How-to: First Aid Kit Tips, Tricks & Hacks

Dietrich Easter

We've all seen the movies. Someone opens a closet to grab something important, only to have stuff fall into a huge mess as they open the door. It makes for laughs on TV, but it's best avoided during emergencies. This article will show you first aid kit hacks to keep you organized and efficient. 

First aid kit hacks are about finding ways to make your first aid kit and emergency care more intuitive. It's about putting on your detective hat and asking: what will slow me down in an emergency? How can I make this process better? 

Maybe you've got a great first aid kit with high-quality emergency supplies. Blue ribbon for you! But, before we get carried away into the clouds of victory, let's make sure there aren't any hidden evils ready to rain on your parade. 


7 Hacks for a Better First Aid Kit 

Emergencies are weird. They aren't like preparing for an exam. For a test, all you need to do is study hard, and be sure to bring your mechanical pencil and pink eraser.

However, imagine that, while taking the biggest exam of your life, instead of a nice quiet library - where there's a teacher watching, ready to stomp out anyone who dares break the code of silence - instead of this calming oasis, imagine that a drill sergeant is screaming in your ear during the entire test. Sounds a little difficult, doesn't it.

Let's come back to earth. What am I talking about? People tend to forget that they will need to prepare even beyond competence for an emergency - they will need to overcome the fight or flight response (not easy) and concentrate on the mission. 

Simply put, when making a first aid kit, you need to keep it simple. You need to realize your mind will be playing tricks on you, and you'll have to overcome it. 

Here are seven ways to hack your first aid kit: 

  1. Zipper pulls 
  2. Rip tabs (or pre-open)
  3. Clear labeling 
  4. Redundancy 
  5. Modularity 
  6. Improvisation 
  7. Organize in order of importance and compartments 


Let's look at these hacks in more depth. As you'll see, many of these tricks are simple - but they can make a big difference. Remember, small problems in "normal" life become big problems during an emergency. 


Zipper Pulls 

Think zippers are easy to grab? To some people, they are. However, others have a bona fide zipper-grabbing illness. I'll admit, sometimes those little buggers are hard to find! 

During an emergency, the last thing you want to do is waste any time trying to find or grab a zipper. Remember, your hands may be covered in blood if you're in the middle of an emergency - at the least, your fingers will be shaking and sweaty. So, don't laugh. I've witnessed my share of zipper-fumbles, and just like watching your super-bowl team drop the football, they are heart-wrenching.  

Now that I've convinced you that this is a real problem, here's how you fix it.  

Get some zipper pulls or make some yourself. Zipper pulls are often neon-colored and sometimes glow in the dark (we wouldn't forget our black-ops friends).  

Place them on your first aid kit zippers, and you'll never worry about it. 

Tip: it's also common practice to "stage" your zippers. Don't push them off to one side of the zipper. Instead, place them in the middle, where they're easily seen and grasped. 

Another tip: Don't ever use a first aid kit with cheap zippers! A broken zipper is a travesty that I wouldn't wish on friend or foe. 


Rip Tabs 

In the same tradition as zippers, it's also easy to fumble opening the packaging of many medical supplies - for all the same reasons: blood, sweat, it's dark, it's raining, hands are trembling, and someone is screaming. 

So, it's best to take action before you have a problem. How? 

You can do two things. First, you can pre-open anything that doesn't need to be in a vacuum-sealed container. Chest seals, hemostatic gauze, and anything that needs to remain relatively clean should be left in its original containers. However, some things, like dressings, bandages, and tourniquets can be pre-opened with little issue. 

Second, you can attach pull tabs for those things that cannot be pre-opened. Duct tape works pretty well. Just place a strip of tape across the recommended "tear here" location and fold it across. You'll find that the tape is easier to grab and makes a cleaner tear. 

Note: Always pre-open and stage your tourniquets! Watch this video to see how to stage a tourniquet the right way. 


Clear Labeling 

We label things in the kitchen because we don't want to accidentally place salt in the cookies instead of sugar. Well, you should also label things in your emergency kit. You don't want to be rifling through the airway supplies when you need something for bleeding control! 

You can label your pack however you'd like; just make sure it's clear and that the average seven-year-old could read and understand it. That means, instead of writing "hemorrhage control," write "stop the bleed." Even if you understand some medical jargon, it's best to prepare for a situation where you'll need to direct someone non-medical on how to use the kit. 

Using medical patches can help too!



In addition to clear labeling, it's smart to think about redundancy. How does this work? 

Redundancy follows the "two is one and one is none" principle. You should always have a backup plan. This applies on a small and a large scale. 

For example, don't just have one first aid kit in your car, have one in the kitchen, one in the car, and one near the front door. That's redundancy. 

On a smaller scale, don't just have one tourniquet in the med kit in your car. It might also be helpful to have one in the glove box and one in your pocket. 

Redundancy isn't always practical; however, there are ways to do this, even if you need to carry minimal gear. 



If you learn to improvise and tourniquet and a pressure bandage, you're giving yourself a layer of redundancy without carrying more gear. While improvisation is great to know and incredibly useful at times, it shouldn't be your primary source of first aid care. 

Take some time to learn advanced techniques for bleeding control. Once you know how to use your hands to control a bleed, you'll be much more effective at controlling a major hemorrhage. Here's an article on bleeding control. It discusses some of the common misconceptions. 



Maybe you don't have the cash for fifteen first aid kits. Understandable. However, there are ways to stretch a single first aid kit if needed. 

Here's how.  

Perhaps, you only have one fully stocked first aid kit in your home. How do you stretch its use? Well, instead of filling each compartment of the kit with different things, you might also place a smaller kit within the kit (sort of like the nesting dolls your grandma likes). When you leave the house, you grab the smaller kit (containing the essentials) and bring it to the car. 

What about when you leave the car? Well, maybe you have an even smaller kit within your car kit - something like a pocket trauma kit or an ankle first aid kit - now when you leave the car, you can conceal an even smaller kit with the bare-bones essentials, like a tourniquet and gauze. 

Just an idea. It's probably not ideal all the time but creating some modularity in your kit can be helpful. 


Organization and Order of Packing 

Should the splint be at the top of the kit? What about the CPR mask? How about the tourniquet? When you first open that first aid kit, what's the first thing you should see? 

Think about the order of importance when organizing and packing your first aid kit. Remember the M.A.R.CH pneumonic - Massive bleeding is the most deadly injury, so tourniquets and bleeding supplies should be at the top. Airways supplies are the next most important, and so on. 

Don't stuff your kit like a jack-in-the-box - you don't want it popping open at the wrong times. Getting a good medical bag is essential for a quality first aid kit. You don't want the bag too small. 


Final Thoughts on First Aid Kit Tips, Tricks & Hacks 

What tips and tricks do you know for first aid kits? If you have any, share your hacks with us. It's helpful to learn. As you build your first aid kit, put on your engineer cap and ask: how could I make this better? What are the problem points? 

Remember, emergencies will make small inconveniences a BIG problem. 

Don't neglect training. Take the time to learn how to perform good first-aid - bleeding control, rescue breathing, and good CPR - these are the three skills to focus on. Contrary to popular opinion, they are difficult skills to perform well (sure, you can learn them in a day, but it takes many hours of training to master these primary skills). 

Check out the recent article on first aid kits for children - never forget the kids!