Thursday, September 7, 2023

Major Pandemic’s Hip Pocket Survival - IFAKs First Aid Kits

Major Pandemic’s Hip Pocket Survival - IFAKs First Aid Kits

This is a quick series originally started from discussions with friends and family who had no clue where to start with basic survival 101. There is a lot of confusion around what IFAKs (Individual First Aid Kits) are, what should be in them and where they should be stored and carried. In short, an IFAK is not band aids and neosporin for a finger cut. 

IFAK History

First aid kits have been around since WWI, they historically have been little more than boo boo bandaid kits for minor scrapes and injuries. In WWII antibiotic sulfa powder was carried, but did little to top hemorrhaging wounds due to very limited field medicine training. Based on military data on battle wounds, it was determined in late 1990s that on-site stop of blood loss, immediate treatment of major life threatening wounds and complicating injuries provide the time required to extract and treat those victims. Ultimately self treatment in the field could buy the victim enough time to get real medical life saving surgical help. With the invasion and occupation of Iraq, beginning in 2003, the US military began offering week long and extending training plus fielded the first IFAK - Individual First Aid Kit, which included:

  • 1 Tourniquet

  • 1 Elastic bandage kit (this is similar to a field dressing)

  • 1 Bandage GA4-1/2” 100’s

  • 1 Surgical adhesive tape - for sucking chest wounds

  • 1 Nasopharyngeal airway kit

  • 4 Surgical gloves

  • 1 Combat gauze dressing

The result was that battlefield mortality decreased significantly. The IFAK concept has morphed over the last twenty years with many different experts having different opinions and many IFAKs becoming mission dependent based on the expected injuries. If for instance you are working in a non-hostile oilfield environment, burns and inhalation may be more of an issue than chest wounds. 

In other situations, many people might note a single multi-use medical item like an Israeli bandage may be enough. Thus the reason so many people now have divergent opinions on what should be in an IFAK. The general goal of an IFAK is a very small format medical kit optimized for self-application that can be used by a victim to stop bleeding or address other potential life threatening issues such as breathing. Generally, most people agree an IFAK should at the very least include the above fielded 2003 IFAK kit contents.

I am Red Cross First Responder trained and also Level 1 (Awareness- First Responder) trained in nuclear and biohazard and have tactical first aid field training. I also have some hands on Israeli tactical field training with their bandage system. I am a huge fan of the Israeli bandage system after seeing all the flexibility of this bandage and personally using it after breaking my arm mountain biking to improvise a sling and bandage. Without that bandage, I would have been left dragging my bike with one hand and having a dangling and painful arm on the other side. The system works. Today I religiously carry one of these kits. 

There are many other items which a household or vehicle should have beyond the contents of an IFAK. These extra supplies allow treatment of non-life threatening wounds during a time when medical help is not available or it would be unsafe to seek that assistance. Though the general public has been trained to run the emergency room with a bloody hangnail, with training, treatment for most non-life threatening injuries can be done correctly and safely at home. Though I do not recommend it, I closed a fairly serious 4-inch ½-inch deep wound at home on my arm caused by a dirty slipped tool. I was able to flush the wound with saline, treat it with curechrome, and close the wound with superglue and simple surgical tape… I don’t even have a scare and had zero infection issues. A few weeks later my doctor checked the wound and noted, the hospital could not have done better. What if this would have occurred during a time I could not have received medical care? I could have bled out or had a life threatening infection.


  • 1 Tourniquet

  • 1 Israeli Bandage - Versatile pressure bandage

Gen 1 IFAK Kits 2003 US Military Issue

  • 1 Tourniquet

  • 1 Israeli Bandage

  • 1 Bandage GA4-1/2” 100’s

  • 1 Surgical adhesive tape - for sucking chest wounds

  • 1 Nasopharyngeal airway kit (+ usually lubricant)

  • 4 Surgical gloves

  • 1 Combat gauze dressing

  • Recommended adding a CPR Shield & Mini Tube of Super Glue

Gen 2 IFAK Kits Current US Military Issue

  • 1 Tourniquet, Combat Application (C.A.T.)

  • 1 Bandage Kit, 4 1/2" Elastic/Compression, Vacuum Packed/Sterile (Israeli Bandage)

  • 1 Bandage Gauze, Roller, Sterile

  • 2 One-way Valve Chest Wound Seal, Entrance/Exit Seals

  • 1 Mini-Sharpie

  • 1 Eye Shield

  • 1 Combat Medic Reinforcement Tape

  • 1 Airway, Nasopharyngeal, 28fr, 12s, Sterile

  • 2 Pair, Glove, Patient Exam (4ea)

  • 1 Tactical Combat Casualty Card

  • 1  Strap Cutter

  • Recommended adding a CPR Shield & Mini Tube of Super Glue

Additional Supplemental Medical

  • IFAK refill components

  • Saline Wound Wash

  • Saline Eye Wash

  • Wound Closure Strips - “PolySutures”

  • Iodine and/or CureChrome

  • Recommended adding a CPR Shield

  • Mini Tube(s) of Super Glue

  • Burn patch and cream

  • Hydrogen Peroxide

  • Isopropyl Alcohol

  • Large and Small sterile pads

  • XL down to Mini BandAids

  • Butterfly closures

  • Neosporin

  • Cortisone

  • Blister Pads

  • Pain management meds

Components vs Kits

There are many options for IFAK kits and components. Two respected brands are North American Rescue and Rhino Rescue at different ends of the price point. Many people have tested these individual components side by side and see little difference, I encourage people to buy what they feel most comfortable with. I do have a lot of Rhino Rescue components and kits simply because I am happy with the quality and they are much more affordable in the situations where I want to have full kits in multiple vehicles and various places at home.  Generally there is a cost savings and convenience factor in kit formats, however since there is so much diversity in component preference many people choose to spend a bit more but create their own kit.  One of the key advantages with the bag included kits is that vendors like Rhino Rescue designs the bags around the contents and specifically for fast deployment. As a starting point, I would take a look at the kits available on Rhino Rescue as examples of kit options.

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