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Due to the nature of disasters and emergencies, injury and illness are all too common. Natural and man-made disasters are typically characterized by mass destruction where the landscape and everything on it may be damaged or completely destroyed. If people are at the intersection of the physical destruction, they may get injured or worse.
Basic first aid supplies can be used to treat minor to severe illnesses and injuries that happen as a result of the disaster or its aftermath. The ability to maintain personal hygiene can go a long way towards preventing illness. In addition, maintaining even a basic level of cleanliness can provide a sense of normalcy in psychologically stressful scenarios.
In my previous post I covered the supplies needed for navigation, illumination, and starting fires. In this post I’ll go over the first aid, hygiene, and other personal items needed for your 72 Hour Bags and Get Home Bags. I use the abbreviation “72HB” for 72 Hour Bag and “GHB” for Get Home Bag and I label each item as either essential, recommended, or optional for each type of emergency bag. I also make recommendations on a few specific items if you’re looking for guidance on what products to choose.
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Pre-assembled first aid kits are a great place to start when compiling the first aid supplies to include in your emergency bag. Some people will want to build their own kit entirely from scratch in order to optimize and specialize the items in their kit. I find most pre-assembled first aid kits to be great but lacking in at least a few areas. So if you choose the pre-assembled route you should include some additional items that are purchased separately. I typically start with a pre-assembled first aid kit and add items so that I don’t have to spend as much time shopping for each type of item and because they typically come in a good weatherproof bag or container that I won’t have to go out and buy separately.
Most basic first aid kits contain the items listed below. If you find a basic first aid kit that lacks one or more of these items, it’s a good idea to enhance the contents of the kit by adding the missing items.
- Gauze Pads 4″ x 4″
- Roller Gauze 2″ wide
- Non-adherent Wound Dressings 4″ x 4″
- Adhesive Bandages (various sizes)
- Triangular Bandage with Safety Pins 40″ x 40″ 56″
- Butterfly Bandages (various sizes)
- Medical Gloves
- Medical Tape 2″ wide
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Antiseptic Wipes
- Alcohol or Soap Pads
- Moleskin 4″ square
- Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen
- Anti-Diarrheal Medicine
Most pre-assembled first aid kits do not include the following items; therefore, they should be purchased separately. These include:
- Sanitary Napkins
- Hand Soap
- Plastic Bag 12″ or larger
- CPR Breathing Barrier – disposable
- Sugar packets (for treatment of individuals with diabetes)
- Pencil & Paper
- Epi-pen (if needed)
Below are a few notes on some of the items that I have listed above.
Gauze & sanitary napkins – include enough of these to absorb considerable amounts of blood. Since sanitary napkins are highly absorbent, they are great for use on wounds losing large amounts of blood.
Triangular Bandages – They can be made easily from old bed sheets and can be used as arm slings or as cravats to hold splints or wound dressings in place.
Hand Soap – This should already be included with hygiene supplies, but it bears repeating with the first aid supplies as cleanliness is critical for presenting the spread of disease.
Plastic Bag – A gallon-size sealable plastic bag can be used for containing used first aid items to help prevent the spread of disease. It may also be used to help treat a sucking chest wound so it’s good to keep a couple of these bags in your first aid kit.
Pencil & Paper – If a person has been given treatment prior to the arrival of medical personnel, it can be extremely valuable and potentially lifesaving to have a record of vital signs and notes related to the illness or injury to give to medical personnel.
Putting Together Your First Aid Kit
The figure below shows the first aid supplies I put together for my most recent 72 Hour Bag. I started with the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .5 (1) for the foundation of my kit. Then I added some sanitary napkins (2), a notepad (3), anti-diarrheal medicine (4), a package of antihistamine tablets (5), a travel size bottle of ibuprofen (6), some antibiotic ointment (7), some triangular bandages (8), a couple of breathing barriers for CPR (9), a handful of sugar packets (10), and a sealable plastic bag (11). What’s not shown in the picture is that I put all 11 items in a larger plastic pouch so that all of the contents are together when I stuff them inside my 72 Hour Bag. These contents are what I personally consider the most essential items for an emergency bag first aid kit. I purchased most of the additional items from my local grocery store. I did, however, purchase the triangular bandages and CPR breathing barriers from Amazon.com.
First Aid Supplies
My Picks – First Aid Kits
There are many great first aid kits available at reasonable prices. In my experiences backpacking, mountaineering, and hunting, I’ve grown to appreciate the Adventure Medical Kits brand first aid kits. I especially like the Ultralight & Watertight series because they come in a watertight bag to prevent the contents from getting wet. TripWorthy also makes a nice compact first aid kit that’s good for an emergency bag. The kits below are a few that I strongly recommend:
- Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight .5 .7
- TripWorthy Compact First Aid Kit for Medical Emergency
First Aid Skills
Wilderness Medicine and First Aid. Standard First Aid and CPR classes are widely available, and many individuals are certified or re-certified in these skills every year. The treatment approaches in these classes involve doing as much as possible to treat a person in medical distress until medical personnel arrive. However, in a disaster situation, medical personnel might be overwhelmed by the large number of people needing help, might be hurt themselves, might not be reachable if phone systems are disabled, or might not be able to come to your aid for a myriad of other reasons. Wilderness first aid classes provide the knowledge and practice for many situations requiring first aid when emergency personnel are not readily available—a likely scenario in a large-scale disaster. REI and many other organizations provide Wilderness First Aid classes frequently throughout the year.
Hygiene & Personal Items
Basic daily personal hygiene supplies are essential to include in an emergency bag. Because conditions can rapidly become unsanitary in a disaster situation, basic sanitation supplies to to help maintain personal cleanliness are also essential. Some additional personal items, like feminine products for women, should also be included based on your personal needs.
The following list of hygiene and personal items are essential for both 72-hour bags and get home bags:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Hand and body wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Liquid hand and body soap
- Toilet paper
- Garbage bags
There are also items that are essential for 72-Hour Bags but recommended for Get Home Bags, or that are recommended for both. These are:
- Dish soap (essential 72HB, recommended GHB) – If you’re using the same utensil for multiple days, you’ll need to wash it after each use to keep it clean and sanitary. Dish soaps designed for backpacking are usually biodegradable and come in small bottles that are great for emergency bags.
- Small hand towel (essential 72HB, recommended GHB) – A small fast-drying towel is ideal for an emergency bag so that you can dry it quickly after use or fasten it to the outside of your bag to dry. One of the last things you’ll want in an emergency is a wet towel in your bag.
- Dental floss (recommended 72HB/GHB)
- Insect repellent (recommended 72HB/GHB)
Additional items may be essential in all types of emergency bags depending on specific personal needs. For example:
- Personal medications
- Feminine products
- Spare eyeglasses
- Contact lens case and solution
- Hairbrush and hair-ties
- Make-up wipes
My Picks – Hygiene and Personal Items
A few items that most of us do not encounter on a regular basis are wet wipes and soaps intended for backpacking type situations. The following items are a couple that I personally like to carry in my emergency bags.
- Surviveware Biodegradable Wet Wipes for No Rinse Bathing
- Sierra Dawn Campsuds All-Purpose Cleaner in Nalgene 4-ounce
Shown below are all of the first aid, hygiene, and personal items that are in my personal 72 Hour Bag.
First Aid, Hygiene, and Personal Items
In the next post in this series, I describe the communication equipment, tools, and other supplies that are needed for your emergency bag.
The content provided in this post is intended for informational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. I am not a professional and the information provided does not constitute professional advice. If you choose to use any of the information or recommended products, you do so at your own risk. For more information, read the full disclaimer here.
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