you end up with to store your first aid kit items, keep in mind that organization is critical. In an emergency situation, time is of the essence.

You want a bag that has ample space for all of your supplies and enough pockets and compartments to keep like items together and easily accessible. When you open your kit, it should take mere seconds to put your hands on the items that you need.

Where Should You Buy All of These items?

You don’t have to look any further than the obvious places to get all the stuff you need to assemble your FAK:

  • Amazon.com
  • eBay
  • specialized websites such as Medex Supply, Chinook Medical, and Rescue Essentials
  • from places like Wallmart or Wallgreen’s
  • at your local drug store
  • and even at your local hospital (If you know someone there, that person can help you get stuff that expires and will be thrown away, anyway. Of course, not everything that expires is good.)

Let’s Keep These in Mind as Well

The most important thing to note is that assembling a first aid kit is just the beginning. Let’s also keep in mind that:

  • Having basic medical knowledge is just as important, if not more important.
  • Having the skills (by taking classes) and learning to apply all of the items is even more important.
  • Try to avoid latex because many are allergic to it.
  • Wash and sterilize things like thermometers and tweezers after you use them.
  • You should check your first aid kit for expiration dates and replace the items accordingly.
  • Keep in mind that storing your FAK in the bathroom will decrease the shelf life of some of its items due to humidity. A better place to keep it for everyday emergencies is in your kitchen or wherever you and your family spend the most time.
  • Make sure you have a cell phone or alternate means of contacting a doctor, should one be available.

Disclaimer

The information in this article is provided “as is” and should not be mistaken  for or be a substitute for medical advice. Always consult your physician before trying any of the advice presented on this page. Seek medical assistance when assembling your first aid kit. Neither the author nor www.SurvivalSullivan.com or the company behind the website shall be held liable for any negative effects of you putting into practice the information in this article.

updated on 09/20/2019 by Megan Stewart

About Dan F. Sullivan

Dan F. Sullivan
My dad was military. My grandfather was a cop. They served their country well. But I don't like taking orders. I'm taking matters into my own hands so I'm not just preparing, I'm going to a friggin' war to provide you the best of the best survival and preparedness content out there.

2 comments

  1. Avatar

    The last video…turnicat. There was to much cussing for many people (who would stop watching it) who really need to see this

    • Avatar

      Give me a break – emergencies are not the time for “Miss Manners” concerns. I don’t want anyone on my team during a crisis situation that is out off because of a bit of cursing. Anyone who can’t learn from a realistic training film is going to be no use during an adrenaline-charged emergency situation.

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