When it comes to packing your medical kit, there is an unending supply of bags, products and recommendations on what to use and what to carry. You will find pre-stocked kits as well as all the parts and pieces needed to build your own and while we won’t endorse any one kit over another, we can pass our operational experience on to you so that no matter what your mission, you are prepared to perform.
As in most areas, everyone has their own opinion about what you should carry in a medical kit, IFAK or jump bag. In the end it comes down to a few basics: mission profile, operational functionality and purposeful preparation. First and foremost, what you carry is entirely mission dependent. While some items, like tourniquets, are essential to every mission, what you stock in your kit and how much you carry can vary greatly. Initial pre-planning will dictate the expected injury patterns and extent of possible treatment of casualties. Every aspect of the mission plays a role into what you will pack in your med bag from terrain and weather conditions, to number of operators and expected hostile threat. Consideration must also be taken for mission length and expected evacuation times. It is important to note that not all teams have diverse operational purposes and in many instances, a baseline kit can be tweaked prior to each call out for any specific challenges expected. Knowing your mission profile is the first step in packing a kit.
After spending some thought on what you need to prepare for, it is easy to find yourself wanting to fit the whole supply room in your pack. In reality, anything and everything can, and often will go wrong, but overpacking a kit can make matters worse in a hurry and needs to be avoided. The goal of all operational medics is to keep their teammates alive and prevent further injuries. When your skills are needed, seconds and efficiency matter. This is not the time be sorting through the kitchen sink looking for your tools. The same rings true for anyone needing to access their IFAK. Speed of movement is key, making collecting the yard sale that ensues from an overpacked kit a hindrance to you and your team. Overloading a kit can also hinder your personal ability to operate effectively. Each piece of medical kit you pack takes up precious real estate and adds weight, further hampering efficiency. Making sure you are carrying the essentials without overpacking will facilitate casualty care and mission success.
Assuring the equipment you choose is functional and properly prepared goes hand in hand with pre-mission planning. It should go without saying that only tried and true equipment should be used, however it never fails that a tacti-cool piece of kit finds its way into a med bag. Big bags with all the bels and whistles are not always better. Smooth is fast and often simple keeps things smooth. Whether you are packing an IFAK or a full ALS bag, it is essential that what you put in it is operationally sound. The best way to assure your kit will perform is to look to those who have done tested the equipment. The Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (CoTCCC) provides approval and recommendations on life saving equipment to ensure that substandard products aren’t being used to treat life threatening injuries. For instance, while many “tourniquets” are on the market, not all perform the same under the stressors of a tactical environment and are approved by CoTCCC. Carrying only quality tools limits the ways the day could get worse and improves the odds of success.
Further adding to the chances of speedy and successful medical treatment is prepping your kit for use. Stocking an IFAK with a tourniquet is good, but leaving it in the handy wrapper, straight from the manufacturer can delay application and waste precious seconds. Go through and ready all of the equipment in your kit. Check it regularly and practice accessing it in a variety of conditions. Muscle memory and purposeful preparation will serve you well when the stakes are high and the conditions are less than accommodating.
Every operators choice of kit may be different, but the basic fundamentals remain the same. Does the equipment meet the operational needs without impeding mission success? Are the tools functional and will they perform when needed? Have you prepared your equipment to support optimal performance under the most brutal conditions?