Packing Your First-Aid Kit

When drivers think of vehicle necessities, a first-aid kit usually gets grouped in the same low-priority category as customized gearshift knobs and sheepskin seatbelt covers.

"Why should I equip my car with a first-aid kit when I carry a cell phone for emergency situations?" we grumble. Yes, but when was the last time anyone heard of a cell phone being applied to an open head wound to stem bleeding? Or of an injured driver needing to scale a steep, forested slope to find cell-phone reception for a gauze pad?

In addition to having an emergency kit with automotive essentials in case of a breakdown, all drivers would be smart to carry a basic first-aid kit in their car for minor emergencies. If you're planning a road trip, however―especially if you'll be traveling off the beaten path―a well-stocked, comprehensive first-aid kit could save your life in the event that you get into a serious accident, have a medical emergency, or get hopelessly lost for days on end (it happens).

First-aid kits are like home insurance policies: Recognition of their importance only arrives after they are needed. But unlike insurance policies, you only need to pay for a first-aid kit once to obtain long-lasting peace of mind.

Preparing a first-aid kit does not demand extensive medical knowledge, only common sense. To make it easier, it's best to view your car's first-aid kit as a compact version of your medicine cabinet―minus, of course, mirror, dental products, and embarrassing prescribed ointments.

First, decide on whether to store your kit in a pouch or a box. If you drive a vehicle with limited space, consider a waterproof sealable pouch, or even a Ziploc freezer bag. A pouch's flexibility allows for convenient storage in a side-door shelf, a glove compartment, or under a front seat. Use a clear, see-through pouch so you can immediately locate needed contents―a vital requirement when speed is of the essence.

If storage space is not a concern, consider using a tackle box, a toolbox, or an art-supplies box. You can buy these in a variety of sizes, allowing for customization (the larger the family, the larger the box). Plus, compartmentalized trays let you meticulously organize the contents, providing quick and easy access.

Once you've decided on a pouch or box, you will need to stock the following:

Basic Medical Necessities

  • Adhesive tape.
  • Aluminum finger splints.
  • Antibiotic ointment.
  • Antiseptic solution.
  • Bandages of various sizes.
  • Instant cold packs.
  • Chemical hot packs.
  • Cotton balls and cotton-tipped swabs.
  • Disposable latex or synthetic gloves (at least two pairs).
  • Disposable mask for CPR.
  • Gauze pads and roller gauze in various sizes.
  • First-aid manual.
  • Petroleum jelly.
  • Plastic bags for disposal of contaminated materials.
  • Safety pins in various sizes.
  • Scissors, tweezers, and a needle.
  • Soap or instant hand sanitizer.
  • Sterile eyewash, such as a saline solution.
  • Thermometer.
  • Triangular bandage.
  • Any type of bulb suction device for flushing out wounds.


  • Antidiarrheal medication (essential for preventing dehydration).
  • Over-the-counter oral antihistamines.
  • Aspirin and nonaspirin pain relievers.
  • Calamine lotion.
  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.
  • Personal medications.
  • If prescribed by your doctor, drugs to treat an allergic attack, such as an autoinjector of epinephrine.
  • Syringe, medicine cup, or spoon.

Emergency Items

  • Cell phone with a dashboard-compatible recharger.
  • Emergency phone numbers, including contact information for your family doctor and pediatrician, local emergency service, emergency road service providers, and regional Poison Control Center.
  • Small, waterproof flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Candles and matches for cold climates (never underestimate the lifesaving abilities of fire).
  • Sunscreen.
  • Mylar (space) emergency blanket.

Additional Items for Infants

  • Disposable diapers.
  • Child-safe insect repellent.
  • Child-safe sunscreen.
  • Hot-water bottle.

Additional Items for Pets

  • Muzzle.
  • Rectal thermometer.
  • Leash.
  • Prescribed medications.
  • Pet's health records, including local and national poison control number, and personal veterinarian's emergency contact number.

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