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How to build a first-aid kit

Safety | June 9, 2021
Have you checked your first-aid kit lately? Missing anything? Anything expired? Now's a good time to take stock.

Now is a great time to refresh your first-aid kit—or build a new one. If you need to treat an illness or injury—at home or on the road—you’ll thank yourself later for having all the essentials in one place.

If you’re building a new kit, here are a few tips:

Containing the kit

First, find a container big enough to keep your kit items together. It should securely close with a snap, clasp, bands or zipper. Consider one of the following:

  • Old lunch box or cookie tin.
  • An empty diaper wipe container.
  • Small toolbox or fishing tackle box.
  • Craft or make-up organizer.
  • Cosmetic bag or small backpack.
  • Pencil box or plastic food container.

If you repurpose a disposable or used item, paint or cover it with tape and label it as a first-aid kit.

Organizing the kit

Second, a few small empty containers will help you keep items organized inside the larger kit container. Here are some inexpensive options:

  • Empty mint boxes or tubes (tin or plastic).
  • Very small resealable baggies (available in craft stores).
  • Old pill bottles or film canisters (thoroughly washed and dried).

Now, you’re ready to pull together everything you’ll want in your kit.

Filling the kit

Here are the essentials, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians:

Medications, ointments, and other items

  • Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin. Follow the directions on the label. If you have any questions about the type and safety of these medications for you or your child(ren), talk with your provider.
  • Allergy medicine. This may be in the form of antihistamine liquid, cream or self-injectable epinephrine (Epi-Pen or Twinject), as directed by a physician. Do not use antihistamine liquid and cream at the same time.
  • Aloe vera gel. To relieve skin problems, including burns, itching and dryness.
  • Calamine lotion. To relieve itching and irritation from insect bites and stings and poison ivy.
  • Cough and cold medications. Follow the directions on the label. Ask your provider if you have any questions about the use of these medications for you or your child(ren).
  • Decongestant tablets. Consult the label and/or your provider for condition- or age-appropriate dosages.
  • Hydrocortisone cream. To relieve irritation from rashes. Note that this cream comes in different strengths, so please talk with a physician about the proper dosage for you.
  • Syringe or dosing instrument for oral medications. Note that some instruments may use both metric and English measurements. Please use caution.
  • Petroleum jelly. To lubricate a thermometer or to soften skin.
  • Thermometer. To take temperatures. For babies under age 1, use a rectal thermometer. 

Injury/wound care supplies and related items

  • Adhesive tape. To keep gauze in place.
  • Alcohol or antiseptic wipes. To disinfect wounds or clean hands.
  • Antibiotic ointment. To disinfect and protect wounds from infection.
  • Bandages of assorted sizes. To cover minor cuts and scrapes.
  • Bandage closures / “Butterfly Bandages” (one-fourth and one-inch sizes). To tape edges of minor cuts together.
  • Disposable, instant-activating cold packs. For treating injuries and burns.
  • Elastic wraps. To wrap wrist, ankle, knee and elbow injuries.
  • Gauze in rolls or pads. To dress larger cuts and scrapes. 
  • Hydrogen peroxide. To disinfect and clean wounds.
  • Latex-free gloves. To protect hands and reduce the risk of infection when treating open wounds.
  • Moleskin. To treat blisters.
  • Safety pins (large and small). To fasten splints and bandages.
  • Sharp scissors with rounded tips. To cut tape, gauze or clothes.
  • Triangular bandage. To wrap injuries and make an arm sling.
  • Tweezers. For removing small splinters, foreign objects, bee stingers and ticks from the skin (see first-aid manual for proper removal of ticks).

Additional tips:

  • Label the packaged items with the date purchased or packed. Take note of those supplies with expiration dates or that lose their effectiveness over time.
  • Pack several bandages to correspond to the number of people your kit will serve.
  • Use resealable baggies or other water-tight containers to keep the dry or sterile items separate from things that could leak or cause other damage.
  • Don't rely solely on your phone to look up important information.
    • Tuck into your kit a paper with the phone number(s) and address(es) for your family's doctor(s) or other emergency contacts.
    • Include a small first-aid manual or paper tip card. You might also download first-aid information for access offline.
  • If your kit will be used away from home, add a bottle of water or wipes for cleaning wounds.
  • If your kit will be used on the trail, vacuum-sealing can further protect the items that should be kept dry.

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