There’s a tiny part of all of us that believes in Murphy’s Law. You don’t need to be paranoid, preparing for a nuclear fallout, or a zombie apocalypse to want a first aid kit. Just practical. There’s actually a huge range of emergencies you need to be ready for: insect bites in the wild, earthquakes at home, or diarrhea overseas (which is a real pain in the you-know-what.)
And that’s why there’s so many different types of first aid kits. To make sure you aren’t weighed down by tools you don’t need, you should identify your specific needs, then choose the kit that’s best for you. But, of course, it isn’t fun imagining and preparing for all the possible worst-case-scenarios out there, which is why we’ve done it for you.
How to Choose a First Aid Kit – Buying Guide
First, let’s make sure you know a) what can go into a first aid kit and b) what kind of kit you’re going to need throughout all the twists and turns in your life.
The Size, Material, and Contents on the Kit Depends on Where You’re Going to Use the Kit
You don’t pack the same things when you go to a luxury hotel overseas, hike the Alps, or rough it for a week in the woods. So why should you carry the same first aid kit? Here’s how to choose the best kit for specific situations.
At Home, Work, or School: Go Basic, or If You Live in a Disaster-Prone Area, Stock up
Unless you’re a real butterfingers, you aren’t going to hurt yourself (much) as you go about your everyday tasks. That’s why you can buy a kit that contains only the bare essentials: bandages, some kind of disinfectant or antibacterial ointment, tweezers or forceps, and scissors (yes–scissors!). All the packs we introduce below have at least this much. You’ll also want burn cream for kitchen accidents, which–surprisingly–a lot of packs leave out.
If, however, you live in a disaster-prone area–hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, or earthquakes–you could consider something big, comprehensive. Since you’re not on the move, weight isn’t going to be an concern for you. Look for a pack that’s prepared to deal with breathing issues and major wounds, with splints, for instance, QuikClot, or a tourniquet.
Road Trips and the Great Outdoors: Be Prepared to Get Wet, Lost, and Stung
The wilderness is tricky, because there’s all kinds of environments you could be tramping around in. In any case, make sure the kit waterproofs the contents in some way–the bag itself could be water repellent, or the items inside could be sealed up in plastic containers. This holds doubly true if you’re a kayaker. Make sure the bandages, too, will protect your wounds from water and won’t just be washed away by a wave.
If you’re going hiking or into the woods, antihistamines are a must. You may think you’re not allergic to anything, but when you’re in a new environment, in contact with new pollen and new contagions, who knows what may trigger you. You’ll also want medication for bug stings, animal bites, and poison ivy rashes (hydrocortisone, by the way, is a great anti-itch cream). Don’t forget splints and other forms of pressure support for sprains and fractures–a must for mountain souls.
Some first aid packs also come with rescue whistles, emergency blankets, ponchos, and compasses. If there’s even the slightest possibility of getting lost or stranded, these are invaluable. And if you are a hunter or a boater who’s around propellers, you may have to deal with major trauma–so check for compression bandages and clotting sponges, sprays, or powders.
Finally, if you’re camping with a car, the size of the pack doesn’t really matter. But if you’re a hiker or long-distance trekker, you need something as light and compact as possible.
Overseas Travel: Focus on the Basics and Space for Medication
You know that old adage, right? Travel light. Bring just the basic bandages and disinfectants, in addition to the follow necessities.
First, antihistamines–for the same reason as above. You may be fine sitting on your patio on a fine Los Angeles evening, but you don’t know what foreign pollutants will get to you. Next, meds for gastrointestinal problems–do we even need to outline the dangers of food poisoning overseas? Finally, fever-reducers and other common drugs and painkillers–because a) the country you’re going to may not have a pharmacy on every corner, b) you might not be able to properly describe your symptoms, and c) even if you do get the meds, they might not be the right strength for you.
Also, it’s helpful when any first aid pack has space set aside for prescription medicine and other personal necessities, such as an inhaler. However, since this kind of stuff is probably unavailable or a pain to get overseas, such space is an absolute necessity in a travel pack. Just make sure nothing you include is going to stir up trouble with customs or the TSA.
Who and How Many People are Going to Be Using the Kit?
Medication expires, wipes dry out, and band-aids lose their stickiness over time. That’s why, for the sake of your wallet, you want to get a kit that’s made to treat however many people you’re going to treat. Unless you’re planning to transform into a mummy, you don’t need 100 bandages for just one person. On the other hand, many first aid kits only come with one trauma pad or one large piece of gauze. If you travel to remote areas in a group, that’s not going to cut it–unless you want to draw lots or something.
Also, if you have kids, are around kids, or have anything to do with kids, make sure that the little ones can also use what’s in the pack. A lot of oral medicine that’s safe for adults is too potent for children–just something to keep in mind.
Does It Come with Easy-to-Understand Instructions?
Someone could hand us every single tool a surgeon uses to operate on a brain–and we’d have no idea what to do with them. (Cut up a steak, maybe.) So, when you get a first aid kit, make sure there’s some kind of booklet that tells you how to use the tools and medication. Extra brownie points if it includes some kind of “survive in the wilderness guide” for hikers and campers, or instructions on basic life-saving maneuvers, such as CPR.
Speaking of CPR, guidelines for first aid care and maneuvers are constantly being updated. Some manuals may come with outdated instructions. To avoid this, look for a publication date–the more recent the better. Also, trained nurses and medical professionals buy this stuff, and often leave their two cents in the review. And word to the wise: always read the guide beforehand so you a) can fact-check the information and b) won’t have to tell your friend to try to stem the blood as you consult the table of contents.
Top 10 Best First Aid Kits to Buy Online
Have you gotten a basic idea of what you’ll need now? Good, because it’s time to delve into the top 10 first aid kits that’ll get you out of any sticky situation.
10. First Aid Only All-Purpose First Aid Kit
Deals with All Minor to Medium Scrapes and Pains
You get a lot of band-aids with this one–including 75 plastic bandages that measure 3″ x 3/4″, 50 junior plastic bandages that measure 1 1/2″ x 3/8″, three butterfly wound closures, and one 5″ x 9″ trauma pad. There’s also a fair amount of antibiotic ointment, as well as alcohol and antiseptic wipes. The kit’s perfect for dealing with cuts and scrapes, but if you’re ever in a serious situation, those tiny band-aids aren’t going to patch you back together. (At least the kit’s compact–about 9″ x 7″.)
You also receive a few ibuprofen and aspirin tablets, sting relief pads, and packets of burn cream. And we do mean a few–enough for 2 or 3 uses. This isn’t the most family-friendly or social first aid kit. (There’s also just one emergency blanket and one disposable thermometer.)
9. Swiss Safe 2-in-1 First Aid Kit
Covers All Your Basic Injuries and Has a Detachable Mini Kit
You get a big kit made out of water-resistant nylon (9″ x 6″), and a cute mini kit that slips into purses and backpacks. Both contain a good number of bandages, sting relief, a CPR mask, and disinfectants. The bigger one has also got shears, an emergency blanket, an ice pack, and a glow stick, whistle, and compass. It’ll patch up any number of gashes–and everything’s latex free!
Only thing is, there’s no splints for fractures–a real danger for hikers–and no oral medication. There is some extra room in the kit, and we’d recommend filling it up with important meds and stuff for bigger injuries.
8. Higher Gear Products First Aid Kit
Basic Kit to Respond to Any Gashes or Car Breakdowns on the Road
This kit’s got antiseptic wipes, first aid tape, and a whole host of bandages–including butterfly closure strips–for scrapes and gashes. In addition, there are five sting relief pads to respond to nasty insects, as well as a glow stick, rescue whistle, compass, emergency blanket, and raincoat–all of which will come in handy if your car breaks down on some desolate road.
The shell is compact–about the size of a novel–and waterproof. (It’ll repel downpours and rainstorms, bit if it gets dropped into a river, water will seep in through the zipper.) Be warned, though: there’s only enough stuff to cover one, maybe two people, so if you don’t want to have to pick a favorite child, look elsewhere. There’s also no oral medicine.
7. General Medi First Aid Kit
Contains What You Need to Disinfect and Treat Wounds
We like that General Medi gives you additional space to add prescription meds and other goodies–no matter what the kit. This particular one, by the way, comes with your typical band-aids, sting pads, and disinfectants–plus elbow and knee bandages, a cold compress, eye pads, and a saline solution (for anything from wound care to nasal irrigation). The pack isn’t too big (9″ x 6″), but there’s enough to cover a small family (about 4 people) in the woods.
You also get a howler whistle, compass, rain poncho, and emergency blanket–for when you’re stranded unexpectedly. There is, again, no oral medication or burn cream; consider adding some in.
6. WELL-STRONG 2-in-1 104 Pcs Waterproof First Aid Kit
Waterproof Bag with Basics and Lots of Space for Personal Meds
The bag is waterproof, but the top isn’t completely sealed, so you can’t submerge it underwater. But it’ll stand to a lot of splashing, so it’s perfect for canoes and kayaks. There’s also plenty of room, so you can add in oral meds and treatment for major trauma (neither of which are included in the pack). Consider some Neosporin, QuikClot, and Israeli bandages to clean and dress deep gashes.
So, what do you get? Enough to cover all sorts of minor injuries–your typical bandages, cleansers, burn dressing, cooling pads, anti-mosquito towelettes (nice!), a whistle, a compass, and a survival blanket. Only thing about the band-aids–they’re not waterproof and don’t really stick to wet skin (which is silly if you’re taking the pack into your boat). So you may need to swap them out.
5. Always Prepared Ultra-Light & Small 126-Piece First Aid Kit
Perfect for Camping Trips–Light, but Equipped to Deal with Many Situations
For something that’s barely the size of a good novel (7″ x 5″), there’s a lot in this pack. You get the typical ibuprofen, bandages, and antiseptic wipes–in addition to burn cream, insect relief, and hydrocortisone (which is basically an anti-itch cream that alleviates stuff like bug bites and poison ivy rashes). You also get a cold compress, poncho, emergency blanket, rescue whistle, and glow stick, which are great if you drive on back country roads.
Always Prepared also threw in a compass, but it’s pretty cheap–most people removed it in favor of some meds. It also doesn’t come with a first aid booklet; you get access to informational videos, but the old ink and paper is preferable when you’re facing an emergency and your mind goes blank.
4. Lightning X Deluxe Stocked Large EMT First Aid Trauma Bag Fill Kit
For Major Disasters and Traumatic Injuries
The kit is overkill in 99% of situations. But if you’re at a public facility and a major disaster happens, this bag’s got enough to offer basic life support. You get antibiotic ointment and lots of gauze, as well as trauma shears and dressing, ammonia ampules and glucose, a buckle tourniquet, eye wash and eye pads, an adult BP cuff, a stethoscope, tools for assisted breathing, stuff for fractures, and sprays for burns, general first aid, and quick clotting.
A lot of this stuff would be useless without training, though. (The pack does come with a first aid guide, and Lightning X offers simpler trauma packs.) There’s also no thermometer, basic oral medication, or hydrogen peroxide–but at least you get extra space in the bag to do some tweaking.
3. Surviveware Small First Aid Kit
Has Labeled Pockets, Waterproof Bags, and Space for Prescription Medication
First, let’s talk about organization. The kit’s got labeled sleeves, separated by category, from minor wounds to resuscitation. It seems like a small thing, but when you’re in an emergency situation and can’t think straight, those labels might make all the difference. There’s also some extra room in the pack so you can personalize it–including laminated bags for prescription medication.
The pack comes with a lot of bandages, alcohol and antiseptic wipes, a whistle, an emergency blanket, a good pair of shears, as well as strip wound closures and a tourniquet for deeper wounds. A note about the tourniquet, though: it’s not much more than elastic band, so if you might need to stem major arterial bleeding, swap it out for something more substantial.
2. Adventure Medical Kits World Travel First Aid Kit
Treats Bleeding, Fever, and–Most Importantly–Stomach Ailments
You don’t need to be visiting the Sahara to want a travel first aid kit–you could be stricken with something in another first world country and realize that a) you can’t properly communicate your symptoms and b) even if you do get the drugs, they’re not the right strength.
This pack comes with a visual communication tool, which describes for you a number of pains or injuries, as well as important medication. You also get acetaminophen (pain and fever reducer), antacids, antihistamines (allergies), oral rehydration salts, cold medication, diamode (for traveler’s diarrhea–just saying), and diotame (also for upset stomachs). Plus, you get space for prescription medication–or even more stomach medicine, which other reviewers did stock!
1. Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman Series Grizzly First Aid Kit
Equipped to Deal with Everything–from Headaches to Allergy Attacks to Gunshots
Most first aid kits are equipped only for boo-boos. But, if you’re a hunter–or are in situations where the ability to stop heavy bleeding makes all the difference–you’re going to need more than some ibuprofen, aspirin, antiseptic wipes, and bandages (all of which this kit includes).
There’s also an irrigation syringe to remove debris from wounds, antihistamines for sudden allergy attacks, ammonia wipes for bites, a C-splint to support fractured limbs, a Swat-T Tourniquet, forceps, and QuickClot. The bag, while a little flimsy, is well-organized, and you can detach the trauma pack. It comes with a comprehensive first aid manual, too (super helpful–but please read through beforehand, so you aren’t leisurely flipping through the book during a medical emergency).
First aids kits are interesting, in that you purchase them while praying you never have to use them. But, if you ever do need to take out the pack, everything needs to be reliable and be available. We hope you’ve found a kit that answers to most of your basic needs–whether it be daily bloodshed around the house, traumatic injuries outdoors, stomach problems overseas, or a world-wide zombie apocalypse.
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The Contents Only Last as Long as the Bag: Make Sure It’s Waterproof, Portable, and Durable We’ll be h
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