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Preview – SHTF – IFAK Vs Med Kit

Photos by Patrick Vuong

A Former U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumper Explains Which One’s Right for You and When

As a young man in the military, I was introduced to a wide array of military traditions. My favorite among these time-honored customs: secretly putting a huge rock in the bottom of a buddy’s pack before a ruck march. One time we did this to our team leader before a 10-mile death march. The prank should have never worked, since the rock was damn near the size of a football and had to have weighed at least 10 pounds — in addition to our usual backbreaking load-out. But mile after mile, we’d suggest picking up the pace, always followed by a revealing snicker or two. It wasn’t until the 8-mile marker that he finally discovered it while digging in his bag for a water bottle. He was so furious that we were too scared to laugh or own up to it. Even to this day, when it’s brought up in his company, I act as though I have no idea who did it. (Let’s hope he doesn’t read this article.)

We’re all guilty of lugging useless things in our packs. Whether you’re on a hike, out hunting, practicing at the range, or fleeing a disaster, carrying a poorly conceived medical kit can be almost as useless as hauling a football-sized stone. It’s time to assess what sort of emergency supplies you should be packing — and for what scenarios. With medical kits there will always be more of us who underprepare rather than overprepare. But we suspect, by virtue of this magazine being in your hand, that you are more inclined to be prepared. So, where do we start?


Unfortunately, most med kits on the market miss the mark. It’s extremely difficult to make a well-thought-out, high-quality med kit while hitting a price point required to be profitable. Furthermore, the reality is that more often than not we’ll go through our day making good and bad decisions and walk away unscathed, reinforcing our tendency to hope for the best and never plan for the worst. I’m right there with you. When I walk into REI with $150 burning a hole in my pocket, you’d be hard pressed to get me to put down the fancy Nike fitness bracelet in order to buy a med kit that I may or may not ever use.

However, if we stop to really evaluate what it is we’re doing and the potential injuries involved, we can walk into the local drug store (while our shiny new bracelet counts our every step) and buy the exact items we need to build our own kit.

What’s an IFAK?
One of the key places to have a medical kit is in your range bag. We may be very disciplined weapon handlers, but we’ve all seen other dimwitted people who need another firearm safety lesson (or three). Anytime we’re around guns, there’s potential for severe trauma.

In the military, everyone’s issued an individual first-aid kit or IFAK. The principle is that each person in combat should carry an IFAK with enough medical equipment on their body to treat themselves, or have someone else use it to treat them. In civilian life, the range is one of the few places where it’s critical to have an IFAK-style med kit on hand at all times. If you carry concealed or you’re always on a live range, then carrying a good trauma kit is just smart business. It’s also vitally important to take the time to get some basic trauma training, so you know how to employ an IFAK.


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