The Complete Guide to
Small First Aid Kits
Just because it's a small kit doesn't mean it can't treat major injuries! While many advocate for carrying a large medical kit (there's certainly a time and place), there's something to be said for the philosophy of a small first aid kit. In this article, you’ll learn about the different types of small first aid packs, their uses, and their downsides.
Some small first aid kits hold band-aids . . . and more band-aids. There’s nothing wrong with band-aids; however, many people prefer to also pack lifesaving gear. That’s why some small first aid kits go by the name "micro" trauma kits. These kits are designed to carry the most versatile equipment to treat the largest range of injuries.
Below, you'll learn about the advantages of a carry-sized first aid kit. And we'll explore some of the best items to place in a micro first aid or trauma kit.
Let’s figure it out.
What's a Small First Aid Kit?
The first aid kit can take many forms. This article will talk about several categories of easily packable first aid kits.
Here are the categories we’ll cover:
1. Travel size/backpack size portable kits
2. IFAKs and first aid kits for one person
3. EDC first aid kits
Let's examine them closer.
Travel-sized first aid kits (That fit in backpacks)
Backpack-sized first aid kits will fit inside a backpack - these are not a full backpack of first aid gear! (A full backpack of first aid gear would fit into the medium-to-large-sized category).
A travel-sized first aid kit is great for hiking, road trips, or camping. In this first aid kit, you'll place enough equipment for yourself and perhaps your family. This is still a small first aid kit, and it may contain some essential medications and a few pieces of trauma gear.
If you're curious to learn more about a first aid kit specifically for backpacking and hiking, read this article on the ultimate guide to backpacking first aid kits.
This travel size is the largest "small" first aid kit. Now, let's go a step-down.
Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK)
This first aid kit is larger than an EDC kit yet smaller than a travel or backpack kit. The IFAK is designed to treat one person, hence the name. Ideally, everyone on a team will carry an IFAK - even if the members are not formally trained in emergency medical care. I talk more about IFAKs in my article, your guide to IFAks, but I'll provide a summary here.
IFAKS are usually carried on the body. Some people have a pouch on their belt, and others have them mounted on their backpacks or vests. The IFAK is typically trauma-related - it's made to quickly address life-threatening bleeds, wounds in the chest, and airway management. A typical IFAK will have a tourniquet, a chest seal, some gauze, and a pair of gloves. Also, IFAKs may have different items based on the user's needs.
However, an IFAK is geared toward outdoors, duty, or tactical environments. While it's invaluable in these settings, it's not something to carry with you to a wedding or a casual day at the mall (unless you’d like to!).
In the next section, we’ll talk about the smallest of small first aid kits - the EDC kit or micro trauma kit.
Everyday Carry (EDC) First Aid Kits
The everyday carry (EDC) first aid kit is made to be carried with you everywhere, anytime, in any weather. Usually, the EDC first aid kit is concealable. A quick word on that.
The EDC first aid kit can take several forms:
1. Ankle medical kits
2. Wallet Medical Kits
3. A simple rubber band
These are the three main options for small first aid kits.
Ankle Medical Kits
Ankle packs are nice. They can hold nearly as much as an IFAK, and you can take them with you everywhere. Ankle medical kits are a great go-to off-duty EDC kit in the winter or whenever you're wearing long pants.
A few notes and potential downsides to ankle kits:
· First, they can get warm in the Summer. Not terrible, but definitely a little warm. If you're just going to the store, you probably won't notice, but you'll feel it more if you're taking a hike.
· Second, the ankle medical kit can be a little bulky. However, remember that this isn't 2003, and nobody is interested in examining bellbottom jeans. Regardless, there are many types of ankle kits out there, both high capacity and minimalist, and you'll need to consider the one that works for you.
Now, time for the pocket first aid kits.
Wallet Sized Medical Kits
These are made to fit in a pocket comfortably. The wallet-sized medical kit usually carries one pack of gauze, a chest seal, and maybe a SWAT-T Tourniquet (as these fold nicely).
The wallet-sized kit is a great go-to for the summertime and can often be worn comfortably with shorts. Also, you can throw one in a purse or tuck one in the glove box of your car. Hide them like easter eggs - just make sure you can find them!
Rubber Band for Small Med Kit
The full minimalist! You can use a small rubber band or pouch to hold together a tourniquet and some gauze if you have to - this will get you through emergencies involving heavy bleeding.
Hint: Learning to improvise items will reduce the amount of gear you should carry. Also, getting better medical training will help make you more effective at treating emergencies.
Skills like bleeding control and airway management are more difficult than they may appear - especially when trying to execute them in a high-stress situation. You need to take the time to practice and prepare.
Now, let’s talk about some of the items to place in your small med pouch.
What Should I Put in a Pocket First Aid Kit?
Think about the ABCs (airway, breathing, and circulation/bleeding) when deciding what items to include in your small kit.
Here’s a list of items to place in your small med kit (lifesaving first):
· Tourniquet (SWAT)
· Gauze (compressed)
· Chest seal (Mini)
· Rescue mask (flat)
· Bandana or triangle bandage
· Anything else you need/want
Now, for some important but less lifesaving gear:
· Butterfly band-aids
· Anything else you need or want
You can get this stuff in my boo-boo kit!
Concealing a First Aid Pack You may want to conceal your EDC first aid kit. It's not particularly comfortable to have a large kit hanging from your belt if you work a desk job. Some people like to keep a low profile. However, medical gear is not prohibited from TSA, schools, or cities (how weird would that be? "Sorry sir, no band-aids allowed" These days, I guess you should never say never).
The point: if someone sees you're carrying an ankle medical kit, so what. It's not illegal, so don't get too hung up on perfect concealment.
EDC First Aid Kit: Philosophy
Some people might think that they should reserve their small first aid kits for less important gear, like band-aids and bits of burn cream. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's smart to consider both sides.
If you burn yourself on your stove, it will hurt, but it's not a life threat. You've got time to walk over to the medicine cabinet and grab that burn cream.
However, if you cut off your hand on the table saw, you've got seconds to act - which tools would you rather have in your pocket? A small pack of insect cream? Or an effective tourniquet?
You should consider the situations you might find yourself in. If you want to combine some small gear with some serious gear, there's nothing wrong with that.
Would you rather have a small first aid kit or no first aid kit at all? That's really where these "micro" kits do their best work. Yes, we talk a lot about carrying a ton of gear, and there's nothing wrong with that. Those who have seen plenty of injuries know the value of quality gear and quality training.
Why carry a small first aid kit? Small first aid kits are just like wallets. You don't carry your whole bank with you; you just carry what you need. This is the principle behind a micro first aid kit - we don't need the entire ER; we just need a few small pieces of gear to get the job done!
If you carry a pocket first aid kit, you will get into a habit that forces you to always have some essential gear with you. When you grab the car keys, you’ll remember to grab your first aid kit. Yes, knowledge trumps gear - but the right gear is still important.
Take some time to read these articles on bleeding control and rescue breathing. Also, seek out local first aid courses. Better to know it and not need it than need it and not know it!