How to Build a Family First Aid Kit: 5 Steps to Remember

Dietrich Easter

emt bag

Have you ever felt helpless when a family member is injured? Do you have a first aid kit ready? Are you trained to use it? 

A first aid kit doesn't march up to you when you need it. Being prepared for an injury requires training and organization.  

Be sure to seek out basic first aid training. If you haven't already, read the articles on bleeding control and rescue breathing. Also, take any opportunity for live, hands-on training. 


This article deals with the essentials for a family first aid kit. 


What is a First Aid Kit? 

You've probably seen a lot of names out there: Trauma Kit, IFAK, Bleeding control kit, medical kit, etc. Each of these kits has a different purpose. 


For this article, a first aid kit refers to any store of medical supplies. 


With that said, we will talk more about the various types of first aid kits in later sections. 


Five Steps to Building a Family First Aid kit  

Most of the first aid kits you buy at the store are full of band-aids and cheap tweezers. There's nothing wrong with band-aids and cheap tweezers, but there are other supplies that are more lifesaving. 


By the end of this article, you'll have the tools to build a solid, lifesaving first aid kit. 


Three steps to building a first aid kit: 

  1. Get first aid training
  2. Choose the right supplies 
  3. Choose the right size bag 
  4. Learn to set up your first aid kit
  5. Establish a prepared location


Let's look at these steps in more depth. 


1. How to Get Trained in First Aid - Where to Find Training 

I emphasize training because if you're not trained, then gear won't do you any good.


With that said, here are several places to look for training:  

  • Stop the bleedStop the bleed does courses around the country, training people to stop the bleed. These courses aren't very long, but they teach lifesaving skills. 
  • AHA CPR class. The AHA puts on CPR classes for individuals who want to get a CPR card. Taking one of these classes usually only takes a day. As you already know, good CPR saves lives. 
  • Contact your local organizations. If you're stuck, call your local community center or hospital. Ask them if they have any open first aid classes. Also, sometimes EMS organizations will put on classes for the public. 


I encourage you: don't overlook getting trained in primary first aid skills - CPR, rescue breathing, and bleeding control. 


Two reasons. 


First, there's no worse feeling than wanting to help someone but feeling helpless and remorseful because you don’t know what to do. 


Second (I say this as a paramedic), because there is no better feeling than being confident while helping someone through an emergency. 


With that, let's talk first aid kits.


2. How to Choose Medical Gear for a Family First Aid Kit

When you're preparing a family first aid kit, think about the life-threatening injuries: severe bleeding, choking and airway obstruction, and severe heart attacks that stop the heart (requiring CPR). 


Let's start with the most important items for bleeding control: 

  • Tourniquets. Whether it's the SOF tourniquet, the CAT, or a swat-t, stocking tourniquets is lifesaving. 
  • Pressure bandages. Arterial bleeds aren't the only life-threatening bleed. A slow and steady bleed can still threaten someone's life. Pressure dressings, like the Israeli bandage or the OLAES, are great for medium to severe wounds. Also, they double as splints and slings. You can check out the article on the difference between tourniquets and trauma dressings.
  • Gauze. Gauze is like the duct tape of bleeding control. With some good trauma gauze, you can make small band-aids, pressure dressings, and pack deep wounds. Also, compressed gauze stores nicely in your kit. 


Now, let's address airway and breathing:  

  • CPR mask. A good pocket mask is useful for rescue breathing. Pocket masks protect you from pathogens and help you form a good seal around the patient's mouth. If you don't want to carry a full pocket mask, you can buy a CPR face shield - which is much easier to carry. 
  • Airway adjuncts (NPAs and OPAs). The NPA and OPA help maintain an open airway. If you're curious, check out the article on OPAs vs. NPAs. These tools require training. 
  • A suction device. Carrying a handheld suction device requires training; however, even a small device like a bulb syringe is useful for clearing a child's nose or airway. 
  • Chest seals. Chest seals like the Hyfin or HALO chest seal will seal the chest after a penetrating injury. These tools are lifesaving and require training. You can also use an improvised occlusive dressing to seal the thoracic cavity (the space where the heart and lungs reside). 


For CPR, you just need your hands. However, CPR requires training, strength, and endurance. 


Secondary equipment for a family first aid kit:


Now, let's talk about the medical bag itself. 


3. How to Decide on the Right Sized Medical Bag 

Some people might be tempted to buy a huge suitcase and fill it with medical supplies. While this huge package is nice, it's not always practical. 


Here are several characteristics of a good medical bag: 

  • Brightly colored. Orange and red are good colors - this helps people easily identify the medical kit. 
  • Multiple compartments. You don't want all your gear thrown into one area - you need organization. 
  • Durable. Inspect your bag. You want it to stand up to the elements. 


You'll need to decide the best gear for your family. Here are some of the different sized medical bags, along with their pros and cons. 


Small First Aid Kits 

Here are several examples of small first aid kits

  • Ankle kits. Wrap the medical kit on your ankle, hidden beneath your pant leg. 
  • Pocket kits. Hold a few pieces of essential gear, like a SWAT tourniquet, a chest seal, and combat gauze. 
  • IFAK. Individual first aid kits, holding just enough supplies for you.


Pros of small medical kits: 

  1. Easy to carry 
  2. Inexpensive 
  3. Fit anywhere
  4. Easy to organize


Con's of small medical kits: 

  1. Easier to lose 
  2. It doesn't hold as many supplies 


Medium Sized First aid kits 

Here are some examples of medium-sized first aid kits

  • Car first aid kit 
  • Backpacking first aid kits


Here are the pros: 

  • Still portable, but holds more supplies 
  • It doesn't stand out (you can place them in drawers and on top of the fridge without much fanfare) 
  • It can hold a few large, bulky pieces of gear. 


Cons to Medium-sized first aid kits: 

  • Not many cons; everyone should have a solid medium-sized first aid kit. 


Large First Aid Kits  

Here are a few reasons to have a large first aid kit: 

  • Complete medical preparedness 
  • "HQ" for smaller first aid kits 
  • You won't lose it 
  • You can treat multiple people



  • More expensive 
  • You'll need to ensure things don't expire 


Alright, now let's discuss where to set up your family first aid kit.  


4. How to Set Up a Family First Aid Kit 

Here are some things to know when placing gear within your first aid gear within the kit. 


Here's what you need to know: 

  • Lifesaving gear on top.  When you need a tourniquet, you shouldn't be digging around for it.
  • Visibility. If you only have a black, camo, or green color kit, consider placing some medical patches on the bag so it's easily identified. 
  • Use Zipper pullsZipper pulls make it easy to open a bag, even if you're wearing gloves or your hands are cold. 
  •  Label the pouches. Using some white duct tape, you can make labels and attach them to the zippers. This makes it easy for everyone to know where everything is in an emergency. 
  • Secure everything. You don't want supplies to fall on the ground if the bag tips over; however, you also need to grab the equipment easily. Elastic pockets and zippers come standard on most good medical bags


Now, let's talk about where to store your family's first aid kit. 


5. The Best Location for Your Family's Medical Kit 

Ideally, you want to place a family first aid kit anywhere you'd have a bottle of water (or cell phone). In the car, in the kitchen, on the nightstand, in the garage, in a backpack. However, that's a lot of first aid kits. 


Don't worry. I'll share a method that isn't overwhelming. 


The modulation method. Essentially, you start with a large first aid kit and place smaller removable first aid kits within that first aid kit - sort of like nesting dolls, except way more useful. 


Here's a scenario to help you visualize what I mean. 


You start with a large first aid kit - about the size of a good backpack. Instead of fully stocking the backpack, you stock what you can afford and then place your smaller first aid kits within the backpack. 


If you and your family leave for a weekend trip, you can grab the smaller pack to take with you. When you return home, place the small first aid kit back in the large first aid kit - now, you have a fully stocked first aid kit. 


Once you have the ability, I'd recommend keeping multiple fully stocked first aid kits in your home and car, so you don't need to worry about moving them. However, the modulation method helps in the beginning. 


Final Word on Assembling Your Family First Aid Kit

Remember the old saying - the more you know, the less you need. This is true. Get trained. However, a good first aid kit helps a lot. 

If you learn to use medical gear wisely, you get the best of both worlds - merging the mind with the machine (or, in this case, medical gear).