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Published Aug 23, 2022 3:13 PM

Blow-out kit. Trauma kit. IFAK. Whatever name you choose to call it, only the best will do when someone’s life is on the line. A relatively recent addition to the average infantryman’s basic kit, individual first aid kits (IFAKs) are stocked with critical equipment to treat life-threatening injuries. Whether it’s a fun trip to the range, an afternoon of chainsaw work, or an active shooter at an unexpected time and place, life’s odd twists and turns could demand that you have the best training and the best IFAK available to save a life — those that adhere to Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (CoTCCC).

Editor’s Note: Nothing within this article should be seen as medical advice or used for medical training. This article exists for informational purposes only.

The best IFAK for our money has got to be the Medical Gear Outfitters Civilian Trauma Kit. While it may be a little pricey, this med kit features virtually everything a properly trained civilian could ever need for responding to a traumatic medical emergency thanks to its thorough, practical, and efficient list of contents.

Unlike most med kits on today’s market, this IFAK comes with two different pouch options: the Vanquest FATPack 5×8 or the Maxpedition FRP. Both packs feature multiple different color options, and each offers plenty of different mounting options (belts, clips, carabiners, MOLLE-compatible webbing, etc.), as well as Velcro panels for morale and ID patches. Inside, each pouch boasts a multitude of organizational features, and both pouches have plenty of room for adding extra equipment for a truly custom medical kit.

In terms of difference, the Vanquest has a high-visibility interior for easier visual identification of the kit’s contents, an external pocket, and a one-handed rip-open front panel. On the other hand, the Maxpedition pouch fits a more traditional clamshell layout with a grommeted drain hole at the bottom, large zipper pulls, and a pair of adjustable paracords designed to create a set opening angle for added predictability.

The only major drawback to this kit (other than the price tag) is the lack of a removable insert. This prevents the kit from being stored in an out-of-sight location, such as the back of a battle belt or plate carrier (not exactly standard civilian fare anyway).

Contents:

CAT tourniquet
SWAT-T tourniquet
QuikClot EMS Rolled Gauze (hemostatic)
Compressed gauze
28Fr NPA with lube
NAR HyFin vent compact chest seal (twin pack)
Four-inch OLAES
Gecko tape
Survival blanket
Non-latex gloves, large (2 pairs)
Trauma shears
Permanent marker

Product Specs
  • MARCH rating: 5/5
  • CoTCCC-approved tourniquet: Yes
  • NPA: Yes
  • Decompression needle: No
  • Dimensions: 5.5 x 8 x 3 inches (Vanquest) / 6 x 9 x 2.5 inches (Maxpedition)
Why It Made The Cut
  • This IFAK was designed with trained civilians in mind. While not a purely “tactical” option, this kit can treat everything from chainsaw damage to gunshot wounds and anything in between.
PROS

Thorough equipment list

Very good organization

Plenty of mounting options

Room for extra equipment

CONS

Expensive

Lacks removable insert

When your budget is tight but you need the best IFAK you can find, go with the Rescue Essentials TCCC IFAK Refill Module. It comes in a resealable plastic bag, and while it may lack a dedicated storage pouch, the price point, quality, and flexibility are unbeatable.

Rescue Essentials stuffed nothing but the best inside its Ziplock of awesomeness. It features everything necessary to meet MARCH treatment standards, including a CoTCCC-approved tourniquet of your choice and a twin pack of North American Rescue HyFin compact chest seals. The remaining equipment consists of Rescue Essentials and Dynarex components, including a survival blanket, one pair of nitrile gloves, and a miniature permanent marker.

With this kit, the adage “you get what you pay for” holds true. This kit skips more expensive items, such as hemostatic gauze, and instead opts for the bare necessities. As a refill pack, it also isn’t ideal for carrying outside of a backpack or similar low-friction storage spot. Then again, this makes it ideal for stuffing into your IFAK pouch of choice.

Contents:

CAT, SOFT T, or SAM XT tourniquet
Compressed Gauze (2x)
28Fr NPA with lube
NAR HyFin vent compact chest seal (twin pack)
Four-inch emergency trauma dressing
Survival blanket
Trauma shears
Nitrile gloves, large (one pair)
Mini permanent marker

Product Specs
  • MARCH rating: 5/5
  • CoTCCC-approved tourniquet: Yes
  • NPA: Yes
  • Decompression needle: No
  • Dimensions: Not listed
Why It Made The Cut
  • This trauma IFAK adheres to MARCH standards for trauma care and keeps bulk and price to a minimum. It’s also an ideal choice for filling any IFAK pouch you prefer.
PROS

Affordable

Efficient, CoTCCC-compliant equipment list

Compact design

Can be used to build custom IFAK, refill an old one

CONS

Bare minimum equipment list

Packaging not suitable for exposed, high friction carry locations

Virtually no other IFAK on the market can keep pace with the small but mighty Medical Gear Outfitters Micro Trauma Kit. By definition, everyday carry is all about compromise, but thankfully, this med kit manages to minimize space and maximize functionality with as little compromise as possible, making it an incredibly capable EDC IFAK.

This affordable kit includes everything necessary to cover all the bases of emergency trauma care (albeit in the right circumstances). It boasts an incredibly efficient equipment roster, leaving out anything that might introduce unnecessary bulk. It includes one high-quality item designed to treat each of the five injury types described in TCCC’s MARCH treatment checklist. Everything is then vacuum-sealed inside an airtight, waterproof bag with tear notches for fast access. This 4.5- by seven-inch package measures a single inch thick, making for an impressively compact package.

Technically, this compact IFAK cannot truly meet MARCH treatment standards without a bit of luck. The single combat gauze pack can only treat one wound at a time, so treatment of massive junctional hemorrhaging and another major yet non-life-threatening bleed is not an option with this kit. Also, the SWAT-T, a compact and effective tourniquet, fails to meet CoTCCC standards due to the difficulty of self-application.

Contents:

SWAT-T tourniquet
QuikClot combat gauze (hemostatic)
28Fr pre-lubed NPA
NAR HyFin vent compact chest seal (twin pack)
Survival blanket
Gloves, large (one pair)

Product Specs
  • MARCH rating: 4/5
  • CoTCCC-approved tourniquet: No
  • NPA: Yes
  • Decompression needle: No
  • Dimensions: 7.5 x 4 x 1 inches
Why It Made The Cut
  • While this kit barely scrapes together the bare essentials, its compact size and weatherproof packaging make it the perfect choice for slipping into a cargo pocket or similar storage space.
PROS

Compact

Reasonably affordable

Waterproof storage

Covers all the basics

CONS

Tourniquet not CoTCCC-approved (fails to meet self-application criteria)

Only meets MARCH treatment standards via luck (i.e., no massive junctional hemorrhaging)

Best for Battle Belt

With so many options for battle belt IFAKs, it can be hard to sort through it all, but the Live the Creed Responder IFAK manages to provide the perfect package for virtually any loadout. Its non-traditional design and to-the-point equipment list covers virtually anything an operator (or mall ninja) could ever need.

Belt-mounted med kits must be compact, convenient affairs — something the Responder IFAK accomplishes with flair. In place of zippers, it features a single-buckle, sheath-and-sleeve design which allows fast access to life-saving equipment. This American-made kit includes all the MARCH essentials (minus a survival blanket), including an optional CAT tourniquet and holder mounted on the bottom. The backside features dual MOLLE-compatible mounting mounts with Maxpedition TacTie mounting clips that can double as belt loops, as well as a dedicated belt loop for mounting the pouch in a vertical position on up to 2.5-inch belts. The entire pouch consists of water-resistant, laser-cut laminate Cordura.

Unfortunately, the Responder is downright expensive, especially with the optional tourniquet and holder which are a package deal. Other drawbacks include the lack of a survival blanket, a potentially life-threatening omission for shock patients, and the fact that the tourniquet holster cannot be purchased and attached to the kit down the road. Users also reported that the buckle sometimes snags on the sheath during sleeve removal, although this is more a nuisance than an actual problem.

Contents:

CAT tourniquet (optional)
QuikClot combat gauze LE (hemostatic)
28Fr NPA with lube
NAR HyFin vent compact chest seal (twin pack)
Four-inch H&H mini Israeli bandage
Trauma shears
NAR Bear Claw nitrile gloves, extra-large (one pair)

Product Specs
  • MARCH rating: 4/5
  • CoTCCC-approved tourniquet: Available
  • NPA: Yes
  • Decompression needle: No
  • Dimensions: 7 x 4.5 x 1.5 inches
Why It Made The Cut
  • This compact IFAK can be mounted virtually anywhere on your battle belt for the ideal setup, and its slick yet secure form factor inherently increases speed while decreasing drag.
PROS

Compact

Zipper-free pull-out design

Multiple mounting, positioning, orientation options (MOLLE hardware included)

Optional tourniquet holder accommodates different CoTCCC-approved tourniquets

CONS

Expensive

Lacks survival blanket

Optional tourniquet holder cannot be added later, purchased without CAT

North American Rescue is a legend in the tactical medicine world, so it fits that the North American Rescue Eagle IFAK (Advanced Life Support) earned a spot on this list. While certainly comfortable on a battle belt, this emergency medical kit feels most at home mounted on your plate carrier.

The Eagle IFAK employs a clamshell-esque prominent loop handle and dual zippers down the front panel. Once secured to your vest with the dual rear-mounted MOLLE strips, the pouch can be ripped open with a single hand, and the Velcro-secured removable insert allows you to transfer your medical gear straight into your workspace. The insert features a large red pull tab for a quick, secure grip and secures the included medical equipment into place with a crisscrossing shock cord. This kit comes with nothing but the best, including a CAT tourniquet and vented HyFin chest seals, and the advanced life support (ALS) version that we recommend also includes Combat Gauze (instead of non-hemostatic S-gauze), a nasopharyngeal airway, and a decompression needle.

The Eagle IFAK’s biggest drawback is that it lacks a survival blanket, an odd omission considering the low cost, minimal space reduction, and life-saving potential of such an item. If you decide to purchase a second Eagle for your battle belt, you may be disappointed to find that it cannot be mounted horizontally. Lastly, North American Rescue requires a Medical Device Authorization to purchase the ALS version of this kit, an understandable yet annoying inconvenience.

Contents:

CAT tourniquet
Four-inch emergency trauma dressing
QuikClot combat gauze (hemostatic)
28Fr NPA with lube
NAR HyFin vent chest seal (twin pack)
ARS needle decompression kit
NAR Bear Claw nitrile gloves, large (one pair)

Product Specs
  • MARCH rating: 4/5
  • CoTCCC-approved tourniquet: Yes
  • NPA: Available
  • Decompression needle: Available Dimensions: 8 x 4 x 3 inches
Why It Made The Cut
  • The NAR Eagle IFAK may just be the gold standard for plate carrier-mounted med kits. Its form factor, contents, and ease of access create a solid choice for tactical professionals.
PROS

Relatively compact

Slick, rip-open design with pull-out tray

Multiple mounting, positioning, orientation options (MOLLE hardware included)

Mounts on plate carriers or battle belts

CONS

Lacks survival blanket

Cannot be mounted horizontally

Medical Device Authorization required for purchase from NAR

Everyday carry is all about tradeoffs, but an IFAK like the Warrior Poet Society EDC Ankle Medical Kit offers more cargo space and fewer equipment compromises than its competitors. While it may not include everything necessary to meet MARCH treatment standards, it has more than enough extra room to allow users to achieve that milestone.

The WPS ankle kit has earned a reputation for being the most EDC-friendly ankle IFAK on the market. Users frequently comment on how comfortable it is for all-day wear. It features a breathable, antimicrobial (i.e., anti-stink) inside mesh lining, and to minimize hotspots, it uses a cuff design with pockets sewn onto (rather than into) it which pushes bulk (and discomfort) away from your leg.

Like any good IFAK, the gear that comes with this ankle med kit is high-quality. It boasts a CAT tourniquet and various components from North American Rescue. As a bonus, the cuff’s ends each sport small, hidden pockets underneath the Velcro panels, which are themselves secured with the sticky stuff and are large enough to store handcuff keys, lock pick sets, small flash drives, and other miscellaneous items.

The WPS ankle kit does disappoint in two main areas. Despite its ability to accommodate the extra equipment, this kit lacks critical components capable of making it a TCCC-level IFAK. On the flip side, a fully-loaded WPS ankle IFAK is bulkier than any of its competitors. While no one is likely to see it print, the kit’s girth may be a source of consternation for some.

Contents:

CAT tourniquet
Compressed gauze
28Fr NPA with lube
Four-inch emergency trauma dressing
Trauma shears
Nitrile gloves, large

Product Specs
  • MARCH rating: 3/5
  • CoTCCC-approved tourniquet: Yes
  • NPA: Yes
  • Decompression needle: No
  • Dimensions: Not listed
Why It Made The Cut
  • Despite its bulk, this ankle medical kit can carry more equipment and gear than its competitors, and to boot, it consistently ranks as the world’s most comfortable ankle IFAK.
PROS

Plenty of room for extra equipment

Comfortable for all-day wear

Breathable, antimicrobial lining

Secure, hidden storage for small, miscellaneous items

CONS

Lacks critical MARCH treatment features

Bulkier than other ankle kits

Things to consider before buying an IFAK

Medical training

Before buying an IFAK, get trained on how to use it. If you have no idea what a nasopharyngeal airway is or how to use a tourniquet properly (Hollywood knows nothing about saving lives), then an IFAK likely will be a complete waste of your money while simultaneously endangering your life and freedom. Good Samaritan laws protect trained individuals against lawsuits, but anyone providing medical care that is outside their level of training can, and most likely will, be sued and imprisoned. Of course, you can’t sue yourself (last I checked), but you certainly can unintentionally end your own life. Get proper training. Also, remember that you are much more likely to have to save someone’s life with an IFAK than with your peashooter.

Types of IFAKs

First things first, let’s define some terms. The original IFAK (individual first aid kit) was created for battlefield grunts, so a true IFAK is designed specifically for combat applications. As such, these med kits (sometimes called “trauma kits”) will possess a very specific list of contents and nothing else. That said, other “IFAKs” also exist on the civilian market.

Civilian IFAKs usually provide enough medical equipment for at least one individual, and in some cases, it may be tailored to specific activities, such as hunting or camping. Of course, this creates a marketing free-for-all and a nightmare for undiscerning buyers. Sometimes, civilian IFAKs meet (or exceed) the same standards as military medical kits, but other times, a so-called “IFAK” is merely a boo-boo kit in a MOLLE pouch. As with any life-saving equipment, always pay close attention to the details.

Key features of an IFAK

By its very nature, an IFAK is compact, lightweight, and ready to roll at a moment’s notice. As such, these medical kits should be easy to carry, easy to access, and tough enough to resist the elements and rough handling. Specific contents also determine whether a first aid kit lives up to the IFAK name or not.

Usually, IFAK contents are built using the TCCC memory aid “MARCH”, which stands for:

  • Massive hemorrhage (life-threatening bleeding)
  • Airway (obstructed airway)
  • Respiration (pneumothorax, tension pneumothorax, and open chest wounds)
  • Circulation (non-life-threatening wounds, bleeding, and broken bones)
  • Hypothermia (and trauma effects)

At a bare minimum, a trauma kit version of the IFAK will include the following equipment designed to tackle the first two MARCH elements: tourniquet, compressed wound packing gauze, hemostatic gauze, compression bandage, nasopharyngeal airway (NPA), chest seals, trauma pads, etc. 

More advanced kits will include items for handling “C” and “H” concerns, while others (controversially) will include a decompression needle to address respiration issues. IFAKs also commonly include non-latex surgical gloves (ideally two pairs or more), adhesive tape (medical or duct tape), shears, a permanent marker, and one or two other practical odds and ends.

Editor’s Note: ALWAYS OBTAIN PROPER TRAINING before using a tourniquet, NPA, decompression needle, chest seals, or other specialized medical equipment. These supplies cannot magically create skill sets during an emergency; improper use of emergency medical equipment can kill a patient rather than save them. There is no practical or legal substitute for in-person emergency medical training from a properly trained and certified professional.

IFAK pricing

True IFAKs are pricey medical kits, but when viewed as an insurance policy, they are an impressive bargain. The most basic kits (i.e., those that adhere to TCCC care standards) start out around the $75 mark. Upgraded kits often run somewhere between $120 and $130, give or take, while advanced medical kits, such as those with decompression needles, start out around $150, with some ringing up at an eye-watering $200 or more.

FAQs about IFAKs

Q: What is the difference between IFAK and AFAK?

A: IFAKs are for G.I. Joes and the average Joe; AFAKs are for professional first responders. An IFAK (individual) is designed to provide emergency trauma care to a single individual. An AFAK (advanced) provides the same capabilities as an IFAK, and then some. They usually may contain items such as defibrillators, medications, and advanced airways.

Q: If I already have a first aid kit, do I need an IFAK?

A: A traditional IFAK is designed to be compact and lightweight with easy access to essential life-saving equipment. If your first aid kit does all these things, then you likely do not need to replace it with an IFAK. That said, multiple IFAKs never hurt.

Q: What is the most important life-saving item in the IFAK?

A: Ultimately, the answer depends on the patient’s condition.

Q: How do you use the IFAK tourniquet?

A: See the “Medical Training” section above.

Q: Where does the IFAK go on your body?

A: IFAK placement depends on the individual user and their kit/loadout. For grunts, that might be a belt or plate carrier. For civilians, that might be a pocket or ankle.

Final thoughts

Not everyone is properly trained to use an IFAK, but those who are can benefit greatly from the Medical Gear Outfitters Civilian Trauma Kit. This medical kit was designed for trained civilians and off-duty door kickers who want to be prepared for anything. The included equipment makes for an impressive kit straight out of the box, and thanks to multiple pouch options and extra cargo space, this kit is easy to customize for virtually any application.

Methodology 

First aid kits come in all shapes and sizes, and with a little bit of thought and training, you can even build your own. That said, IFAKs are an entirely different animal. With access to the right supplies, one certainly could build their own trauma kit, but for most of us, a pre-built kit makes the most sense. Unlike more basic first aid kits, true IFAKs are built to specific standards, namely those put out by the DoD’s Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care. That said, internet retailer listings abound for low-quality kits that ship from China and masquerade as “tactical” first aid kits.

To differentiate between killer med kits and killing med kits, I relied on my own emergency medical training, but when I hit my limits, I turned to TCCC standards (conveniently outlined with the “MARCH” acronym) and professional SWAT team paramedics to sift through the mess of junk online. While there are many good sources of information, these informational videos by SkinnyMedic and this MARCH breakdown by PerSys Medical filled the gaps in my own knowledge and training. SkinnyMedic and PrepMedic also provided some incredibly valuable product reviews so I could more easily extract the gold from the ore.

Check out the Task & Purpose review guidelines for more information on our review process.