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Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK)

Monday, 04 February 2013 21:39

The Individual First Aid Kit, or IFAK, has become a “buzz word” of the Preparedness and Survival communities; conduct a simple YouTube search for IFAK to see what I mean. The IFAK is standard issue for every U.S. service member deployed in combat, and given my combat experience as a soldier and defense contractor, I can tell you that IFAK’s save lives daily. Hopefully, that series of events you are preparing for is nothing like what our brave men and women face on foreign battlefields every day. But, if you ever need to treat a major traumatic injury, at a minimum you will need an IFAK.

Why Do I Need an IFAK?

The IFAK is designed to provide immediate first aid care for significant trauma (excessive bleeding, collapsed lung, and closed airways); to buy time so that advanced medical attention can be received. The IFAK was not designed to treat minor scrapes, bruises, broken bones, or the common cold.  In the combat setting, every individual has an IFAK, so that the casualty, or other trained personnel, can use the casualty’s supplies to treat the casualty’s medical conditions. While this cannot always be followed during a given scenario, due to a family member, group member, or stranger not having the necessary medical supplies, you want to make sure that someone can treat you if you become injured; your supplies treat your injuries.

By having the necessary supplies and equipment to administer first aid, and the knowledge of using the same, you could decrease preventable death by over 60% ( While this statistic is related to combat casualties, and the possibility for additional medical treatment by a doctor or other trained medical personnel, as Prepper’s we prepare for everything. Likewise, in a grid-down and/or outdoors situation, survival  relies on your ability to administer first aid, and your chances of receiving additional medical aid; moving the casualty to a hospital, clinic, or having a trauma surgeon as a part of your group.

The IFAK has transitioned from military usage, to standard issue in many police departments across the country. Additionally, campers and backpackers have adopted the IFAK. Why? Because bad guys use guns, and accidents happen. Most Preppers believe heavily in self-defense, and with that comes the possibility of gunshot wounds; whether during training, an accidental discharge, or from someone that may want your stuff. Although the IFAK was designed to administer first aid for gunshot and shrapnel wounds, it can also be used to stop bleeding if you cut your leg with a chainsaw.

So before we get into the different components, and expanding an IFAK, let’s first identify what a “base” IFAK should accomplish. 

Stop Blood Loss

Stop and/or control extremity hemorrhage (bleeding), using pressure, pressure dressings, clotting agents, and/or a tourniquet. Extremity hemorrhaging accounts for 60% of preventable combat deaths.

Treat Tension Pneumothorax

Whenever a lung is punctured, there is a chance for a Tension Pneumothorax to develop. Tension Pneumothorax can be identified as: (1) Air that is trapped in the lung that eventually separates the lung from the chest wall, (2) collapsing the lung, (3) the air pressure then interferes with normal breathing by putting pressure on the heart, major blood vessels, the airway, and the other lung. Tension Pneumothorax usually results from a “sucking chest wound” caused by a bullet or other object penetrating the chest cavity, puncturing the lung. Tension Pneumothorax is treated by using a decompression needle and chest seal. Tension Pneumothorax accounts for 33% of preventable combat deaths.

Open the Airway

Open the causality’s airway, so that they can breathe on their own or with assistance. A nasopharyngeal is the recommended method; however a simple chin lift or jaw thrust may open the causality’s airway. Airway obstructions accounts for 6% of preventable combat deaths.

Cover Open Wounds

Covering open wounds reduces the chance for infection and foreign materials and contaminants entering the wound and blood stream.

Remove Garments

By cutting garments, gear, or straps, the casualty’s medical condition can be treated without having the need of undressing the casualty, which may cause additional damage due to moving a casualty.

Pouch / Container

The pouch is used to secure IFAK components, which are usually carried on the individual, whether inside a backpack, on a belt, on a drop leg/thigh platform, in a pocket, or mounted on a tactical vest. Pouches can be very expensive, especially the tactical versions. I recommend purchasing IFAK components and a basic pouch, before you purchase a “ninjafied” tactical pouch. In fact, I would purchase two basic kits before spending additional money on an expensive pouch. When comparing different “complete IFAK” products on the market, the pouch can account for 30-50% of the overall cost.  Most are overpriced, if you ask me, since a pouch will not save your life.

Expanding the IFAK

In today’s entrepreneurial market, anyone can order an IFAK online; however I believe that each IFAK should be customized to the individual user. As a budget conscious Prepper, you have to balance cost, practical use, your survival scenario, your medical training, and the total number and types of IFAKs you may need for your family and/or group.

I’ve already stated that the IFAK was not designed to treat minor scrapes, bruises, broken bones, or the common cold. But, it could be. This is where the Prepper in you maximizes the available space inside the pouch you decide to use. The standard military IFAK was designed to take up a minimal amount of Molle-grid space as possible; room for more bullets. However, aftermarket pouches can have a ton of storage space, and we should take advantage of it.

To personalize your IFAK, start with the base components, and add other items to it. If you have allergies, include allergy medications. If you are prone to cutting yourself, include sutures and closure strips. You can include additional primary items; let’s say another pressure dressing, so that you can treat more than one wound or another person. And, carry additional supplies for younger family members.

Your IFAK needs to be the Swiss Army Knife of personal medical supplies because it may be all you have. Depending on your situation, there may not be supplemental medical support, you could be lost in the woods, or you may not have access to additional medical supplies. Please take the following considerations into account:

  • Do you have a larger medical kit, and will it be located close to you at all times?
  • If you have a larger kit, which supplies are not located in your IFAK, and why?
  • What medical supplies will you carry if you decide to Bug Out or leave your vehicle?
  • How many people are you carrying supplies for?
  • Do you have any medical conditions that require medications?
  • How hostile do you expect your environment to be post-SHTF?

Recommended Add-ons

With the above considerations, here are the additional items that I include in my IFAK, and all fit inside my 6” x 6” pouch:

  • Additional Pressure Dressing – For more than one wound requiring pressure, or for a buddy
  • Gauze Pads – You cannot have enough gauze.
  • Triangular Bandage – For wound and limb isolation, water filter, or can be used as a tourniquet.
  • Burn Treatment (Bandage and Gel) – Used to treat burns
  • Liquid Antiseptics and Disinfectants – Used to clean the wound and/or instruments
  • Wound Closure – Suture, Scalpel, and closure strips. In case you need to stich yourself up.
  • Band-Aids – Covers minor scrapes and cuts to prevent infection.
  • Water Purification – Used to make water safe to drink, or irrigate wounds.
  • Medication Pack – Ibuprofen, Allergy, Anti-Diarrheal
  • Tweezers – Removes splinters, ticks, and debris from wounds
  • Hemostat – Multiple uses


1. Carry small bottles filled with alcohol and/or iodine, instead of swabs. Swabs tend to dry out, whereas if you have a quality bottle, you liquids will not dry out. If you use this method, you must carry sterile gauze as well.

2. There are two types of Israeli bandages; with and without pressure bars. The bandages without pressure bars are great gauze pad alternatives. If you decide to purchase these, buy them on EBay from Israel (best price, although it takes a long time for shipping).

3. Buy in bulk. For the cost of a cool IFAK, you could create several equivalent IFAKs. Most of the product links below are for bulk purchases; whatever doesn’t make it in your IFAK, put in your large medical kit.

Base IFAK Components

5.11 First Aid Pouch

Tourniquet, 1 (Hemorrhage Control)

Israeli Bandage (gauze), Without Pressure Bar – 1 (Hemorrhage Control)

Israeli Bandage, With Pressure Bar – 1 (Hemorrhage Control)

Decompression Needle, 14g – 1 (Tension Pneumothorax)

Chest Seal – 1 (Tension Pneumothorax)

Nasopharyngeal, 28 FR – 1 (Airway Management)

Gauze, 4” x 4” – 2 (Bandage)

Medical Shears, 6 inch – 1 (Remove Garments)

Tape, Medical 1” Roll – 1

Gloves, Pair – 1

Optional Add-Ons

Triangular Bandage – 1

QuikClot, Gauze – 1

Burn Dressing, 4” x 16” – 1

Burn Jel, Packet – 1

Triple Antibiotic Ointment, Packet – 5

Scalpel – 1

Suture, 3/0 – 3

Steri-Strip, 3 Pack – 3

Band-Aids, Assorted – 10

Gauze, 2” x 2” – 5

Water Purification, Tablets – 10

Anti-Diarrheal, Tablets – 50

Allergy / Antihistamine, Tablets – 50

Ibuprofen, Tablets – 50

Alcohol, 6 ml Bottle – 1

Povidone Iodine, 6 ml Bottle – 1

Hemostats, 6 inch – 1


There are several quality pre-assembled IFAKs on the market to choose from. You will have to determine if you want to start with one of these kits, add to one of these kits, or build your own. Ideally, you want a minimum of one IFAK for each adult, therefore you will have to balance your budget with the types and quantities of items in your IFAK.

Please watch the following videos from MainePrepper, which will provide another take on the IFAK. I would also recommend subscribing to his channel, as he contributes very accurate information, with an unbiased approach, and has a ton of experience.

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 18:11
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