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The Essentials: First Aid Kit Must-Haves

Whether you are nurturing skinned knees and scraped elbows in the backyard or wrapping up a sprained ankle on the side of the road, having medical and first aid materials is essential both at home and on the go. Accidents of any kind are bound to happen, and preparation is crucial to ensure the safety of your family. Packing a first aid kit to have on hand doesn’t have to break the bank or take up a lot of room in your vehicle or mudroom. In fact, just by gathering the essentials, you're preparing yourself to better cope with unexpected injuries.

First Aid Manual

Although it may seem silly to take up space in your kit with reading material, a first aid manual, pocket guide or smartphone app can guide you through emergency situations, notes Karen Lee, Idaho-based author of “Emergency Items for Your Storage and 72-Hour Emergency Kit.” A first aid manual offers tips for how to treat wounds, clean and bandage scrapes and cuts and even stop nosebleeds or treat frostbite. Whether you are stranded on the side of the road or experiencing a minor emergency in your home, learning how to treat injuries while waiting for professional help can make a difference during a life-or-death situation.

Assorted Bandages

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From adhesive strips for small boo-boos to gauze and first aid tape for larger wounds, including assorted bandages to your home or car first aid kit is essential. Bandages come in all shapes and sizes, so pack a variety in your kit in a separate zip-top bag -- such as strip bandages, butterfly closures, knuckle and finger bandages -- to be prepared for any type of injury. Also include gauze rolls, elastic tensor bandages and sterile burn sheets. Author Karen Lee suggests including scissors, a pocket knife and tweezers to safely cut bandages and remove splinters.

Antiseptic and Ointment

When injury occurs, maintaining a sterile environment is crucial to prevent infection. Ensure you have the tools to clean cuts, scrapes and wounds by having antiseptic, hand sanitizer and sanitary cloths. In cases where you would need to treat wounds right away, author Karen Lee suggests packing antibiotic cream to prevent infection and aloe vera gel for burns in addition to bug sting relief pads, calamine lotion for dry and irritated skin and topical cream for itches, rashes and skin irritations. Toss in a pair of non-latex gloves to safely apply any antiseptic or ointments during a minor emergency.


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Beyond ointments and creams, it may be necessary to administer medication when an emergency occurs. Packing any prescription medicine into a first aid kit can help keep those injured comfortable. Karen Lee, author of “Emergency Items for Your Storage and 72-Hour Emergency Kit” suggests including aspirin for pain, anti-diarrhea medicine and syrup of ipecac in case poison is ingested. For extreme allergic reactions, having an antihistamine such as Benadryl or an epinephrine auto-injector in your first aid kit is crucial. Allergy medications treat reactions to bites, stings or ingested food. “In addition, an ammonia inhalant can help revive a person who is unconscious, so add it to the kit,” Lee says.

Instant Compress

To treat aches and pains, make sure your kit includes an instant heat or ice pack. Author Karen Lee recommends instant compresses to reduce swelling in case of injury. Instant compresses can immediately release temperatures up to 130 degrees fahrenheit or temperatures as low as 25 degrees fahrenheit within one minute when activated or popped. Once the chambers of the package are broken, the compress will retain its temperature for approximately 20 minutes, Lee notes.


You may have plenty of blankets lying around at home, so pack up one to keep with your first aid kit so it is easily accessible in an emergency. A blanket is also a must-have item for your car kit. Even though your car can provide some heat while it is running, when a breakdown occurs, it may not be safe to keep your car idling or using fuel on the side of the road. Ensure your patient is warm by keeping a space blanket on hand, author Karen Lee says. Blankets are necessary to help cover a person in shock, too, she explains.

Snack Foods

When your car breaks down or your power is out at home, having snacks and non-perishable food handy in your first aid kit can help keep you comfortable. Lorraine Holmes Milton, Houston-based author of “Disaster Master Plan,” recommends packing protein and energy bars and compact snacks in your kit. Include flavored gel packs or glucose gels in case of a diabetic emergency.


A bottle of water in your first aid kit not only helps hydrate you on hot days, but you also can use it to clean wounds, scrapes and cuts. Store a few bottles of water in the cup holders of your vehicle and with your home first aid kit, author Lorraine Holmes Milton suggests. Having water on hand can prevent complications and severe medical emergencies, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.


A flashlight is an essential tool for both your home and car when you are stranded in the dark or experiencing a power outage. Pack a mini light-producing device such as a flashlight or glow stick for your car, suggests Avi Goldstein, New York City paramedic and president of StatGear, a manufacturer of survival products. A full-size flashlight or an extended-reach lighter to light candles is a must-have for your home kit. Keep flashlights stocked with fresh batteries.