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Building Medical Bags: A Primer

How to build a survival medical bag
Building Medical Bags:  A FREE Primer from Omega!

If you'd like, you can download a PDF containing the entire information below.

Your first aid/medical kit is a very personal set of equipment.  You should build it according to your own specific set of life circumstances, skills, and needs – no one can tell you exactly what you need in your kit to optimize it.  There are, however, certain items which should be in every person’s kit and these items (in my humble opinion) are listed below.

IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit)
The IFAK is born of the military, being that medical kit attached to a soldier in the combat arena for immediate use on that soldier.  It assumes a traumatic injury such as a gun shot wound or impalement with severe bleeding.  When tending to an injured soldier, personnel are instructed to utilize the injured soldier’s IFAK  – not their own.  Your kit is for you.

An official military IFAK would contain:

  • 1-2 Elastic Bandage Kits (I.E., Israeli bandage)
  • A CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet)
  • 1-2 Heavy Gauze Packs
  • Heavy EMT Clothing Shears
  • Adhesive Tape
  • Nasopharyngeal Airway w/ Lubricant

Personal / Prepper’s Medical Kits
You can choose to put your kit in whatever type of container or bag that strikes your fancy, although there are some good choices out there which make organization, transport, and deployment of your devices and medications more efficient.  Again…the type of kit you choose to build should be based on your needs – likewise, the type of storage container you choose will be based on what you’re building.

  M3, M17 bags, respectively:

Pictured above, the M-3 bag is a three compartment system featuring one large compartment and two smaller ones.  The bag folds out accordion-style, making for an organized reach for whichever tools or medications you might need.  It is a mid-size kit system, most suited for treating a small unit of 1-5 people in the field.  If you decide to build a truly comprehensive kit, you will likely find yourself needing more space eventually.

Also pictured above, the M-17 bag is a multi-compartment storage system which allows about 2 square feet of storage space.  It is wisely configured and deploys easily, with large walled compartments.  Normally, it has shoulder straps for carrying the load and should be considered a strong candidate as your main storage unit if you’re looking to either attend to mass casualty situations or you’re looking to store supplies for future preparedness reasons.

Ideally, as the leader of a group, or otherwise “medically” prepared person it would be wise to have all three kits built:

  • One personal injury trauma kit (IFAK-type) for yourself, on your person.
  • One M-3 size/style bag for easier daily/event carry.
  • One M-17 size/style bag/container for preparedness or mass casualty.

…grab the bag or bags you need for whatever the situation.

Here’s a listing of necessary medical supplies:

  • A Way to Stop bleeding and Close wounds.

Every good medical kit should have items that can be used to help stop bleeding, close and protect cuts, and help prevent infection from setting in.

  • Israeli bandages, heavy gauzes
  • Tourniquet(s)
  • QuikClot or other coagulant medium
  • Duct or Gorilla tape
  • Superglue
  • Butterfly Sutures

When closing a wound, carefully clean the and wash out any foreign materials or debris.  If you have some sort of antiseptic, apply it to the wound and dry the area.  Start in the middle of the wound and apply bandage, glue, tape or strips to pull together and close.

Control the bleeding first, if severe, worry about cleaning and management later.

Ways to Prevent Infection:
During a survival situation, or field injury, where sanitation issues may become a problem, keeping your wounds clean and covered is extremely important. Infection can set in quickly, so you need to stay on top of any wound.

Clean it, cover it, monitor it.

  • Gauzes
  • Adhesive wound dressings (bandaids)
  • Antibiotic ointments and creams
  • Sterile saline wound wash
  • Broad spectrum oral Antibiotics – if you can get them.
  • Antiseptics and Disinfectants – Peroxide, Isopropyl Alcohol, PVP Iodine, etc.

Pain Management and General Illness Items
Depending on your condition, pain can be a debilitating and even deadly if it causes you to lose hope or give up. Having a way to treat and manage pain, as well as decrease inflammation, is an important part of every emergency medical kit.

  • Aspirin, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen  (including childrens’ versions)
  • Chemical ice and heat bags
  • Anti-diaherreal
  • Laxatives
  • Sting/itch relief
  • Pedialyte or other anti-dehydration medium

Dealing with Allergic Reactions
Even if you don’t think you have allergies, there are certain things that can still cause an allergic reaction. In some cases, especially in people who have food allergies, allergens can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis reactions that need to be treated immediately.

Antihistamine – Benadryl, otherwise known by its generic name Diphenhydramine HCl, is one of the best antihistamines on the market.

Antihistamine creams

EpiPen or Epinephrine – For those with a life-threatening allergy, having an EpiPen with you at all times is essential. They can help stop an anaphylaxis reaction and buy you time until medical help arrives.

Note:  This is a prescription item and must be given by a doctor or it is illegal to have in your possession.

Items Specific to Your Unique Medical Needs

No one kit is right for every person. That’s why special attention needs to be put into developing a kit for yourself and your loved ones. I advise staying away from prepackaged kits unless you’re using it as a foundation to build off of.
Make sure your kit is stocked with extra prescription medications if you have a medical condition that requires you to take medication.

OTC Meds – If you routinely take Over the Counter medications to treat conditions like arthritis, nausea, etc… make sure you have an ample supply in your kit.

Your kit might also contain at least some of the following items:

  • Emergency dental kit
  • Sterile needles and surgical blades.
  • Splints – SAM and air splints
  • Grooming and cleaning tools – Fingernail clippers, soap, Antiseptic wipes.
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Disposable thermometers
  • Disposable gloves
  • Sterile eyewash & eye dressings
  • Sunblock
  • Vaseline
  • Burn creams and dressings
  • Insect repellant
  • Signaling devices
  • Sutures
  • Hemostats
  • Blood glucose kit
  • Medical manuals and basic first aid instructions