7 Steps To Build A Great First Aid Kit – At Low Cost
Is your first aid kit up-to-date and ready for your next adventure? We didn’t think so, either. Let’s face it, good kits cost a lot, and still usually don’t have what you really need. Here’s a first aid guide, to explain exactly how to make your kits more effective for a reasonable cost.
Tired of first aid kits that boast how many pieces they have, yet are really only good for cuts & scrapes? Here’s how to create a DIY first aid kit and upgrade your kit, without spending an arm and a leg. And, building your own kits doesn’t only save you money, you are more likely to be on top of what the kit has, and how to use it than if you just purchase and stow a pre-made kit.
Are there great ready-to-go kits out there? Certainly, check out our related article. But if you have multiple kits, are leading a group on an adventure, or need to pack anything other than the common basics, here’s how to do it cost-effectively.
How many kits do you need? We keep separate kits in several places for use depending on the situation. We have a car first aid kit in each car (2), one in our boat, and a camping first aid kit with our gear. This prevents us from having to remember to transfer it when the time for an outdoor adventure arises. So we try to keep 5 stocked and up-to-date. How many do you need?
Next, what type of trips and situations will they be used for? Just to illustrate the extremes, how you assemble a general family kit, is very different than one for a 2 week backcountry trip with 4 people, which is different yet again from leading a boy or girl scout troop. Your family kit only needs to be enough to get you to the nearest store or doctor, and size and weight doesn’t really matter. Your two week backcountry trip or troop leadership kits however, need to anticipate that on the one hand it may be longer, even days, before you can get to a doctor, yet at the same time needs to be lightweight and compact. It is important to think about your needs so that you can determine the first aid kit essentials.
Finally, what do specific individuals need? Our family relies a lot on nasal decongestants (Mucinex) and acetomenaphin (e.g. Advil or Aleve), so we tend to stock those a little more than the other products. We tend to be so active, we get into all kinds of bumps and bruises and strains, and our kids seem to have a propensity for sinus buildup. For our general use kits, we purchase a large plastic container kit such as Johnson & Johnson at our local store, which typically has lots of extra room in it which we then fill with our personalized and trip-specific first aid supplies.
With all this in mind, make a first aid kit contents list. It’s easy to think you’ll remember, but emergency kit checklists are helpful in several respects:
Creates an inventory & restocking list you can keep in the first aid kit
Becomes a shopping list for what you need to buy for your 1st aid kits
Can help identify contents if you lose track of what something is for
Can be used to discuss with others what’s in a first aid kit, adjust for group needs, etc.
2) Take Stock & Redistribute
Take stock – over time, kits are used, disorganized, lost, and some of the contents such as medicines expire. So, before you do anything else, pull out all your kits and spread them out where you can work on them such as a big table. Check through what you have, figure out what’s been used, and assess the contents relative to what you need in your DIY first aid kits. This is where your first aid kit checklist can really come in handy.
Redistribute – we’ve found that sometimes, we can save ourselves a trip to the store just by redistributing from one kit that hasn’t been used at all, to a kit that needs something. If you do that, just make sure you don’t draw down the kit you take from too much, so as to make it under-supplied or ineffective. If you think about it this way, you’ll determine how what’s the best first aid kit for car may be different than an emergency kit for home. If you’re still wondering what to put in a first aid kit, whether in a basic first aid kit or advanced wilderness first aid kit, read on!
3) Discard Anything Expired
Check expiration dates – Many first aid kit supplies, such as pain relievers and medicines, have expiration dates. These are critical to observe and replenish when something expires. It’s easy to let your supplies expire just with the passage of time and busyness. And because the cost of first aid kit supplies can add up, it can be tempting to stretch them out a little longer.
On this point, don’t compromise your health or safety, or that of someone else. At best, expired supplies are usually ineffective, and the last time you want to find that out is right when you need it. At worst, expired and degraded or spoiled substances when taken orally can make you sick(er), which is throwing fuel on the fire if you are already injured or ill. Just don’t compromise your own, or someone else’s health & safety.
Fortunately these days first aid supplies are easier to repackage into smaller amounts without losing track of what they are, and what the expiration date is. It used to be that medicine names / identifiers and expiration dates were only labeled on the outer packaging (e.g. box or bag), but not the on the inner packaging (e.g. foil wrapped individual medicines). Perhaps you remember you, or your parents, trying to figure out just what it was in the medicine cabinet?
While better, this is sometimes still the case, so keep your eye out for it so you’re not caught in the situation of not knowing what something is, or the expiration date, right when an emergency arises and you need it the most. See the two inset photos, of example products that currently label the inner packaging (e.g. Benedryl) and one that doesn’t (Halls cough drops).
4) Buy In Bulk
This is the fun part, actually. Once you’ve narrowed down to exactly what you need based on existing stock and thinking about what kind of trips you’ll be on, take the first aid kit list (and other emergency supplies list if needed) you made and head to the store. Buying in bulk (and repackaging into smaller kit sized units) gives you greater purchasing power to fill more kits with what you actually need. Usually, pre-packaged kits don’t have everything you really need, unless you buy a really expensive one, and even then it’s unlikely to be tailed to your specific family or group needs. If you don’t need multiple kits yourself, consider teaming up with a friend or friends to get the same bulk discount effect.
Best first aid kit supplements – Here are some of the things we like to include in our first aid box or kit, that don’t normally come in general first aid kits, or even emergency kits for homes, in the specific sizes that we have found useful for first aid kits. They are shown with a link for you to check prices and consider purchasing through our Amazon affiliate program to help support this website:
Acetomenaphin (e.g. Panado, Paracetamol, or Tylenol)
Allergy medicine (e.g. Benedryl, Claritin, or as prescribed)
Metal Tweezers (plastic ones are usually ineffective)
Moleskin (for preventing and treating blisters, especially for a hiking first aid kit)
Large clothespins / diaper pins (to help with large bandages, wraps, makeshift arm splints, etc.
Multi-vitamins (for a boost when someone’s health has been compromised)
Poison Ivy (and Oak and Sumac) Cleansing Scrub, and Anti-itch Crème
Pen & Pencil and Paper – for tracking an injured person’s status, when medication is given, notes for rescuers, etc.
Sleep Aid (Melatonin)
5) Package, Label & Organize
Organize well – we like breaking our supplies into separate Ziplock baggies to help them stay organized, and also aid in finding what you need more quickly in an emergency. Having several see-through plastic bags organized as follows will be much easier to handle (and less prone to loss) in an urgent situation:
Cuts & scraps bag – scissors, tape, bandaids, gauze, butterfly bandages, anti-bacterial cream (such as Neosporin), alcohol wipes, etc.
Over-the-counter pre-packaged medicines – painkillers, decongestants, allergy medicines, etc.
Label well! Use a Sharpie or other brand permanent marker to clearly mark contents of the kit, to avoid accidental mis-use, and also to label which kit goes where, so the wrong supplies don’t wind up on the wrong trip.
DO NOT include family member specific or prescription medications in a kit intended for general use, unless the kit is highly controlled by one or two members of the group that are familiar with individual medication needs. We recommend against this, because kits that are accessed by multiple people can wind up using the wrong thing, and/or using up something another individual needs.
Keep separate kits for separate purposes, to avoid disorganization, and aid in speedy use in an emergency situation. Rescue & survival kits for example, have different supplies such as matches, whistle, mirror, fire starters, fishing line & snare, etc. Repair kits usually carry extra buttons, heavy duty thread, nylon strap & buckles, duct tape, etc.
Since you want to be able to access these under different scenarios than a first aid kit, just keep them labeled in a different stuff sack. What we like to do for our backpacking kits is have three separate mini-kits – first aid, survival/rescue, and repair kits – in separate mini-stuff sacks but within the same medium sized red color (for emergency) waterproof stuff sack.
We find that an emergency kit for homes doesn’t only have somewhat different contents than say a first aid kit for car or hiking / backpacking first aid kit, but will also be packaged differently and with a different volume of supplies.
6) Monitor & Restock
Way to go – after completing the 5 steps above, you are more than ready to go! Congratulations, you are among the few that are truly ready, and you’ve created one of the best first aid kits there is at a reasonable cost. Just remember to monitor and restock your emergency first aid kit items, both right after returning from a trip (while what you used is fresh in your mind), and also before you go (to verify everything trip-appropriate is still in there, it’s amazing how easy supplies can walk off with their own legs it seems….). It’s so easy to let slip – and so consequential when you don’t have your first aid kit contents in stock right when you need them.
7) Train & Prepare For Readiness
Having the kit is one thing, but knowing exactly what to do, calmly and accurately, when someone or yourself is injured, is another thing. At a minimum, buy a kit with or separately purchase a mini-first aid how-to booklet to place in your kit. Much better, is to take a first aid course, such as the comprehensive ones offered by the Red Cross or your local community college. There, you’ll gain more perspective on exactly what should go in a Red Cross first aid kit, and you’ll receive an emergency kit list you can use as-is, or customize and tailor for yourself. Then, every few years take a refresher course, and better yet advance to wilderness medicine, first responder, and other courses that will make you a certified asset to your group when out in the wildness or in any emergency situation.