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Designing a Survival Medical Kit

Posted by Tom "Ghillie" Miller on 12/29/2014 to Ghillie's Corner

A good medical kit is capable of dealing with most medical emergencies. It really shouldn’t matter whether it is a car accident or a cooking accident, a good medical kit will cover the basics. Just like any survival related kit, your medical kit should be tailored to you and your group. When assembling a medical kit, it is important to consider what injuries or illnesses you might come across or may need to treat. It is really only once you know what you will most likely face, that you can properly configure an appropriate medical kit. This requires a concentrated effort to design a survival medical kit by evaluating the scenarios where you may need your kit, decide on the type(s) of medical kit it will be, determining the treatment capabilities that should be included, and identifying any kit restrictions.

Evaluate Possible Scenarios

I find the easiest way to evaluate the possible scenarios where you may need your medical kit is through the basic 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) along with the How’s (how you will travel there, how you will travel while you are there, and how you will travel back). While individual scenarios may call for additional scrutiny, the general considerations for what your survival medical kit might need to be composed of should look something like this:

Who – The size of the group (broken down by individual gender and age), the type/amount of medical training of the group members, and existing medical conditions or injuries of group members. Additional supplies should be considered if your plans might include treating someone else that you may find in need.

What – The activity(s) that people will be participating in.

When – The time of the year and time of day when activity will take place. Also ensure that weather is considered (both current and forecasted conditions), environmental concerns such as snakes that can be life threatening but are dormant during part of the year, and total hours of light versus darkness.

Where – Geographic location of the activity and how close the nearest medical facility or healthcare provider is for definitive care. Additional consideration should be given to applicable threats like unsafe drinking water or endemic diseases in the area.

Why – Are the activities something that must be done regardless of the level of risk? Is there a reasonable substitute or can the activity be postponed if there is a level of unacceptable risk?

How – What method of transportation will be used to get to your destination, travel while you are there, get to other destinations, and return to the point of origin.

Type of Medical Kit

Now that the evaluation process is complete, the next step is to determine what type of medical kit you would like to put together. Most med kits will fall into either the individual or group categories. Individual medical kits should be designed to be carried by the individual on their belt or equipment with the specific purpose of treating individual life threatening injuries at the point of injury. Probably the best example of this type of kit is the military Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK). Group medical kits should be designed to be available in a specific area for additional treatment of life threatening injuries as well the treatment of minor injuries and illnesses. This could be at a base camp, carried by the medic, or split up among the group. Most preppers will be best suited by having both an individual kit for each person as well as a larger kit designed to serve the group as a whole.

Determine Treatment Capabilities

When it comes to determining the treatment capabilities that should be included in your medical kit, look to the basics first: burns, bleeding, fractures/orthopedic injuries, common illnesses, etc. One of the best ways to set up your medical kit for a myriad of different situations is to make it modular. Each module can serve a specific purpose and the modules can be switched out as needed. These modules will likely reflect the same categories of the basics:

  • Bleeding

  • Fractures/Orthopedic Injuries

  • Burns

  • Airway/Breathing

  • Medications

  • Wound Care

  • Miscellaneous (Gloves, Light, etc.)

These modules can be neatly packed into smaller containers which can be placed into a med kit and switched out, updated, or added to as necessary.

One area where many people get off track easily is selecting the items that go into their kit. It is extremely easy to get so wrapped up in all of the gee-whiz gadgets and “stuff” that most of the time serve some purpose but are not really prime choices. I have seen crazy things happen like a medic in Iraq who took up valuable space in his aid bag by carrying a bulky airway suction that did not function in a manner reliable enough to save a life. This can be a tricky area that can be best avoided by ensuring that each item that goes into your medical kit serves a valuable purpose and if possible, multiple purposes.

The most important function a medical kit can perform are the basic treatment of common injuries to get a casualty to a higher level of care. A farther distance away from additional care may in turn determine that advanced equipment is required but it is not realistic to expect to do a surgical airway on someone when you are camping in the hospital parking lot. I know that is an extreme example but there are cases where things along those lines seem to happen.

Identify Restrictions

The final process in designing a survival medical kit is identifying any kit restrictions, primarily any restrictions that should be made on the size and/or weight of your kit. It is pretty easy for things to get out of control without close monitoring. If this happens, your medical kit can grow to be quite large and if it is going to be carried on foot, the size and weight can be a limiting factor. When it comes to effectively limiting the size of a medical kit, I find the best way is to just limit the size of the container that the kit goes in. Only so much can be put in to a limited space. Obviously the kit should not be so limited that it is ineffective, but do some hard thinking, check and recheck to make sure that everything that goes in it is necessary and satisfies a vital purpose.

Another potential restriction to consider is not including any supplies or equipment that no one is familiar with or trained to use. This is not only a way to prevent dead weight in your kit but also severe or even life threatening injury that could occur by using something that no one is familiar with. If there is a supply or piece of equipment that is going to be added to your kit, always ensure that you order or get at least one extra to become familiar/train with. Most medical supplies and equipment can be found as similar items that are available from multiple manufacturers. Look at all comparable items for the best quality and price to get what will work best for you.

Like any aspect of survival, careful consideration should be taken when designing a medical kit. There are many medical kits that are premade and already available on the market. This makes many people wonder why they should take the time to put together their own medical kit from scratch. Honestly, most people would be just fine with a premade medical kit but the prepper or survival group is often concerned with overcoming much more than the average person. For example, many of the premade kits lack the depth necessary to overcome injuries like gunshot wounds and other major trauma. This makes the best solution a custom medical kit and there is no better person to design it for your purposes than you.

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