The first aid kit (FAK). Unlike the gun, it’s the unsung hero of self-preservation, taken out for a minute or two, used or at least rifled through for something needed, and put away. But FAKs deserve near-equal billing with handguns for their ability to save the hour, the day, or a life. Do you have a FAK for home, car, and work/school? Do the components of your kit(s) fit the needs you or your associates are likely to encounter in those places?
There’s more to having a FAK than just buying a cellophane-wrapped box with a cross on front, if you want one that’s actually going to help. Often the components of pre-fab drugstore FAKS are themselves just there to check the proverbial “got it” box—like plastic Band-Aids that don’t stick to anything. Take pride in selecting and maintaining your FAKs just as you do your gun and gun holster, and they will serve you well.
What goes into a good FAK? There are a few universal basics. The rest depends in on your lifestyle/activity and training. I have discussed before the importance of being prepared to stop major blood loss and potentially even other life-threatening injuries like sucking chest wounds. Get the training and suitable gear (like a real tourniquet that you know how to use, not a belt), as well as other equipment for these sorts of injuries. Find a way to have near-instant access to these tools, as seconds can be of the essence with traumas that include profuse blood loss.
In addition to blood loss, surviving long enough for help to arrive, whether it’s 30 minutes or two days, is the second most important consideration. Prevention of loss of body heat due to shock or hypothermia can kill in a relatively short time. A foil-cloth “space blanket” takes up minimal space, has very little weight, and works even if everything is soaked. At least a pint of purified water, or the ability to purify naturally occurring water with a gadget like a LifeStraw, can provide life-saving hydration.
Less critical but mostly universal items for FAKs include, at the most basic, fabric Band-Aids (the store brand is fine; the brand name is used here for clarity). Although the term “Band-Aid solution” is often meant as mockery, these humble little products have saved many a long day’s work or play.
Cloth tape is a staple in my range and hiking kits. Putting a Band-Aid on is one thing; keeping it on is another. Available in drug stores, it secures a Band-Aid through work and sweat. It can also form a fingerless glove to protect the web of the hand from 1911 grip safety abrasion or guard the support hand index finger from trauma induced by a small revolver or derringer. (If you’ve not experienced either, you haven’t shot these platforms enough). “Silk tape,” as it’s sometimes called, can also serve as an ad hoc label maker if you include a mini Sharpie or wax pencil in your kit.
Geographic location, season, and existing medical conditions should be considered when developing your kit. Included in my immediate response kit are a few tablets of Benadryl, which can be useful in preventing airway closure in response to a snakebite or bee sting-induced anaphylactic shock.
Often, pre-made first aid kits have a lot of stuff you’ll never need and lack some things you’re likely to need. Worse, the included components are often of poor quality, present only to “check a box” fulfilling a requirement for a first aid kit. As a result, I’ve taken a dim view of many pre-made kits, but recently, a notable exception caught my attention. The Outdoorsman First Aid Kit by DTL Gear is a complete package for emergency bleeding, anaphylactic shock, and skin-penetrating wounds of any sort that can be addressed in the field. What’s more, its ingredients are high quality and the zippered case comes with contents arranged in a visible layout. The water-resistant canvas pouch (or waterproof box, if you choose) unzips to lay flat, with the products being visible instantly without having to rummage through a pile of supplies.
The day I got my DTL Gear Outdoorsman’s Kit ($99 and up, with optional tourniquet upgrades), I had occasion to use it. A splintered target frame had implanted a tiny but painful sliver of wood into my finger. In the kit is a pair of stainless steel tweezers. This splinter-specific tool is great quality, with good clean edges that made short work of a deep splinter. They blow eyebrow tweezers away for real first aid tasks. I did unwrap the included SOF-T tourniquet and put it front and center for fast access, and added my own SWAT tourniquet too.
Make your first aid kit work for you, and pair it with training to deploy critical first aid tasks. If you’re inclined to go pre-made, or at least build a custom kit around a pre-made one, the DTL Gear kit is highly recommended.
Eve Flanigan is a defensive shooting and concealed carry instructor living in the American Southwest. Today she works full time as an instructor and writer in the gun industry. Flanigan loves helping new and old shooters alike to develop the skills needed to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.