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What is an IFAK? And what’s in it?


-IFAK-Trauma Kits-Blow Out Kits-

So you want to be prepared and you don’t want to be a statistic, great! You got the guns, the blades the armor and the mindset, but are you ready for the aftermath? Life happens, injuries and accidents occur and it never ceases to amaze me the number of people I meet that don’t even have a first aid kit, let alone any first aid training. Luckily since you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re not one of those people. So what is an IFAK? And what’s in it?

You’re here to better arm yourself against life and the world at large…

… and an IFAK is a great addition to have in a time of need.

So lets break it down and set it up!

What is an IFAK?

An IFAK is an acronym for Individual First Aid Kit, but the term first aid kit itself can be pretty generic. It can be as simple as a few bandages and tape, or as advanced as a field surgical kit. For the purpose of this article we will be covering the IFAK intended for common trauma associated with combat injuries.

What is an IFAK? And what's in it?
This kit from Lightning X is for vehicles and mounts to a headrest.
What is an IFAK? And what's in it?
This kit by NAR is worn on the Ankle.

Above are a few examples of kits for similar purposes but with different configurations. An IFAK is really only limited by 3 things

  1. Cost- Quality medical equipment generally comes with a substantial price tag.
  2. Size/Location- Its unrealistic that a 3 person IFAK would fit in an ankle kit, some items can also be bulky.
  3. Training/Expertise- I suggest you only carry what you’re trained on, anything else is basically pointless.

Let’s get in to some specifics on these three topic below.

Let’s talk MONEY

If you’ve looked into IFAKS at all I’m sure you’ve noticed at least one thing. The Price. Quality medical equipment is expensive, but why? Lets look at the humble Tourniquet, there isn’t much to it, but some can cost upwards of $40-$50. One of the main things that determines this price is validation and certification. If your product caan get a stamp of approval from CoTCCC, the military or really any certifying agency, you can charge good money. Those stamps can be expensive though, they require products to test, testing itself and usually field evaluations. All this takes time and money, and companies want that back. Another reason is hopefully quality. Let’s face it, making something high quality is going to cost more that the same item of low quality, that’s just how the world works. A good chunk of money goes in to manufacturing and quality control. The last one I’ll touch on is availability, there aren’t exactly a lot of players in this market. So if you have a quality, effective product and one of the only manufacturers, you can kind of charge what you want.

A lot of what I mentioned above applies to all aspects of the healthcare industry, and personal trauma management is not immune. So when you start looking at premade kits, or even assembling your own, expect to spend between $60 to infinity dollars. Really anything less that $60 should be approached with skepticism, there are SO many fake tourniquets and other devices out there, DO NOT short yourself in a crisis by purchasing a knockoff to save a few bucks.

Does Size Matter?

An age old question. And in reference to medical kits, yes and no. The size, style and number of medical kits really depends on a lot of things:

  • What you do
  • Where you’re going
  • What you’re wearing
  • Who is with you
  • What training you have.

#1 up there may not be important at all to you, you could be a full blown SWAT Medic or a suburban English teacher who likes to be prepared, but it can influence what you choose to pack in your kits. For example, if you are surrounded by people wearing body armor, you may need more items to address injuries to extremities, whereas people without body armor will have a greater chance of chest and torso trauma, in which chase you may need more chest darts and chest seals.

#2 on the list is not just terrain dependent, but also situational. Are you going to combat? The mall? Hiking? Hunting? All these play in to your needs and method of carry. You may need to switch out an extra tourniquet with a SAM splint as a hiker or camper, or add painkillers and antidiarrheal for your trip to the local Taco Bell.

#3 ah yes fashion! Why the hell does this matter? Well for starters, if your IFAK is attached to your 5.11 Rush12 pack along with your other kit, its probably not going to blend well with your Tux at a formal event. And Vice Versa, the ankle medical kit you wear to prom may not be enough for a hostile environment or multi person contingent.

#4 is all about the company you keep. Are you looking out for just you? A small family or team? a K9 or service animal? This factor can have a large impact on what and how you carry, not to mention the expense!

#5 is probably the most important. Training. If you have no idea how to use the equipment you have, why should you carry it? Are you hoping someone around you will know how to use it? Counting on some divine power imparting the knowledge on you in a time of need? Carry what you know, learn what you don’t and keep that cycle going.

Examples of various kit sizes and types.

What is in an IFAK?

So its called an Individual First Aid Kit, but what’s in it? Depends on your needs, it can be just a first aid kit with bandages, tape, pain relievers and gauze. Or it can be a kit specifically aimed at treating trauma, like I mentioned earlier in this article, I’ll be focusing on one set up for combat related injuries.

Setting up the needs for an IFAK can seem daunting, there are so many devices and items you can choose from. I find it easier to approach it from a TCCC or MARCH perspective, and then build on to that if necessary. TCCC is an acronym that stands for Tactical Combat Casualty Care and is pretty much the standard for care for field treatment of combat injuries in the military. Its often offered in a 3 day class from NAEMT and I highly recommend people take this class or its sister class TECC if they are going to carry, or be first responders. MARCH is an acronym that stands for:

M- Massive Hemorrhage

A- Airway

R- Respirations

C- Circulation

H- Head Injury/Hypothermia

If you follow those list of needs, you’ll be pretty well equipped to handle a variety of gun shot injuries, and other penetrating trauma.

For massive hemorrhage, common items in a kit include Tourniquets. This is the most effective way to stop extreme bleeding on extremities. There are also specialized tourniquets to help manage bleeding in pelvic and armpit areas.

Airways can be managed a variety of ways, surgically , mechanically, and positionally being the most common. For the purpose of this article we will only cover mechanical and positional. A common and easy to use airway is a Nasopharyngeal airway, or NPA. It’s easily carried in a kit, and almost just as easy to implement. The recovery position is a good example of a positional airway, basically position the patient in a way that makes breathing as easy as possible, as well as maintaining that position, whether conscious or not.

Circulation is usually the step where a tourniquet gets converted to a pressure dressing, and if applicable perform CPR and administer fluids. This stage is generally where the scene is semi-safe and you may be prepping for evac or hand off.

Head injury and hypothermia. I know head injury sounds pretty critical, and in many instances it is. Unfortunately in a combat situation or even a field situation, there is not a lot that first responders can do for those types of injuries. Usually all you can do is stabilize or immobilize the patient to prevent further damage and treat surface symptoms such as bleeding or exposure. I like to carry an inflatable c-spine stabilizer in my larger med bags for these kinds of events, its light, small and easy to use. Hypothermia is another danger you have to address. Like I said earlier, this stage is when you are getting ready to leave or hand off the patient, so getting them packaged up and warm is an important step. I carry blizzard/survival blankets, a packable litter and tape to wrap and pack my people up. By the time the MEDEVAC, TACEVAC, or CASEVAC gets there, you’ll be ready for handoff.

So whether you’re prepping for a road trip, going to the range, or just going about your day… a properly trained and equipped person can quite literally change a life. Think about what you do, where you go and plan accordingly, don’t carry what you don’t need and shop around, just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. Thanks for reading and thank you for taking it upon yourself to be more prepared and trained for what life throws your way. Be sure to check out our store to see how we can help you with medical gear, holsters, and even gun parts and accessories!

About the Author

The author is an 8 year veteran of the us army and us army reserves, serving as a 68w healthcare specialist/medic. he is also an 8 year veteran police officer who holds certifications in tactical combat casualty care from naemt and an advanced peace officer license in the state of texas. he enjoys the outdoors, firearms, video games and constantly searching for the next best gear and guns.

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