Scot’s Product Review: Chinook Level 1 Emergency Preparedness Medical Kit (EPMK)

Chinook Medical Gear, Inc. is a Durango, Colorado-based company that provides medical gear to first responders, military, and all the rest of us. They supply pre-built first aid kits, custom kits, packs and cases, individual items, and pretty much anything else medical you might need for an emergency. I’ve written about some of the modules they sell to help you put together a kit on a step-by-step basis.

The kit I’m writing about here, the Level 1 Emergency Preparedness Medical Kit (EPMK) is a different strategy. It is a pretty complete package you can purchased in one fell swoop. It is designed to be compact, light, and able to support one or two people, whether at home or away. The kit in a yellow nylon bag costs $155.00, or is available in a yellow Pelican hard case for $175.00. You can also buy a refill for $120.00. The nylon bag kit is 11x8x5 inches and weighs about 3 pounds, 5 ounces by my measurements, which differ a little from what Chinook gives. They say the hard case is about 12x10x5 inches and weighs 4.7 pounds.

The nylon bag reminds me of Cordura, which is a very rugged and long-lived nylon fabric product. It is nicely divided into compartments with transparent covers over some that work very well at keeping the contents organized and accessible. Each of the compartments hold related items needed for treating an emergency and are indicated with color-coded labels. In normal times, yellow is a great choice for bag color, and it is well marked with crosses and a logo that spells out medical kit. I wouldn’t mind, however, being able to get it in a subdued color, like olive drab, but yellow is all that is available. What I would probably like most would be a bright slip cover over a subdued bag. I could ditch the cover, if I had to be circumspect, which could happen during any sort of disorder.

The hard case is from Pelican– a company noted for making high quality, water-tight polymer cases. There are no dividers, but everything is organized in tough Aloksaks, which are sort of like Ziploc bags on a heavy dose of steroids. They are water tight and rugged. Again, I would like a subdued color option, perhaps with a bright sleeve to keep it in during the better times.

There are four levels of EPMK’s. They range in price from $155.00 to $750.00. The primary difference is that the larger and more expensive kits have more stuff and can treat more people. They do add some additional capability, with the biggest bump at the Level 4, which adds a stethoscope, blood pressure kit, a chest and airway kit, and a dental module. The Level 2 and up kits gets you a much easier to use CPR mask rather than a face shield, a SAM splint for protecting broken limbs, an ice pack and heat pack, some eye wash and eye pads, a Water Jel burn dressing, some hand sanitizer, and acetaminophen. You also get a Ratcheting Tourniquet from Level 3 on. You continue to get the SWAT-T tourniquet at all levels. While Levels 2 and 3 include DenTemp, a material that can make temporary repairs to fillings or caps, the Dental Module in Level 4 is much more capable, adding some dental tools, hemostatic gauze, pain products, and other useful supplies.

The inventory list notes the date on which the first item in the kit expires. You could use the list to mark items as they are used to help you keep things fully stocked, which is easy to forget to do. It might also suggest things you might feel the need to add. In the kit I looked at, the first component to expire goes out of date in 2016, so everything in the kit is fresh. While most, if not all, of the stuff in the bag could be used beyond the expiration date, it is best to mind them, especially if you keep the kit in a hot car. Once things expire, use them for training and practice and replace it in the kit.

An item I really liked finding in the bag was the Pocket Naturalist Emergency First Aid Folding Pocket Guide. Pocket Naturalist has a stunning array of folding guides to most everything that is outdoors related. They are heavily laminated and sturdy. Amazon carries over 300 titles in the line, and there are even more on the publisher’s site including some useful ones for survival. There are even some on foreign languages and animal care. The individual pages are 4×8.25 inches and typically fold out to 12 pages of densely packed information. They obviously are not comprehensive on any subject, but the ones I’ve seen provide useful, basic information. You want to study them BEFORE use, but they are handy to double-check yourself in a jam. I find I may remember basics from a class, but having something to refer to as I go along is extremely helpful.

One minor quibble with the Pocket Guide is that it was stuffed in an outside pocket where it was hard to get out. I decided that if it were my kit, I would keep it in the main compartment so it would be in front of me every time I open the bag. It is easier to lose it my way but harder to overlook (unless you lose it).

A problem with many first aid kits is that they aren’t much help with a serious injury, like a gunshot wound or a chainsaw or axe injury. This kit has some serious stuff for that sort of thing and includes a SWAT-T tourniquet as well as gauze for packing a wound, a QuikClot hemostatic sponge, and a bandage to wrap it all up with. You probably won’t find any of that in the kit you get at the drug store.

Tourniquets seem to be controversial. I’ve read a number of debates and heard a slightly heated argument once over how this or that tourniquet will save your life, while some other one will cause you to become extinct. Fortunately, I have only played with them in practice and never had to use one in real life, so I can’t say for sure who is right in these arguments. I spent an hour talking to my doctor about these matters and have concluded that if you are bleeding out, any tourniquet– even your belt– is going to help.

The SWAT-T in this kit is a wide elastic band, much like the ones they use when you get stuck for a blood sample or donation. My doc thinks they should work really well, but he agrees with my concern that self-applying one will be more difficult than some of the strap types on the market. A big advantage of the SWAT-T is how little space it takes up and its cost, which is about one-third that of the strap ones. That makes them a lot easier to carry and allows you to have more of them. My end decision was to put a strap type in my “bump in the night” kit and another in my car and then start getting enough SWAT-T ones to have in all of our other kits. The thought is that if I get hurt in my car or while dealing with bumps in the night, I want to be able to self-apply. The rest of the time, I will likely be the one applying it to someone else, so the SWAT-T should work fine. The thing is to have them handy and know where they are. You don’t want to have to spend much time finding or retrieving it if someone is bleeding out.

You also get a roll of gauze to pack the wound with. Again, I’ve never done this, but the idea is that it will help stop the bleeding, particularly internal bleeding, in a deep wound, such as from a gunshot. You see videos of people cramming and shoving gauze deeply into wounds, but I would be reluctant to stuff a skull wound or to go poking into a lung. On other areas, I would go to work.

I would like to have gotten some hemostatic (an agent that causes blood to clot) gauze in the kit, but the stuff is expensive. Some argue that it really doesn’t help that much. My doctor stressed that keeping the blood inside is really critical, but he equivocated on whether the hemostatic gauze would make a difference or complicate things down the road. After listening to some of the debates, I think I would want it available if regular gauze and a tourniquet failed to stop the bleeding.

The included QuikClot hemostatic sponge has kaolin, a clay material, in it that causes blood to clot. You might be able to push the sponge into a large wound to try to seal it, but it is really intended to be placed on top of the wound. That won’t help with internal bleeding the way the gauze can. I think this would be a huge help, however, on a large gash or chain saw injury.

You also get a gauze roll intended to be a pressure bandage to hold things together. It should work just fine, but I am a fan of the Israeli Bandages, which admittedly cost twice what the Dynarex Stopper included in this kit costs. The Israelis are easier to apply, important for klutzes like me, especially under pressure, and they probably provide more pressure to stop bleeding. Some say you can get them tight enough to serve as a tourniquet, which is an added bonus. I’m sure Chinook included the Dynarex as a way to keep the kit affordable, but if I bought it, I would add an Israeli bandage when I found some funds. I wouldn’t throw out the Dynarex though. It’s better to have supplies you don’t need than to run out.

There is a lot of other stuff for wounds, blisters, and burns that range from boo boos to serious stuff. There are a couple of pouches of liquid povidone-iodine solution. This stuff is good for treating wounds to prevent infection. I had never seen it in pouches before and thought it is a great idea to package it this way. Triangular bandages are also present along with safety pins to assemble them with.

I was a bit surprised to see the benzoin swabs. Benzoin is something I only learned about a few months ago. Basically, it is a smelly liquid that, when applied to the skin, makes adhesive bandages stick better. You don’t put it on the wound itself, just around it. I really like it, particularly for bandages in awkward spots that can get wet.

The typical packets of triple anti-biotic ointment, antiseptic towelettes, and hydrocortisone cream are along for the ride as well as some packs of the very neat Burn Jel ointment. This stuff has lidocaine in it that helps kill pain in minor burns. My 10-year-old loves the way it quickly calms down burns.

The BZK antiseptic towelettes are in a foil-lined paper-like pouch and I have sometimes found similar ones to have dried up after storage in my car over time. I prefer the Mylar pouches used by Wet Ones towelettes intended for hand and face cleaning. I have found some of those that have baked for years and were still good. While the active ingredient in the two brands is the same, the Wet Ones have fragrances in them, and I would prefer not to get them into an injury. I have been looking for similarly packaged, purely antiseptic ones, but I haven’t found any yet. If you stick with the paper-foil wrapped ones, the solution is probably to test one or two every few months to make sure they are still moist enough for use. These may be better than the ones I had. I can’t remember what brand they were.

Besides a number of Band Aids, dressings, and moleskin, you get some wound closure strips, which I have found very helpful on long, deep cuts. There are two petrolatum gauzes. These are good for wounds such as bad burns, where you want to be sure the dressing doesn’t adhere. They can also be used for penetrating chest wounds by laying them over the hole with the Mylar wrapper left on as a backer and then taped down on three sides. Some of the literature I’ve been exposed to says that any penetrating wound in the chest should have a seal applied to it, particularly if there are bubbles exiting with the blood. The seal you apply can help keep air out of the chest and will, hopefully, prevent a collapsed lung. Collapsed lungs require skilled and knowledgeable treatment that is beyond my skillset, so preventing them is a good thing.

Chinook provides a syringe that holds about two ounces for irrigating and cleaning wounds. There is nothing in the kit to make a solution for irrigation with, so I presume the plan is to use the cleanest available water. While my first aid teacher said plain old water works just fine, I like to use medical saline and keep cans of spray saline in my kits. From treating scraped knees and the like on Cub Scouts, it seems that saline is less irritating than plain water, since it matches our body’s chemistry better than water. The spray cans are great, as they keep the saline sterile while a bottle of liquid will go bad after opening. Since water doesn’t match our cells, they can absorb it and be damaged. This probably doesn’t matter on most of the wounds we are likely to deal with, but it might matter during long-term treatment of a deep wound. The problem with my can of saline spray is that it doesn’t fit into the bag and would defeat the goal here of a compact kit. My thought would be to add some packets of the powder used to make saline and mix it with boiled water, if there were time. Otherwise, I would just go with clean potable water and get the wound as clean as I could. All this verbiage aside, if it is really bleeding, getting that stopped is far more important that cleaning things up.

Some other items that were good to find were a couple of the aluminum survival blankets. While they can help you survive if caught in the cold, they are wonderful for treating someone who is suffering from hypothermia.

You get a couple of N95 masks to protect you from diseases (or others from what you may have).

There is a thermometer which can tell you if someone is suffering from an infection. I liked the penlight they included, as it could be helpful in the dark or for peering into orifices. It is actuated by pressing the pocket clip, and I wish there had been a shield to keep it from being turned on by accident in the bag. I would take a bit of painter’s tape and put it between the clip and the contact.

The sharp pair of EMT shears was also welcome. You might have to cut away clothing to treat a wound, and these shears will cut most anything while having the nub on the blade tip that keeps you from cutting the patient which isn’t good bedside manner. The included tweezers are welcome for the splinter prone among us, and they could also help remove stingers.

Speaking of getting stung, there is a container of AfterBite Extra for stings and bites.

The medications pouch gives you aspirin, ibuprofen, an anti-diarrhea med, an antihistamine, and some powder to make a rehydration drink. Dehydration can be a serious issue and the drink can help a victim recover.

They gave us the usual exam gloves to protect us from blood and a disposal bag for biohazards, which was another nice find.

There were a few items I would add that I mentioned above: an Israeli bandage and something to make sterile saline with. I was a bit surprised that there weren’t a few acetaminophen tablets, since some folks don’t tolerate aspirin and ibuprofen well (plus kids aren’t supposed to have aspirin.) I would add some of those. I also like self-adherent tapes better than adhesive ones and might try to get a small roll of that in too. Each has their place, but I like being able to check a wound without having to peel tape off of Cub Scouts with tender skin. If I were feeling flush with funds, a roll of hemostatic gauze would be on my agenda. The problem, however, is how much of this I could smoosh into the bag and still get it closed. The biggest problem I had with it was repacking it after pulling everything out, and since I opened a number of things, I had less to put back; in other words, there isn’t much extra space left. I know that a CPR mask is not going to go in, and that’s why they provided the shield instead, but I prefer masks and would clip one to the carry straps.

Overall, I thought the kit was a good value. I tried pricing the items individually and went about $10 over the kit price, before getting everything in the bag. It would be a great choice to throw in a car or carry along on a camping or hunting trip, thanks to how well it is organized and packed.

Some are going to fret about a few things that were left out. A lot of people in Internet forums are talking about how it is imperative to have decompression needles to deal with collapsed lungs along with airway kits and even tracheotomy supplies. I’m not trained in how to use any of this equipment, and I suspect that a lot of the people touting the gear aren’t either. These are some of the topics I have gone over with my doctor friend, and he says there is incredible potential for damage when you don’t have the skills and knowledge to use this stuff. As well as training, you need practice to maintain skills. A YouTube video is not proper training. The only reason I see to spend money on it is the hope that someone might pop up who knows how to use it. Speaking of training, I have written about it before. Be sure to get some. Dealing with an injury is frightening, but having some idea of what needs to be done and how to do it is going to help get you through it. Sitting there with a bag of tools and supplies and not knowing what they are for isn’t. – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie