Building a Target First Aid Kit: Part 1

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September 23, 2015 / Comments (3)


first aid kit, by definition, is a kit of medical supplies to help stabilize a person who is sick or injured, until they can be “cured” by someone with more extensive supplies (and training). It is supposed to be for every day use, with a doctor or hospital available for follow on “aid” when needed.

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Obviously, it is wise to have such a kit. Since there may be circumstances where that advanced medical care is not available, or not reliably or quickly available, extending the “first aid” kit into more of a “medical” kit is not unreasonable. When deciding how far past “first aid” to go, consider what advanced training you have, or are willing and able to get. Having equipment which nobody within range knows how to use effectively may well be wasted space and money.

Building a Target First Aid Kit (Part 1)

Why do I call this a “Target” first aid kit? I'll bet you are expecting this to be a clever acronym, but it is not. It is the name of the Target department store. The last time I was in the store, I saw they were having a sale where if you buy three of the specified first aid products, you would get a free first aid kit case. Since my existing medical supplies tend to be rather disorganized and some of it quite old, I thought I'd see what could be put together from modern components.

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If you don't have a Target nearby, or don't like them, or the sale is over, this is not much of a problem. It is not really a “Target” sale, so much, since I've seen the same offer at other stores since then, just with a lesser case and fewer items offered. It is actually seems to be more of a “Johnson & Johnson” sale, since many of the products which qualify have that name on them, and possibly the other products offered are from a related company. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) have some good stuff, but it does not mean that other companies don't have stuff just as good, or even better. Use what you want, although I advise to find at least equivalent quality. Saving money is good; saving money and negatively impacting medical care is not good.

If you can't get, or don't want, the Target cases, you can use pretty much any case or box which is appropriate for your kit and circumstances.

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Choices include bags, rolls and boxes of various sizes, assorted types of packs and pouches, and wall mounted cabinets. Some sources are:

and many others, as well as sources for military and civilian packs and pouches. As you will see in part 4 of this series, a case with lots of (useful) pockets or compartments is preferable.

In any case, consider this a “how to” article on designing your own first aid kit. The first step is to decide how you will proceed. The options are:

  1. buy the perfect kit ready made
  2. buy a decent kit and enhance it; or
  3. build your own from scratch.

The information listed here to build your own can be useful in modifying a kit or identifying a “perfect” kit as well.

Next, consider what kinds of problems might be encountered, for which there is equipment or supplies which can be effective and practical. If no such items exist for a problem, it does not mean there is no first aid for it, just that it is not a factor in building a first aid kit.

First Aid Knowledge

Knowledge is more important than stuff. Knowledge tells you what stuff to have, and how to use the stuff safely and effectively, and in some cases, how to use what is available in the immediate environment in place of stuff you don't happen to have with you. It is just that having the stuff readily available makes applying knowledge much easier.

So how do you get knowledge? The “best” way, but sometimes not the most practical way, is classes. Various levels of First Aid courses, EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) training, Nursing school and Medical school are really effective. Of course, there may be cost, travel, time or entrance qualifications which prevent you from taking advantage of these. If this is the case, some of the individual classes can be found on the internet. In addition to online courses, the internet is a good source of SPECIFIC knowledge; that is, if you want to know more about a particular thing, you can generally find information about it on the web.

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Not as good as classes, but usually more practical, is books (or DVDs). Before you have a first aid kit, you should have a good first aid book, such as one from the American Red Cross (they even have one which is 4″ by 6″ by 0.2″ which might fit in your kit). If you want to go beyond basic first aid, there are a number of additional books to consider.

For instance, much of the “head” knowledge which a doctor possesses can be found in the “Merck Manual”.

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Unfortunately, one of the classes of knowledge that doctors have that you probably don't is what all those long words used in Merck mean. A medical dictionary may help, but a more efficient option is the “Merck Manual of Medical Information – Home Edition”. This book, although somewhat in everyday language, still approaches medical issues from the “doctor's office” and “hospital” point of view. Good knowledge, but not always the most useful.

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For cases where “improvisation” is necessary, there are several other books, one or more of which could be quite helpful. Possibly choices include “Wilderness 911” by Eric Weiss M.D. (essentially first aid with some “backcountry tricks”), “Wilderness Medicine” by William Forgey M.D. (claims to be “beyond first aid” and succeeds at that claim), “Ditch Medicine” by Hugh Coffee (seems to be focused on military medical procedures “in the field”), and of course, the classic “Where There Is No Doctor” by David Warner as well as it's companion book, “Where There Is No Dentist” by Murray Dickson which tend to cover health in general in places without formal medical systems.

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What sorts of problems are often addressed by first aid only?

For day to day use under normal circumstances, consider the types of medical problems you are likely to have to deal with. That is, problems which are common and usually don't need any care beyond first aid; i.e. the first aid is the only aid likely to be needed. The same sorts of problems are likely to occur under other than normal circumstances as well, so the first aid supplies indicated to treat these problems, can be considered suitable and necessary today, and for whatever tomorrow brings.

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Some examples of such problems are MINOR cuts, scrapes, allergic reactions and burns, splinters, non-life-threatening insect bites and stings, blisters, rashes, sprains and strains, something in the eye, hypoglycemia, aches and pain, and digestive system problems (nausea, indigestion/heartburn, diarrhea or constipation).

Of course, any of these may be signs of, or develop into, more serious problems which require additional supplies and training. Particularly if they are NOT treated with first aid or inadequately or incorrectly treated. But generally, these fall into the category where first aid is sufficient.

What sorts of problems are only temporarily addressed by first aid?

Next consider medical problems for which first aid is known to be only a temporary patch. In other words, problems where after the patient is stabilized with first aid, they must be treated by a doctor or equivalent in order for them to have the greatest chances of recovery. These can happen under all circumstances, but only under normal circumstances is there a high probability of doctor and hospital support being available.

Some examples are SERIOUS cuts, punctures and burns, amputations, frost bite, snake and other venomous bites, broken bones, eye damage, dental problems, serious illness or infection, poisoning, anaphylactic shock (severe allergic reaction) and heart attacks.

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These sorts of problems can lead to death or incapacitation if not treated with the appropriate supplies and skills. “First aid” is only intended to keep the patient alive and from getting worse until a doctor or surgeon can deal with it. Because it is possible that no doctor or surgeon is available when needed, it would not be unreasonable to expand your medical supplies and training to be able to at least somewhat deal with the advanced medical aspects of some of these problems yourself if it should become necessary.

Starting out: what the sale includes

Consider what products are included in this sale: assorted Johnson & Johnson Band-Aids, Neosporin antibiotic cream, J&J gauze pads, J&J roller gauze, J&J tapes and wraps, J&J Shower Care patches, Up&Up athletic wrap, Up&Up cold pack, Up&Up hydrocortisone cream and Benadryl diphenhydramine cream and spray. These items tend to be the basis of many first aid kits. Oddly enough, there are a pair of kids travel first aid kits which are included in the sale, which are already in cases and stocked with (kid appropriate) supplies.

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From Target, there are two cases to choose from, normally priced at $6.99. I prefer the all red one, because the covers are smooth plastic and might be a bit more water resistant, and because all the pockets are mesh for easier view of the contents. It even has a better handle. The other case is much prettier, but the covers seem to be made of a stiffened cloth, and all the small pockets are solid material; possibly a bit more durable, but they hide the contents pretty well. The cases are 9 1/2″ by 6 1/2″, with a thickness of 2″ to 3″ depending on how much you cram into it.

There are a lot more than three items which should go into a reasonable first aid kit; of the items included in the sale, there are perhaps a dozen which would be appropriate (i.e. not essentially a duplicate item). For each set of three items, one free case is available (although watch the cash register; some combinations are not automatically accepted and require manual intervention to get the case for free).

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Maybe you don't need three or four or even more cases at this point of time, but you might as well as get them as long as they are “free”. I actually made identical kits for home, car and pack. Furthermore, I used a red case for each basic first aid kit and a multicolored case for each advanced medical supplies kit. I had one multicolored case left over, which was demoted to hold pens and pencils and such.


 Medications in a first aid kit are a conundrum. On the one hand, they are very useful in treating a number of problems. On the other hand, they have an expiration date which is usually only a year or two away, and being chemicals, can be affected by heat while in storage. Another aspect of chemicals is that they act the way they are intrinsically forced to, not the way you want them to. Thus, overdosing, or interactions between the medications, and other medications or even non-medications or environmental factors, can be a problem, sometimes a serious one. So, for any medication which you include in your kit, make SURE you also include the instructions which show dosage, interaction and contraindication information. Because this information often tends to be presented in “fine print”, a magnifier such as a credit card sized Fresnel lens is recommended to be included as well.

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Medications can be divided into “prescription” and “non-prescription” (OTC or Over The Counter). Prescription medicines are theoretically only available with a doctor's prescription, and are typically considered to be for specific situations, not first aid. If anyone the kit is supposed to cover has such an existing prescription, you may be able to get some for the kit, for instance a spare inhaler for an asthma sufferer. Ways to do this are by request to the prescribing doctor, or by filling the prescription a bit early each time, building up excess for the kit or possibly by getting them from outside the U.S. which some degree of risk (legality/quality/effectiveness). For more generic prescription meds, especially some general purpose antibiotics, you may be able to talk your doctor (but not your insurance company 🙂 into a prescription. Be prepared for a response of “But that is not medically indicated” with the rebuttal “NOTHING in a first aid kit is medically indicated…until it is”. If your doctor won't play ball, consider veterinary sources or even aquarium sources (some of the drugs for animals or fish are identical to those for humans).

OTC medications are commonly found in first aid kits. The most effective packaging for a first aid kit is individual packets, which tend to be more compact, encourage correct dosing, and protect unused portions from oxidation. Unfortunately, these are not often found at pharmacies and other general purpose stores who have some OTC medications. You can sometimes find them at truck stops or convenience stores or bathroom dispensers – at a huge markup. They should be available reasonably priced from first aid specialty shops and online first aid and medical supply sites. I got most of mine from eBay.


 This is an introduction to First Aid kits. In part 2, we will start populating the kit, with the most common and most widespread class of items; those for bandaging wounds.

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Want to know more? Check out these related articles:

3 Responses to :
Building a Target First Aid Kit: Part 1

  1. Alicia Addeo says:

    There is a newer book by Eric A. Weiss, MD : Adventure Medical Kits “Wilderness and Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide,” 4th edition, 2012. Another book is “Living Ready Pocket Guide: Fundamentals for Survival” by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H., The Survival Doctor.

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