I get asked that question more than any other throughout my day. Usually I tell them to just come take one of my classes and not only will you answer your own question… ya’ just might learn how to use the stuff too. How cool would that be! Alas, I have a hard enough time getting people to be properly hydrated (i.e. drink water); let alone carry a tourniquet (TQ) and learn how to use it effectively. So I figured that I would answer this objectively and without any “sales pitches”.
First off, there are a couple of factors that you should consider either when purchasing or building your Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK), Blow-Out Kit, Aid Bag, or Med Kit. These factors/considerations may change throughout the day, month, or year. The idea is to “... be like water” as Bruce Lee would say. Create options for yourself. There is no, “Do All, Cure All” med kit. The aid bag I carried as an OPFOR medic in the Army, ranged between 25-55lbs depending on these factors and it still didn’t have everything I needed/wanted. No, it wasn’t 45lbs of Motrin® and moleskin. I did have some pretty cool flashlights in there though.
Here are the considerations I feel you need to ask/answer yourself when selecting medical equipment for a med kit, aid bag, or IFAK. These are great for both the layperson and the medic alike:
What are you going to be doing?
What is your mission, in general? Meaning, what do you find yourself doing on a typical day. Are you the type of person that sits in a cubical freaking out because you forgot the cover sheet on your TPS Report or are you hunting down terrorists & shooting them in the face? There are several of us that are somewhere between those two options. For me, wearing my plate carrier with an IFAK pouch via MOLLE attachments is not a great option when picking up chicks at my local Wally-World.
Seriously though, think about what your daily routine is on a normal day. Remember “how” we carry this med kit is just as important as “what’s in it”. If you’re heading out to the range for the day with your shootin’ buds, then an IFAK and a general purpose med kit may be in order. A med kit with “booboo” supplies like Band-Aids, Aspirin, antacids and an IFAK for serious life threatening injuries should be carried to the firing line. Notice I said “carried to the firing line” and not just left in the car, back up by the club/range house!
You need to carry & pack your med kit so that it is an asset to your mission, not a detriment. (Yes, you can use that line in one of your books, S.A. Bailey.)
Where are you going to be while doing your mission?
What type of environment are you in? This may sound repetitive and similar to “Mission”; but it’s not. In regards to “Environment”, I’m talking about what type of actual environment you’re working in. You could be in a desert, jungle, urban/rural setting, or maybe in the mountains. My students are often surprised how much effect the weather has on your patient and your treatment plan. In the mountains, you might want to throw in a foil space blanket into your med kit to help with shock. A wool stocking cap is not necessarily on my med kit’s packing list, but it sure is a quick and effective tool to have on hand when combating shock. Are you working in extreme temperatures? If it’s cold out and lots of snow, simply performing a two- man drag/carry in three feet of snow is going to be tough. If it’s hotter ‘en hell, don’t forget that while you’re dragging that patient behind you on a litter/stretcher, they’re cooking directly under that sun. For some of us living in town, leaving a patient (pt.) lying on that blistering hot concrete may produce second-degree burns. See where we’re going with this?
Don’t forget that having access to professional rescuers is also part of your environment. We’ll talk about that detail in a minute, but for now just remember that there’s not always a Level I Trauma Center (big freaking hospital with literally every kind of doctor and medicine available, 24/7… sort of) right down the street like some high-end coffee shops are. You may have to drive a couple of miles down a dirt road just to get to a hard-ball road (Army talk for an asphalt or paved road). Then it may be a 45 minute drive to a local clinic… that closes in 5 minutes… but they left early because it’s Friday… and a thunderstorm just blew in.
Part of your environment is in fact “available resources”. Does your environment have EMS available for you to call? If you’re out hunting with uncle Bob and his heart starts acting up again, it sure would be nice if the ambulance you had called did in fact have not just an EMT, but a Paramedic with drugs & gadgets specific for treating cardiac related illness/disease. As a medic/EMS; what sort of assets are immediately (respectfully) available? Calling medical control is a little different while on scene in some apartment complex, than on the side of some Taliban infested mountain.
3. Level of training.
What is your current level of training?
As medics, we have extensive training in using some pretty sexy equipment. A lot of laypersons ask me if I’ll teach them how to start I.V.’s on each other. I tell them if they pay attention on how to use a SOFT-T Wide and QuickClot Combat Gauze, they probably won’t need an IV. Let me rephrase it for you thick-headed types; we start with the most minimally invasive procedure/treatment plan first. Then if that doesn’t work, we bump it up a notch or two. The body does a pretty good job of taking care of its self. Most the time it is ourselves that get in the way, believe it or not. The body also responds better sometimes with the least amount of help in the form of medicines, surgeries, etc.
Your level of training also includes knowing how to utilize those little bits and pieces in your med kit and maximizing their potential. Meaning I don’t care how “James Bond” something is or looks; if you don’t have a clue how to make it work effectively, then either learn how BEFORE carrying it or pass it along to someone that does. Now I’m not expecting you to be psychic and pack your med kit in anticipation of what some random medic may or may not want in that IFAK pouch, if in fact you two end up treating the same patient. I’m saying that you should probably carry medical equipment you are familiar with and know how to use that equipment efficiently.
4. Number of people you’re responsible for.
How many people are you immediately responsible for or that you plan on having to treat?
For some of us crusin’ around town, this could mean that we’re just responsible for ourselves and our significant hottie. For some, it could be a small platoon-sized family that you have to keep track of. My point is that what we in the industry call an “IFAK”; is just that… an “INDIVIDUAL First Aid Kit”. Key word being there, “individual”. Those sexy little pouches filled with magical potions that the troops wear on their plate carriers and body armor are not there to treat some random dude. They are there to treat themselves first, their battle buddy second, and non-combatants/the enemy/whoever else they want to last. But it is not intended to treat five or six folks.
Medical equipment/kit should work in tiers or levels. For example; if we’ve got a group of 10 soldiers and one medic with an aid bag. Each troop has on them their own IFAK. Then let’s say their protocols call for every 6th troop to be trained as an assistant for the medic and they carry a small supply of medical kit. Then the medic has their own IFAK for themselves AND carries their aid bag with enough medical equipment to sustain that many people for that particular mission/environment. Then that group of 10 report back to a larger group with more supplies & personnel… and so on. Well, as civilians it works the same way. We carry on our person just enough med kit to survive until the “… folks in funny little white shirts driving funny looking trucks” come and pick us up and take us to the hospital. (I’m paraphrasing there what my dear friend Paul Gomez told me once.)
So just to recap; there are no “cure-all” med kits out there. There are tools available and you need to make sure you pick the right tool for the right job. Also, it sure is nice if you know how and when to use that appropriate tool correctly. I’m not going to tell you specifically what products you need to have in your med kit. To learn that, go out and get some training first. That alone will answer more questions about med kit than anything else. No, that’s not a ploy to sell more seats in my classes. It’s just the hard truth. For example; before I took my first defensive firearms course many years ago, I went out and purchased a pistol I thought was super-duper cool. After that three-day class, I sold it and bought a Glock 19. I had to learn why & how to accomplish a skill with sub-par equipment. It was effective, but not near as efficient as the Glock. And folks, let me tell you; after taking more classes, learning more about self-defense techniques/tactics, & taking a force on force class… you want both, effectiveness and efficiency. Well, medicine is the same way. When your buddy is laying there bleeding out of holes in their chest and legs; medical equipment needs to be effective and efficient.
Lone Star Medics