Many have asked me what I would have in a first-aid kit or bug-out bag in case disaster strikes. So I’ve come up with my top must-haves, along with extras it would be great to have. This goes beyond your average first-aid kit. It’s my ultimate emergency medical supplies list.
You’ll customize yours depending on specific illnesses, ages of family members, medical training, etc. While this is my ultimate list, that doesn’t mean it’s exhaustive. I’ve tried to keep the medical supplies to a minimum with the realization that easy transport is essential. And some things can be used for more than one purpose. All the better.
Click here for a printable checklist of these emergency medical supplies.
Unless otherwise mentioned, you should be able to find all these items without trouble. In fact, I’ve linked some to Amazon.com for examples.* (The links are for general information and in no way specific endorsements.)
I’d suggest having a first-aid kit in the car, at your work, and in your bug-out bag if you have one. Then, have a much larger emergency medical supplies kit at home.
I like liquid bulk items for home storage but individual packs for the travel kits so they don’t leak.
Vinyl gloves. Emergencies outside a clinic are never sterile. The gloves are not only to cut down on getting germs in the wound but to keep the caregiver safe from potentially germ-carrying bodily fluids. Tips:
- Get a box of disposable gloves for the house and put a few pairs in each of your bags.
- Get the vinyl type to avoid latex allergies.
- Go for one-size-fits-all or the large size. If they’re too small, you can’t use them, but if they’re too large they’re kind of bulky but usable.
- The cheaper ones work well but may be more likely to tear. If than happens, just slip a second pair over the first.
- Keep the gloves in a resealable plastic bag. The bag could come in handy for irrigating a wound and multiple other uses.
- A pair of dishwasher gloves is a good substitute.
Alcohol (rubbing, or isopropyl). Good to clean wounds and wash hands. I’d keep a bottle around the house (the drinking kind will do in a pinch) and some individually packed pads in each of the kits.
Betadine pads. Good for cleaning around wounds. If need be, you can disinfect water with them by adding a pad per quart of water. The water can be used for drinking or irrigating a wound.
Antibiotic ointment. I like bacitracin. Triple-antibiotic ointment (Neosporin) is fine, but some people are allergic to it.
Bandages and Splints
Adhesive bandages—otherwise known as Band-Aids. Have few regular size and a few large size in each bag.
Kerlix gauze rolls. They’re kind of like continuous rolls of gauze. You can cut one to size for a dressing, fold it over to make it thicker, wrap it around an extremity to make a pressure dressing, or wrap it around a splinted leg or arm. Take at least four rolls if they’ll fit.
Elastic bandages. I think the 3-inch or 4-inch width is the most versatile. One or two will do.
Matches in a waterproof case or a lighter. To sterilize needles, safety pins, paper clips, etc.
Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly (Vaseline), stored in a resealable plastic bag. You may need the Vaseline to make a seal on an occlusive dressing for a chest puncture wound that involves a lung. In addition, the soaked cotton balls make great fire starters.
Duct tape. Actually, any tape will do. This is just a good all-purpose one. You can tape anything from a bandage to a wound with it. And it’s waterproof. You can even use it for some makeshift spectacles. You might keep a roll of paper tape also, in case someone’s allergic to the other kinds.
Super glue. Good to put on small finger nicks, which could lead to big infections in a dirty environment. It also can help the duct tape stick better.
Other Emergency Medical Supplies to Keep at Home
- An aloe vera plant. This comes in handy. A little ground up orally can be used for a laxative. Use the gel inside the leaves for burns and soothing the skin.
- Honey, honey, honey, for eating and coughs. Keep some manuka honey, such as Medihoney, to treat infected skin wounds.
- More of all the other things the post mentions. (You can only keep so much in a bag.)
Safety pins of various sizes to pin elastic bandages, make slings, stick a hole in a plastic bag or jug for pressure irrigation, or pick out small splinters (after sterilizing the pin).
Other Essential Supplies
Over-the-counter medications. Have liquid or chewable sources for the kids. Keep a few individual packets in each kit.
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve) or acetaminonphen (Tylenol) for pain and fever relief.
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergies or a sleep aid.
- Ranitidine (Zantac), famotidine (Pepcid) or your favorite antacid for heartburn and acid reflux.
- Loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea.
One 14-gauge, 2-inch-long hollow needle in case someone has a tension pneumothorax and needs chest air-pressure release.
Warming blanket. Hypothermia can be a danger in injured people. This type is light and warms when it’s exposed to air.
Emergency airways—to keep the back of the tongue from obstructing the airway in an unconscious person. You need a children and adult size. You can learn how to use them in a CPR class.
Of course, you’re going to need water for drinking. Store as much as you can—if possible, two gallons per person per day. For portability, carry a good, reliable water filter and bottle. Just be sure it’s the kind that filters bacteria, parasites, etc.
>> Learn the best ways to use these supplies in The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds and The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Burns.
If you still have room in your bag, add:
More Wound-Dressing Supplies
Nonstick sterile gauze, which helps keep the wound fluids from drying and sticking to the bandage. Keep a few in each kit.
Israeli bandage. This can be used as a pressure dressing or a tourniquet. It’s easy to learn how to use, but know how before you need it.
Vet wrap. This is a self-adherent wrap. It’s kind of like an elastic bandage that clings to itself. But it’s not readily reusable. The human medical brand is Coban, but vet wrap is cheaper, and otherwise, I don’t know that there’s a difference.
Sanitary napkins or more gauze. I like the 3-by-3- or 4-by-4-inch gauze. Again, I’d keep a pack in each of the bags or just get a big pack and store some in resealable plastic bags for the various first-aid kits. You can add a few sterile sponges to each kit also. They usually come individually wrapped. Sure, you can use sterile gauze even if you don’t need it to be sterile. It’s just more expensive.
Tampons—good for nosebleeds or for any place they fit to stop the bleeding.
Hydrocortisone 1% cream for eczema, poison oak or ivy, or any other noninfectious skin irritation.
Aloe vera—the gel for the kits. It’s great first-aid for burns.
Lidocaine gel for numbing a wound.
Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) for skin moisturizing. It’s also about the only thing that gets tar off the skin or hair. And, as mentioned above, it helps seal chest puncture wounds.
Sterile gloves and dressings (as opposed to the less expensive nonsterile kind), which are most important when tending to burns or wounds that involve broken bones. (See my books.)
Headlamp—not exactly “medical,” but it sure comes in handy. It’s amazing how a little extra light can help when you’re trying to do a medical procedure.
Stethoscope to listen to the heart and the lungs. Listen to some normal ones ahead of time.
Thermometer. A digital oral one is fine.
Blood-pressure cuff. This is bulky, and really, feeling a pulse with your fingers—its rate and whether it’s weak or strong—can tell you enough in the field. Although, the cuff can be used for a tourniquet or pressure dressing. For home, if you don’t use one much, consider an automatic one. The arm kinds tend to be more accurate than the wrist types. Check its accuracy ahead of time by letting a trained person check your blood pressure with a manual cuff, then the automatic one.
Pulse oximeter. Clip this to your finger (no needles, no blood), and it tells you the oxygen saturation in your blood. You can use it when you suspect a panic attack, or heart or lung problems. Learn more here.
If you have a smaller, separate leak-proof and waterproof bag, add:
Clove oil—for toothaches.
Paracord Survival Bracelet. This is a strong cord with multiple uses. (The link goes to the store for Wounded Warriors, which is a great organization.)
Those who have appropriate hands-on training, add:
IV materials. You’ll need:
- A bag of IV fluids, like lactated Ringer’s solution.
- An IV kit.
- Several needles/catheters, butterfly-type infusion sets, or intraosseus infusion needles. Many paramedics would say the latter are the easiest in a nonhospital emergency setting.
Suture kits. Most wounds can be closed with duct tape. Others are best left open. For the rest, here are some options:
- You’ll need a suture holder.
- Small scissors would also be nice, especially if you’re going to be the one to take the sutures out.
- And you’ll need a suture with a needle connected; 3-0 or 4-0 nylon (Ethilon) should be strong enough to hold most wounds together.
For local anesthesia (numbing) lidocaine solution, 1 or 2 percent, is what medical personnel use, but it’s prescription. You’ll need syringes and needles too. Lidocaine gel or ice packs and other options have variable results.
Staple remover. A must if you’re planning on getting the staples out.
What if I can’t get antibiotics?
Many infections, such as sore throats and gastrointestinal infections, are caused by viruses, and antibiotics don’t help. For other infections, there are alternatives if prescription meds aren’t available, There are alternative treatments for skin infections, pinworms, lice, scabies, fungal infections, yeast infections and numerous others.
Talk to your doctor. He or she might give you a prescription for at least one round of treatment to add to your emergency medical supplies. Antibiotics must be stored in a cool, dry place. Temperature extremes can alter their potency.
Azithromycin (Z-Pak) is an erythromycin-type antibiotic that can treat strep throat, ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, and skin infections. Of course, there’s always chance the bacteria is resistant or the infection is a virus. Azithromycin also treats the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia.
Amoxicillin is a great drug if you’re not allergic to penicillin, but many bacteria, such as staph, have become resistant to it. Cephalexin is a good alternative.
Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) is good for a bacterial gastrointestinal infection, but only take it if the infection is severe or won’t go away. Ciprofloxacin is also good for prostatitis and urinary-tract infections such as cystitis. It treats gonorrhea too. It may cause abnormalities in anyone whose bones are still growing (typically 18 years old and under). Don’t use if pregnant.
Metronidazole (Flagyl) treats the intestinal parasite giardia and the sexually transmitted parasite trichomonas. Makes you deathly sick if mixed with alcohol.
Septra and Bactrim are sulfa drugs good for urinary-tract infections. The antibiotic both of these contain is one of the only oral antibiotics that treats community-acquired staph aureus (MRSA). Not to use if pregnant.
Mupirocin (Bactroban) is a prescription ointment or cream that actively kills bacteria, even MRSA. (The over-the-counter antibacterials help prevent infections but don’t actively kill bacteria.)
Ivermectin kills many intestinal-worm infections, including pinworms. It also kills scabies and body, pubic, and head lice. Don’t take if pregnant or breastfeeding or under six years old.
Please read the package inserts on any medicine before taking it, and note the dosages, side effects, interactions, warnings, etc. The guidelines I’ve presented here are only partial.
Have you tried any of these products? Do you have comments or reviews—or emergency medical supplies to add to the list? Please share here.
*Disclosure: The links to Amazon.com are affiliate links, meaning someone who works with TheSurvivalDoctor.com gets a commission if you buy through the link—whether you buy that specific product or something else.