After Las Vegas, Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK’s) are more important than ever

The massacre in Las Vegas yesterday, where hundreds were killed and injured, has highlighted the need to immediately aid a wounded person.  I think those of us who care about preparedness for emergencies need to consider carrying, or having immediate access to, an Individual First Aid Kit, or IFAK, to enable us to do so.  The acronym was originally derived from the US Army’s Improved First Aid Kit (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format), but has since expanded to cover a range of options.

There are many IFAK’s available, from many manufacturers.  You’ll have to look through the assortment and make your own selection, based on your skill level and budget.  If you have no training in first aid or emergency response, I strongly recommend that you get some before buying an IFAK.  It’s always better to know more about what you’re buying.  The Red Cross and St. John Ambulance offer probably the best-known general first aid courses (I trained with St. John Ambulance in South Africa).  They don’t focus on mass casualty events or weapons-related injuries, but the principles remain the same.  You can add to that foundation by taking more advanced emergency-response-related courses, such as this one (which is highly regarded) – but be careful in choosing them.  There are many private sector companies and organizations offering such training, but some appear to be out to make as much money as possible from their students, rather than give them the best possible training.  I can’t possibly cover all of them in a short article like this.  You’ll have to do your homework, and make the best choice you can.

Some very knowledgeable bloggers have offered articles describing some first aid needs.  (To cite just one example, Aesop offers what he calls his ‘College of Medical Knowledge‘, a collection of posts on the subject.  Highly recommended reading.)  However, I’m afraid reading about the subject just isn’t good enough to give you more than an overview.  Hands-on training, particularly in cleaning and bandaging wounds and performing CPR, is essential.

Once you know what you’re doing and what you need, you can make an informed decision about which IFAK to buy, and figure out for yourself whether it’s worth its price.  Many people prefer to build up their own first aid kit over time, rather than pay for a ready-packaged one.  I think that’s fine for general first aid use, but when it comes to IFAK’s, which are critical first responder tools, I prefer to look at the top-of-the-line kits from truly knowledgeable vendors, and save up for one of them.  They usually cost much more than those from more “commercial” competitors, but there’s a reason for that – they use the best materials, and are usually put together by those who’ve “been there and done that”.  To me, that’s worth the money;  and, judging by the number of first-response personnel and agencies that I personally trust who carry them, it is to them, too.  YMMV.

There are certain IFAK vendors whose products are preferred in the EMS and first responder communities (fire, police, etc.).  You’ll find them discussed in online forums, on mailing lists, etc.  I find that guidance very helpful.  If you can access it, all well and good.  If not, I suggest you find out what your local first responders are using, and consider carrying the same or a similar kit.  The reason is simple;  you may not be able to deal with injuries yourself, but they can.  Their own kits will run out in short order if faced with multiple casualties.  If you’re on the scene and can hand them an IFAK, they’ll be able to do much more with it than most of us would.  If it’s an IFAK with which they’re already familiar, so much the better.  After all, the life they save with that kit might be your own!

To learn more about IFAK’s, try these two articles:

There are other such articles out there, but, as always, beware any article that’s filled with specific product recommendations and links to buy them.  They may be very good . . . or they may be trying to make money off you.  Let the buyer beware!


EDITED TO ADD:  Aesop read this article, and in response has kindly put up a post of his own on how to use the contents of your IFAK.  Go read it.  The man knows whereof he speaks.


  1. Buy good gear for this. Cheap stuff is…cheap stuff. And know what you want in the kit, it's useless to spend money on nasal-pharyngeal airways if you don't know how to use them (or even what they are for).

  2. What is needed more than ever is for people to comprehend that this is not an anomaly, and that avoiding being a casualty is better than any pallet of IFAK’s.

    1. Stay away from crowds. Always.

    2. Do not go to public events (see rule #1 above).

    3. Live a quiet life.

    This won’t stop the acts, but it can change you from a participant to someone who finds out about it maybe a day or two later.

  3. Get some training and not the regular Red Cross stuff. Go for either NOLS or SOLO wilderness first aid. Why wilderness? Because if you know how to handle a situation with basically nothing but what you are carrying, then dealing with an event in an urban/surburban area is much more doable. A WFA is a weekend event for ~$200, then add a BLS CPR course (not RC) and you're in good shape.

    We are each other's first line of support.


  4. Kelly Grayson course Shooter Self Care was outstanding.
    DTI Doc Gunn's Tactical Treatment of Gun Shot Wounds is also recommended.

    The question becomes how much gear can you carry into an event venue?
    If you show up loaded out as a combat medic, we'll probably stop you at the gate. If you have an IBD or tourniquet in a pocket or purse you'll probably slide by.


  5. I will continue to posit that the “we'll probably stop you at the gate” paradigm is part of the problem.

    Genuine preparedness includes “don’t go” as the primary option.

    Don’t go has no gates.


    From the America College of Surgeons and The Committee on Trauma. They offer FREE courses on how to "Stop the Bleed" including tourniquet, pressure and wound packing. Good course. Mine was taught by a professor with twenty-eight years experience teaching, and three deployments as a Navy surgeon starting in 2003.

    You will not receive training from WFA or the Red Cross on hemorrhage control for "lay" responders. Check it out, seek a class, get a kit.



  7. Shameless plug. These folks specialize in kits for when medical care may not be immediately available. Their target market are those headed into the bush when professional care may be many long hours or even days away.

    Then again, I saw one of these kits strapped to the back of a car seat headrest in a town with two hospitals.

  8. Yep, seconding (or thirding) the wilderness medicine training suggestion. My WFR has been supremely useful over the past decade and I have no doubt that it will continue to be. Along with standard first aid it focuses on evacs (when you can hike it, when you need a help, and how to make either happen) and pushes the boundaries on what you can do without a license (traction splints, compartment syndrome, and a fair bit of prescription med administration under "good samaritan" laws). Next best thing to an EMT cert.

    I'm sure the pricey first aid kits have good stuff in them but I always caution others against going for the package deal. Reason being is that to use a first aid kit effectively you need to know exactly what's in it, why it's there, and how to use it. That's automatically the case with one you assembled yourself but people rarely take the time to do so with premade kits. Just like any other survival gear you need to train with each and every item in your kit.

    Here's an easy test: take out a piece of paper and list everything in your go-to kit. Now write what you'd use each item for next to it. If you're not able to accomplish either of those things then you've simply wasted money on an expensive "feel good".

  9. You can learn to use everything in an IFAK by reading my post, and watching the three or four linked videos. Total time less than half an hour.

    I'd recommend practicing it a few times, and rewatching the videos a time or three to get the hang, but I'm a suspenders and belt kinda guy.

    Point is, GSW basic first aid is geared for 10th grade drop-out GED kids from the 1960s, or current Common Core high school grads (which is functionally the same thing). Like the ones who show up to basic training now.

    More training is always better, because as Emil Faber said, "Knowledge Is Good."

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