Building Your Own Emergency Medical Kit
Everyone needs at least one emergency medical kit. You should have a kit in each vehicle and in your home. The kit needs to include trauma items for serious events. We recommend the 12 Survivors First Aid Roll up Kit if you want a partially stocked med kit as a starting point.
You can use the emergency medical kit list below to replace items in an existing kit, supplement existing kits and/or build your own customized First Aid Kits (FAK) or individual first aid kit (IFAK) . Our target for this list is to identify items for your FAK that are a step below or near the basic EMT level kit, for a med kit would be useful at home, at work and in the wild.
Good Bags to start your Emergency Medical Kit
TIP: Estimate the med kit size you need by buying all the small items and bagging them in zip lock baggies. Pile them up and measure the pile. Always buy a bit bigger if you can OR force your items to fit the bag size for the small portable kits. For instance, include single use medications instead of a bottle of meds. You want a bit more room than you think you will need. If you end up using the kits, you'll find you stock more and less of various items over time. The Rescue Essentials kit below is proof you can fit a LOT in a very small “Pocket Sized Kit”.
POCKET SIZED MEDICAL KITS
The 44 to 90 cubic inch packs listed below are very small “pocket” or individual first aid kits (IFAKs). They are designed to be worn on a belt, in a backpack or attached to the outside of a larger pack. These can be either a trauma kit or small first aid kit to hold things over till a medic or EMT arrives. All require you to do the labeling and color coding. They are normally sized to support one patient. Scores are based on CommonSenseHome opinion only.
Pre-Stocked: Rescue Essentials Covert Carry clamshell 5.75″ x 3.75″ x 2.25″ (44 cu inch) Weight: 10.4oz – excellent tiny trauma kit – primarily designed for police and EMT use. Its tiny and carefully designed. This kit has little to no room for add on items. Excellent but expensive.
Empty Rescue Essentials Compact IFAK rip-away pouch clamshell 6.5″ x 4″ x 2″ (52 cu inch) Empty Weight: 8 oz (GOOD)
Empty Condor Pocket Pouch clamshell+ foldout 6.75″ x 4.75″ x 2″ (60 cu inch) Empty Weight: 2.4 oz (GOOD)
Empty Condor EMT pouch clamshell 7″ x 5″ x 2.5″ (84 cu inch) Empty Weight 4oz (GOOD)
Empty Molle Pouch – Tactical Compact Water-resistant EDC Bag partial clamshell 8.7″ x 4.9″ x 2.2″ (90 cu inch) Empty Weight: 2.1oz (GOOD)
SMALL SIZED MEDICAL KITS
The 144 to 200 cubic inch packs listed below are designed to be a full individual first aid / trauma kit or a small group trauma or first aid kit. They are designed to be carried, or attached to the outside of a larger pack. This kit size can be used to store more items so it can hold a few critical items to keep someone alive and stabilize them. All of these kits require you to do the labeling and color coding, with the exception of the Survival Solutions Handy First Aid Kit.
The Survival Solutions sets and example for organization and labeling. Its fairly inexpensive and again shows how much you can fit in a small case. But it also demonstrates why separate compartments are good and bad. They ensure ease of use but add weight and reduce the amount of items you can put in a kit. The Rescue Essentials kit demonstrates the minimum space and weight for a small kit.
Pre-Stocked: Survival Solutions Handy First Aid Kit clamshell 5.5 x 7.5 x 3.5 (144 cu inch) Weight: 1.1 lbs – fully stocked. The SurviveWare is darn close to this and good also, better if you need a smaller kit, we like the extra space in this kit.
Pre-Stocked: Rescue Essentials EMT RIP-AWAY LITE OPERATOR KIT Clamshell 6¼” x 4½” x 4½” (126 cu inch) Empty Weight: 1lb 5oz trauma kit with shears. Good but expensive.
Empty Tactical Molle EMT clamshell 8 X 6 X 3 inches (144 cu inches) includes shears (Simple Good One)
Empty Condor Rip Away tri-fold 8 X 6 X 3.5 inches (168 cu inch) Empty Weight: 8 ounces (GOOD)
Empty Compact Tactical MOLLE Rip-Away tri-fold 8x7x3.5 inches (196 cu inch) includes shears (Good but actually a few too many straps)
MEDIUM SIZED MEDICAL KITS
The 12 survivors first aid kit (above) is our recommended kit. Even if you are building your own, this is a good emergency medical kit to start with. The only other one we might recommend would be the Blackhawk. Both kits roll out to allow you to see what you need and give you room to add critical items, but still keep the kit manageable and usable.
The 400 to 600 cubic inch packs listed below are medium sized kits. They are designed to be used for a full trauma and first aid kit for small group. They are designed to be carried separately, or attached to the outside of a larger pack. This kit size can be used to store more items so it can hold a number of critical items to keep someone alive and stabilize them. All these kits require you to do the labeling and color coding, with the exception of the 12 Survivors First Aid Kit.
Pre-Stocked RECOMMENDED: 12 Survivors First Aid Roll up Kit roll 33in x 15in (500 cu inch). Weight: 2.2 lbs
We have this kit, and recommend it. Its a good deal even if you only buy the kit for the roll out bag. The supplies are well worth the couple of dollars difference, compared to the Blackhawk roll kit. (BEST)
Empty Dixie EMS EMPTY First Responder II Bag zipper bag 5″ W x 5″ H x 8″ D (420 cu inches) Empty Weight: 9.9 ounces. This is an inexpensive basic kit. (GOOD)
Empty Blachawk Emergency roll Roll Open dimension is 37″ long and 13.5″ wide (479 cu inch). Empty Weight 1.1 lbs Closed dimension is about 13.5″ long and 5.5″ tall depending your contents. Its a good kit. You can see what you put in it. You will have to do your own labeling. The only things we don't like are the pockets are accessed from the top (harder to get things in and out). (GOOD)
Empty Red Rock Outdoor Gear Rover Sling Pack bag 8″W x 5.5″D x 11.5″H (506 cu inch) Empty Weight: 1lb is a good choice if you want a mid-sized over the shoulder First Aid Kit – it has 6 compartments: two zippered compartments on the front, one zippered pouch inside the main compartment, two other pouches on the inside and a snap closure concealed carry pocket on the back panel. Only partly water resistant, will leak. (GOOD)
LARGE & XL SIZED MEDICAL KITS
The 1200 to 3800 cubic inch packs listed below are large and XL kits. They are designed to be used for a full trauma and first aid kit for small group or multiple trauma victims. They are designed to be carried separately either as a backpack or duffel bags. This kit size can be used to store more items so it can hold a number of critical items to keep someone alive and stabilize them. All these kits require you to do the labeling and color coding. For these larger kits we recommend you create sub-kits. These take more room but allow you to grab what you need and keep it organized. Get something like the Condor 3 day or 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 and add the Condor small and medium kits representing: medications, airway, gunshot, bleeding, and so on. Customize the kits to your expertise and needs. The XL kits will probably leave room for a small survival pack – fire-starter, lifestraw etc.
Empty MERET SAVIOR 7 PRO COMBAT MEDICAL PACK (1378 cubic inches) 21.5 x 13.5 x 4.75 inches Empty Weight: 4lbs 8oz large professional backpack. This is a good large UNSTOCKED First Aid Kit. It is labeled but very pricey. Full MOLLE webbing – probably only for medics and professionals.
Empty 5.11 Tactical RUSH Rush 12 1476 cubic inch Empty Weight: 16oz (1lb) fully MOLLE webbed backpack. Good Pack
Empty Explorer Tactical Range Bag 16 x 7 x 14 Inch (1568 cu inches) Empty Weight: 2lbs It is good if you want a shoulder strap mid-sized multi compartment duffel bag (not backpack) to drop down in an emergency. It has tons of separate compartments. But no MOLLE webbing
Pre-Stocked: Lightning X Small First Responders Kit 17″ x 9″ x 11″ (1683 cu inches) Weight: 7lbs over the shoulder traditional EMT style bag. Well stocked bag but disorganized.
Empty 3 Day Expandable Tactical Backpack is a good choice for car kit plus the emergency items. 5″ x 21″ x 8″; up to (2470 cubic inches) empty weight: 3.6 lbs. – limited MOLLE webbing
Empty 5.11 Rush 72 2894 cu inches; empty weight: 4 lbs – excellent MOLLE webbing
Empty Condor 3 day pack 22″ x 17″ x 11″; 3038 cubic inches; Empty Weight: 2.5 lbs – decent MOLLE webbing (Good & great price)
Pre-Stocked: Stomp First Aid Kit 10 x 14 x 19 inches 4522 cubic inches
Standardize Your Emergency Medical Kit(s)
Make kits interchangeable. If at all possible, buy or build all your similar size med kits the same. Use the same layout, same items, same orientation, same labeling. This cuts down response time in emergencies, and makes it easier to rotate supplies. The best case is to have a bunch of duplicate pocket kits, duplicate car kits, and one or two larger kits.
Think about ease of use. Your smallest first aid kits should fit in a large pants pocket, purse, or coat pocket. If it's too big to fit in a pocket, be able to strap it on. Make sure the small car and pocket FAK cases have the option to connect to a belt and MOLLE webbing to connect to a larger backpack. a get home bag or a larger First Aid Kit.
Why Standardize? Because you need to train yourself, friends and family on how to use first aid kit(s).
- Everyone who is trained on that First Aid Kit (FAK) can grab it and use it.
- You can use ONE kit for training and not have lots of expense creating multiple training kits
- You can keep one or more spares
- Restocking is simpler
Med Kit Suggestions
Use expiring FSA/HSA Money. Many First Aid Kits are eligible for reimbursement through your HSA (Healthcare Spending Account) or FSA (Flexible Spending Account). If you are about to lose your HSA money, use it up. First Aid Supplies are listed in the HSA eligible expenses here: http://etf.wi.gov/members/IYC2017/HSAEligibleExpenses.pdf
If you like “adventure medical” the FSA Store is a good place to buy if you want someone else to deal with some of the reimbursement paperwork.
Color Code and Organize. Label everything. Consider an every day kit and a trauma kit – or one larger one with compartments. In large kits, color code (such as red for trauma) or use BIG LABELS. This makes it easy to request a specific sub kit. Place smaller bundles of items into zip lock bags and label the zip lock bag, or vacuum seal. Small, loose pieces are a mess waiting to happen.
Rotate Kit Usage. Rotate your first aid kits. Use up one and then put the newest in the oldest place. Have directions in every kit. Print or buy a patient assessment sheet and keep it with the trauma kit(s). You can color code items by category using different color duct tape, and then label the duct with the Sharpie.
Personal Medical Information. Make a sheet with basic medical information such as blood types, allergies and other notes that would impact treatment for family members or those most likely to use the kit. Two sided business card sized info sheets can be laminated and cut into squares, with one square per person. Keep these in your FAK.
Vacuum Seal. If you have a vacuum sealer, use it to protect your less used items. Vacuum seal them into similar items or sub kits – for instance, a pack of band-aids. The vacuum sealed pouches reduce oxidation, which means that adhesives and flexible materials like gloves last longer. You can also eliminate some packing and then reseal/protect using the vacuum sealer. Do not break sterile packs when unpacking the pre-made kits.
Vacuum sealing protects items from rain and damage better than just a zip lock and you can create custom sized mini-packs that are wider, shorter or thinner/thicker kits based on your needs. See 5 Uses for a Vacuum Sealer Everyone Should Know for more information.
12 Must Have Items for your Medical Trauma Kit
Assuming you have the space and carrying capacity, these are the minimum items you need to keep someone alive.
Get basic first aid training before you use the Intermediate and Advanced items. Remember, “stuff” is not helpful if you don't know how to use it.
- At least one of these: (1) 50g 5×5 QuikClot sponge and (1) QuikClot 3 x 24 gauze and (1) QuikClot 25g 3.5 x 3.5 gauze bandages. Clean the wound, rip the package open and press until bleeding stops then wrap with any bandage or even duct tape to keep it in place. Note a single Quik clot package will fit inside the smaller kits with the existing items. We recommend two per vehicle and multiple at home. is best. We think the BEST of the three is the QuikClot 3×24 gauze, it is Z or S folded and can be packed into a wound, or draped over a long bleeding wound – so you can use one package on multiple wounds and/or patients.
- A Sharpie Marker
- Elastic Ace Bandage 4″ two pack
- Nitrile Gloves get your size
- Regular and Needle Tweezers
- An LED flashlight such as the Lumintop EDC 01 AAA LED flashlight for small kits or the Thrunite TN12 for large kits.
- Israel type First Aid Compression Bandage 6″ x 70″ bandage, or pressure bandage, or sling or even a tourniquet
- INTERMEDIATE- Steri-Strips effectively you can tape a wound shut with these
- INTERMEDIATE- (1) package – Halo chest seal includes 1 standard and 1 vented) for a entry & exit chest wound
- INTERMEDIATE- Madison Premium Trauma Shears or Leatherman Trauma Shears
- ADVANCED- Nasopharyngeal Airway
- ADVANCED- ARS Chest Decompression Needle
Emergency Medical Kit Supply List, Grouped by Use
The following lists are other items we recommend that you consider, depending on your level of first aid training.
TIP: Start with what you think you are most likely to use. Add items as your budget allows. If you can afford it, get items that are one step above your skill level. During an emergency situation, you may be paired with someone who has more experience.
- Madison Premium Trauma Shears or Madison shears kit if you don’t want to get the items individually or Leatherman Trauma Shears
- Regular Tweezers and Needle Tweezers pack
- VALLENN No Touch Thermometer uses (2) AAA batteries – too big for the small and medium sized First Aid Kits or disposable thermometer strips
- Blood Lancets – great for getting out slivers
- Surgical Kit
- Recon Medical Gen 3 Tourniquet
- Basic Stethoscope or the nicer 3M Littmann
- Scalpel #10
- Sturdy fingernail clipper
- The small Leatherman Micra multi-tool or the larger Leatherman Wingman for larger kits
- Pocket BVM (Bag Vent Mask)
- Nasopharyngeal Airway
- ADC Berman Oral airway kit 6 sizes in poly bag
- ADVANCED- ARS Chest Decompression Needle
- Two pairs of non-Latex sterile gloves (if you are allergic to Latex). Make sure you get your size – you can pack pairs in small ziplock or sandwich bags. Make sure you get your size.
- CPR Mask (if you want to be extra safe with CPR)
- 3M n95 mask Dust & Environmental mask
Wound Cleaning & Infection Control
- Get a number of wipes with the Rescue Essentials Wound Prep module
- Alcohol wipes
- Anti-bacterial wipe
- Polysporin is recommended if you cant find Polysporin consider Neosporin if you need them even smaller – Polysporin packets we recommend this because it reduces the likelihood of allergy or skin irritation compared to neosporin
- Eye wash & Eye pads
- Povidone Surgical Scrubs (iodine)
- 8-oz iodine shampoo
- 32 oz hydrogen peroxide 2 pack
- Topical Treatments pack
- Cotton swabs – individual packs
- Saline syringe individual 10 pack – wash, or flush eyes, or irrigate a wound (NOTE: too big to fit in most small and medium kits – for large, XL FAKs and home use)
- Saline pack smaller saline containers for small and medium kits
- isopropol alcohol
- Travel bar of soap (hotel bar – cut in 1/2 for small kits or survival kits where low weight is required)
Patient Bone Fracture and Break Immobilization
- Buy a pack of washcloths and put one or more in each Basic and a few in the Advanced First Aid kit. It can be used as a large bandage with compression or simple cleanup.
- Duct Tape Pack can be used as chest seal (if you burp it as needed), splint or sling, can also go over Burn Gel pad or other wet application items
- Safety pins
- Mosquito repellent
- Sharpie Markers can be used to label zip lock bags for sub-kits in your first aid kit. Sharpie markers can also be used to write critical information directly on the patient – to ensure other medical professionals get key information. They can write on nearly anything.
- RecoverORS Clinical Electrolytes
- Cling Wrap over a sucking chest wound, or over a burn pad to keep it protected
- Folding Magnifying glass if you need to examine a wound, eye or bite up close
- Storm Alert Whistle ridiculously loud
- Cold pack
- Warm pack
- No Rinse Bath Wipes
- Desitin if you have a baby
- Emergency Poncho rain protection for you, your patients and others
- Emergency Blanket can be used for warmth, shock protection, rain protection, windblock, sun protection and as a clean work surface
- In the cold warm wool socks can make a big difference (use as mittens or socks). Wool will provide warmth even if its wet.
- Steri-Strips bandage to close up a cut
- 3-M liquid bandage New Skin Liquid Bandage & SuperGlue are alternatives but both sting a lot
- Medical Tape
- Skin Stapler – these are getting harder to find
- UberScientific Sutures Thread with Needle Pkg. Of 5
- Mole Skin for foot care
- 2 packs 3-0 plain gut suture (absorbable) with needles
- Gerber Gauze cloth diaper These are great as diapers and large injury gauze
- 2×25 4×4 gauze pads
- 4in x 4ft gauze roll (PBT Conforming)
- Roll absorbent cotton (1 per kit)
- Lightning X Airway kit six sizes
- A Snake Bite Kit? We don't recommend any. Instead take a picture of the snake if possible. Remove any rings, watches, tight clothing and anything else from the bitten limb, because the swelling will make it a lot bigger soon. Write near the wound date/time of the bite. If you are going to buy a kit, consider the Sawyer Extractor or LIVABIT
- If you live in deer tick areas consider a Tick Spoon
- Poison Ivy kit
- First Aid Eye Wash Kit
Dental First Aid
- Dental floss
- An Emergency Dental Kit
- Save a tooth
- Dental replacement kit
- Extra ToothPaste and Toothbrush
- Coverlet elbow/knee bandages
- Tefla gauze bandages use the 100 pack to add to first aid kits and as a home stock
- Triangular bandage sling and other uses
- Assorted Band Aid Bandages
- Self-Adhesive Bandage Roll
You can make your own small medication packs buy purchasing 2″ x 3″ zip lock bags, labeling the bags and buying the medication in bulk. You can also buy ready packed single use packages. These are great if you are making multiple duplicate medical kits and want to be able to slip in the various meds in with full labeling original packaging. Consider making multiple kits at once with friends and family. Buy in bulk and save a few dollars.
- Bayer packets
- Imodium anti-diarrhea
- Dramamine motion sickness med
- Aleve non-aspirin
- Alka Seltzer
Herbal and Natural
- Aloe Vera Gel (sunburn gel)
- Arnica gel (sore muscles)
- Plantain Salve (is reported to cut the itch from mosquito and other small bites)
- Lavender essential oil (is reported to reduce pain for burns)
- Elderberry syrup
- Manuka honey (Honey is reported to aid in abrasion and small wound healing – it has been used for 1000s of years to help heal wounds)
- If you want to pack honey or other similar items in small usable cases consider the 5ml clear tube (label with a Sharpie)
The Best Prep is Self Prep
The best way to prepare for a medical emergency – large or small – is training. Learn the basics. Hands on medical training is best, but even basic knowledge of body systems and simple trauma treatment will help. You and your lifestyle are unique, so customize your emergency medical kit to fit likely scenarios.
Are there items you stock that are not on the list? What other preparedness topics would you like to learn more about? Leave a comment and let me know.
This post was written by August Neverman IV. August is the Chief Information Officer and Information Security Officer of Brown County. He's served on several emergency preparedness teams during his tenure at a local hospital, as well as undergoing emergency response training during his time with the Air National Guard. August and his wife, Laurie, live in northeast Wisconsin in a WI Green Built certified home on their permaculture homestead with their two sons.