What is an IFAK?

An IFAK is an “Individual First Aid Kit”, occasionally you’ll hear people call these “Infantry First Aid Kits” but during my time in the Military it was always “Individual”, so I’ll stick with that. These are First Aid Kits carried by individuals to address any immediate aid requirements they might have. For the military that meant temporarily addressing traumatic injuries sustained on the battlefield until your battle buddies could get you a medical evacuation.

A photograph of an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) suitable for carrying in a small shoulder bag or attached to a belt; showing a pair of "Tuff Cuts" and a Tourniquet attached to the outside.
A photograph of an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) suitable for carrying in a small shoulder bag or attached to a belt; showing a pair of rescue shears and a Tourniquet attached to the outside.

However, as a civilian, carrying a small first aid kit with you may still be a good idea. Of course, how you stock that kit will differ greatly to soldiers on the battlefield, but the general idea is the same. To carry the items you may immediately require to allow yourself to get secondary support.

In the military we were always taught that when giving aid to another solider that you are to use their medical supplies first, not your own. This was due to the straightforward idea that the soldier you were treating was likely to be evacuated, but you may continue the fight – and you might need your own kit soon. It’s a grim thought, but it raises the idea that if you’re carrying an IFAK and someone comes across you whilst you’re in need (an average someone who may not be carrying their own kit!) it pays to make sure your IFAK is clearly identifiable. If it’s stuffed into a pocket or a shoulder bag, make sure it’s obvious what it is.

Again, the idea of the IFAK is to carry the items that are likely to be immediately required if something goes wrong during your day; but we’re not talking about equipment you might need to deal with a minor road traffic accident since that stuff can live in your vehicle. So for most people, your every day carry IFAK is likely only going to contain items you might need to get through your day, such as small injury dressings, pain killers, and plus of course things like prescription medications you might need.

Since I carry a shoulder bag with me 99% of the time, my kit is a little bigger – so I’ve got a trauma bandage and chitogauze in my kit, to deal with a major bleed; but before you pack too much in your IFAK remember these two rules:

  • The IFAK is only designed to support you until you get to a secondary line of support
  • The best IFAK is the one that you’re carrying

The first rule is there to highlight that you need to carry enough kit to ensure that you can get to help, for most people who work in an office in the city that’s actually going to be a small kit. If you’re working out in the country, away from your vehicle, you may need to carry more.

The second rule is there to highlight that if you carry too much stuff, then carrying the IFAK will become annoying and inconvenient, and in short you’re just less likely to keep it with you. IFAK that’s not with you is useless in the moment.