How to Choose the Best First Aid Kit – 6 Unique Types

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Accidents and emergencies can occur when you are least expect them. Being equipped with the right first aid kit can make the difference between struggling with an injury and handling it easily.

A first aid kit is crucial, but not every kit suits every situation. It is important to have the right kit for the right circumstances. For instance, a scraped knee doesn’t require a tourniquet but can be a lifesaver during a serious car accident. Determining what to include in your first aid kit can be tricky.

How to Choose the Best First Aid Kit
Six of Kristin's first aid kits in the back of an SUV.

To help you find the best first aid kit, I did tons of research, tested a dozen kits from several different companies, and consulted with real experts. Some of these experts included Jennifer, a registered nurse, and Blake, an Army veteran. 

I also asked Brian McLaughlin, a veteran and Director of Training a Mountain Man Medical, some harder first-aid questions.

Keep reading as we lay out all the different first aid kits types and help you choose one for you.


First Aid Kit Types: Trauma vs. Minor Injuries

First aid kits can be divided into two main categories: trauma and minor injuries

In a perfect world, you should have a first aid kit for trauma and one for minor injuries. I don’t recommend mixing them. I don’t want to dig through band-aids to find my tourniquet when I only have 2.5 minutes until I bleed out. 

However, if you only want to purchase one kit, you need to select which injuries you want to cover. Are you looking to keep someone from bleeding out? Or are you looking to fix up your toddler’s scrapped knee? Both?

It isn’t necessarily best to have everything thrown in one large bag. As Brian McLaughlin explains, “Separate pockets would be ideal so that you aren’t sorting through a big mess of items trying to locate your life-saving gear, but in the same bag isn’t bad if you have the room.”

Trauma treatment items for a first aid kit
Some items that are essential for trauma treatment

Once you decide which injuries you want to treat, you can narrow down further by choosing where you want to carry the kit and the exact injuries you need to treat. I’ll explore several specific types of first aid kits below, which should help you decide which one works best for you.


How to Choose The Best First Aid Kit

If you start shopping for first aid kits, you’ll quickly discover that most kits are designed for a specific purpose – even if the manufacturer doesn’t clarify this. If you want to select the best kit, you need to consider what purpose you have in mind and choose the kit that best matches. 

I’ve divided first aid kits into several different types below and suggested the best option for each. Figure out what type matches your intention and choose the appropriate kit. In many cases, I’ve also done in-depth reviews of each kit, so be sure to check those out, too.


Best First Aid Kit for Your Home

In our how to start prepping guide, the highest priority is first aid. According to the National Safety Council, about 78% of all preventable injury-related deaths occur at home. Plus, the number of deaths continues to go up each year, making it increasingly important to be prepared at home. 

Most people believe that they’re most likely to get injured in a car accident or an active shooter situation. However, at-home injuries are far more likely. Therefore, if you purchase only one kit, I recommend having a quality first aid kit for your home or an IFAK that you keep in your home.

An at-home kit should cater to the needs of all family members. Of course, this will vary depending on who your family members are. A bachelor will need different medical gear than a family with lots of children. I have two kids and I like to add extra pediatric meds to my at-home first aid kits. Most do not include kids’ meds.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suddenly run out of kid’s Tylenol. Having some extra can be a lifesaver at two o’clock in the morning, even if it isn’t technically an “emergency.” When I have babies in the home, I’m sure to include infant medication, too.

The Dark Angel Medical DARK Explorer Kit
Dark Angel Medical DARK Explorer Kit

I also have family members with severe allergies. Therefore, I keep an epi-pen in my home first aid kit too. That said, you do have to have a prescription for these life-saving devices.

A first aid kit for your home should also be well-stocked with a wide range of supplies. You should preferably be able to treat common injuries and serious ones. Consider stocking up on extra supplies for emergency preparedness, as well. 

Surprisingly, there are very few first aid kits designed for at-home use. My favorite is the Dark Angel Medical D.A.R.K Explorer Kit, which contains trauma and “booboo” supplies. However, the supplies are kept in separate parts of the bag, allowing you to find what you need quickly.

If you have a large family, consider one of the larger My Medic kits, like the MyFAK Large Pro. See our full My Medic Review for an overview of their kits.


Best First Aid Kit for a Bug Out Bag

Needing to bug out is probably not as common as most people imagine. Unless you live in an area prone to natural disasters (like hurricanes or earthquakes), you probably won’t need to leave your home in the case of an emergency. It’s often much safer to stay put. 

That said, it is smart to prepare, just in case. That’s exactly why it is a top item on our bug out bag list, and every bug out bag needs a quality first aid kit to put in it. 

Mountain Man Medical Wind River Kit
The Mountain Man Medical Wind River Kit

The best first aid kit for bugging out should contain trauma and first aid supplies. You’ll need to be cautious about what you carry, as every item adds extra weight. However, you should be prepared to address trauma, dehydration, and basic medical problems. If any kit needs to be versatile, it’s this one!

With all that in mind, my favorite first aid kit for bugging out is The Wind River Trauma and First-Aid Kit. It comes with three different tourniquets, pressure dressings, antibiotic ointment, and various medications.


Best First Aid Kit for EDC

For those who truly want to be prepared, you’ll need a first aid kit to carry around daily. If you carry a concealed weapon, it’s even more important to have a kit on standby for trauma and life-threatening injuries. If you need to use your concealed carry gun, you should have basic medical supplies available to deal with the aftermath. 

An EDC kit should be small enough to carry comfortably daily. It should also include everything you need to stop trauma, including gunshot wounds and other traumatic injuries. That’s a tall order for such a small kit. 

Hemostatic gauze is absolutely necessary. We recommend either QuikClot or ChitoGuaze. Brian McLaughlin explains the differences between these: “Quick Clot uses a mineral called Kaolin, where Chitogauze uses Chitosan, which is derived from the exoskeletons from shellfish like shrimp. (But don’t worry. There is no chance of shellfish allergy reaction.) Both are great and recognized to work by professionals around the world, but Chito Gauze is my choice because it also has anti-microbial properties which may improve infection reduction.”

The kit should also be easy to access so that you can respond rapidly. 

Dark Angel Medical Ankle Kit
Dark Angel Medical Ankle Kit

Luckily, the Dark Angel Medical Ankle Trauma kit meets all these needs. It comes with a tourniquet, chest seals, compression bandages, and hemostatic gauze – and it’s all in a slim ankle kit.


Best First Aid Kit for Hiking and Camping

When camping or hiking, you’re away from your typical medical supplies at home. Therefore, even a blister can prove to be difficult to treat and potentially even develop into a serious problem. Therefore, it’s important to take everything with you that you need to treat common hiking injuries – even the relatively harmless ones. A first aid kit is also part of Jason’s essential bushcraft gear since cuts in the woods can be a major problem.

You should have the items necessary for blister care, sunburn relief, and insect bite treatment. The kit should also be waterproof or water-resistant to protect your supplies from the inevitable moisture that comes with outdoor activities. 

Of course, you don’t want to carry tons of gear, either. Portability is an important consideration. 

Mountain Man Medical Tracker Kit
Mountain Man Medical Tracker Kit

The absolute best first aid kit we have found for hiking and camping is the combo of the Basecamp First Aid Kit and the Tracker Trauma Kit by Mountain Man Medical. The Basecamp kit is a larger kit for camp or your vehicle and the tracker kit is explicitly designed for outdoor activities like hunting and hiking. It includes the minimum number of items you should carry on the trail, keeping weight in mind.

For a smaller package that contains the essentials, go for the My Medic Sidekick.

See our guide on the Best First Aid Kit for Camping, Hiking & Survival to learn more about each kit and which is the best for you.


Best First Aid Kit for Your Car

Car accidents can happen in a second and be potentially deadly. While first responders usually show up pretty quickly, it only takes 2.5 minutes for an adult to bleed out from a severed artery. Therefore, you must be prepared to treat injuries that occur – or at least stem the bleeding until emergency services respond. 

There are tons of first aid kits for cars available. In fact, I’d consider this category a bit over-served. The best kits are compact and can be secured into the vehicle. Having a first aid kit thrown into the back of my car won’t be helpful if my car rolls down a hill.

Redi Roadie Plus First Aid Kit
The Redi Roadie Plus Emergency Kit

The absolute best first aid kit for your car is the Redi Roadie Plus Emergency Kit. It has everything you need for minor and major injuries, all packaged in a custom case. The trauma portion of the kit easily pulls away, allowing you to access it in a matter of seconds.

For our full rundown on the Redi Roadie kits, see our Redi Roadie Emergency Kit Review.

As part of your vehicle get home bag, also consider an IFAK which we will discuss next.


Best IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit)

IFAKs are very similar to an EDC first aid kit. However, they’re a bit larger and not necessarily designed to be concealed or on your person. Instead, they’re easy to throw into a bag or store in your car (if you don’t want to purchase a larger car kit). 

They’re explicitly trauma-focused. You won’t find any bandaids. Instead, I’d recommend including a tourniquet, hemostatic agents, and chest seals. You might include more pressure bandages and gauze than you would in a concealed carry kit. 

Brian also recommends considering a CPR mask: “I recommend both carrying a CPR Mask and rescue breaths during CPR since that is what is currently being taught in BLS classes.”

He also says that NPAs aren’t necessary if you aren’t trained to use one: “We don’t include them in our base kits, but we do have pre-lubricated NPAs for sale, so they can be added if desired. NPAs require additional training to use, and most people are not trained for that.”

Based on the opinions of the experts I met with, an IFAK provides the most bang for your buck when it comes to saving lives. However, it won’t treat minor injuries, so it isn’t necessarily “complete” in that manner.

Mountain Man Medical Yellowstone Kit
The Mountain Man Medical Yellowstone Kit

My favorite IFAK is the Mountain Man Medical “Yellowstone” Trauma Kit. It’s a basic but comprehensive kit designed to treat 99% of trauma emergencies.

Also, see our full Best IFAK Guide for expert tips on what to look for and more options.


The Importance of First Aid Training

If you want to be prepared for a medical emergency, purchasing the proper first aid kit is important. However, you also need to get the training needed to use all of the gear you purchase. 

All the tourniquets and gauze in the world won’t help you if you don’t know how to use them. 

Luckily, getting first aid training is easier than most people may think. Mountain Man Medical has a free course on its website that will lay out the basics. It’s several video lessons long and provides you with everything you need to use the gear that comes in their kits. 

Brian McLaughlin recommends that everyone in the family watches through their free course and understands how to use everything. Practicing on each other can also be a fun and effective way to get everyone involved.

I highly recommend Stop the Bleed in-person training whenever you can get it. These classes are often offered at local hospitals and first responder offices. Video courses are great, but they do not provide a substitute for in-person training.


How Many First Aid Kits Should You Purchase?

Preferably, you want to be able to handle any type of injury wherever you are. At the very least, that means having a kit for your home and one for your car. You’re either at home or with your car, in most cases. If you spend a lot of time in the office, you may also want an IFAK or similar kit for your office, too. 

Those who want to be exceptionally prepared will also want a small kit to keep on them. While it’s easy to think that you can run back to your car and grab your first aid kit in an emergency, you won’t have time to do this in every circumstance. Remember, in a hemorrhage situation, you only have a couple of minutes. 

That said, first aid kits can be expensive. At the very least, I recommend purchasing an IFAK for your car. Since your car is usually wherever you are, and IFAKs are designed to handle life-threatening trauma, this setup will provide you with some level of preparedness. 

Of course, more first aid kits are typically better, but you don’t have to purchase them all at once. Start with the IFAK I recommend above, and then move on to purchasing specialized kits for your house, car, and pocket. 

Brian from Mountain Man Medical recommends that “the kit should be placed on the main level of the home in an easy-to-see and access place for everyone in the family. That means putting it low enough that the 6-year-old can grab it if needed.”


Should You Build a First Aid Kit or Buy One?

Ten years ago, I would have told you that building a first aid kit is always better than purchasing one. However, many great first-aid companies have been founded in the last decade, and there are now inexpensive, high-quality first-aid kits that look almost exactly like something I would build. 

For instance, the “Yellowstone” Trauma Kit by Mountain Man Medical is a practically perfect IFAK. It includes everything our experts agreed an IFAK should include, such as tourniquets, chest seals, and quickclot. 

I’m also very impressed by the Redi emergency kits for vehicles. They include tons of items to get you through minor and serious situations. However, everything is carefully packaged separately so you can grab exactly what you need quickly.

Redi Emergency Kits
Redi Emergency Vehicle Kits

If you have the knowledge and ability, you can still build yourself a kit. No kit is going to be designed to please everyone. That just isn’t possible. If you’re an ex-Army medic or EMT, by all means, purchase exactly what you want and put it in a kit. Just be sure you have a clear goal for your first aid kit, or it’s easy to pack far too much. 

However, if you aren’t a medical professional, don’t feel you must build your own kit. There are plenty of pre-made options available these days to find something suitable to your needs.


What Is the Lifespan of a First Aid Kit?

Some first aid kits do have a particular lifespan. Often, medication, ointments, and disinfectants are items that don’t last forever. On the other hand, things like gauze and bandages will last for decades, especially when stored properly. 

You don’t have to replace all of the items in your kit once something expires. Replacing the items that expire is fine, leaving everything else. This will lower your long-term costs, especially considering that most medications and ointments are inexpensive. 

Be particularly cautious with adhesive bandages and chest seals. These often look completely fine, but the adhesive may become less effective after being stored for years. Therefore, you may want to consider replacing these, too. (Quality gear will have a specific expiration date.)

Always store your first aid kit in a cool, dry place when possible. Some kits can’t be stored in this manner, though. Most car kits will be exposed to sunlight, and EDC kits will really be put through the wringer. These kits may need to be replaced more often for this reason. 


Are First Aid Kits Worth It?

The cost of a first aid kit is much less than the complications a seemingly minor injury can cause. First aid kits allow you to respond right away, no matter if the injury is major or not.

When someone has serious trauma, it’s important to respond within minutes. An adult can bleed out in 2.5 minutes if an artery is cut. That’s not enough time to wait for emergency services to arrive. Acting quickly can be the difference between life and death. The cost of a first aid kit is certainly worth it in this case.

Traumatic injuries remain the leading cause of death for those under the age of 44 years old. Therefore, if you are prepared to treat trauma with a first aid kit, you can effectively reduce your chance of dying in an accident. 

Of course, first aid kits can also treat non-fatal injuries. With just a little bit of knowledge and gear, it’s possible to reduce the chance of complications from a non-fatal injury. For instance, if you have the proper equipment and know-how, you can treat a burn so that the chance of infection is much less than it would be otherwise. 


Pick the Best First Aid Kit for You

You never know when an emergency will occur. Therefore, I recommend preparing yourself for traumatic injuries right away. You can purchase either an IFAK or a concealed carry kit to do just this. Keep the IFAK in your car or the EDC kit on your person. 

You can run to the local pharmacy for burn cream but not to the local pharmacy for a tourniquet. 

If you have the budget, I highly recommend purchasing a first aid kit for your home and one for your car. These two kits will cover practically all of your medical needs, especially if you have an IFAK or EDC kit as well.

Now, check out our full prepper guide to make sure you are prepared for emergencies.

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Kristin is a fulltime writer with an obsession for being prepared. She spends much of her time working towards making her family self-sufficient, including homeschooling her children. When she isn’t writing, she’s shooting with her husband or homesteading.