How to Put Together a First Aid Kit as an Adult
Updated: Jul 4
Do you have a first aid kit at home? How about one in your car? If not, you should buy one, or better yet, make one (or two), this weekend. A well-stocked first aid kit can go a long way in helping you treat a variety of injuries and infections, from a bad papercut to common cold to a minor burn.
Putting Together a First Aid Kit That's Actually Useful
You can buy a first aid kit online or at your local pharmacy. But it’s a much better idea to purchase the items you need separately and build your own kit.
That's because most first aid kits include too much crap (like impractical tiny bandaids) and not enough items that you're likely to need in an emergency. By building your own first aid kit, you’ll not only save money and space in your kit, but you'll also become familiar with what’s inside and how and where everything is stored.
1. Start with the basics
Check out the Red Cross site for important items to include in a first aid kit. Some of the basics you shouldn’t miss are:
Bandaids. These protect the wounds from dirt, bacteria, and friction. Get both plastic and fabric bandaids (the latter hold for longer) in a variety of different shapes and sizes, as well as liquid bandage (liquid bandage is easier to apply, less likely to irritate the wound, and useful for preventing blisters).
Butterfly bandages. Useful for closing small wounds if you can’t get to the hospital for stitches.
Rolled gauze or 4x4 gauze pads. Use gauze and pressure to stop bleeding from severe bleeding injuries.
Triangular bandages. These can be used as pads to control bleeding, arm slings, padding over injuries, and cold compresses to reduce swelling.
Medical tape. Handy for holding bandages in place.
Duct tape. Good for covering blisters, removing splinters (place a piece of duct tape over the area with the splinter, press the tape down, and then lift), and taping joints and bones (for example, two sticks, gauze, and duct tape can immobilize a broken arm).
Disposable sterile gloves. These protect you from coming into contact with someone else’s body fluids that could potentially cause harm to you. Sterile gloves also minimize the risk of infection if your own hands are dirty.
Tweezers. Essential when it comes to removing foreign bodies that pierce your skin, like splinters, thorns, pins, glass, etc.
Scissors. Useful for many things, like cutting bandages so that they fit wounds more accurately and cutting clothing to reveal injured areas so that they can be treated better.
Cotton tipped applicators. Ideal for removing debris from wounds and applying topical medications.
Alcohol wipes. These do a great job at cleansing minor wounds and preventing infection. You can also use them to clean your hands before you tend to a wound.
Thermometer. For measuring body temperature (by the way, normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sore throat and cough medicine. You never know when you’ll fall prey to the common cold. Having throat lozenges and cough mixture in your first aid kit can help relieve your symptoms in the middle of the night.
Painkillers. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and paracetamol can relieve most minor pains and aches and can be bought over the counter.
Burn spray. Helps soothe and relieve pain from minor burns.
Cold compress. Relieves pain and swelling around injured area and cools a fever.
Antiseptic spray. Decreases germs and minimizes the risk of infection in minor cuts.
Diarrhea medication. Imodium can alleviate symptoms, but acute diarrhea (i.e., diarrhea that lasts one or two days) should go away on its own. The most important thing when you have diarrhea is to make sure that you’re getting enough liquids. Dioralyte can help prevent rehydration.
Anti-nausea medication. Dramamine treats motion sickness, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.
Topical anesthetic. Relieves and numbs pain. Topical anesthetics are available as creams, solutions, ointments, gels, sprays, and even eye drops.
Flashlight. Useful in the event of a power outage or if you need more light to see an injury better. Make sure to get extra batteries.
First aid book. Read this before you injure yourself. Seriously.
2. Take your health, lifestyle, and location into account
Keep a list of emergency phone numbers somewhere in the kit as well and have a backup of any medication you’re prescribed or take daily.
Also, consider what other emergencies you might come across. For example, if you’re a diabetic, you should include oral glucose in your kit in case you have a low blood sugar episode.
When gathering your supplies, it’s also wise to take into account how close the nearest medical facility is to you. A kit meant to treat minor problems, like cuts or burns, is going to be of little use to you if you suffer major trauma.
3. Stay organized
If you’re putting together multiple first aid kits (one for your home, one for your car, one for camping, etc.), buy everything that you need in bulk. Check out Amazon, Walmart, and Galls. If you’re worried about getting inferior products, order a small amount to test before you order more.
Then, group the items using Ziploc bags, rubber bands, and small containers, like labeled film canisters (handy for storing pills), before separating them into nylon bags, make-up cases, fanny packs, or toolboxes.
4. Keep the first aid kit close at hand
The best place to keep your home emergency kit is in the kitchen since that’s the place you’re likely to spend most of your time (plus, that’s also where you’re most likely to accidentally cut or burn yourself). The bathroom is usually too humid and will shorten the lifespan of the items.
Car first aid kits should obviously be stored in cars, camping first aid kits should be kept with all your other camping gear, and so on.
5. Update the contents as needed
Check your homemade first aid kit regularly and keep an eye out for the expiration dates. You should replace any used or out-of-date items immediately. Tweak the contents of the kit, and the quantity of the items, as necessary, too.
Most importantly, though, take a first aid class. It’s no use having the tools if you don’t know how to use them properly. Red Cross and similar organizations offer training courses for First Aid, CPR, and AED. You can also try contacting your local hospital to see if they run community outreach programs that cover First Aid Training and CPR.
Finally, remember that a first aid kit is called “first aid” for a reason. If the injury is serious, call for help immediately.