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How To Build A Basic First Aid Kit

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  • Post last modified:January 2, 2023
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  • Reading time:25 mins read
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I’m going to help you build a decent first-aid kit. I mean a basic first aid kit. You can use one in your home, office, or car without the assistance of a wheelbarrow. You won’t need a medical degree to use it.

Better yet, you’re going to build a basic first aid kit that’s far better than those done-for-you kits at the pharmacy, and we’re not going to break the bank building it.

This is an area that I got carried away with. I recommend starting with the basics and a few ‘extras’ and moving on to the next steps to preparedness if you’re not going to become a medic or EMS. Yes, build a BASIC first aid kit. Otherwise, weeks of effort and over a thousand dollars come into play. Ask me how I know.

A ‘complete first aid’ kit from your local pharmacy is never complete. It’s full of band-aids and useless packs of salves and lotion. You can’t get your finger into the tiny scissors and a one-pair pack of cheap nitrile gloves that will rip as soon as you try to unroll it.

You can start with one of those ready-made kits, but unless you start with something quality like those from Doom and Bloom, you’ll need to add a few more basics. I think you’ll find this the most cost-effective as well. Think of the more valuable items that will likely be needed. Not necessarily the trach kit and defibrillator.

The Survival Medicine Handbook
Sponsored Link (Amazon)

I have no affiliation with Doom and Bloom and haven’t bought anything other than their book, ‘The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Help is NOT on the Way,’ $paid, which is impressive. I’m just a fan. And I wouldn’t be mad at anyone that skipped this step and bought the deluxe minor wound care kit from Nurse Amy.

I could have done better buying her First Aid Kit Stomp Plus Grab N Go™ by the time I put my own together.

Two reasons: While impressive, my kits are a little too involved for my skills. Ok, very involved for my skills. Happy now? LOL

Second, while I was playing around for weeks on medical supply websites, watching videos, and following every medic with a YouTube channel, I could have been moving on to other steps of preparedness.

First-Aid Gear Overkill
In My Office/Studio – First-Aid Gear Overkill

I’m not saying you shouldn’t build a basic first aid kit yourself and buy the basic kit from Nurse Amy, I’m saying do either but don’t get carried away as I did. That obsession doesn’t serve anyone other than the medical supply stores,

Note on natural remedies and treatments

Natural Remedies

I’m going to drop in a few (And undoubtedly incomplete) items to consider for building a basic first aid kit. Still, I’d be remiss not to mention that there are very often natural remedies and treatments we can often take advantage of before grabbing the commercial meds. That’s a topic for another article and more than we’re looking for in this particular piece, but I just wanted to mention it quickly.

How big and extensive should your first-aid kit be?

Oh snap, I forgot my disclaimer. Hey, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nurse, medic, or even qualified to carry their medical bags. Everything I say, show, and write is for informational purposes only. Or is it for entertainment purposes? Whichever one keeps me from getting sued, that’s the one I mean.

That was close. Ok, so how big? Remember I said basic? “How to build a basic first aid kit.”

Different Size First Aid Kits
Different size first aid kits.

I’ve already given the reasons I don’t recommend going crazy, at least at the beginning of our steps to preparedness. Build a basic first aid kit. That doesn’t mean the kit will fit in your back pocket. If you have a family, especially if you have children, your kit is going to be much bigger than if for just a single adult living alone.

The size of your first aid kit is going to vary, person to person, depending on their situation.

Here are a few ideas when you build a basic first aid kit:

First-Aid Kit Supplies
First-Aid Kit Supply Ideas

The beauty of building your kits is that you can customize and adapt them for your and your family’s needs. So please look at my list as ideas, not necessarily recommendations. I may be in an entirely different situation and the environment with different underlying medical challenges than you.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

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  • Extra bandages and gauze – (You can go through a lot very quickly with a bad injury) Be sure to include some sizeable absorbent compress dressings.
  • Gauze rolls and stretch wraps – (I just needed a little stretch sports gauze a couple of days ago when I jammed my finger into a sprung injury. A little gauze and a popsicle stick, and I was back in business.)
  • Minor pain relief – Toss in some aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. You can keep the silly little bug sting packets if you start with a pre-made kit. 🙂
  • An instant cold compress – These are useful for relief and swelling.
  • A thermometer is necessary – Feeling someone’s forehead doesn’t give us the number we’re looking for. I like the Digital Oral Thermometer (I just bought another one) for my kits. I have several infrared point-and-shoot thermometers for the house, and I just bought this one while writing this article. As you can see, I have a problem. 🥺 I have an infrared ear thermometer for babies, but that thing is junk, and I can’t recommend it.
  • Pulse Oximeter Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor – Ever since the covid came crashing the party, I recommend at least one Fingertip Pulse and O2 monitor. They’re surprisingly inexpensive but don’t wait for the next “newsworthy surge,” and everything is sold out. I have several and a couple of different brands, but this one has the best rating and value out of the ones I own.
  • Basic over-the-counter meds – This might mean checking your medicine cabinet supplies. You’ll want the basics such as cold and flu medicine, heartburn, and acid reflux relief like antacids or Omeprazole.
  • Vicks vapor rub – This is like a little miracle rub. A little container goes a long way.
  • You’re personal medications – Why would we keep a few of our personal and prescription medications in a first aid kit? I always have a kit with me, either in a pack or in my car. That means my wife and I always have a few backup meds. You never know when you’ll get held over overnight or locked up in jail. ~joking.
  • Allergy medication – Benadryl or Claritin. WOW, is that Claritin expensive? Ask the pharmacist if there’s a decent generic version.
  • Constipation and diarrhea – Two completely different issues, but we mention them together. A little laxative and fiber will come in handy for minor constipation. Pepto Bismol and/or Imodium A-D can help with some diarrhea.
  • PPE: Hand sanitizer, nitrile gloves & N-95 mask – I ran this stuff in my packs way before covid. Covid just made it more popular.
  • Trauma shears or scissors – So we’re not looking to cut someone’s clothes to expose a massive wound in someone’s leg here, hopefully, but it’s nice to be able to cut some tape our gauze without using our nasty teeth. Any small pair of scissors will do really. You can pick up a decent pair of EMT/Trauma scissors cheap. Here’s a set of two under $10. They’re not the best; they won’t cut an exhaust pipe in half and don’t fold into a belt holder. Remember, this list is for a first aid kit, not actual medics and medical professionals.
  • Pocket knife – A folding knife is optional as far as I’m concerned. I like knives, but a decent pair of shears is better for a med kit. Wow, it actually hurt a little to say that.
  • Flashlight – You’re cutting boxes with a box cutter, forgetting to think for a second. It’s dark, and you were cutting the stupid way. Some light will come in handy. Ask me how I know this. I love the Anker Rechargeable Bolder LED Pen Flashlight. Many preppers like this flashlight as an EDC, but I think it’s too long for my pocket. It’s perfect for our first aid kits, though.
  • Rechargeable Headlamp – I have headlamps all over the house, in every pack, every car – I think they are a must-have tool. They for sure have a place in my first aid kits. Trying to hold a flashlight in my teeth while cleaning and wrapping a bleeding cut, or have light just magically shining wherever I look? Yep. Headlamps. Here is the rechargeable headlamp I recommend right now. I’ve bought them several times in a row because they work great and last a long time.
  • Pocket make-up mirror – I like this Goody 1937050 Soft Touch Compact Mirror with Dual Magnification because it’s very durable, closes to protect the mirrors, and is inexpensive. Why a mirror in a first aid kit? It’s a helpful tool if you have to clean and cover a cut on your neck, forehead, cheek, etc.
  • Tweezers – Digging a piece of metal or wood from your finger with your fingernails isn’t ideal, and tweezers are inexpensive. I don’t have a pair of tweezers I recommend. I go to the pharmacy and close them to make sure they are perfectly aligned, and that’s the one I buy. Don’t buy cheap plastic tweezers. The will break.
  • Rubbing alcohol – I like the spray bottles, and you can probably find them in the dollar store. In fact, a lot of these supplies can be found in dollar stores.
  • Paper towels or a clean washcloth – I don’t see this listed on most first aid kit contents, but I like to have a few paper towels handy. I fold them up inside a Ziploc bag.
  • Chapstick – I prefer the Carmex tubes because the lids usually stay on. They don’t leak in the kit. I use this stuff a lot, and not just for chapped lips. It’s actually part of my EDC. This time of year (winter), I put a little on the edges of my fingernails where that little wedge of skin dries up and hurts. I even use it on my gladhand grommets when they’re letting air leak out, but I’m guessing most people will have no idea what I just said. Let me know in the comments if you know what I just said.
  • Candy? Yep, for the five-year-old that’s going to experience you cleaning their skinned knee. They deserve a little candy after that.
  • Any specialized meds or equipment – Any medicine or medical gear someone in your family or under your care requires. These are extras – within reason. For example, if your son has severe allergies and requires an EpiPen, keep an extra here. If your spouse is a diabetic and needs a Blood Glucose Monitor Kit, keep a spare in your kit. You get the idea.

Let’s talk bags and packs

First-Aid Packs And Bags

I prefer soft-sided canvas or cloth bags and packs over a hard plastic case, but anything will work. My first kit was inside a used kid’s school backpack. I upgraded pretty quickly, but it worked just fine. We need something large enough and keeps the supplies clean and dry. Fancy packs with all the organization and pockets are cool but not necessary.

Medium MOLLE rip-away car med kit

Medium MOLLE Rip-Away Med Kit

These tri-fold molle rip-away packs are great for the outside of a tactile backpack for either first-aid, trauma, or survival pouch. This particular pouch is being used as part of my car kit. The bag/pouch I have is the MOLLE Medical Pouch EMT First Aid Pouch Rip-Away IFAK Tactical Utility Pouch. You can see the contents on my Instagram, but I have it setup as both a first aid and trauma kit.

Medium family-size tote/duffle bag

Family Size Medical Duffle Bag
My family-size medical kit with duffle bag.

The red medium family-size tote/duffle bag you see above is the Rothco Emt Bag. I also bought this module pouch pack called Lightning X Color Coded First Aid Medical Kit Accessory Pouches, and I love the organization they provide.

Here’s the big backpack med kit I have: Lightning X Premium Tactical Medic Backpack w/Modular Pouches & Hydration Port

Medicine Cabinets -vs.- Basic First Aid Kits

My Medicine Cabinet
My Medicine Cabinet is a little overkill. Starting to see a pattern yet?

Here’s the medicine cabinet with some of the medical supplies included. I’ve added more supplies since I bought it. Personally, I feel this is a little much for most families.

Do you need an actual first aid kit if you have a medicine cabinet? Probably not if you already have the supplies you need.

I would want a portable version to go in the car or our suitcase while traveling.

But if you’re building a basic first-aid kit for your house, I don’t see an issue with it hanging on the wall in a cabinet rather than in a kit somewhere. At least you will always know where your first-aid supplies are.

My Back Bathroom Medicine Cabinet
My back bathroom medicine cabinet before I moved the stuff onto shelves in my office/studio/gear room.

In my experience, however, most people’s medicine cabinets are in their bathrooms. They contain used deodorant that needs the top wiped, strong colognes and perfume, enough makeup to keep a circus clown busy for hours, and toothbrushes covered in unrinsed dried toothpaste exposed to the nasties floating around in the bathroom. Oh, and that makeup powder? Half of it is spilled all over the bottom and shelves of the medicine cabinet.

I don’t judge, so I won’t bring any of that up.

I’ve been to your house snooping around in the medicine cabinet. Yes, I have. But you do you. If you have the first aid supplies and they’re where you need them, I say move on to the next step.

Trauma Kits -vs.- First Aid Kits

Trauma Kits -vs.- First Aid Kits
One of my car kit packs. The first aid kit is on the left. The trauma kit is the small one on the right with the tourniquet, the clotting gauze, and Israeli Battle Dressing sticking out the top.

Notice there’s no tourniquet, pressure bandages, chest seal, or clotting agents. I have all that and more, and I keep trauma kits in every vehicle, in our home, and even in my get-home bag. They are very important for real-life medical emergencies we can find ourselves in at any moment.

Trauma Kit And First Aid Kits
Trauma Kit And First Aid Kits. I made that trauma kit with a Rapid Application Tourniquet System (R.A.T.S) inside. The kit is sized and sealed to fit my cargo pocket while hiking. You never know when a bear will chew your face off or something.

This article, however, is how to build a basic first aid kit. I’ll cover building trauma kits later (Wow, my list is growing fast). I want to keep things as simple and inexpensive as possible. I do keep these kits separate myself. For example, I have a large backpack medical kit (Overkill) that had three different trauma kits attached to it.

I believe that monster medical pack is down to two trauma kits attached, but they are packed separately. They can be ‘pulled’ from the pack. That allows me to grab the trauma kit and run to help with a medical emergency without dragging a colossal pack over and trying to look for life-saving supplies while someone is bleeding out. So they are two separate packs. But we’re talking basic first aid supplies today.

Little Girl With A Boo Boo To Fix

Side Rant: While on the subject, can I mention something that bugs the mess out of me? Is it me, or is it ridiculous that grown people keep calling their first aid Boo Boo Kits? 🧐 I cringe every time I hear that, but it’s what YouTubers do – all the time. They take one person’s content, I.e., Boo Boo Kit, and repeat it ad nauseam. The next thing you know, every grown man sitting in the woods with a video camera is calling their first aid kits Boo Boo Kits! Okay, I’m done venting. Maybe mommy is the one holding the camera.😅

Wrapping Up How To Build A Basic First Aid Kit

I feel I’ve taken up enough of your valuable time. Who’d a thunk I’d have so much to say about building a little first aid kit?

Remember this – When you make your own kit, you’re customizing it to fit your needs. That’s true whether it’s a first aid kit, survival kit, or whiskey-drinking kit. There are no rules, and this is just a guide. Get as creative or as simplistic as you like. Try to cover the bases but understand we can’t prepare for everything.

Later on, I’ll walk you down the trauma kit path. That’s going to be fun too.

Call To Action / Next Step

Building YOUR Realistic Preparedness Action Plan

Stay safe. Stay prepared.
God Bless. Hawkins out!

Little girl boo boo image by: Digital Photo and Design DigiPD.com from Pixabay

Brian Hawkins

Father, grandfather, Veteran, animal lover, law-abiding taxpayer, homeowner, trucker, and a United States Citizen. Oh, and I'm also a prepper, survivalist, responsible gun owner, and hiker.

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