What to pack in a first-aid kit

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A woman applies a first aid kit to a young boy

When assembling or buying a first aid kit, think about the conditions and activities you’re likely to encounter, and be prepared for them.

There is a wide range of kits on the market, covering personal, motoring, camping and touring, boating and workplace needs. Or you can make your own.

The basics

All first-aid kits should include materials to deal with:

  • minor cuts and scrapes – antiseptics and dressings;
  • splinters – splinter probe or tweezers;
  • minor joint sprains and strains – instant ice-packs and roller bandages;
  • minor burns such as sunburn – hydrogel and dressings. 

Will suit: Car, SUV. Places: Larger towns, cities.

Not too far

If you’re roaming further for longer, add supplies to deal with mid-range injuries needing immediate attention, such as:

  • larger and penetrating wounds – wound closures, absorbent dressings;
  • fractures – splints and bandages;
  • minor eye injuries – eye wash, pads.

Will suit: SUV, caravan, camper. Place: Small towns, accessible national parks. Activities: Touring, camping, sight-seeing, bush-walking.

Serious stuff

None of us wants to deal with a serious injury, but they happen. Be prepared to deal with the following if going more than a couple of hours from medical care:

  • large and bleeding wounds – large wound dressings and conforming bandages for pressure;
  • penetrating or lacerating eye wounds – packing, padding;
  • large burns – clean dressings.

Will suit: SUV, caravan, camper, boat. Place: Remote national parks, off-road. Activities: Remote bush-walking, rock-climbing, off-road driving, boating.

Bought kits

There are many ready-to-go kits on the market, offered by the Red Cross, St John Ambulance and private companies. All cover basics with a variety of applications, from cars to campers to boats.


Commercial kits contain no medication. Simple painkillers – anything available without a prescription – can be handy.

A first aid book is useful for reassurance as well as guidance. One standard is St John Ambulance’s Australian First Aid.  St John’s kits all contain a short first aid guide. Some of the other brands’ larger kits also have first aid ready-references.

Remember to protect yourself when helping others. Gloves and protective glasses are essentials if there is blood around. A face shield for CPR provides a one-way barrier between you and the casualty. An emergency or space blanket will keep someone warm.

Consider taking a first aid training course to be better informed and more confident about dealing with problems.

Finally, when unpacking, don’t forget your first aid kit. Replace used items and check the contents. 

Written by Melanie Van Twest, a GP
August 17, 2017

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