The most commonly used items in your basic first aid kit are antiseptic wipes and adhesive bandages; everything else you add to the kit is an improvement, but in my opinion no first aid kit is complete without those two items. If you do have an interest in improving your kit, I recommend a few items I put together at Christmas for my boys, my dad, and the brothers-in-law.
Getting someone a basic first aid kit at the supermarket pharmacy seemed like it would be an underwhelming Christmas gift — I wanted to get some unusual items that had more of a cool factor. You could use the same strategy on your own friends and family to spur some interest in learning a little first aid. Give them some cool first aid items and let them go to Wal-Mart to get the basic items themselves.
So here is the list of cool first aid supplies:
The Israeli Bandage is designed to apply targeted compression right over a severe bleeding wound. It has an absorbent pad that goes on the wound; then you wrap the bandage around the limb, work the bandage through the provided clip, and start winding the bandage back the other way, and it tightens down like a slip knot. Slide the clip into position right over the cut, and when you finish wrapping the bandage, it will push the clip down over the pad, targeting the wound site for compression. It comes in four- and six-inch widths, in a sterile vacuum pack, and costs about $6 to $9.
The Halo Seal is for treating a penetrating chest wound, which can result in a collapsed lung. In normal breathing, as your diaphragm and rib cage expand, it sucks air through your nose and mouth into your lungs, but with a chest wound you start sucking air through the wound into the chest cavity, and your lungs don’t get air. You can literally suffocate and die from an otherwise non-lethal injury, simply because there’s a hole in the chest. The halo seal closes off the hole, forcing the air to go back into the lungs. It will stick right through blood and sweat, if necessary, and there are two to a package, so you can treat an exit wound if present. There’s a special venting procedure you need to learn for refilling the lungs, so be sure to study the correct application method. Basically, you pull a tab on the seal to allow air in the chest cavity (but outside the lungs) to escape, so he can fill his lungs again.
The Sam Splint is a 36″ by 4.25″ foam-covered aluminum sheet that is shaped and molded to splint your injured limb and then bandaged and taped in place. It can be cut with ordinary scissors, is light and compact, and relatively cheap; it retails for $15, and street price goes under $12. It is by far the easiest way I’ve found to splint a limb. My dog Fritz broke his front leg a few weeks ago, and I dressed it with a Sam Splint and a bunch of bandage and tape. The “cast” is off now, and he’s much better, putting weight on the leg, although he does still have a limp. (On a human leg, the Sam Splint is too small to form a stiff enough permanent cast; it should be considered a temporary splint).
Instant Cold Compress
An Instant Cold Compress is a fantastically convenient way to provide relief from inflammation. Sure, it’s wasteful if you can just make an icepack from the freezer, but for a quick first application, or for a vehicle or camping kit, this is the way to go. You squeeze the pack, which bursts an inner pouch of water. This then dissolves some granulated ammonium nitrate in an endothermic reaction. The solution cools to about freezing, and holds that temperature about 20 minutes until all the solid is dissolved. By then, it’s time to remove the cold pack anyway.
Absorbent Foam Dressing
The Coflex AFD Absorbent Foam Dressing is particularly handy, as it combines a number of useful first aid features. It has a foam pad with the absorption equivalent of nearly 30 gauze pads; it is a self-sticking bandage so no fasteners are needed; and it is waterproof, so blood will not seep through the bandage. It is well worth the $6 to $8 street price.
Quik Clot comes in several different packages and applications, but they all provide the same blood-clotting compound that helps stop bleeding; the difference is in the amount and kind of accessories included. You simply open the package, place the sterile mesh sponge on or even into the wound, and wrap. There is also a Quik Clot Trama Pak that includes a large absorbent pad, a Quik Clot sponge, duct tape, gloves, and other various gauze pads and bandages. At about $20 street price it is an excellent value. Shelf life is 3 years, so check with the seller to make sure you’re not getting items close to the expiration date.
I hope you’ll only need to use it on a cut finger, but if you have a strong stomach, watch this video which demonstrates its application in a severe wound.
Although it is so simple and cheap, prewrap is very useful; I find it strange that it is not more common in basic first aid kits. It consists simply of a thin, light, stretchy foam. The most common outdoor activity injury is a sprained ankle, and it is in this case that prewrap shines. To stabilize a sprained ankle, particularly in the months following the injury, you tape it with cloth tape (you’ve seen football players and gymnasts with taped ankles). To keep the tape from tearing out your hair when it is removed, you simply apply prewrap and tape to that, instead of taping directly to the skin.
All these items except the prewrap are also available from Chinook Medical, which is where I bought my supplies for the Christmas gifts. Although their prices might be slightly higher than Amazon, they supply only first-grade items, not seconds or items near the expiration date.