An individual first aid kit (IFAK) is a personal kit that contains life-saving equipment for combat and disaster situations. In contrast to an everyday carry (EDC) kit, these first-aid kits focus on the two issues that most quickly lead to death in combat: hemorrhage and compromised airway.
The US Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps each have their own IFAK contents list that is tailored to the needs of the military branch it serves. The US Army has even updated its IFAK a couple of times, releasing the improved first aid kit (IFAK) in 2006 and the IFAK II in 2014.
No matter which version you have, all individual first aid kits contain equipment to stop severe bleeding and keep airways open. After those basic two categories are covered, you can add other items that you personally need or that could be helpful to have in an emergency to support life until you can get back to base or receive attention from military medical services.
IFAK List of Items for Bleeding Control
A bleeding control kit is critically important, and makes up the bulk of your IFAK. If you or another soldier were shot causing penetrating trauma, a chest wound, and/or an exit wound, stopping the blood flow quickly could mean the difference between life and death.
For your trauma kit, you will need most or all of the following items:
- One combat application tourniquet (CAT tourniquet)
- Rolled gauze, 4.5” x 4 yards
- 6 gauze pads, 4” x 4”
- Hemostatic gauze (gauze that contains a hemostatic agent that promotes clotting) such as Quikclot combat gauze
- Band-Aids (at least 10 in different shapes and sizes)
- A pressure bandage or pressure dressing
- An Israeli emergency bandage (emergency bandages that include a primary dressing and secondary dressing and can be applied with one hand)
- Triangular bandages, 45” x 45” x 63”
- Butterfly bandages, 0.5″ x 2.75″
- Abdominal pads, 5” x 9”
- Two vented chest seals (These allow air to leave the chest cavity without allowing it to be sucked back in.)
- An irrigation syringe for cleaning wounds, 20cc with an 18-gauge tip
- Suture kits with needle and thread stored in isopropyl alcohol
- Surgical tape
- Combat reinforcement tape, 2 x 100″
- A silk medical tape roll, 1” wide
- Trauma shears
- Nitrile gloves
It might seem like a lot to carry. However, most of these items are small and flat and don’t weigh very much. Being able to stop bleeding and treat sucking chest wounds with a vented chest seal might be the only thing that keeps you or another wounded soldier alive until medical help arrives. As you know, it’s not always possible to get to a clinic or hospital when you’re in the middle of a combat zone.
IFAK List of Items for Breathing
Besides bleeding, the other emergency that your individual first aid kit needs to address is a compromised airway. A nasopharyngeal airway tube (NPA) is the most common piece of equipment for breathing control. For sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), you might also want to include a bag valve mask in adult and infant sizes. Please note that this item is not usually included in military individual first aid kits. Here they are again for easy reference:
- Nasopharyngeal airway tube (NPA), size 28 French
- Bag valve mask (adult and infant sizes)
IFAK List of Nice-to-Have Items
A portable kit isn’t usually large enough to carry all of the items you might like to have on hand, and as long as you have the equipment to stop arterial bleeding and keep a victim’s airway open, the rest is really up to you. Consider these categories of items for your tactical first aid kit, depending on the situations you are most likely to encounter.
Burns are a common injury from shrapnel fragments and nuclear weapons, and they can also happen in non-combat situations, such as while handling fuel. For burns, include:
- A roll of plastic cling wrap, 2” wide
- A Water-Jel burn dressing, 4 x 16″
- Bacitracin antibiotic ointment, 0.9 grams
Skin irritation can also occur in combat zones, caused by everything from new military boots to allergic reactions and humid weather. If skin irritation is likely, pack:
- Moleskin, 5” x 2” strip for blisters
- Hydrocortisone cream for itching and irritation
- Miconazole for fungal infections
Strains, Sprains & Fractures
Even the best soldier is not immune to a twisted ankle. If you have room in your IFAK, consider including these items in your personal first aid kit:
- Elastic bandage (ACE wrap)
- Aluminum splint, 36”
Medicines and Medications
If you have allergies, including life-threatening allergies, or another life-threatening condition like asthma, your medication is the first thing you should put in your IFAK:
- Asthma inhaler
Depending on the country where you’ll serve, you might also want to include some over-the-counter (OTC) medications
- Paracetamol (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Advil)
- Diphenhydramine (Imodium)
- Aspirin (Bayer)
- Pepto-Bismol tablets for acid reflux
- Caffeine tablets for alertness
- Doxycycline or Bactrim (antibiotics)
The ability to clean a wound site or disinfect water on the go can be the difference between returning to base and continuing with your mission. Be ready with:
- Alcohol swabs
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Povidone-iodine topical solution USP 10% 1/2 fl. oz.
- Water purification pills
Dry settings, such as those encountered in the Middle East, can lead to painful cracked lips and skin and dry eyes. Be ready with:
- Saline eye drops
- Lip balm
- White petroleum jelly (Vaseline)
Advanced tools should only be used by those who are trained in their use. For tactical first aid kits, this could include:
- Decompression needle for tension pneumothorax
Reminder: If you are not trained, DO NOT attempt to use a decompression needle.
An IFAK contents list wouldn’t be complete without a list of “extras” that always come in handy. Depending on the size of your kit, include as many of these as you can:
- Strap cutter
- Safety pins of various sizes
- Light source
- Duct tape
- Sharpie or permanent marker
- Tactical combat casualty card
- Reference guide
- Emergency blanket
Individual First Aid Kits Save Lives
Combat zones are some of the most dangerous places on Earth, but with the right preparation, you’ll be ready to respond to many of the most common life-threatening situations right away.
Remember that the items on this IFAK contents list that should be given the highest priority are those that stop bleeds, those that protect airways, and anything that you might need to treat your own health issues, such as asthma or anaphylaxis. After that, prioritize the remaining items based on those that you’re most likely to need, given your particular mission.