What's Inside a Tactical First Aid Kit?

Dietrich Easter

Skinny Medic

Medical emergencies happen at night, in crowded environments, and sometimes when other people act violently. The tactical first aid kit is ready for all environments.

We can thank the military and highly trained tactical medics who have pioneered many first aid techniques. 

If you'd like to become trained in tactical medicine, you can enroll in hands-on training courses like the Tactical Medical Practitioner (TMP) by SOAR Rescue

This article will focus specifically on what's in a tactical first aid kit and how the kit is prepared.

What Is a Tactical First Aid Kit? 

Responders use tactical first aid kits in special settings, including law enforcement scenarios, military operations, and rescue situations.  

Typically, a tactical medic is a member of a team of operators working toward a common goal, often under threats from violence. This violence could be from a dangerous person, a large group (think riot), or a natural disaster (like wildfires or hurricanes).

What are the differentiating factors of a tactical kit? What makes it different from a survival medical kit or a family medical kit? Or even a medical bag carried by professional paramedics? 


We’ll answer these questions in the following sections: 

  • When you'll need a tactical first aid kit

  • Gear in a tactical first aid kit

  • How to set up a tactical first aid kit 

  • Two types of tactical first aid kits


Let's cover these in more depth.

When To Use a Tactical First Aid Kit 

This section will talk about situations that require a tactical first aid kit. We'll also discuss the nuances of these situations and some special considerations. 



  1. Night environments. Even if you're just performing routine first aid, the darkness creates danger and liabilities. If you drop your gear or become lost, you will be in big trouble, real fast. 

  2. Search and rescue. Any time you'll be on the move constantly, or if you're routinely in a difficult environment - swamps, forest, crowded urban environments - you'll need to consider setting your first aid kit up in a tactical fashion. 

  3. Police/SWAT. Police and SWAT teams often have trained medics that respond to shootings, hostage situations, barricaded shooters, etc. 

  4. Military. The military must remain tactically prepared whenever conducting dangerous operations. 

  5. Riots. Large crowds of any kind are unpredictable. 


(This is not an all-inclusive list). 


Note: even non-tactical situations can benefit from tactical principles. For example, using modularity and emphasizing efficiency can benefit anyone providing first aid.  

Gear Inside a Tactical First Aid Kit

The gear in a tactical kit is slightly different than gear in other medical kits. In a tactical environment, there's more emphasis on hemorrhage control and trauma care. 

Also, there's greater importance in how you set up the first aid kit. 

Here are some common supplies in a tactical kit: 

  • Tourniquet. The tourniquet is probably the definitive tactical first aid item. Bleeding is one of the most common causes of death, and it's also one of the most preventable. 


  • Chest seals. Anytime the torso is compromised (front and back, from the neck to the belly button), you should be applying a chest seal. If no chest seal is applied, air can begin leaking into the pleural space, causing the lungs to collapse. If you're curious, check out this article on chest seals

Hyfin Chest Seals

  • Compressed gauze. Tactical medics use gauze for wound packing. Why wound pack? Tourniquets only work for extremities injuries (arms and legs). If someone is shot or stabbed in the groin or axilla (armpit), you need to pack those wounds. There are some junctional tourniquets on the market, and these are carried by specially trained personnel. 

  • Hemostatic gauzeHemostatic gauze is gauze that has been impregnated with a clotting agent (a substance to help stop the bleed faster). You can use the hemostatic gauze in conjunction with direct pressure to help control bleeding. 

Celox  Rapid

  • Pressure bandage. The pressure bandage is, essentially, one step below the tourniquet. It applies direct pressure for you so that you can treat other injuries. Pressure bandages don't replace the tourniquet; they work with the tourniquet. 

  • Burn Sheet. Some tactical providers will carry burn sheets and other burn gels or dressings. 

  • SplintsMoldable splints are common in a tactical first aid kit, as they are packable and can be cut and used for a ton of injuries: fingers, arms, knees, and even neck braces. 

  • Bag valve mask. The pocket BVM is common among tactical teams, as it is easily packable, but it offers the same level of function as a regular Ambu bag. These come in different colors. Some will have an extension hose that allows the providers to stand off to the patient's side. 

Pocket BVM

  • Airway. While advanced providers will carry ET tubes and cric kits (we'll discuss this in the next section), BLS providers will also carry some type of airway, including the king airway, an LMA, or an I-gel. These tools can establish an airway quickly. 

  • Airway adjuncts. Smaller airways, like the NPA and the OPA, are often included along with the previous airway tools. Also, some people use the pre-lubricated NPA, made to be easily placed in stressful situations. 


  • Portable suction. These suction units are handy for quickly clearing an airway. 

portable suction

These are all the basic things carried in in a tactical first aid kit. Notice these are standard first aid items. 


Here are several advanced items often carried by tactical medics:

  • Endotracheal Tubes 

  • Surgical Kits 

  • Cricothyrotomy kits 

  • IV supplies and fluids 

  • Medications


Here are several non-medical pieces of equipment often included in the tactical first aid kit: 

  • Liter or packable stretcher. For moving patients quickly. 

  • Flashlight. You'll often need an extra light source. 

  • Trauma Shears or Rescue Hook. Some people argue that the rescue hook is faster. With that said, you should still always have some shears. 

  • Scissor Leash. Attach gear to a leash to prevent losing them. 

  • Diagnostic equipment. While it's not always practical in every situation, many tactical medics still carry stethoscopes, pulse oximeters, and blood pressure cuffs. 


Now, let’s figure out how to set up a tactical first aid kit.

How to Set up a Tactical First Aid Kit 


The word tactical is often associated with combat medics, SWAT Medics, and special operations trauma care. 

However, even if you're not in a tactical profession, you can still apply tactical principles to your medical kit. 

Principles of a tactical medical kit: 

  1. Portable pack. A tactical pack needs to be mobile. Usually, this pack can be placed on your back and cinched tight, allowing you to maneuver any terrain. In some tactical situations, you may have to make quick movements, and having a secure pack is essential. This FATPack-Pro has all the right features. 

  2. Blend in. In non-tactical medical environments, bags are often bright-colored, so they aren't misplaced. However, in a tactical situation, there could be violent people who you'd rather avoid - in this case, it's smart to use a less noticeable bag. However, using smaller badges that identify you as a medic is still appropriate.

  3. Modular. There should be smaller pouches within the tactical bag, preferably with clear "windows" so you can easily find what you need. Also, many packs allow you to pull these inner packs out so that you can give them to another responder if needed. 

  4. Fast access. You need to get whatever you're after fast. In a tactical situation, you might not have much time to treat a patient before moving on to the next patient. That means a traditional backpack isn't always the best option - even if it's tactical. Many tactical medics prefer a clamshell-style pack. You can carry it like a backpack, but it splits down the middle when deployed. 

  5. Durable. Finally, you don't want anything too flimsy. While You should consider easing weight, ultimately, you need to carry what you need to carry. Make sure the bag is durable enough to handle rough environments.  

If you're curious, you can watch this video detailing a special operations medical backpack. 

Two Kinds of Tactical First Aid Kits 

We just talked about the bag styles tactical first aid kit. However, most tactical medics also carry a med kit on their person. For example, many will carry a chest rig that contains essential medical gear.

Others might supplement some supplies with an ankle medical kit. Still, others might have supplies around their waste or in their pockets. 

Many times, the items tactical medics carry around their waist will be those they need quickly: 

  • Gloves. You don't want to fumble around for gloves when you need them. 

  • Tourniquets. An obvious one. However, tactical medics also carry an on-body tourniquet for themselves. 

  • Airways. Airway adjuncts are another items that are often needed fast.

  • Trauma shear or Rescue Hook. For rapidly exposing a wound.


Note: If you train with a group of people, discuss how things will operate during an emergency. For example, ensure they all pack and store their personal tourniquets in the same place, so you can easily access and apply them for them if needed. 

Key Takeaway on Tactical First Aid Kits 

Ultimately, every person will set up their tactical first aid kit to personal standards. Let good training and practice guide your tactical setup.