Whether it’s a small scrape, a heart attack, or a broken bone, the last thing you want in a SHTF scenario is to deal with a medical emergency without a quality first aid kit. Long considered an essential piece of gear, a first aid kit is something that no prepper should ever be without.
However, even though you can easily do a quick google search and buy a random first aid kit off of the internet, anyone who truly wants to be prepared should make their own.
Although those pre-built first aid kits certainly are convenient (and do have their uses – more on that later), your primary SHTF first aid kit should be built from scratch so you know that you have the gear you need.
That being said, we recognize that building a comprehensive prepper first aid kit is a challenge, so we’ve put together this guide to get you started.
We’ll walk you through all of the different things you need to keep in mind as you build your medical kit and even give you our top suggestions for what to include so you can always be prepared.
Table of Contents
The Need For a First Aid Kit
As we’ve mentioned, a quality first aid kit is an essential piece of equipment.
Why? Well, if you find yourself in a situation where professional medical care just isn’t available because of war, natural disaster, or economic collapse, you need to be able to care for your family.
Plus, you should have supplies at home to deal with minor injuries and illnesses so you can be self-sufficient at all times.
A good prepper first aid kit should be able to handle regular cuts and bruises as well as major trauma and illnesses.
Sure, unless you’re a doctor and build a proper operating room in your home, you’re going to be limited with what you can actually do for someone, but with a proper first aid kit and the skills to use it, you can at least give a patient a fighting chance at survival.
General First Aid Kit Considerations
Before we give you our recommendations for things to keep in your first aid kit, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no single med kit that will work in every situation.
In fact, it’s better to personalize your first aid kit so that it’s specifically tailored to meet the needs of you and your family.
What do we mean? Well, when building your first aid kit, you need to ask yourself three questions:
Who is Your First Aid Kit For?
First and foremost, who is your first aid kit for? If you live by yourself, you’re going to have very different needs than a family of 5 with a child that has a pre-existing condition.
If someone in your family is elderly, has allergies or a disability, this might also affect the kinds of medications and supplies you decide to put in your first aid kit.
How Much Medical Training Do You Have?
The amount of medical training you have makes a big difference in what you should pack in your first aid kit.
If you’re not a doctor, nurse-practitioner, or combat medic, you’re probably not going to have the skills to suture someone or give them a tracheostomy, so it might not be worth investing your money in these products.
On the other hand, if you do have some medical training, even just a wilderness first aid course, you can build a first aid kit that’s filled with equipment that you’re familiar with.
Knowing how to use your emergency equipment is just as important as having it and we all need to know the limits of what we can and can’t do for someone medically.
How Long Are You Prepping to Survive For?
If you’re new to prepping, you might be focusing your efforts on being able to handle a small, 3 day to 1 week long emergency.
However, if you’re an experienced prepper, you’re probably working toward being wholly self-sufficient for months and weeks on end.
The level of preparedness that you’re working toward will directly affect the kind of first aid kit you make.
If you’re just looking for something that will help stabilize someone until you get to the hospital, you’re going to need much less than someone looking to survive for 6 months off of their emergency stores.
DIY Prepper First Aid Kit Contents
By now, you know that any good first aid kit needs to be customized to meet your unique needs.
However, there are some things that everyone should have in their prepper medical kits so they can handle most common injuries and illnesses. Here are our minimum recommendations for your DIY prepper first aid kit:
First Aid Kit Bag
All of your medical supplies need to go somewhere, so you’ll need a first aid kit bag.
It might sound like a pretty simple piece of gear, but having the right bag can help you stay organized and can really make a big difference in an emergency.
We recommend something that’s water-resistant, easy to carry, and has lots of compartments so you can keep your gear organized at all times.
Medical Tools & Devices
These are some of the basic tools and devices that any medical kit should have:
- CPR pocket mask: Designed to be a barrier between your mouth and the patient’s during CPR.
- Irrigation syringe: Very helpful for cleaning out wounds, especially scrapes and lacerations.
- Nitrile gloves: Important for protecting yourself from any blood-borne diseases. Always have at least 3-4 pairs in your first aid kit.
- Thermometer: A no-touch forehead thermometer can tell you if someone has an infection and is running a fever. Don’t forget extra batteries!
- Toenail clippers: These might sound silly, but are great for preventing ingrown toenails and regular personal hygiene.
- Trauma shears: Perfect for quickly cutting clothing off of someone to treat them for trauma or to do CPR.
- Tweezers: Used to remove splinters, ticks, or anything else embedded in the body.
These items are must-haves for dealing with any sort of major trauma, whether that’s a kitchen accident or a car crash.
Stopping a bleed can literally save someone’s life, so be sure to have these items in your first aid kit.
- Ace wrap: Used to wrap an ankle or a wrist after someone sprains it. Can also be used to help build a splint.
- Band-aids: Who doesn’t love band-aids? If you have kids, you’ll definitely want a nice stockpile of these. Get a variety of different shapes and sizes.
- Coban wrap: Coban wrap is a self-adhesive wrapping tape that’s great for keeping a bandage on or supporting a sprained ankle.
- Gauze pads (sterile): Sterile gauze pads are a must-have for stopping a bleed and keeping a wound clean for a long time.
- Medical tape: Medical tape is a life-saver when making splints or bandages. You’ll want at least one 1” and one 3/4” roll.
- Mole foam: Used to pad a blister to reduce pain when walking and to protect it from popping.
- Moleskin: Great for padding blistered hands and feet.
- Sam Splint: Can be used to make a lower arm splint or a cervical collar in an emergency.
- Second Skin: Useful for healing blistered skin and can be used on some minor burns.
- Triangle bandages: Makes a quick sling for a broken arm or dislocated shoulder. Also great for making splints.
- Quick-clot: Designed originally for military use, Quick-clot is a gauze that’s soaked in a clotting agent to help stop a bleed fast. It’s very expensive but is a game-changer if someone has been shot, stabbed, or in a car accident and has major trauma to an important part of the body.
We can improvise almost any medical item, except for medication. Thus, you should always have a good collection of over-the-counter medications in your first aid kit.
Be sure to look up dosing requirements for each of these medications before you use them. Here’s what you should have:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol): Oral pain reliever and fever reducer. Similar to ibuprofen but processed through the liver.
- Aspirin: Oral pain reliever that can also be used to treat chest pain, strokes, and prevent heart attacks. Get the chewable, un-coated baby aspirin because it is absorbed faster in the body.
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl): An antihistamine used to treat anaphylaxis and allergies. It does make people drowsy.
- Dramamine: Motion sickness medication. Great to have if you have to escape a bad situation in a car and take a long road trip. Can also be used as an antihistamine in some situations.
- Eye drops: Dry eyes are the worst and can affect someone’s vision. Get either medicated or unmedicated eye drops.
- Glucose (or cake frosting): Very helpful for treating people with low blood sugar. A tube of cake frosting is much cheaper than a tube of medical glucose and tastes way better while doing the same job.
- Ibuprofen (Advil): Oral pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. Similar to Acetaminophen but has anti-inflammatory properties and is processed through the stomach.
- Laxatives/stool softeners: Important to have, especially if you have elderly family members.
- Loperamide: An antidiarrheal medication. Check out our guide to managing diarrhea in an emergency to learn more.
- Loratadine (Claritin): Great for seasonal allergies. Other similar medications are available and are more effective for some people.
- Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed): A common cold and flu medication. Sudafed could also be substituted for DayQuil, NyQuil, or something similar.
- Oral rehydration salts/Electrolyte tablets: Critical for treating dehydration, especially if caused by diarrhea or heat exposure. Electrolyte tablets and Gatorade powder can do the same job.
- Throat lozenges: Very helpful for someone with a cold or cough. Non-medicated options provide some relief, while others, like Cepacol, have local anesthetics to numb the pain.
- Tums: Great for indigestion, heartburn, and other stomach upsets.
As you probably noticed, we only recommended an assortment of over-the-counter medications for your first aid kit.
This is because you need to get a prescription to access all other kinds of medications, including antibiotics, narcotics, and the like.
While you can talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for some of these things, you have to be pretty good at smooth talking to mingle your way into a prescription for something you don’t actively need.
However, if you or anyone in your family takes medication, you should certainly keep some of it in your first aid kit for use in an emergency. Inhalers and epi-pens are particularly important to have if someone in your family has asthma or severe allergies.
Lotions, Ointments, and Creams
The lotions, ointments, and creams listed here each serve a very specific purpose and can really get you out of a pinch in an emergency. We recommend at least a small tube of each of them for your first aid kit.
- After-Bite Cream: Most afterbite creams are made with some sort of pain reliever, which is great for bee, mosquito, and other insect bites and stings.
- Alcohol prep pads: Alcohol prep pads are a great way to quickly sanitize a piece of medical equipment or to clean skin quickly before an insulin finger prick test.
- Aloe Vera. Used mostly to soothe sunburnt skin. Non-dyed and fragrance-free varieties are best, so look for the clear colored Aloe, not the neon green stuff.
- Antibiotic ointment. Great for helping to heal wounds, but be sure to thoroughly clean them with soap and water first. Water-based products are recommended.
- Anti-fungal cream. Used to treat athlete’s foot and other not-so-fun foot fungi.
- Bug spray. Always good to have on hand if you need to spend an extended period of time outside.
- Burn cream. Can help soothe a minor burn.
- Hydrocortisone cream. Great for providing relief from rashes, eczema, and other itchy skin conditions.
- Iodine. Can be useful for cleaning wounds, especially if you don’t have a lot of water around.
- Soap. The best way to clean wounds, and something everyone should have in their first aid kit.
- Sunscreen (preferably Zinc Oxide). Good to have if you need to spend a lot of time outside. It’s best to prevent sunburns rather than treat them afterward.
Other Medical Supplies
All of the supplies listed here are important to have in your first aid kit, but they don’t quite fit into any other category.
Many of them are multi-purpose items that are great to have in any emergency, but it’s nice to have them ready-to-go in your first aid kit.
- Accessory cord/paracord. Can be used to help make a splint or a shelter for the night.
- All-weather notebook. Critical for writing down a patient’s vital signs and other medical information.
- Cling wrap. Sounds silly, but cling wrap is great for making waterproof bandages or for keeping a bag of ice in place on someone’s arm, leg, or back.
- Dental filling materials. A broken tooth might not seem like a big deal, but can be painful and make someone susceptible to infection. Dental fillings can help protect a broken tooth.
- Duct tape. It’s duct tape. Why wouldn’t you have it?
- Emergency blanket. Perfect for keeping someone warm when they’re sick or injured.
- Floss. Dental hygiene is important. Plus, floss is a great sewing thread in an emergency.
- Headlamp. Great for bringing light to a situation while keeping your hands free.
- Rescue knife. Important for getting someone unstuck from a car or other enclosed area. It’s nice to have a hook knife with a serrated blade and a glass breaking tip on the handle.
- Lighter and waterproof matches (or firestarter). A prepper should always have fire-starting materials available, so keep some in your first aid kit, just in case.
- Menstrual hygiene products. Even if you don’t menstruate, having these products can really help someone in a pinch. They can also make good gauze pads if you run out of other options.
- N95 masks. Protects you from airborne droplets, which is important if people have unknown illnesses.
- Pen and pencil. Good for writing down important patient medical information.
- Pocket First Aid Book. Can give you quick tips and guidance in a tough situation.
- Safety pins. Useful for making splints and for popping blisters.
- Surgical masks. Can be put on a patient that’s coughing and sneezing to protect everyone else from getting sick.
- Q-tips: Great for spreading creams and lotions on wounds.
- Ziploc bags. These make great makeshift trash bags and biohazard bags for used supplies.
Advanced Medical Supplies
All of the supplies listed here require some sort of medical training to operate. We’re including them because they’re good things to have on hand, if you have the training.
But, we don’t necessarily recommend just going out and buying them if you haven’t been trained to use this equipment as you can hurt someone if you use some of these items improperly.
- Blood pressure cuff (Sphygmomanometer). Critical for getting someone’s blood pressure and monitoring their condition.
- Cervical (c-spine) collar. Can help reduce spinal movement for someone with a suspected spinal injury.
- Oropharyngeal airways. A simple airway adjunct (support) to keep an unconscious person’s airway clear.
- Nasopharyngeal airways. Another kind of airway support that goes through a person’s nose to keep their airway clear.
- Pulse oximeter sensor. Gives important real-time information about a person’s heart rate and oxygen levels in their blood.
- Scalpel. Used for minor surgical procedures – only for medical professionals!
- Slishman Traction Splint. A great, compact femur traction splint that can be set up in seconds.
- Stethoscope. Important for listening to lung sounds and for getting someone’s blood pressure.
- Suture kit. For small sutures on cuts and wounds – only for medical professionals!
- Tourniquet. A last-resort used to stop a bleed. Get training in how to use these before you go out and buy one.
Other First Aid Kits to Consider
Now that we’ve thoroughly covered what gear you should have in your first aid kit at home, let’s take some time to talk about other first aid kits you should have.
While the big medical kit you keep at home is for hunkering down and waiting out a long-term emergency, you might find that someone needs medical attention when you’re not at home. Here are some other first aid kits to consider:
Car First Aid Kit
A car first aid kit is basically a smaller version of the big med kit you’ll have at home. But, with a car first aid kit, you really want to focus on packing it full of trauma supplies as this is probably what someone will need if they get into a car accident.
While it’s good to have some medications and creams with you in your car, we’d focus more on gauze, tape, splints, and bandages for your car first aid kit.
First Aid Kits for Your Survival Bag
As you might guess, a bug out bag first aid kit is one that you’ll keep with your bug out gear.
This will be, for all practical purposes, very similar to the first aid kit you have at home, but you only need enough supplies in it to last you 72 hours.
So, while we recommend including pretty much everything we’ve listed here, you can opt for smaller sizes and quantities of items for your bug out bag first aid kit.
Pre-Made First Aid Kits
Finally, while we’ve spent the entirety of this article talking about how to make your own first aid kit, it’s important to acknowledge that there are a whole lot of different pre-made options available on the market today.
While we wouldn’t recommend buying one and relying solely on it, a pre-made first aid kit can be a great way to get started with building your own. Here are some of our favorites:
- Adventure Medical Kits Guide Kit: This 163-piece medical kit is designed for outdoor and backcountry use, but is a great starter kit for an ambitious prepper. Endorsed by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) as their go-to pre-made kit, this one is great for caring for up to 7 people for up to 14 days in a remote environment.
- Adventure Medical Kits Travel Kit: This smaller medical kit is a great starting point for anyone looking to build up different parts of their first aid kit. Uniquely, this travel-specific kit even includes a visual communication tool to help people get medical care in any language, which is perfect for helping others in an emergency situation.
- Adventure Medical Kits Professional Guide Kit: Perhaps the most comprehensive pre-made medical kit out there, the Professional Guide Kit is chock full of most of what you need in a first aid kit. So, it’s a great starting point for people who simply want to supplement an existing kit as they build their own.
The Importance of Training: Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, a quality first aid kit can make a huge difference in an emergency situation. By now, you’re quite familiar with the different items you should have in a first aid kit, but it’s important to keep in mind that a first aid kit is only as valuable as the knowledge of the person using it.
If you’re new to the world of emergency medicine, it’s highly recommended that you go out and get some formal training.
A wilderness first aid course (2 days) or a wilderness first responder course (10 days) is a great way to start building your skills so you’re ready in an emergency.
Enjoy the process of building your first aid kit and get to know your gear and how it works. You never know, you could save a life someday!