Medical Kit Lessons Learned

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Over the last several months, I have put together a small, yet flexible, medical kit for my pack, which is also my 72-hour kit. A while back I tested my 72-hour kit and wrote about my experiences here.

It took a minor family medical crisis to make me realize my kit was mostly complete when I had to remove a portion of my son’s toenail.  I had everything in my medical kit needed to remove the nail, treat the nail bed, and prevent infection. That was when I decided to share the contents of my kit with others.

Testing and Evaluation

My background is one of preparedness. In the military, we made casualty response plans, then tested those plans. We called them “drills.” Now, in my post-military life, I’m CERT-trained, and FEMA IS-22 certified – both deal extensively with emergency response and preparation. This experience lends itself to building a decent medical kit as each time I need to use a first aid kit, I make sure I have that item in my medical kit. I have also added to the kit based on reading and discussions with medical personnel.

Medical Kit Inventory and Reasons for Inclusion

My kit is housed in an old Crayola zipper bag with interior webbing, providing two compartments and a space in the middle.  Unzipped, the bag measures 8.5” x 13.5”.  The bag is durable and provides for three compartments.  When folded and zipped up, it measures 5.5” x 8.5” x 3.5” and fits inside a MOLLE II First Aid Pouch.

Unopened bottled water. Used for cleaning wounds. Replace after each use. If you can clean the wound with soap and water, that’s best. If not, then flush the wound. (Hydrogen peroxide is no longer recommended for disinfecting wounds as it also damages healthy cells needed for healing the injury.)

Burnfree Gel. Burn treatment, including sunburns. It comes in packages containing single-use packets making it easy to store and use.

Neosporin. Disinfects and relieves local pain. I’ve used Neosporin which was several years out of date, and it was still effective – not that I’m recommending this practice, but it’s good stuff.

Visine ½ fl oz. Relieves eye discomfort in the desert.

Super Glue. Used to seal cuts or ripped sutures. Yeah – got this tip from an EMT.

Motrin, Tylenol. Mild pain relievers.

Benadryl. Allergy treatment. Add more potent meds if you have a prescription for them. Consider adding an EpiPen if you may be prone to anaphylaxis.

Chlorine Dioxide Tablets. My wife is allergic to iodine, so I had to use something different.  Used to disinfect water. One tablet treats 1 quart of water.

Insect Repellent Patch. Not that we have many flying insects in Arizona, but sometimes we get them.

Dr. Scholl’s Moleskin Plus Padding. Used to help feet from long walks.

Blue Latex Gloves. Prevents contamination from body fluids. My family doesn’t have any blood-borne diseases, but gloves are available should I need to treat a stranger or a stranger is treating me.

Braunamid Suture and Needle (3). Ready-to-go sutures for sewing up a deep cut. Available from Amazon or a veterinarian supply store.

Leatherman. Used to grip the suture needle. Also used to remove cholla spines and toenails. Can be used to cut gauze. Many uses.

Feminine Pads and Tampons. These are great at absorbing blood. May be used for the intended purpose but are included in the kit only for their superior blood-absorbing properties.

Cotton Balls and Cotton Swabs. General cleaning of wounds.

2” x 2” Adhesive Bandages. Covering wounds.

Alcohol Pads. Cleaning tools and skin around wounds. May be used inside a wound if you want to really torture your patient.

Roll of Cotton. Used to absorb blood or hold bandages onto a limb.

American Red Cross First Aid Kit. Contains gauze, scissors, tape, antibiotics, pads and bandages.  This kit is really small and generally duplicates all the above materials, except it includes small scissors and tape. Alternates include the duct tape and big scissors I already have. Redundant tools are a good thing!

Each time you use the medical kit, you can learn from the experience. What did you need that was not in the kit? What do you use more of than anything else (therefore, you should put more in the kit)?

What supplies are essential for your first aid kit?

A guest post by Varian Wrynn


21 thoughts on “Medical Kit Lessons Learned”

  1. I know the super glue tip works. My son split his forehead open when he was three. At the emergency room, the doctor cleaned the cut and then squeezed a line of super glue along the cut. It worked really well, and didn't hurt. He wouldn't have had a scar except for the fact that he scratched the glue off before it was healed. He is now almost 15 and we have used the super glue several times.

  2. Very good article and list of items. I have most of these items.

    Tricia ~ My oldest son has a similar experience. At 18 months he had a crooked gash between his eyes. Our family doctor used Dermabond instead of stitches. I remembered her mentioning that it was simply superglue in a sterile container. Totally blew me away! We have approx. 10 tubes of regular superglue stockpiled.

    I would add Sawyer Extractor Professional Snake Bite & Insect Sting Kit.
    I have 3: near the back door, in my BOB, and in the mini van console.

    1. Hi rightwingmom, Have you ever used the Sawyer Extractor successfully? I was considering one this fall, but all the research seems to point to it being ineffective (it was at one point recommended for wilderness first responders and has even been discontinued there…) I'm still on the fence.

      1. In my opinion and training – EMT , wilderness EMT and nurse , I do not have a Sawyer.
        They were listed as great but proved to not be effective. I have some very large and comprehensive kits and this is one device I do not own.

        1. Thanks goodness I have not needed to used the Sawyer.
          I was not aware that it was deemed ineffective. (hmmm!)

          I also have an ace bandage that can be used as a tourniquet.
          You wrap several inches above the bite, working down toward the bite, and securing.

  3. Something I've needed a couple of times is a pair of good sturdy EMT style scissors, the kind with one side flat for cutting bandages. They will cut through anything! My teen son injured his leg, and removing his pants would have been very painful,not to mention embarrassing since he had opted to "go commando" (no underwear). The jeans he was wearing were new, the very heavy tough kind. Those scissors zipped right through the material, even cutting the thick seams easily. Everyone needs a pair of these scissors.

    1. I agree on the scissors (altho mine aren't old enough to "go commando" (oh dear, what do I have to look forward to). I have two comments to add, having researched these recently…

      1) Make sure you get a large, strong pair – there are a lot of EMT *style* scissors that blunt or bend as they are STAMPED from metal sheets when made. Those aren't any good. Some good ones:

      2) I stuck a pair of student style Fiskars in my larger kit … I think they are regularly $8 at Micheal's and I a 50% off coupon – so $4 for them. They can be disassembled and hand sharpened, are sharp, strong, and light. And I like the purple handle. That would be the "economy route"

  4. I'm wondering if anyone here would actually USE sutures? I know they're the first thing everyone puts in a kit, but I can't imagine trying to get a kid to hold still for that. In the ER it takes local anesthetic and Lortab both. If there ever were a case I couldn't get medical help, I would prefer to pack the wound open rather than sew in infection … especially if I've just had someone dump in a bunch of hydrogen peroxide expecting that to work (yes, I love it too – it bubbles and looks cool, but also cytotoxic and not that effective on germs).

    1. I agree Mom. Many folks talk about sutures but do not have the training to really close a wound safely. You must have some medical background for your statements.
      Personally if I had to close a wound that I really cleaned / resized if necessary and was not deep then I would use a skin stapler. They are fast, easy and really painless (compared to sutures).
      The depth of the wound as you know can cause alot of problems so your comment on "packing it open" is really on track.
      Good job!!!
      Dave, LPN, EMT, WEMT, SAR and disaster medicine instructor.

      1. Ha, I apparently lost my 3wolves when I posted above. Funny, it didn't *feel* like a vacation. 🙂

        Thanks Dave for your comments, it's great you're reading and posting here. You've just saved me $15 on the Sawyer extractor. And made me feel less bad for not having sutures (steri strips is as good as it gets in my kits). I don't have a medical background, but wish I did (and still think about changing careers), but I am a first aid junkie. Want to take a WFR course soon, very cool.

    1. No – QuikClot is for stopping blood not closing a wound. QuikClot is really a matter of last resort for blood stopping. Always use direct pressure , elevation, pressure points first. If a bandage bleeds thru , add more on top and do not remove the old (you will remove any start of a clot). QuikClot has come in numerous configurations but always has to be removed prior to closing a wound. Please note – many wounds never have to be closed by us. GOD was wonderful in designing us to heal if we don't mess it up trying to out think the process.
      I do have some QuikClot in my kits and pray they never get used!

  5. One last thread comment. There is a fantastic Youtube channel to get started on this topic: USNERDOC

    This guy is a doctor in an ER currently, former Navy. Does a lot of outdoors activities. He has a GREAT series on several levels of FAKs – from small personal size to fairly large, comprehensive kits for extended use or wider problems. He also has a 4 part series on sutures (if you must!), blister care, and several other topics. All very well done. Highly, highly recommended.

    Larger portable FA kit ==>

  6. Second the recommendation on the dermal stapler. Have used one on myself. You also want tincture of benzoin to ensure that butterfly closures and tape will stick on moist or bloody skin. Avoid using near the eyes.

  7. I like the ingenuity and desire to be resourceful. Dave, I like your points, they are right on. As a 26 yr. firefighter,EMT and CPR/1st Aid instructor, CERT Instructor I would like to share some common mistakes.
    1. Hydrogen Peroxide is an oxidizer and causes the growth of bacteria by creating a oxygen rich enviroment, causes tissue and capillary damage and slows the healing process.
    2. Feminine Pads are too good at absorbing blood. What you want is a good trauma dressing to assist the blood in its clotting efforts. Pads are sponges intended to keep the female customer dry.
    3. Alcohol another no-no when it comes to wound care. Peroxide and Alcohol are no longer part of first aid protocol.

  8. 4. Good EMT shears are a great addition. We use them daily, very handy.
    5. Latex gloves don't last long in storage and don't do well with heat. A cheap replacement is the new vinyl gloves. No risk or allergies, stronger and now fit better than ever.
    I make a "Real" first aid kit for real world emergencies at
    Oh, I love the burn gel dressings. They cool better than water, no hypothermia, they don't stick to the burns, kill pain, stop infection. Great stuff.

  9. Thanks for the tip re USNERDOC videos on a Level 2 FAK. I’ve been looking for a guide to first aid beyond the Red Cross course but for a layman. Also glad to read the bit about open packing wounds. From what’s on the internet, it seems like people imagine themselves doing a few, extreme medical procedures, such as suturing, that–as far as I can tell–require more than basic knowledge: if done wrong, could cause as much/more harm as the original injury. People watch too many TV shows, I’m thinking.

    ALso glad to have more info on those shears.

    Great posting and great for the comments, so thanks to all.

    My own 2¢: I have a F.A. kit in the car but it’s kind of my baby (as in others in the family are not into prepping and so on) so when they’ve needed something they’ve come at it out of ignorance of its contents and just dumped it out looking for whatever they thought might be in it. I’ve had to repack it a couple of times, and learned to put things in separate ziploc baggies, labeled (piece of paper in baggie, writing side out, or sharpie on the baggie covered with packing tape to keep from rubbing away). Easier to find things that way, for me and for others, and keeps the repacking process simpler, too.
    Also, the bandaids go on the top as that’s what most people are looking for when they go there.

    In short, (nothing against my family, but) ‘dummy proofing’ the kit is an important consideration for keeping it intact. Maybe it’s just our family habits and such, but guarding against our casual, unintentional tendency to disorganize is as important as thoughtfully choosing and organizing gear in the first place.

    Part of the problem is having used a convenient empty coffee container for the kit. I’m looking for a way to upgrade and the USNERDOC’s kit looks good–or a tackle box.

  10. Chuck Cochran BSN, MSN, RN (retired)

    Hydrogen Peroxide, even diluted, is contraindicated for use on any wounds. H2O2 does too much damage to tissues, and has always had questionable effectiveness in the treatment of even minor wounds. Fresh water and mild soap (castille is best) performs the same function without the tissue destruction seen with H2O2.

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