I strongly encourage everyone to learn basic first aid skills and carry the right tools to be able to provide medical assistance to himself and others.
I carry, and have carried a lot of gadgets - er, tools. Definitely tools. Many have proven themselves useful, some were fun, and some were (let’s be candid) bling that eventually fell by the wayside. Experimentation and adaptation are key parts of the EDC journey.
First aid gear is different from much of our other EDC kit. We expect to use our knives, flashlights, lighters, multitools, and other kit. Heck, we’re eager to show ourselves as prepared, useful, and fun! Yet I hope I never use any of the first aid gear I have. I hope it all rots in its bag, never having had a chance to serve its purpose. Same with fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, etc. But to me the one thing worse than spending $50 on first aid gear that never gets used is being in a situation where $50 could’ve saved a life, or prevented a bad situation from becoming a terrible one.
OK, so I have spent slightly more than $50 on first aid gear. But you don’t need to.
Before you buy any gear, get training. We’ve previously talked about the importance of the EDC brain. The classic first aid training opportunity is the American Red Cross. Learn first aid, including how to help someone who’s choking, CPR for adults and children, and how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Here’s a link to see Red Cross classes that will cover all of these. You can do the whole thing online and the Red Cross does a good job with this. The online classes don’t typically meet the requirements for people who need a certification for volunteer or work requirements, but they provide the same information if you just want to be a prepared citizen.
The other class I recommend everyone take is Stop the Bleed. I encourage you to read about how the American College of Surgeons has led this initiative and why. Here’s the short version: you can lose a lot of blood before emergency medical services (EMS) arrives. You can bleed out (exsanguination, if you want your big word for the day) in less than five minutes from a severely damaged femoral or carotid artery. In a world of senseless shootings and motor vehicle crashes, as well as industrial and home improvement accidents, this isn’t a remote risk. Being prepared to stop bleeding - your own or others - is a vital skill.
If you don’t have time or opportunity for a Stop the Bleed course, go to the North American Rescue (NAR) site and take their online Public Access Bleeding Control course or view their YouTube channel. You can also purchase bleeding control kits from NAR for about $50 - go in with a buddy and order one each and you’ll get free shipping too. I keep one of these in the driver’s side door pocket. We never know when we’ll be in a position to help save a life.
As for what first aid to carry, here are my recommendations:
At a bare minimum, I recommend carrying a keychain kit like this. Add a couple of bandaids and alcohol wipes. The CPR mask is good to have but not essential; if you’re doing CPR on a stranger, you can do hands-only (just the chest compression part) without compromising effectiveness by much. If you’re doing CPR on a family member or close friend and choose to give rescue breaths, the mask is important as patients often vomit during the CPR process. This kit fits easily in a pocket.
Next step up is an individual first aid kit (IFAK). There are lots of good options commercially available. For the best quality, buy from a place like North American Rescue or Gall’s - they supply the pros, so the gear will work for you. This kit is one of my favorites and what I throw in my hiking pack or travel bag.
I strongly advocate for people to carry the necessary gear to stop major bleeding: tourniquet (TQ), packing gauze/hemostatic dressing, trauma dressing. The NAR kits referenced above meet this. NAR also sells ankle kits, which make it easy to carry a TQ and other gear all the time.
From there, you can keep adding stuff to your heart’s content. Many specific items will depend on individual factors:
How close are you to EMS? If you call 911, will you have an ambulance in 10 minutes or 2 hours?
Does anyone in your tribe (family, friends, work site, etc.) have specific health needs? For example, if you’re often with someone who’s a diabetic, carrying glucose gel or tablets is smart.
What specific risks are you around? Loggers experience a different set of risks than golfers.
I carry a lot of things to stop bleeding, ranging from minor scrapes to major arterial hemorrhage. I carry chest seals to treat a penetrating chest wound (think bullet or knife, but there are lots of other ways to get one) and prevent pneumothorax.
In my car kit, I also carry glucose, 81mg aspirin, burn dressings, water, electrolyte powder, and an array of comfort bandages: moleskin and blister bandages, knuckle and fingertip bandages, etc. And a boatload of PPE - gloves, goggles, etc.
Things I don’t carry:
Decompression needle. I’m not medically qualified to use it and doing so goes beyond the limits of my state’s good samaritan law.
Suture kit. I’m not a surgeon. ‘Nuff said.
SAM splint or something similar. However, I always have some cardboard and duct tape in my car, which come in handy for a wide array of things. Using them and my handy-dandy EDC knife, I can always fashion a splint from them.
I mentioned good samaritan laws. Note that what I’m about to say doesn’t constitute legal advice, and you should learn the laws that apply in your jurisdiction and consult an attorney or medical professional for any guidance you’re going to rely on. In general, you are protected from legal liability for doing something wrong in the course of providing first aid IF you act reasonably (that’s a legal standard) and within the boundaries of your training. I’ll provide some absurd examples to illustrate the point. If you come on the scene of a person who is unresponsive and not breathing, and using your CPR training you perform chest compressions and break ribs (a likely outcome), you are generally not liable for causing the broken ribs. You acted reasonably and within your training in a good faith effort to preserve life. Similarly, if you opted not to perform rescue breaths and the person died, the family cannot sue you because you could have done more. You are not obligated to give breaths (indeed, as a lay responder, you’re not legally obligated to render assistance at all).
On the other side of this, if you see that I have burned my hand and whip out your pocket saw and amputate my arm below the elbow, you’re going to end up in court. That isn’t reasonable and isn’t within the scope of training.
Most first aid courses will discuss this and help give learners a sense of what’s reasonable. One of the more common situations that can come up involves moving an injured person. You generally shouldn’t move someone unless they are in imminent danger where they are. Let’s say I come upon a vehicle crash scene. The driver is unconscious, breathing, and does not appear to have life-threatening bleeding (spurting blood, blood soaked clothing, or blood pooled under his body). I see/smell gasoline leaking from the vehicle and turn off the ignition. There is a risk of fire, but how great is that risk? If I leave the person in place and a fire starts, they could be burned; if I move them, I’m risking spinal injury. These aren’t easy decisions and a good class and ongoing reading and learning can help give you more to work with in making it.
More than any other aspect of EDC or general preparedness, I urge people to learn first aid skills, practice them, and carry gear they know how to use to save lives.
Share your first aid experiences and any skills and gear you’ve found useful in the comments below.