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A well-equipped first-aid kit is the foundation of any solid contingency plan. There are common elements found in each kit, but the contents should change to match where they will be stored, and what they’ll be expected to do.
In order to figure out the essentials of the first-aid kit and which ones are worth paying for,Popular Mechanics spoke with Col. Ian Wedmore, the emergency medicine consultant to the surgeon general of the U.S. Army, and Myke Hawke, survival expert, author and founder of Specops, a survival training company made up of special operations veterans.
1. The DIY First Aid Kit
An easy way to think about the necessary contents of a first-aid kit is to break it up into two categories: it should have bandages and it should have medicine. For a bare-bones kit, Wedmore recommends plenty of gauze, including at least one roll of Kerlix bandages and some non-adhesive gauze. A handful of butterfly bandages, different-size bandages and an ace bandage should be included as well.
As far as medication goes, Tylenol or a generic equivalent, an anti-inflammatory such as aspirin, an antihistamine such as Benadryl and diarrhea medication would be sufficient for most short-term needs. A few pairs of rubber gloves, paramedic’s scissors, alcohol pads, Neosporin, lots of duct tape and a CPR face shield should finish the kit off. A small Tupperware container can make for a cheap, waterproof carrying case.
2. Pocket-Size First Aid
Coghlan’s Pack I kit contains all the materials needed to take care of minor skin wounds and is small enough to fit in a pocket, making it ideal for afternoon hikes and bike rides. The 1-inch by 3-inch moleskin pad provides relief for painful blisters, and the antiseptic pad and alcohol pad ensures wounds are clean.
3. Off-the-Shelf and Disaster-Ready First Aid
This disaster kit is built to sustain four people for three days; it includes 9600 calories’ worth of food and 96 ounces of water. All of the contents are stored in a 5-gallon plastic bucket, which can be converted to a makeshift toilet if needed. Survival expert Myke Hawke suggests swapping the plastic bucket for a metal one, so that it can be used to cook and boil water. Hawke also recommends replacing the kit’s four solar blankets with thick, heavy-duty trash bags. “Solar blankets are a neat concept for a day,” he tells PM. “After the first time you sleep in one, though, it falls apart. A trash bag can become a legitimate sleeping bag; it’s waterproof and it can be used to gather water.” The kit also includes a universal wrench to close damaged gas valves and a hand-crank emergency radio.
4. Backpacking Kit
“If a kit is too big, you’re going to be less inclined to take it with you,” Hawke says. “And that will be the one day you need it.” Fortunately, the Ultralight & Watertight .9 weighs just 10 ounces and contains trauma pads, duct tape, an irrigation syringe and necessary medications. There are more than enough bandages in this kit to patch up serious skin wounds, and its three safety pins can be used to convert a T-shirt into a sling if needed. While using an irrigation syringe may sound intimidating to someone with limited medical knowledge, they’re crucial to flushing out deep wounds. Since they don’t contain needles they make it difficult for amateurs to induce further injuries.
5. Automobile Kit
A first-aid kit that is going to be stashed in the trunk should not only be able to address injuries, it should also be able to get you back on the road and out of harm’s way. In addition to the 45-piece first-aid kit, the Warrior Road Kit comes with a 250-psi air compressor, a reflective triangle and a set of jumper cables. The fleece hat, gloves and scarf for brutal winter breakdowns are thoughtful additions.
6. Boating First Aid
Sunburn, sea sickness and fishhooks through the hand are all common injuries at sea, which you may not think about while you’re still on land. The Marine 300 comes equipped with aloe vera gel, nausea medication meclizine and a complete guide to marine medicine, which includes information on hook removal. Hawke notes that the three-quarters of an ounce of iodine is a nice addition because of its versatility. “Don’t get iodine tablets, get the drops,” he says. “Three drops in a cup of water, let it sit for 30 minutes, and you’re good to drink it. It can also be used to clean wounds, where tablets can’t, so it saves space.” While this kit wouldn’t be sufficient for a crew heading out for several days, it’s ample for a family fishing excursion.
7. Non-Human First Aid
Hunting dogs face countless risks out in the field, many of which can be fatal if not treated immediately. The most unique items in the Sporting Dog kit are the skin staple gun, which can be used to seal deep wounds, and the pill gun to assist in administering medications to unyielding pets. However, most of the supplies can be found in cheaper, human-oriented first-aid kits.
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