What are the Different Types of Medical Kits?
If you’re wondering about the different types of medical kits, this article will give you a strong introduction. Some people might think a medical kit is pretty standard; however, like a mechanic has different tools for different jobs, a physician or paramedic will have different medical kits and tools for different injuries and illness.
Some medical kits are categorized by purpose, for example, trauma kits, med kits, surgical kits, airway kits, and splints. Other medical kits are categorized by size: pocket kits, vehicle kits, IFAKs, and expedition bags. Understanding the various types of medical kits will make you more organized, potentially making you a better responder in an emergency.
This article will talk about the various types of medical kits carried by professionals, and it will give you an idea of the kinds of kits that are useful to have on hand.
The Two Main Categories of Medical Kits
There are usually two primary ways to categorize first aid kits – either by size or by their designated use. As medical kits become smaller, they will carry less and less “fluff” and more “meat.” The fluff would be categorized as items of comfort or convenience, the “meat” would be items that are lifesaving. These philosophies guide many decisions in first aid kits.
Here are the two categories of first aid kits:
First aid kits by use. These first aid kits have a specific purpose, and they are marked clearly for their intended use.
First aid kits by size. These kits are made for different areas. Some for a pocket, some for a backpack, and some to be carried in a large duffel bag, or even to set up a mobile clinic in austere environments.
Below, we’ll outline the specifics of each of these categories. Let’s start with first aid kits by use.
The Different Types of First Aid Kits by Use
There are many types of medical conditions. When a first responder is working on a patient, they need to have all their tools ready to go – there’s no room for disorganization during an emergency. Your mind will already be going a million miles an hour, so you want to have everything around you as standardized as possible.
Let’s talk about the most common types of first aid kits.
Note: we will list many types of medical packs – not all of them will be within a civilian responder’s scope of practice, meaning that you don’t just get to perform surgery because you have a knife. However, for the sake of information, we’ll cover them.
Types of first aid kits based on purpose:
Medical kit for Trauma and Bleeding Control
First Aid kit for medications (med kit)
Medical Kit for Surgery
Medical Kit for Airway Management
Medical Kit for Splints
These are some of the many subcategories of medical kits that professional responders will carry. You can use this information to guide the creation of your medical kits.
Trauma Kits and Bleeding Control
Trauma kits are some of the most popular kits. The reason they are so popular is that they are probably the single most lifesaving type of kit in the civilian world (along with good CPR and airway management, bleeding control is one of the most important first aid skills).
The typical trauma kit will have various subcategories. The most common components are packing gauze, pressure bandages, and a tourniquet – these make up the bleeding control portion of the trauma kit. However, trauma goes beyond bleeding control.
There will also be chest seals and occlusive dressings in a trauma kit, allowing the responder to treat wounds to the chest and abdomen.
Finally, the trauma kit may have burns sheets, burn gel, and perhaps some IV supplies. Treating burns requires careful planning and equipment, so sometimes there is a burn kit that is separate from the trauma kit. However, it’s important to know that burns fall under the umbrella of “trauma.”
Med Kit - Emergency Drugs and Pain Control
The med kit has useful medications to be used during an emergency. These don’t all need to be emergency meds, but they should all serve a specific purpose. In the ambulance, there will usually be three main categories of medications: cardiac (anything with the heart), breathing, and pain control. There are other supplemental medications, but in general, these are the three areas.
You can use this to guide your own med kit. Ideally, you should have medications that match up with the needs of the people you’re serving. Some people might require an Epi-pen, some might require Aspirin, and others might just need some ibuprofen.
The med kit is usually separate from everything else - or can at least be easily removed. Med kits also include all the syringes and vials needed to administer the medications accurately. Often, there is also information included about dosing. Though it’s good to become familiar with meds and doses, relying on memorization during an emergency can prove unreliable.
Medical Kit for Surgery
This kit will fall out of the scope of most civilians. However, a trained practitioner may carry some simple surgical equipment for emergency use. These will not often be for major surgery, but rather smaller operations, or emergencies.
For example, a paramedic carries some surgical supplies for cricothyrotomies (cutting open the throat to establish an airway). They may also carry decompression needles for tension pneumothorax (relieving pressure on the lungs and heart). Some will perform escharotomies (cutting through burned tissue to allow a person to breathe), others may be trained in more invasive procedures, such as chest tubes.
It’s good to be aware that these are possibilities in the field, but only authorized individuals should attempt these procedures. Now let’s talk about airway management.
Airway Management Medical Kit
Airway management is another medical kit that is usually separate from other kits. The airway kit is ready to handle any emergency that could impact a person’s ability to breathe. The airway kit will have a multitude of supplies depending on the level of the provider.
Often, there will be a BVM or a CPR mask – used to provide supplemental breaths. Other times there will be a simple rescue mask barrier device.
OPAs and NPA are common items in an airway kit. More advanced providers may have endotracheal tubes for intubation, Magill forceps to clear blockages, and a bougie to facilitate intubation (basically a long, flexible, plastic stick).
Airway management also requires a unique set of skills that need to be practiced. If you’re curious, read this guide to better airway management.
Medical Kits for Splints and Slings
This kit deals with the musculoskeletal systems – bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. For this kit, you will see various splints as well as tools to treat a sprain, break, or strain.
For this kit, there will typically be a myriad of items for splinting, including some large splints such as board splints and traction splints for treating arms and legs.
However, there will also be moldable splints, which are easily portable, as well as a triangular bandage, which can be used to create a sling and swath.
For a civilian kit, it’s difficult to carry the larger splints, but there are ways to improvise splints with branches, walking sticks, or even pillows.
This is not an exhaustive list of medical kits, but these are some of the most common kits you’d find on an ambulance. There may be many situations where these kits are modified to fit the needs of the provider. This list will hopefully help you as you build your own kits.
Types of Medical Kits by Size
As we said earlier, medical kits are also categorized by size. Some large and some small. Let’s go over how the various sizes work, and what they can do for you.
Sizes of medical kits:
Full medical Kits
Let’s look at these three main sizes
Pocket Medical Kits
These kits are meant to be carried on the person, either in the pocket or in a purse. Regardless, the goal is for them to be on hand at any moment. An ankle kit could also fit into this category. The goal is to have the essentials ready to go.
For these small kits, you usually only include the most important items: tourniquets, epi-pens, packing gauze. It wouldn’t make sense to waste space with ice packs or other secondary supplies.
Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK)
These kits are a little bigger than pocket kits. IFAKs are usually made for some operational capacity – not necessarily everyday carry. For example, a police officer, soldier, or hunter will often carry an IFAK on their belt.
The IFAK is built will a few more supplies than the pocket kit. Also, the IFAK is built for the person who carries it, so it will contain supplies needed specifically by them – such as prescription meds.
To learn more, read this guide to IFAKS.
Large First Aid Kits – Full Kits
The full first aid kit is usually a large bag that contains all the smaller kits within. This kit might be the size of a backpack, or it might be the size of a duffel bag. Usually, the large first aid kits act as the “base camp” for the smaller kits.
To see a large medical kit in action, check out this video on the rapid-access trauma system.
This article is only meant for informational purposes. Always follow local laws and regulations regarding what you can and cannot carry and what you can and cannot do – many areas are different. Finally, remember that training always trumps gear. Get trained, keep training.