Every Emergency Bag needs a First Aid Kit. It doesn’t matter if the bag is for an adult or an infant, the bag needs a first aid kit customized to the individual.
Bug Out Bags are part of your personal and family safety net to help you make it through unexpected events. Emergencies usually come with the risk of injury or even death. A good first aid kit can take care of minor injuries and help stabilize a person until help arrives.
First Aid Kits
There are so many kits out there, ranging from $10 to $300+. How do you know what kit is right? You don’t want to buy too much and waste your money; and you definitely don’t want to not have an item you need because you bought a cheap kit. But, how do you find the right balance?
We’ll concentrate on the types of items you’ll need in an emergency that lasts 3 – 5 days and would require you to leave home — the exact scenario where you would need your emergency kit.
Categories of Contents
All first aid kits have items that fall into the same general categories. Some kits group items together based on the emergency type (small wound, burns, etc.) but most group them by category.
Grouping by category eliminates confusion as some items may be used for multiple types of injuries. A bandage may be needed for a small scrape, a medium cut, or a burn.
Here are the categories we’ll discuss
- Bandages & Dressings
- Antiseptics & Disinfectants
- Medications & Ointments
- PPE (Personal Protection Equipment)
The categories included in a kit as well as the quantity and variety from each category depend on the purpose of the kit and how many people need to rely on its contents.
Each family member needs a first aid kit in their emergency bag, but the contents will be different. Children and teens will carry smaller kits, while adults will have a more complete kit. One adult in each family needs to carry a “family kit” that has a few extra items. This kit is in place of their personal kit.
Bandages & Dressings
The most common items found in a first aid kit are bandages and dressings. Basic bandages include small to medium bandages made out of plastic or fabric, sometimes waterproof, which may have fun designs for kids.
Bandages are the first aid item almost everyone is most familiar with. Some may even be specialty bandages, like fingertip or knuckle bandages or eye pads.
Dressings include gauze pads, roller gauze, non-stick pads, absorbent pads, Tegaderm, burn dressings, and even moleskin. These are for larger or more severe injuries.
Gauze pads come in both sterile and non-sterile versions. They are for cleaning or covering a wound. Non-stick pads work great between the skin and the gauze pad so that the gauze doesn’t become imbedded or stick to the wound.
Absorbent pads include abdominal pads and Israeli bandages. These large bandages control massive bleeding from severe wounds. You might want to include one of these in your kit.
Tegaderm is a waterproof, thin film that can cover a bandage or dressing to keep it clean and dry.
Burn dressings are especially made for protecting burns; they do not stick to burns and have the burn gel already included. They are a clean, easy way to protect burns.
Moleskin is a special, flocked, adhesive-backed dressing used to protect and cushion blisters. This is especially important to have in an emergency kit, as many times people are not their normal shoes. Moleskin is cut large enough to completely cover the blister and adhere to the skin around it.
Adhesives include medical tape, butterfly bandages, and super glue.
Medical tape comes in all sizes and a variety of styles. Some are waterproof, others are made of paper or cloth. It comes in widths from ½” to 4″. I would recommend a roll of ½” for a child’s kit and 1″ for all other kits.
Butterfly bandages are the same thing as Steri-strips. These little pieces of adhesive take the place of stiches in holding a wound shut. They are frequently used in Emergency Rooms instead of stitches.
Super Glue is especially useful for repairing a broken finger or toenail. It is also useful in a pinch to glue clean cut wounds together, especially if you are out of butterfly bandages. Be careful not to glue your own fingers together. If carrying this, you might want to add a travel size bottle of acetone fingernail polish remover.
Do not put super glue in a child’s kit or in some teen kits.
Antiseptics & Disinfectants
Wounds are dirty and require cleaning before bandaging. This is where antiseptics come in handy. The most common form found in first aid kits is the BZK Antiseptic wipe. BZK stands for Benzalkonium in the Benzalkonium Chloride solution infused in the wipe. This antiseptic is alcohol free, will not sting, and is safe for sensitive areas (not eyes).
Traditional disinfectants are used to clean both skin and instruments. Alcohol prep wipes and Providone-Iodine prep pads are both good disinfectants, but they have specific uses. Iodine is for wounds/skin; Alcohol is for instruments.
Medications & Ointments
When you are at home, it’s easy to run to the medicine cabinet for common medications or creams. This is not the case when you’ve had to leave home due to an emergency. Emergency kits are not large enough to carry whole bottles of each over-the-counter medication.
A solution to this dilemma is to carry individual dose packets. This also helps eliminate the guesswork of the correct dosage – do you take one pill or two?
Medications that are available in individual packets are:
- Cough & Cold
- Acetaminophen, extra strength
- Migraine tablets
Many ointments are also available in individual use packets. This eliminates the worry about contaminating an entire tube, as well as reducing the weight of your kit.
Most kits include hydrocortisone for rashes, sting relief wipes, burn gel, and triple antibiotic ointment. Another must-have is lip balm. Have each kit owner choose their favorite flavor and brand.
PPE (Personal Protection Equipment)
Since the advent of COVID, everyone knows about PPE. Don’t forget to include some in your first aid kit. The most common piece of PPE everyone needs in a first aid kit is GLOVES.
Gloves protect both you and the patient. They help keep dirt out of wounds and protect you from bodily fluids. Just make sure to include enough pairs to be useful. Your emergency bag is meant to last 3-5 days. You should have a minimum of one pair of gloves per day.
In addition to Nitrile gloves, I also have work gloves and water-resistant, grippy gloves. These help protect my hands regardless of the situation. I keep my gloves in a separate pouch in my emergency bag instead of with my first aid kit; only a few pairs of nitrile gloves are kept with the first aid supplies.
What type of tools are needed in a first aid kit? They can vary widely based on the needs of the individual. Some people may need special items like blood-pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, or pulse oximeters.
Most people will only need the basics: tweezers, safety pins, a light stick, and a first aid booklet.
The “family” kit might also include thermometers, penlights, scissors (I recommend EMT shears), and splints (or items that can be used as splints – like tongue depressors).
Every kit needs some type of bag to hold the contents. The more you carry, the bigger the bag. A simple zippered pencil case can work for a child’s kit. Just put the items for each category in different snack-sized Ziploc bags.
The same strategy can be used for the larger kits, even if they are in official “first aid” bags.
I suggest using Ziploc bags for organization whenever possible. Not only can you find items more quickly, but they will keep your important supplies dry.
Ready-made or Custom?
Every emergency bag needs a first aid kit! I recommend you customize any kit you buy off the shelf. Think about your family and each member. How many items might they need over the course of 3 – 5 days?
You can make smaller kits for younger members of the family. Just make sure another member of the family is carrying additional supplies to make up for it. Also, realize that having one member carry a big kit while others carry the minimum isn’t helpful if family members are seperated.
If you need help finding kit recommendations, check out our posts of kits and suggested contents. We have the following kits:
All of these kits are sized for fitting in an Emergency bag. Remember, every emergency bag needs a first aid kit.
Other Kit Components
The first aid kit is just one component of your Emergency Kit. Check your supplies compared to the recommendations for your bag in each of the following categories. Links are provided below if you want to go back and review.