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Building a Survival Medical Kit

Posted by Tom "Ghillie" Miller on 1/25/2015 to Ghillie's Corner

In the last post I wrote about designing a medical kit specifically for survival purposes. Without taking the time to think things through and properly design your kit, it will not provide the highest level of function and assistance if someone gets hurt. Now that your kit is designed, the natural next step is to build your survival medical kit. This can be as simple or as complicated as you would like it to be. There is a process to building this kit though. You must approach things systematically by first determining whether your kit will be for you or for your group, choosing the container that your kit will go in, and developing your modules. We will also take a look at ready-made kits and other factors that may influence what goes in to your kit.


You, The Group, or Both?


The first step of building your survival medical kit is to decide what the purpose of your kit will be. At a minimum, everyone should have a personal survival medical kit. This smaller, individual kit should be something that is kept with you at all times, this is especially true if you find yourself in the middle of a disaster. You never know when you may need it and it won’t do anyone any good if you can’t get to it easily. Once your first individual kit is built, it might not be a bad idea to put several of these together to keep in several places (home, car, work, etc.) so that you are never without one.


If your survival plan includes your family or a large group, you should have a larger kit specifically built to support the group. The complexity of your kit will in turn limit the number of casualties that can be treated effectively. As a result of this possible limitation, it may be necessary to have more than one of these large kits to cover all family and/or group members. The end state in a complete plan for survival medicine will require having both individual and group kits. Like any aspect of survival, conduct an assessment of the potential threats you face and make the appropriate medical preparations.


Choose a Container


The second step for building your kit will be to determine what you are going to use to hold everything. Regardless of the type of kit it is, there are some common considerations that you should make when evaluating a container for its suitability as a medical kit. Important qualities to look for in a container for your medical kit include:


  • Waterproof or Water-Resistant

  • Quality Stitching (Double Stitched is Best)

  • Easy to Open - Very important when considering that you may have to open your survival medical kit with dirty or bloody hands.

  • Capacity - Will the container hold the medical supplies that you want to have in your kit?

  • Will it go where you want it to go? If you are going to be in a confined area, you don’t want a bag with stuff hanging off the sides that will get hung up as an example.


There are many containers on the market that have these qualities. Some of them are specifically made for the purpose of being a medical kit and others are not. Items like tackle boxes and heavy-duty plastic storage containers can be an affordable way to put together a good kit. Regardless, if you are going to be using something for survival, you need something that will hold up to heavy use. After all, your life may depend on it.


Individual medical kits are often packed into a belt pouch similar to what someone might keep a camera in or a military style pouch which attaches securely to body armor or web gear. Packing your individual kit into this type of pouch allows you to keep it with you at all times. There are many different brands and types of belt pouches available but when it comes to quality and durability, you might find the best choice is one of the many pouches made by a tactical gear company. A few of my favorites include Tactical Tailor, Diamondback Tactical, and S.O. Tech Tactical. For the budget minded prepper, take a look at Condor Outdoor for some incredibly affordable solutions. While it is best to have your medical kit on you, individual kits can also be packed into a small container to be placed off of the person like in a bug out bag or vehicle.


A group medical kit will likely be packed into a large backpack, tackle box, or other large container. There are many quality bags on the market that are perfect for a group kit. My favorite bag that I used to take care of my guys in the Army is the Training Coverage Medical Backpack by the London Bridge Trading Company. It is a very high quality bag but there are several others out there so don’t feel like there is only one bag for everyone. You will just have to find the best solution for your family or group.


Medical Modules


Before outlining the specific components that can be put into the individual modules, there are a few items that should be included in every survival medical kit no matter what the size or purpose (all quantities are recommended, adjust as needed). The items that I would recommend being in every kit are:


  • 1 Pair – Nitrile Exam Gloves

  • 1 Each – Tourniquet of Choice

  • 1 Each – 6” Emergency Trauma Dressing

  • 1 Package - QuikClot or Celox Hemostatic Agent (50g or 35g)

  • 1 Each – Kerlix or Rolled Gauze

  • 1 Each – 6” ACE Wrap

  • 1 Each – Chest Seal (HALO, Bolin, or HyFin)

  • 1 Each – Nasopharyngeal Airway (Size 28French is an Intermediate Size)

  • 1 Each – Water-Based Lubricating Jelly (For Inserting Airway)

  • 1 Roll – 2” Medical Tape


Ironically, this core module is also what I would consider the basic individual medical kit. The individual medical kit should be put together as a way to treat immediate life threats at the point of injury and serve as a stopgap until you can get the injured person(s) to further care. This is where a larger kit with additional treatment capabilities comes in. The number of injured persons that can be treated by each module is up to how much you want to pack into your kit and how big your kit will ultimately be. The modules outlined below are designed to provide enough supplies to provide basic treatment to about two people with the injuries that match up with each module. In addition to the core module, consider including these additional modules in your group or family medical kit as needed:


  • Bleeding


    • 4 Each – Emergency Trauma Dressing, 6”

    • 2 Each – Emergency Trauma Dressing, 4”

    • 4 Each – Kerlix, 4” x 5 Yards

    • 2 Each – 6” ACE Wrap

    • 1 Each – Abdominal Dressing

    • 2 Each – Combat Applications Tourniquet (CAT)

    • 1 Each – Special Operations Forces Tactical – Tourniquet (SOFT-T)

    • 4 Each – QuikClot (50G) or Celox (35G)


  • Fractures/Orthopedic Injuries


    • 2 Each – 6” ACE Wrap

    • 1 Each – Kerlix, 4” x 5 Yards

    • 2 Each – SAM Splint

    • 1 Roll – 3” Medical Tape

    • 2 Each – Triangular (Muslin) Bandage/Cravat

    • 2 Each – Ice Pack


  • Burns


    • 1 Each – Burn Sheet

    • 4 Each – Kerlix, 4” x 5 Yards

    • 1 Each – 8” x 18” WaterJel Burn Dressing


  • Airway/Breathing


    • 2 Each – Nasopharyngeal Airway (28 French)

    • 2 Each – Individual Packet Water-Based Lubricating Jelly

    • 4 Each – Chest Seal (HyFin, Bolin, or HALO)

    • 1 Each – Oropharyngeal (Berman) Airway, Large Adult (100mm)

    • 1 Each – Oropharyngeal (Berman) Airway, Medium Adult (90mm)

    • 1 Each – Oropharyngeal (Berman) Airway, Child (60mm)

    • 1 Each – CPR Pocket Mask


  • Medications – A good goal is to have about two days of the maximum daily adult dose for each medication. A portable med kit will not hold a full-blown pharmacy but should have enough Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications to get through a couple of days away from home or your base camp.


    • 4 Each – Ammonia Inhalants

    • 24 Each – 25mg Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) Tablets

    • 20 Each – 325 mg Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

    • 24 Each – 200mg Ibuprofen (Motrin)

    • 6 Each – 220mg Naproxen (Aleve)

    • 16 Each – 2 mg Loperamide (Imodium)

    • 16 Each – 30mg Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)

    • 1 Tube – 1% Hydrocortisone Cream

    • 4 Each – 150mg Ranitidine (Zantac)

    • 2 Each – 10mg Cetirizine (Zyrtec)

    • 24 Each – Throat Lozenges

    • 16 Each – Tylenol Cold & Cough or Equivalent

    • 30 Each – 500mg Calcium Carbonate Antacid Tablets (Tums)

    • 16 Each – 50mg Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)

    • 1 Tube – Antibiotic Ointment

    • 1 Tube – 1% Clotrimazole Anti-Fungal Cream

    • 1 Tube – Burn Cream

    • 1 Bottle – Artificial Tears

    • 6 Packets – Oral Rehydration Salts


Don’t forget to include liquid medications with a medicine dropper if you have infants or small children. If members of your family or group are taking chronic or prescription medications, ensure that you also include at least 3-4 days of these in your medication module as well.


  • Wound Care


    • 10 Each – 2” X 2” Sterile Gauze Pads

    • 10 Each – 4” X 4” Sterile Gauze Pads

    • 6 Each – 3” x 4” Non-Adherant Gauze Pads (Telfa)

    • 1 Roll – 1” Medical Tape

    • 1 Bottle – Betadine Scrub

    • 20 Each – Alcohol Pads

    • 2 Each – 6” x 9” Tega-Derm Occlusive Dressing

    • 1 Each – 60cc Syringe

    • 1 Sheet – 12” x 12” Moleskin

    • 20 Each – 3” x .75” Band-Aids

    • 5 Each – 4.5” x 2” Band-Aids

    • 4 Packages – 1/8” Steri-Strips

    • 2 Packages – 1/4” Steri-Strips

    • 2 Each – Eye Dressing

    • 1 Roll – 3” Self-Adherant Wrap

    • 1 Bottle – Benzoin Tincture Topical Adhesive


  • Vital Signs, Monitoring & Diagnostic Equipment – If part of your plans are to be in remote areas or in a situation where you may not be able to get to definitive medical care or this care may not even be available, consider putting together and learning how to use the equipment necessary to monitor the vitals signs of a casualty. This can be a significant indicator on how the casualty is doing, especially with trauma.


    • 1 Each – Stethoscope

    • 1 Each – Blood Pressure Cuff

    • 1 Each – Oral Thermometer

    • 1 Each – Rectal Thermometer

      • A rectal thermometer can be the most reliable method for obtaining body temperature in situations where hot or cold weather injuries could be a problem.

    • 1 Each – Penlight

    • 5 Each – Tongue Depressors


  • Dental – Not all emergencies are strictly medical. It is quite possible that in the middle of a disaster, you sustain a dental injury or lose a filling. This makes it necessary to plan accordingly. A dental module does not have to be extensive. Simply having something to deal with the bare minimum possibilities is useful.


    • 1 Each – Adventure Medical Kits Dental Medic

      • 1 – Dental Wax Temporary Filling

      • 1 – Temporary Cavity Filling Mixture

      • 5 – Cotton Pellets

      • 5 – Cotton Rolls

      • 1 – Dental Floss

      • 3 – Tooth Picks

      • 1 – Tea Bag

      • 2 – Oral Anesthetic

      • 1 – Dental First Aid Instructions

    • 1 Tube – 20% Benzocaine Gel (Anbesol)

    • 1 Each – Dental Mirror


  • Miscellaneous

    • 1 Each – Headlamp* w/ Extra Set of Batteries

    • 12 Pair – Nitrile Exam Gloves

    • 1 Pair – Trauma Shears

    • 1 Pair – Bandage Scissors

    • 1 Each – 5 ½” Straight Kelly Forceps (Hemostats)

    • 1 Each – Splinter Forceps (Tweezers)

    • 2 Each – Mylar Casualty (Space) Blanket


*Look for a headlamp that has a blue lens cover to use in situations where low light is needed. The typical “tactical” light comes with a red lens cover but a red light will not allow you to discern between blood and other substances. A blue light will allow you to tell the difference between blood and other fluids or substances.


  • Blow Out Kit (BOK) – Another module to considering including is a blow out kit which is essentially a small kit to treat two or three casualties with traumatic injuries that can be easily grabbed out/off of the group kit and taken to the point of injury or area needed. It could also be carried easily if your larger kit had to be ditched for some reason. A BOK is often packed into a small lumbar pack or range type of bag to facilitate this action if necessary. This kit could be viewed as the equivalent of an individual medical kit multiplied by two, on a small dose of steroids. You’ll note that the contents are really only designed to treat serious injuries, no band aids in this module. The packing list for your BOK might look like this:


    • 3 Pair – Nitrile Exam Gloves

    • 2 Each – Tourniquet of Choice

    • 2 Each – 6” Emergency Trauma Dressing

    • 2 Packages – QuikClot or Celox Hemostatic Agent (50g or 35g)

    • 4 Each – Kerlix, 4” x 5 Yards

    • 3 Each – 6” ACE Wrap

    • 2 Each – Chest Seal (HALO, Bolin, or HyFin)

    • 2 Each – Nasopharyngeal Airway (Size 28French is an Intermediate Size)

    • 2 Each – Water-Based Lubricating Jelly (For Inserting Airway)

    • 1 Each – SAM Splint

    • 1 Pair – Trauma Shears

    • 1 Each – Headlight w/ Batteries

    • 2 Each – Mylar Casualty (Space) Blankets


Once these modules are built, they can be put into their individual sections or containers inside of your large group medical kit. One of the ways that I like to put these modules together is by packing them into either small shaving kit bags or plastic storage containers like the ones made to store pencils and small home items. This is especially beneficial when it comes to staying organized if you select a bag or container that is not specifically made to be used for a medical kit.


The Ready Made Kit


Building a medical kit from scratch can be anywhere from a daunting task to a minor inconvenience for some. If this is the case, there are some fairly good medical kits that are commercially available. It is important to keep in mind what the focus of your medical kit will be when evaluating the usefulness of a commercial medical kit. You have to be aware that while many of these kits advertise that they contain a large number of items, if there is a traumatic injury, a 100 piece first aid kit that contains 98 band-aids and two gloves will not be a whole lot of use.


Look back at the 5 W’s that you evaluated when designing and evaluating the purpose of your medical kit and ensure that a commercially acquired medical kit will suit your needs. Some of the most suitable commercial medical kits for survival that are available on the market include those that are made to be used for wilderness excursions, marine vessels and offshore waters, and even for extreme sports or high-risk activities. These kits make up for the shortcomings of the average first aid kit that often are missing the supplies needed to effectively treat major trauma.


Other Factors


Most kits will be suitable for the average set of circumstances in which you might find yourself but this is not always the case. Some scenarios that you could end up in, especially in a survival situation, may make it necessary to have additional supplies in your survival med kit. A few of these scenarios that come to mind include:


  • Being an extended distance from definitive care (at sea, remote locations, etc.).

  • Operating in high-risk areas or participating in high-risk activities.

  • Operating in extreme environmental conditions, weather, temperatures, etc.

  • Doing tasks that are new to you or you have little experience with that may lead to serious injury that would otherwise be avoided with additional training or experience.


These scenarios may dictate the need to add additional quantities of supplies or add supplies that wouldn’t normally be in your kit. If you were operating in high-risk areas or in difficult terrain conditions you might want to add things like rescue equipment for extractions. Additional items that might need to be added if you were going to be a far distance from definitive care might include a suture or minor surgical kit, additional monitoring equipment like a pulse oximeter, additional communications equipment, and possibly a portable stretcher or the capability to move a casualty.


Special factors can also be a reason to have additional medical kits. For instance, if you do have a boat, aircraft, or remote location you plan to bug out to, it may be prudent to put together a survival medical kit to cover each of these special factors. This also removes the pressure of trying to remember your kit every time you decide to go somewhere or do something.


I think the key takeaway is that a survival medical kit is a very personal thing that must be planned carefully and then put together with a very specific use(s) in mind. By taking plenty of time to go through the planning process and appropriately review the potential scenarios, you will have the very best possible medical kit for you, your family, and your survival group. There are no wrong decisions other than failing to plan or simply not even putting a medical kit together in the first place.

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