A well-conceived first-aid and medical kit is one of the most important things in any bug out bag, and you’ll want to ensure that yours has everything you may reasonably need to keep yourself healthy and reasonably symptom-free while trying to survive in a tough situation.
Basic Packing Principles and Guidelines
We’ll discuss some of the specific things you need to pack in your pack shortly, but we’ll begin by discussing a few of the general guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind while preparing your first-aid and medical kit.
Don’t Bring Unnecessarily Large Quantities
In an effort to be extra prepared, many people will make the mistake of packing more than they need. For example, you probably won’t need an entire 500-capsule bottle of aspirin or an entire pack of sterilizing wipes. Doing so just increases the weight of your bag and decreases the space available. Instead, simply pack enough medications and supplies to last you for the length of time necessary.
Treat Cuts Seriously and Use Care to Avoid Them
Small lacerations are all but guaranteed in most survival situations, or even during a routine hunting or camping trip. And while you needn’t panic after suffering a small wound, you should take care to bandage it properly to help stave off infection. In a grid-down situation, you won’t be able to access medical assistance, which can put your life in jeopardy if an infection sets in.
You’ll want to have plenty of bandages on hand to keep cuts closed and clean, even though many self-anointed experts complain that band-aids represent unnecessary weight. Instead, they often recommend using duct tape, rather than band-aids. While duct tape will certainly work in a pinch, it won’t work as well as real bandages or band-aids will. Because band-aids and similar items weigh hardly anything, there is simply no reason to avoid bringing plenty along.
Additionally, use care to avoid cutting yourself whenever possible. Those who cut themselves carelessly aren’t tuff or macho; they simply reduce their chances of surviving a difficult situation. Be especially careful when you are tired or stressed, as this is when most accidents happen.
Always Pack Stomach Medications
You’ll often be forced to eat unusual foods while trying to survive a SHTF scenario – you may even find it necessary to forage for wild foods. In doing so, you’ll potentially expose yourself to novel bacteria and stress your digestive tract. Hygiene also suffers during survival situations, which means that your hands, food and water will all likely be contaminated with bacteria and other pathogens.
All of this spells trouble for your stomach and intestines, and it can leave you incapacitated by severe vomiting, diarrhea or both. This would be miserable in the cozy confines of your own home, but in a survival situation, it can be life-threatening. Not only will these types of digestive issues make you feel horrible, they’ll lead to extreme dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
To help mitigate these types of problems, you’ll want to have a couple of different digestive medications on hand. Minimally, this should include an anti-diarrheal medicine and a stomach-coating medicine (such as the famous pink medication), and you may want to bring charcoal tablets along too, to help alleviate painful gas.
Keep Your First-Aid and Medicinal Items Handy
Too many survivalists and outdoor enthusiasts go to all the trouble of preparing a top-notch first-aid kit, only to stuff it into the bottom of their bug out bag. While you may not need to access aspirin or an antacid quickly, you may need to put your hands on a bandage or an antihistamine at a moment’s notice.
Accordingly, you’ll always want to place your medical and first-aid kit in an easy-to-access location within your bag. An exterior pocket is perfect if you have one available. If not, just try to keep the kit near the primary opening of the bag.
Also, whenever possible, you should pack your first-aid and medical supplies in a bag that is easy-to-see. By convention, many first-aid bags are red, which makes them stand out in most bug out bags, but you may also want to put a piece or two of reflective tape on the bag, so you can easily find it in low-light situations.
Don’t Forget About Vitamins
Although they are rarely talked about in survivalist and prepper circles, vitamins are almost always deserving of space in your first-aid kit. Vitamins aren’t the magic health bullet that many people believe and you probably don’t even need them when you have access to balanced meals, but they can be a lifesaver in a survival situation.
Because you’ll likely be consuming less food than you normally would, and you probably won’t be preparing balanced, four-course meals while trying to survive in the woods, your body will likely suffer from vitamin deficiencies after a few days in the field. But, by taking supplemental vitamins, you’ll help your body to continue to function properly.
Wash, Wash, Wash Your Hands; In a Sparkling Stream
As we mentioned earlier, hygiene often suffers during survival situations. Accordingly, you’ll want to be extra-vigilant about hand-washing while living out in the bush. It is especially important to wash your hands before touching your face, preparing food or cleaning a wound, as well as after using the toilet or touching any wild animal.
Be sure to use a biodegradable soap to avoid harming the fish and wildlife living in the water – you may need to eat them at some point. Just be sure that you don’t use too much; you only need a very small drop of most biodegradable soaps to clean your hands, as they are very concentrated products. This will help you avoid having to bring along more soap than necessary.
Take Care of Your Feet
One of the most over-looked health considerations is foot care. In fact, healthy feet can be all the difference between life and death, as you may need to run, jump or climb at a moment’s notice to catch food or escape some sort of hazard.
You must be sure to treat any blisters or fungal infections that occur promptly to ensure you won’t find yourself hobbled and forced to stay put and wait for rescue. Fungal infections will require an anti-fungal medication to treat, and you can use moleskin to help protect blisters and prevent them from worsening. Some survivalists like to use duct tape instead of moleskin, but moleskin works better and doesn’t take up much more space than a similar quantity of duct tape.
First-Aid and Medical Checklists
Just like your bugout bag, you’ll want to be sure that your first-aid and medical kit is efficiently and sensibly organized. This essentially means that you’ll likely use a large zippered case, fanny pack or small backpack to carry a number of smaller bags carrying the individual supplies.
There are surely an infinite number of ways you can organize these supplies, but the following groupings are a good starting point. Feel free to tweak these recommendations to suit your specific needs. In any case, it is wise to print out an itemized list of the items in each bag and tape it to the outside, so you can find things at a glance.
Medications (Prescription and Over-the-Counter)
For storage purposes, it makes sense to keep most medications in the same place. Don’t pack bulky boxes if you can avoid it; take out the pill sheets, cut out the important medicinal information from the box and put them all in a small plastic bag. For legal and safety reasons, it is better to keep prescription medications in their original bottle.
- Electrolytes – Electrolyte supplements are crucial for ensuring that your body handles water properly and performs well in stressful or exhausting situations.
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs include several familiar, over-the-counter analgesics, including ibuprofen (Advil), acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), naproxen (Aleve).
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) – A non-aspirin pain reliever, Tylenol is similar to some NSAIDs, but it does not reduce inflammation.
- Antihistamine – Antihistamines help reduce the symptoms of allergic reactions, such as itching. Note that diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and other first-generation antihistamines often cause extreme drowsiness, while second-generation versions – such as fexofenadine (Allegra) – typically do not.
- Anti-Diarrheal – Loperamide (Imodium) is the most common anti-diarrheal medication available over-the-counter.
- Antiemetics (Anti-Nausea Medications) – There are a few different types of over-the-counter anti-nausea medicine, including bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine).
- Antacids – Bismuth subsalicylate and calcium carbonate (TUMS) are both widely available, over-the-counter medications for heartburn and indigestion.
- Vitamins – Vitamins are not a medicine per se, but they fit well into your medication bag.
- Prescription Medications – Be sure to bring any prescription medications you may need, including both those that you need on a daily basis as well as those you take only when symptoms occur. Of course, to pack these in your bug out bag ahead of time, you’ll probably need to request a separate set of meds. This may be difficult (or impossible) with some medications, so plan accordingly.
First Aid Supplies
Within your larger first-aid and medical kit, you’ll need a dedicated first-aid bag, containing all of the things you may need to address minor injuries. Feel free to add more items as needed, but minimally, you’ll want to pack the following items:
Bandages – You’ll want to bring along plenty of bandages for keeping open wounds free of debris and feasting insects. Bandages are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, but minimally, you’ll want to pack the following:
- Rectangular Bandages of Varying Sizes
- Triangle Bandages
- Gauze Pads of Varying Sizes
- Band-Aids of Varying Sizes
- 3W Steri-Strips for Larger or Deeper Wounds
Antiseptics – Cleanliness is imperative for avoiding infections, which can lead to the loss of life and limb. Bring along a couple of different varieties, such as the following:
- Povidone Iodine Prep Pads
- Alcohol Prep Pad
- Triple Antibiotic Ointment
Pain and Itch Relief – Natural habitats are full of plants, animals and other hazards, which can leave you in pain or itching so badly that you want to scream. Accordingly, you’ll want to bring along a few pain-killing, itch-relieving and skin-protecting supplies.
- Sting-Relief Gel or Wipes
- Poison Ivy Lotion
- Cooling Sunburn Gel
- Lip Balm
- Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline)
Emergency Trauma Kit
Your emergency trauma kit should contain the items you’d need to handle a life-threatening medical emergency. This includes things like a compound fracture, severed artery or gunshot wound. You can keep all of these items in with your first-aid kit, but it is preferable to keep these crucial items in a dedicated bag.
Pre-Made Commercial Trauma Kits – The best option for trauma care, serious survivalists always pack a dedicated trauma kit, which was designed by medical professionals. A couple of good options include:
- Dark Angel Medical Trauma Kit
- ITS Tactical Trauma Kit
Gauze Pads — Indispensable in emergency situations, gauze pads can help you stop or limit bleeding quickly. Some commercial varieties even help speed the clotting process. Try to keep the following in your pack:
- QuikClot Gauze
- Chest Seals
- Vaseline Gauze Pads
Decompression Needle – Necessary for relieving pressure in life-threatening situations, a decompression needle can help in a variety of contexts, such as treating a collapsed lung.
Nasopharyngeal Airway (NPA) – Useful for treating extreme allergic reactions or other problems affecting the airway, all trauma kits should contain an NPA.
Israeli Bandage – A type of compression bandage, an Israeli Bandage is crucial for reducing blood loss following traumatic wounds.
Tourniquet – An old, but effective method for stemming extreme levels of blood flow, tourniquets must be used properly, but they belong in every trauma kit.
Duct Tape – Perfect for a variety of improvised tasks, duct tape should always be included in your trauma kit.
Because footcare is so important for your health and sanity, it makes sense to keep all of the items you’d need to handle any foot-related problem in one place. Be sure to keep your footcare supplies in a handy location within the overall first-aid and medical kit, as you’ll often want to access these items when you are hiking a long distance.
Pre-Made Commercial Blister Kits – You can assemble all of the various items you’d need to treat a foot blister (listed below), or you can just purchase a pre-made commercial kit which will contain some of these items. Two of the best options are:
- Trail Toes Blister Kit
- Adventure Medical Blister Kit
Moleskin – a heavy cotton fabric, woven and then sheared to create a short, soft pile on one side. In feel and appearance its nap is similar to felt or chamois, but less plush than velour.
Trail Toes Tape – ultra-extreme anti-friction, chaffing, and abrasion tape
Trail Toes Foot and Body Cream – Helpful for reducing friction between your boots and skin.
Benzoin Swabs – These swabs help to protect the skin from adhesives and harsh bodily fluids. Creates a protective film over the skin.
18-Gauge Lacing Needles – You may need to make shoe repairs while in the field, so you’ll need a good heavy-duty thread (listed below) and an 18-gauge lacing needle to stitch up your boots.
2″ x 2″ Gauze Sponges – Ideal for cleaning up and administering medicine to skin wounds including cuts, scratches and burns
No matter how well you organize and plan your first-aid and medical kit, you’ll always end up with a few odds and ends, which don’t really fit well in any other group.
Tweezers – Sharp-angled tweezers are almost always preferred, as they make it easier to grasp very small objects.
Body Powder – Body powders are good for keeping your cracks and crevices dry and irritation-free – especially in hot weather. There are several different varieties that may work, including talcum powder (Baby Powder) and medicated, talc-free formulations (Gold Bond Powder).
Body Glide Anti-Chaffing Stick – These protective deodorant-like sticks help prevent chaffing that often occurs in skin creases.
Irrigation Syringe – Irrigation syringes are helpful for washing out wounds. Those with bent tips can help make it easier to access tight areas.
Hand Warmers – Many survivalists and preppers may place hand warmers in other portions of their bug out bag, but they make good sense to include in your miscellaneous kit too.
Instant Cold Packs – Ice is a luxury many take for granted, but you’ll be glad you have an instant cold pack or two when you bump your head or twist an ankle in the field.
Finger Splint – Finger splints are designed for helping to stabilize broken or injured fingers, but you can use them for a variety of improvised applications.
Nitrile Gloves – Similar to latex gloves except they are safe for people with latex allergies, nitrile gloves are important for working with serious wounds or when caring for sick individuals.
Mylar Blanket – A Mylar survival blanket (also called a space blanket) works by reflecting the infrared radiation from your body right back toward you. And while you wouldn’t want to use one as a comforter at home, they’ll help prevent hypothermia in a survival situation and they take up very little space.
Trauma Shears – You may have to cut through clothing or other items in an emergency situation, so a good pair of trauma shears are a must for every first-aid and medical kit.
Self-Adhesive Tape – Self-adhesive tapes are helpful for wrapping bandages and they do not require clips, fasteners or tape to remain in place.
Again, you are responsible for your own safety and survival, so be sure to customize or adapt your kit to suit your needs and preferences. Just be sure to think carefully about the medical and first-aid supplies you bring, as you may find that your life depends on them.