We’re usually about putting holes into stuff.
Today, we cover things designed to treat holes in you.
Well, not just holes in you…but scrapes, burns, cuts, lacerations, and other tragic affairs.
We are talking IFAKs.
What’s an IFAK? An IFAK is an individual first aid kit.
It’s a military concept that’s spread into the police and military world. In the military, the IFAK has saved countless lives. No longer is ‘Doc’ the only one who carries medical equipment.
Just because my time in the military is over doesn’t mean that my time with IFAKs is over.
After my service, I became a big proponent of IFAKs and at a minimum, I always keep one in my car.
Today I’ll cover what goes into IFAKs, the best pouches to carry, and some complete IFAK kits.
Table of Contents
Training (Get it!)
The thing about first aid is that if you aren’t trained in how to apply it does a bunch of gear help you?
First aid is a lot like shooting a gun. All the gear in the world isn’t going to make you better at it.
Now outside of the most advanced and well made medical gear in the world, you can get some of the best training in the world. No matter where in the United States you live, there is a company or group that offers medical classes.
Check with your local shooting ranges, gun stores, or find an internet forum for your area run by firearm people – I’m sure you’ll find classes offered in your area.
If all else fails, look for Red Cross training classes or check with a nearby community college – most of them offer classes for EMT/firefighting certifications that would cover truamatic wound treatment.
IFAK versus First Aid
An IFAK is a First Aid kit technically, but I hate calling it that.
Generally, a first aid kit is a dinky little kit designed for bumps, bruises, and small cuts. An IFAK is designed to care of those bumps and bruises too, but its real focus is a traumatic injury.
The distinction is more or less just semantics. An IFAK is just more complete for curing the nastier wounds.
You can buy a pre-made kit, or you can build your own. We’ll cover a little bit of both in this article, but before that happens let’s talk about what an IFAK should be and what it should do.
An IFAK is all about addressing traumatic injuries and preserving life until you can get yourself or another to a higher level of care.
What Goes in an IFAK?
An IFAK should address the most common and most dangerous injuries that can occur in the big and dangerous world. Without serious medical training and the best equipment in the world, you can’t save everyone.
An IFAK isn’t a miracle worker and neither are you. But it can keep you or someone else alive long enough to get them to real medical care, and that is what an IFAK is all about.
The first line of the above paragraph says it all. An IFAK treats the most deadly and most common injuries that someone on the ground can treat in the first place. This is why we aren’t packing an AED, a hospital bed, a wash station, and other hospital gear.
We pack what we can carry, and what we can use with the minimal medical training we have. Most of the time that’s enough to keep someone alive until they reach higher medical care.
The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care lists the most common forms of preventable death as:
- Compressible hemorrhage – 60%
- Tension pneumothorax – 33%
- Airway obstruction and ventilatory compromise – 6%
Bleeding was one of the most common battlefield deaths before an IFAK. Your body is just a giant meat sack of blood, and in general, you want to keep as much blood in your body as possible.
Several tools will allow you to keep that blood where it should be. Some are for extremities and some are for the torso and some work for both.
The Modern Tactical Tourniquet has saved more lives on the battlefield than any other medical tool. As a Marine, we carried tourniquets with us in bulk.
One on the flak jacket, one in the IFAK, one in the cargo pocket, and one on the rifle, really one everywhere you could fit one.
Our Tourniquets were known as CAT tourniquets, and they were absolute lifesavers. Unfortunately, since they became so popular a lot of low-quality clones arrived on the market. These clones are not built to any real standard.
They are not built up to snuff but are okay for training purposes. Your life is not worth saving a few bucks on so buy the best. Two companies I trust are the original CAT Resources, who introduced a seventh generation CAT Tourniquet.
The other company produces a controversial tourniquet known as the RAT tourniquet. This tourniquet has been proven to work under doppler and was designed by a career Green Beret medic. It’s smaller and straightforward to use. It’s honestly an excellent tool for EDC.
I prefer a CAT but keep a RATs around as well. I have several CAT tourniquets, and they make up a substantial portion of any IFAK since bleeding is the most common cause of death that’s easily preventable.
Hemostatic agents have evolved a lot in the last few years have gone from burning based powder to the more comfortable, more effective and safer Combat Gauze. I don’t suggest powdered QuikClot anymore, but QuikClot combat gauze is a must have.
While it was developed with the military in mind, QuikClot is now making these dressing for the civilian market and advertising them as such. These are Hemostatic agents that you fill a wound with. It aids in hemorrhage control and helps the blood clot.
QuickClot has some different sizes and design available at very affordable prices.
The Israeli bandage is called a lot of things, but the original name is the most well known. These bandages are revolutionary when it comes to hemorrhage control and compression. Once you shove a wound full of Hemostatic gauze what do you do?
You keep it in there with this Trauma Wound Dressing. It’s a pressure dressing that is a sterile dressing with an elastic bandage and a pressure applicator that puts 30 pounds on pressure on a wound. The Israeli Bandage incorporates a closure bar which makes it easy to ensure the bandage stays in place.
It’s really easy to apply and the user can apply it to themselves with a single arm. A quick Youtube tutorial is all that’s needed to learn to use this simple bandage. It’s a must-have.
Sucking Chest Wound
Sucking chest wounds are another common and preventable killer. Long-term treatment of a sucking chest wound is dealt with at a hospital, but you can help prevent damage and save a life by treating a sucking chest wound as quickly as possible.
If untreated a sucking chest develops into Tension Pneumothorax, which listed above is the second significant preventable killer.
A sucking chest wound occurs when there is a hole in the chest that creates a new and not needed airway into the chest. You don’t need or want extra air in the chest, and too much extra air will collapse a lung.
You treat a sucking chest wound you need to keep the air from getting in and hopefully let the air out. I was taught many battlefield methods using duct tape and MRE wrappers, but we’ll avoid that here but much better options exist and they are called chest seals.
There are quite a few well-made chest seals out there and they come in a wide variety of sizes. I carried a Halo Chest Seal in my Marine Corps IFAK which our Corpsman tactically acquired when he was stateside.
Remember, we learned how to use MRE wrappers to save lives so the Marines had a tough time getting chest seals.
Thankfully I never had to use it, but in later training, we did practice with some chest seals that had broken package seals. These things work very well and will stick and adhere to the body very well. Even when you are soaked in sweat, and hair and dirt isn’t an issue either.
Oh, but it is gonna hurt when you yank it off if you are a hairy gun. Be prepared to Shout “Oh Kelly Clarkson.” But you’ll be alive.
North American Rescue, one of my favorite companies, is also producing chest seals which are square shaped and a little easier to carry in small IFAKs. I trust North American Tactical enough to suggest them and recommend with my full support.
Burns suck, the constant pain, the smell, and the long-term effects are terrible.
Helping relieve the pain is the first step in treating the injury. Treating big burns requires more than an IFAK can carry, but small burns along the body can be treated and pain can be relieved significantly by a quick acting, and well equipped first responder.
Burn gel is the key to helping reduce pain and treating a burn. We carried a big packet of burn gel in our IFAKs by a company called Water Jel. This burn dressing is a sterile, gel-soaked dressing with a few qualities you need for treating burns.
First, it’s non-adhesive, which is critical for treating a burn. It also stops the burning process immediately. These dressings save skin and reduce the injuries profile. It also relieves pain and keeps the area from becoming contaminated.
I never had to use my burn dressing in a real emergency, but I did see someone grab the hot barrel of a machine gun in a training environment. A Corpsman immediately tossed a burn gel dressing on, and only minimal whimpering occurred.
Moral of that story is: barrels are hot – machine gun barrels are very hot.
It seemed to work very well, and luckily the same burn dressings we received are easy to find in a variety of sizes.
Cleanliness and Infection Prevention
Both sides of an injury should be in mind when it comes to contamination and infection. In a rapidly evolving emergency, you may not have time to wash up. If you can, you should though.
For the provider of first aid, I also say keep gloves on hand. Nitrile sterilized gloves in a Zip Loc bag are a simple and cheap addition to any IFAK. Bring a few sets.
Gloves keep you from being exposed to contaminants and prevent you from potentially infecting your patient.
A spray with antiseptic is another way to control germs and infection. A small 2.75 ounce can of spray is small and easily stored if needed. This spray isn’t a must-have, but a handy to have. The Dermoplast even has a pain reliever in it and is pretty cheap.
For the little wounds, I suggest buying something a few things. These again aren’t designed to save lives, but to make life more comfortable. If you are lucky, this is the only part of your kit you’ll ever need. Here are a few little things for little boo-boos.
- Variety pack of Band-Aids
- Sting Relief Wipes
- Pain Relief Pills
The Little Things
These are a few other things I think every kit needs to be complete. These are tiny but important pieces of equipment that aren’t necessarily medically required.
A Good Flashlight – I’d go with something small and simple. I used to carry a Streamlight Stylus as a penlight, and its an excellent choice, but I recently moved to headlamp by Fenix. A headlight lets me keep things hands free, which may be a necessary consideration.
For Every Day Carry lights, you’ll want one of the 5 Best EDC Flashlights we reviewed.
Trauma Shears – Cut through clothes with ease! These things are great for a variety of tasks. They are large, which makes them hard for small kits but for hiking, or bug out bag I’d pack them.
Large Tweezers – From splinter to infectious materials a pair of tweezers is a great thing to have. It makes it easy to precisely pull stuff out of where they shouldn’t be.
Sharpie – A black Sharpie is perfect for writing the time a tourniquet was applied, as well as vital information on the patient. Yes directly on the patient for higher medical to see.
A Little How-To
I’m no instructor, and my medical training is Basic First aid classes, Combat Lifesaver, and DMOC training. If you want a quick reference guide here is a free US Army manual. It won’t replace actual training but may give you an idea and reference point for concepts.
Most of all it will teach you what you don’t know, and hopefully, you’ll find training to fill the gaps.
Best IFAK Pouches
If you are building your kit choosing a pouch will be a big deal, and I have experience with a variety of different bags and pouches. Some small, some big, and I figure I could drop a few I like here.
Well duh. The USMC was my first and even though its simple it is useful. It’s also quite cheap and very roomy.
It lacks the sexiness of the new IFAK pouches out there, but it works, and it’s been proven in combat by a few thousand infantry Marines.
I had the same IFAK for five years and two deployments and it never even frayed.
There isn’t a whole lot to say. It’s a pouch that holds supplies and holds quite a bit of them. It’s sturdy, affordable, and widely available.
What’s your take on the USMC IFAK pouch?
The Delta Kit is a slightly more modern and more organized type of kit. This is a small pouch, but it can hold the essentials with ease. The Delta Trauma Kit is designed for Trauma and quick reactions to trauma.
The kit is capable of holding tourniquets, dressings, Combat Gauze and more in its small size. It’s a well thought out pouch with internal elastic bands to help keep the kit organized. The Delta Kit from RE Factor Tactical also sports one of the most clever detaches modes out there.
It has a set of bands for weaving through PALS/MOLLE webbing, and these bands are separate from the actual pack. They attach via hook and loop and then with a buckle closure over the entire back. If you unbuckle it you can remove the kit from the bands and therefore from your gear.
This allows you to set it beside you and get to work without having awkwardly fumble with your gear as you need this or that.
Another favorite and one of the most modern kits is the BFG Trauma Kit now. It’s a big pouch so you can fit a lot of goods in this kit and it won’t give up on you. What’s unique is the way you pack the gear inside the bag itself.
The Trauma Kit Now is divided into two pieces, the main pouch, and the insert. The removable insert is complete with elastic bands that allow you to store a ton of medical gear. Here you can fit tourniquets, gauze, dressings, burn gel and more.
The removable insert allows you to pull it from the pouch and get to work without fumbling into your pouch. The efficiently organized kit is quick to remove and rapid to put into action.
You can even add a tourniquet holder to the top of the bag that’s made by BFG for a fast access tourniquet.
The STRIKE Pouch is an affordable design that’s very simple but excels in organization. The inside sports two internal dividers and a lot of elastic bands for simple and secure storage of medical items.
The Strike pouch hinges open and the bottom of the pouch doesn’t just flap in the wind. Everything is easily accessible and straightforward to use. This is my go to range bag IFAK, and it can squeeze in a lot of gear.
The design is well thought out, and if you want an easy to organize kit that doesn’t have a removable aspect to it the Strike Pouch is for you.
Best IFAK Complete Kits
If you want to avoid having to build your kit some pre-built kits will need very little to nothing added to be a useful piece of equipment. A Pre-Built IFAK can be a very viable choice as long as you understand its contents and what you are using it for.
I always suggest adding at least 1 CAT tourniquet to any kit just because I love them. You might want to upgrade the scissors also.
The AMK Field Trauma Kit is great if you have an adventurous streak in you. This IFAK style kit is designed for the rugged outdoors type more than the gunfighter. If you are a hiker, camper, or just general outdoor’s adventurer, this kit is for you.
The simple pouch fits comfortably in a hiking pack and contains a wide variety of wound care kits. The AMK Field Trauma Kit is a complete kit with QuickClot dressing, tons of bandages, gloves, antiseptic and more.
It also comes with a Comprehensive Guide to Wilderness & Travel Medicine that’s easy to follow and an excellent reference guide.
This kit is more like a sealed bag of goodies that will fill an IFAK pouch so you’ll still need to provide the pouch. This kit is perfect for the police officer looking to build a kit for duty, or for a very well prepared concealed carrier.
The kit has a CAT Tourniquet, some Combat Gauze, a chest seal, a compression bandage, a Needle Decompression tool, and of course duct tape. Its well put together and designed for a single time use.
If you want an IFAK that’s very easy to carry and remarkably low profile the Micro Trauma Kit Now from Blue Force Gear. The Micro TKN is designed for belt or MOLLE compatibility and is ultra small. You can purchase the kit empty or full, and I suggest full, so you can quickly pack it and carry it.
The kit comes with an Advanced Kit or a Basic Kit. Each comes with a surprising amount of gear, including tourniquets, gloves, Hemostatic agent gauze, and more. The Advanced kit is a bit better, but a little bulkier.
It’s a great kit and ingenious in how it functions. Like the Standard TKN, it has a removable rider for you work without having to continually reach back for more and more gear.
So if you have a group of people you are in charge of taking care of you might need something more than an IFAK. The NAR Squad Medics Kit is a massive and well-made kit that does break the entire premise of this article. IFAKs are for individuals, and this is for everyone.
This massive bag is perfect for a team, and it has nothing but the highest quality gear in the medical market. North American Rescue is one of the most well known and professional medical gear providers out there.
The World of IFAKs
Individual First Aid Kits have become quite widespread since they became the norm during the War on Terror. It’s become quite reasonable for the outdoorsman, the concealed carrier, and the prepared individual to keep one on hand in one way or another.
I keep one in my range bag and my car, just in case. IFAKs have become affordable, easy to find, and are coming from a variety of reputable manufacturers. If you conceal carry a gun, you know you have had a responsibility for your safety.
This is the same reason I keep an IFAK close at hand. I’m responsible for my safety, and an IFAK is part of that.
Do you or would you carry an IFAK or am I paranoid? Let me know below.