We fill the bags that we carry with us every day with hardware and sundries that make drudgery of our workweeks a little more tolerable—Things we know we'll need while we're on the go, based on our day-to-day experiences. But how's about stuffing something into your pack or purse for when life goes off the rails? Accidents and injuries happen, and when they do, they happen quickly. And depending on where they happen, help might not be just around the corner. As such, carrying a first aid kit with you could end up being a great idea.
I'm not saying that you need to carry a whole damn pharmacy on your back every time you leave the house, but taking the time to put together a medical kit that's tailored to your needs, and knowing how to use the supplies you've chosen is a sound decision. You may never end up needing to crack your EDC first aid kit open. But if you do, having the equipment and supplies you need to resolve a medical issue on hand will make having carried it around for all the days you went without an accident feel worthwhile.
Why Not Buy a Pre-Made Kit?
You can totally do that, and I've recommended a number of them in the past for other publications that I've written for. If you want to go that route and be done with it, I really like Adventure Medical Kits' products. They come in various sizes, based on the number of people you want your kit to be used for. Mountain Series Backpacker Medic Kit is good for a small group of people that are within 20 minutes of a hospital emergency room and the Watertight .5 First Aid Kit is fine for individuals.
Before becoming a full-time journalist, I worked in a field where traumatic injuries were an occasional occupational hazard. Later, it was my job to ensure the health and well being of all a company with close to 1,000 employees. I used the kit I was issued for the former and bought ones that contained supplies the government said my employees needed to have for the latter. So, I'm not against ponying up the dough for a kit to make sorting out your medical supplies as simple as a visit to Amazon's website.
But I don't recommend it if you plan on carrying it around with you all day.
Mass-market first-aid kits are designed to meet the needs of a broad number of medical emergencies—some of which you may never need to worry about—or meet the demands of state or provincial regulations for workplace safety. If you plan on leaving a first aid kit in your car or home, these sorts of kits will serve you well. They're also great for individuals who can't get to medical assistance in a timely manner. But they're typically bulkier than many people will want to carry. Instead, I recommend building your own. Doing so ensures that your kit will contain exactly what you want in a container that's sized to fit in with everything else you carry with you daily.
How do know what you'll want or need in a DIY medical kit? Well, the best way to figure that out is to…
Take a Course
The best way to know which supplies you'll want to pack along with you on a daily basis is to take a first aid course. But I'm not going to tell you which one to invest in, for a number of reasons.
For starters, which courses you have available to you depends heavily on where you live. Most people will have access to classes offered by the American Red Cross. But that's just the tip of the medical iceberg.
Larger city centers will often be home to private, certified courses held at community halls, colleges or businesses dedicated to safety training. So, you'll want to shop around. As you do so, consider what your needs really are. Are you a homebody that can get away with the basic level of training that's offered in a one or two-day course? If you're an avid hunter or through trekker who wanders off into the wilds alone or as part of group, you might want to undertake more robust training that can see you through being far removed from professional medical help. Or, maybe you're someone like me who sees it as a civic duty to be ready to help his fellows in the austere conditions that can follow a natural disaster, traffic accident or terrorist action. Train as you see fit—and be prepared to re-certify or refresh your skills on an ongoing basis.
Once you've been educated in how to use the various supplies and devices you'll encounter in first aid medical care, you'll be qualified to decide, based on your specific needs on what to jam into your EDC kit.
No matter what you decide to pack into your kit, there are a few items that I feel it is essential, beyond bandages and the like, for everyone with medical training to carry with them in order to safely and comfortably be able to treat yourself and others.
- Disposable Gloves: I typically keep two pairs of disposable gloves in my kit—one for me and another for a helper, should I require some assistance. Wearing gloves while you treat a wound doesn't just keep the blood out from under your fingernails. Doing so also provides a barrier between you and your patient that can help to keep wounds you're treating as clean as possible (there's no such thing as sterile in the field,) and act as a barrier that can protect both you and the person you're treating from contracting any diseases born by bodily fluids. I recommend Nitrile gloves. They offer superior puncture resistance over latex or vinyl gloves and, as they're made using a synthetic rubber, pose less of an allergy risk to the majority of the population than latex rubber gloves do.
- CPR Mask: Depending on who you're trained by, you may or may not be told that rescue breathing should be in your bag of medical tricks. I'm old school and subscribe to rescue breathing in a big way. If you're trained to rescue breathe, like I was, then you'll want to include a CPR mask in your first aid kit. They're designed to slip over the airways of an individual who can't breathe under their own power, providing a tight seal that helps to ensure that the breaths you're blowing into your patient makes it into their lungs. What's more, thanks to the mask's one-way valve, air can pass into your patient, but any air or fluid-borne cooties they might have won't have as much of a chance of making it into you. That's a win—especially since a successful resuscitation is often accompanied by vomit. CPR masks, like this CPR Barrier, as reusable and will serve you well for years, provided you take care of them. For a more compact, disposable option, consider picking up a face mask. Face masks are more compact, and you'll have to pinch the nose as you breathe into your patient, but their one-way valve will protect you in a similar fashion to a CPR Mask.
- Medical Shears: Sometimes, in order to help someone, you may have to quickly gain access to areas of their body that would normally be covered by clothing. If an injury is minor, they might be able to get their shirt or bra off under their own power. But more serious injuries can often inhibit mobility. And if someone is unconscious, uncovering an area of their body that requires careful assessment or needs to be patched up before they bleed out can cost you more time than your patient might have. As such, I recommend packing a pair of medical shears into your kit. With a blunt tip and sharp edges, a good set of shears can cut through clothing with minimal effort, without your stabbing your victim along the way. This can quickly provide access to a limb or the torso of a patient, making it possible to assess an injury area, look for further hurts that may have been done to your patient (or yourself) and then provide treatment. While they're on the pricey side, I like the Leatherman Raptor Shears. They're sturdy, fold up so that they don't take up a huge amount of room in your medical kit and have a few extras built into them like a glass breaker and strap cutter for extricating folks from their vehicles, if needs be and a ring cutter. What's more, it comes with a sturdy belt holster, if you're into that sort of thing, and a 25-year warranty.
What's in your EDC Kit, Seamus?
A lot more than most folks will likely ever want or need to carry during their day-to-day lives. As I mentioned earlier, I feel a personal obligation to protect those around me. One of the smartest ways to do that is to be prepared to provide medical aid and comfort to injured or sick individuals until professional first responders can arrive on scene.
Here's what I've got going on:
- x2 pairs of Nitrile Gloves
- x1 disposable face mask
- x3 Alcohol Swabs
- A number of single dose drugs pain control drugs, antihistamines, antacid and antibiotic salves
- x4 Benzalkonium Chloride Antiseptic Towelettes
- x2 SkinTac Towelettes (helps medical tape to adhere to skin)
- x3 1mL doses of Naloxone with accompanying syringes (also available as a nasal spray)
- Leatherman Raptor Medical Shears
- x1 SWAT-T Tourniquet
- x1 roll of fabric medical tape
- x1 Triangular bandage
- x2 QuikClot Clotting Sponges
- fabric plaster bandages of various sizes
- x2 2"x4.1 yds roller gauze bandages
- x10 6mm x 100mm wound closure strips
- x1 5" x 9" combine pad
- x2 2"x 2" non-woven sponges
- x2 4"x 4" sterile non-woven sponges
All of this travels around inside of a 5.11 Tactical 6X6 Slick Stick Medical Cube, which I like for its durability, compact size and simple but effective compartmentalized design. I also keep a headlamp handy, to help with treatment when the lights are low or to find my house keys in the dark. You may want to carry more, or maybe less. And, if you're like me, you'll want to change up the contents of your EDC kit, depending on where your travels take you: What I pack to carry around town with me is not the same as I'd bring on an overseas assignment. To ensure that you can carry everything you want with you, let's talk about containers
Wrap it Up
In my opinion, the container you choose to carry around the rest of your supplies in should be the final investment you make when you're building your EDC first aid kit—if you buy your container first, there's no guarantee that everything you want to include in your kit will fit in it. Here's some things to look for while you shop:
- It should be clearly marked: You know what the medical kit in your EDC bag looks like, but a helper you enlist or worse, someone who needs to treat you if you've become wounded to the point of incapacitation, may not. Picking a kit pouch, case or bag with the universally-known medical Red Cross on the front of it, makes identifying your medical supplies during a time when there's bound to be a bit of a panic going on, easy. The 5.11 Tactical pouch I use has one. So does this EDC Slimline Pouch from ITS Tactical. If you're not crazy about the military look or the price of pouches like these, you can always roll your own carry solution. There is no end to the number of medical patches that you can buy online, and adding them to an existing container is a cinch. Another solution is to make your supplies visible. This Pelican Case is compact, lightweight and can carry a few basics that will see you safely through your daily commute. But more importantly, it's easy to see what's inside of it. I've yet to run into anyone that doesn't know what a BandAid looks like.
- Pick something that's easily accessible: Buckles, leather tongs and old school zippers or buttons look cool on a bag. But opening them sucks if you've hurt yourself in a way that incapacitated your fingers. When you're choosing a first aid bag, get something that's easy to get into. Look for Velcro, quick release plastic buckles or easy-pull zippers. If you go with something zippered, make sure that the zipper is a two-way, so that if one of the zippers should fail, you'll still be able to get at your supplies without difficulty.
- Easy to organize: I favour medical pouches that come with built-in compartments. This makes it easier to organize my supplies: one compartment contains drugs and tools, the other compartment is full of bandages tape and other sundries needed to control bleeding. Keeping your supplies organized in this manner makes it easier to find them when you're treating yourself or others, speeding up the process. What's more it'll be easier for someone other than yourself to find things in your kit if when they open the bag it doesn't look like a soup sandwich inside. If the compartments are made of mesh or transparent plastic so that the stuff inside of them is easy to see? Bonus.
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