Choosing (or Assembling) Your IFAK, by Pat Cascio

IFAK stands for Individual First Aid Kit. It has been a staple in the US Military for quite some time now. I’ve always had an interest in first-aid, to the point I became a Paramedic many years ago. I got tired of that job in short order, especially when you had to carry a person down a 3- or 4-storey walk-up. There is no better way to get a bad back than doing that several times per day. Still, I loved the medical aspects of the work. I then went to work for a doctor who I knew for many years, as his assistant – and this was long before the term Physician’s Assistant came into being. The doctor even had me assisting him in minor outpatient surgeries quite often. Still, I couldn’t keep up with him – 18-to-20 hour days were the norm. I opened my own clinic after that. The majority of our work was doing enlistment physicals for the Illinois National Guard. I got tired of that, too.

Still, to this day, I’m hungry for just about anything written on first-aid, and in these dangerous times we live in, it just makes great sense to learn as much about this subject as possible, in the event you end up being the first responder, when there is no other medical help available. I wrote an article some years back on the Blackhawk medic bag, you can find it in our SurvivalBlog archives. I own several medic bags, that are actually better equipped (supplied) than those you’d find a Combat Medic carrying these days. One medic bag is better-equipped than some small-town ERs are – I don’t carry that one – that is for a static position for medical care, the other is smaller and lighter, but will get the job done just the same.

The IFAK term hasn’t been around all that long. It used to be, we had a small first-aid pouch on our A.L.I.C.E. suspenders, (that I still carry on my A.L.I.C.E. suspenders) and inside of it, we had a single, compression (type) bandage, that would hopefully – at the very least – stop bleeding from a gunshot wound – it was better than nothing back in the day. Today, the military issues the IFAK, and it is much more useful, because it has other advanced life-saving medical gear inside it, and every soldier is required to have this on their gear. While it is quite a bit bigger than the old bandage pouch, with a single bandage in it, it is worth the small extra weight and inconvenience to have it with you. The idea is that, if you are wounded, you use your own medical gear inside the pouch first, and even a medic will use your own first-aid supplies first, if possible, on you.

My youngest daughter, who served in the US Army as a combat medic, was more than a little surprised at the number of soldiers, who didn’t bother to carry their own IFAK with them – that was and is still is a mistake. Matter of fact, during the first year my youngest daughter was a combat medic, even the medics didn’t have a medic bag – when they went afield, they had their medical supplies packed in a cardboard box. What’s up with that? After I heard that, I requested a Blackhawk Products medic bag for her – in short order, other medics purchased the same bag themselves, as well as other more advanced medic bags, with their own funds. Leave it to Uncle Sam, to stupidly not provide our soldiers the gear that they need to function fully!

We’re going to look at several IFAK set-ups in this article, not cover them fully, but to give you an idea of what you should have, or expect to have with you, in the event of a SHTF scenario, and you are your own first responder. Of course, you can’t carry everything you’d need to survive a wound or injury of some type, but an IFAK will at least give you a start. Hopefully, it will allow you to keep your patient alive and get them to more advanced medical care.

I purchased my own IFAK on-line and I don’t remember where – but you can find them if you do a search. My IFAK was on sale for $40 and that was about $40 -to- $50 off the retail price. Still, it didn’t have that much medical gear inside of it. I’ve shopped around, and a good, empty IFAK pouch is selling for $20 -to- $40 alone. Inside my pouch, which is heavy-duty green OD canvas, it has an Israeli bandage, and this is probably one of the best compression bandages there is – bar none – and alone, they will cost you $8 -to- $20 just for that one item. Secondly, it has an advanced tourniquet, which is also a must-have medical item. This can save your life, even if you don’t have anything else on-hand to stopped serious bleeding – as from a gunshot wound to an arm or leg. There a number of different types of tourniquets out there, so do your homework and find what you believe is best for your needs. This kit also has some bandage scissors, that come in very handy, and some other smaller first-aid supplies. I have added some small band-aids and other bandages to my own IFAK, to complete the kit, as well as a few other small items, like antibiotic ointment. You can add to your own kit, to provide what you think you’ll need.

As a supplier of IFAKs and IFAK components, I should mention Major Surplus & Survival. I’ve been doing business with them for at least 30-years now, and love the variety of products they sell. Major used to carry a lot of USGI surplus products, as well as surplus from many foreign militaries. Sadly, they don’t have much of this stuff like they used to. There were some really great bargains to be had in military surplus – truly serviceable military surplus. To make up for this, they now carry a lot of Mil-Spec and Mil-Spec Plus military gear at good prices. By “Mil-Spec Plus”, I mean gear that will exceed USGI specifications.

A few years back, I purchased some commercial IFAK pouches produced by Voodoo Tactical. They come fully loaded with a touniquest and a lot more first-aid supplies–more than I thought they’d have, for each of my two daughters and my wife. My pouches are of the now obsolete ACU camo pattern. That has been supplanted by the Multicam pattern. If you’ll look closely, at the picture of this IFAK, you can read the long list of medical first-aid supplies that are packed in this pouch.

The only thing you’ll need to add is an Israeli Battle Dressing bandage – this is a must-have item, in my opinion. This IFAK was only $22.95 and the pouch alone is worth that price in my humble opinion. There are plenty of first-aid supplies for small injuries, like a simple cut on your hand or other parts of your body. If nothing else, you should keep one or two of these in your vehicles, as well as attached to your BOB. It is well worth it! I’ve seen civilian first-aid kits that cost twice what this IFAK has, and didn’t have half the medical supplies in it.

Lastly, you’ll see an empty OD green empty pouch, as seen on the left. This thing is super heavy-duty and is a good place to start, if you want to build your own IFAK from the ground up, but with a military-grade pouch. Of course, the first thing you should purchase is an Israeli Battle Dressing (IBD) bandage. When you are buying them, make sure to purchase several extra – they will come in handy. Several SurvivalBlog advertisers sell these.

Get The Training

You and every family member, who is old enough, should at the very least, take a basic First Aid course, from your local Red Cross. You can easily find one in your area, and many times, they don’t even charge for the training. If possible, take one of their advanced first-aid courses, too. You just never know when, you might end up being the first responder when it comes to medical care. Of course, when possible, take a patient to the ER or your family physician first – again, if this is possible. However, the way the world is going these days, you might very well, be the only one available who can provide medical care.

Get The References

Our Senior Editor JWR often mentions these four standard first aid references:

  • American Red Cross First Aid manual
  • U.S. Army First Aid manual (FM 21-11)
  • Where There is No Doctor
  • Special Operations Forces Medical Handbook (it superceded the very out-of-date ST 31-91B). Requires training for best use.

But I would also suggest, highly suggest, that you get a copy of The Merck Manual. That is a medical library in itself, and read it – yes, read it – from cover-to-cover, so you have some kind of idea what it contains. And, keep in mind, that it is illegal to provide medical care, other than first aid, if there is other medical care available to a patient. Don’t play doctor if you can avoid it. Please!

One last reference I wanted to bring up is “The Survival Medicine Handbook” by Dr. Joe Alton, and his wife, Amy Alton, a registered nurse. This is a medical school training book in itself. It is well over 600-pages and it is written for the layman. I love this book and refer to it often, especially when I want to add more medical supplies to our gear. It sells for around $35 but is well worth it. You need this book, for when there isn’t any medical help on the way! Be sure to also check out the Altons’ web site and sign-up for their free weekly e-mail updates.

This is only a primer on some of the IFAK equipment out there. You can purchase bigger first-aid kits, but remember that you might have to pack it on your back. So I strongly suggest a smaller belt pouch/web gear IFAK for each family member, for their BOB, as well as one for yourself. And get some first-aid training, it might make all the difference in the world when it comes to saving a life.