When discussing wilderness/survival first-aid kits, a lot of people are confused as to whether or not to pack advanced first-aid equipment such as sutures and airways. In this blog post, we’ll look why extreme first-aid gear is generally a waste of space in your kit. I’ve answered this question before in this blog post, but I want to go into more depth here.
Trying to decide whether to pack a suture kit and an emergency airway? Read on to find out!
Let’s get into sutures/stitches. The first thing to know is that Ster-Strips, butterfly bandages, or tape will be just fine for wound closure until you can get proper medical attention. Some people seem to believe that sutures magically “heal” a wound. They don’t! The whole point of sutures is to prevent infection (by closing the wound) and to reduce scarring. In an outdoor/non-sterile environment, closing a wound with sutures will increase the risk of infection, not lower it. Even in a clinical setting, some wounds aren’t stitched shut because they need to be cleaned frequently. In a survival situation, having a gnarly-looking scar shouldn’t be much of a concern. Yes, suturing a wound shut may reduce the scarring, but the risk of infection will definitely outweigh the cosmetic value of a smaller scar. Instead of packing sutures, pack a syringe that can be used to irrigate and clean wounds, and then use tape or Steri-Strips to hold the wound closed. To make this simple, you don’t need sutures in a first-aid kit!
Airways are another example of controversial medical gear when it comes to first-aid kits. The short answer on airways is: if you haven’t had any formal training in the use of airways, don’t even think about packing any in your first-aid kit! If you have had some training, you will be able to use your own best judgement as to what to carry. I don’t personally carry any airways in my first-aid kits. Generally, if a person needs an emergency airway, they’re going to need a lot more care than you can provide in a non-hospital setting without an entire ambulance of equipment and a team of skilled doctors. That being said, many combat first-aid kits will include a nasopharyngeal airway. NPA’s do have their place and can be a very useful piece of gear. However, if you decide to carry one, be absolutely sure you know when to use it and how to use it.
Another piece of first-aid equipment that some people have discussed packing in a kit is an epipen. These are auto-injectors that inject epinephrine into a person who is having a severe allergic reaction. The thing about epipens is that you can’t get one without a prescription. If you personally have a bad allergy to something, then you should definitely keep an epipen in your first-aid kit. However, don’t pack one planning to use it on someone who doesn’t have the prescription for it. Epinephrine can be a dangerous drug! Benadryl or generic diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that you can use without a prescription and you should definitely pack a few pills/tablets of that in your first-aid kit. As a side note, you can also get diphenhydramine in liquid form which is faster acting than pills are.
To sum up, keep your first-aid kit simple! My rule of thumb about first-aid gear is if you’re not sure whether or not to carry a specific piece of equipment, you probably don’t have enough training and knowledge to use it correctly and you shouldn’t pack it. For a handy list of specific items to pack in a first-aid kit, refer back to my previous post about priority gear in a first-aid kit. Keep it simple!