IFAK: Individual First Aid Kits
by Warrior Publications, June 10, 2015
While updating and reorganizing some first aid kits around our house, I did some research on military-issued individual first aid kits (known as “IFAK” in the US military). These are specialized types of first aid kits and their primary role is to stop severe bleeding wounds, such as those inflicted by bullets or explosions. While this may not be of great interest to the average civilian, any one who uses firearms on a regular basis (such as hunters) should make note of these kits and their contents, for emergencies such as accidental shootings or discharges of firearms. I think they should also be of interest to people who live in remote rural or wilderness areas where it can be difficult for medical services to access. For example, a person could experience a severe bleeding injury while using axes or chainsaws for gathering firewood, etc. It’s also a good idea to get as much first aid training as you can, and to have a small first aid kit assembled and ready to go in your vehicle, pack, etc.
When I was active in the Canadian Forces reserves many years ago, we weren’t issued first aid kits. We did receive basic first aid training, but the only piece of medical equipment we were issued was called a “field dressing”, also known as a pressure bandage. This was a large, thick gauze pad (a dressing) with two ties that extended from it which were used to wrap around the affected body part and secure the pad to the wound. Like the modern day IFAKs, the field dressing was intended for severe bleeding wounds. Canadian soldiers carried the field dressing taped on the non-shooting shoulder strap of their web gear (so for a right handed person, the dressing was attached to the left shoulder strap). The US military also issued a field dressing that was carried in its own small pouch, also on the shoulder strap of their web gear.
Field dressings can still be purchased today in military surplus stores or through on-line distributors. A civilian version of a field dressing is the abdominal bandage. There are also modernized field dressings known as trauma or emergency bandages (see below). Improvised field dressings can be made using a triangular bandage and gauze dressings, or any clean cloth that is available.
US Army IFAK
With the invasion and occupation of Iraq, beginning in 2003, the US military quickly fielded the first Individual First Aid Kit, which was comprised of the following pieces:
- 1 Tourniquet
- 1 Elastic bandage kit (this is similar to a field dressing)
- 1 Bandage GA4-1/2” 100’s
- 1 Surgical adhesive tape
- 1 Nasopharyngeal airway kit
- 4 Surgical gloves
- 1 Combat gauze dressing
An important feature of this kit is the tourniquet, which has been used for hundreds of years to stop severe bleeding on limbs, but became a questionable technique after World War 2. Today, tourniquets are credited with saving the lives and limbs of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan (I plan on posting another article on tourniquets soon). Many military forces now issue tourniquets.
The contents of this IFAK were all stuffed inside a modified squad automatic weapon (SAW) 100 round magazine pouch. Over 900,000 of these kits were eventually issued. This first version of the IFAK was later replaced by the Improved First Aid Kit (also referred to as an IFAK).
US Marine Corps IFAK
At around the same time as the US Army was issuing its IFAK, the US Marine Corps and US Navy developed and began issuing its own version of an IFAK, and by 2004 it was standard issue to every Marine as part of their basic equipment. This IFAK was comprised of two modules, a trauma kit and a minor first aid kit, which were carried in a pouch.
The Trauma Kit, issued in a vacuum sealed bag, includes these components:
- Bandage, Elastic, (2 EA) (field dressings)
- Bandage, Gauze, (2 Rolls)
- Tourni-Kwik Tourniquet, One Handed, (1 EA)
- Wound Pack (QuikClot), Hemostatic Treatment, (1 EA)
The Minor First Aid Kit includes these components:
- Bandage, Adhesive ¾” x 3″, (10 EA)
- Dressing, Burn 4″ x 16″, (1 EA)
- Povidone-Iodine Topical Solution. USP. 10% 1/2 Fl. Oz. Bt, (1 Bottle)
- Water Purification Tablet, Iodine 8 mg., (1 Bottle)
- Triangular Bandages 40″ x 40″ x 56″, (1 EA)
- Bandage, Adhesive 2″ X 4.5″, (5 EA)
US Army IFAK (Improved First Aid Kit)
This kit replaced the first US Army IFAK. It came in a pouch with a folding insert that must be pulled out and is attached to the pouch with a lanyard. The insert holds the following items:
- Tourniquet, Combat Application (CAT, Combat Application Tourniquet)
- Bandage Kit, Elastic
- Bandage Gauze 4-1/2″ 100/Pkg
- Adhesive Tape Surg 2″ 6’s Roll
- Airway, Nasopharyngeal, 28fr, 12s
- Glove, Patient Exam 100/Pkg (4ea)
- Pouch, IFAK
Here is an excerpt from a 2006 article promoting the Improved FAK and giving details on some of the components:
The Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT):
“The Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT) is one of the most valuable life-saving tools in the pouch, said Hayes, who also trains instructors at semi-annual Medical Skills Validation Trainer Training. Hayes advises Soldiers to remove the plastic wrapping from the tourniquet. Removing the plastic allows for quicker access and gives Soldiers the chance to practice slipping on the tourniquet.
“The CAT tourniquet, because it’s so important, should remain outside of the packet so that it’s ready to go,” Hayes said.
“After removing the plastic, make sure to keep the tourniquet inside the pouch because dirt can wear down the Velcro and make it ineffective, said Sgt. Scott Stewart, a CLS instructor at the Jameson Combat Medical Training Center.
“The Nasal Pharyngeal Airway (NPA):
“The NPA replaces the oral pharyngeal, or J-tube. Like the J-tube, the NPA is inserted to keep the airway open. Unlike the J-tube, it is inserted through the nose to avoid triggering the troublesome gag reflex.
“Before inserting the tube, Soldiers must make sure the length of the NPA matches the length from the corner of the casualty’s nose to the bottom tip of the casualty’s ear and that the diameter of the tube is no larger than the casualty’s pinky finger. If surgical lubrication is available, it helps for inserting the tube. The tube should be inserted with the angled hole pointed towards the septum of the nose. The person giving aid should stop inserting the tube if there is resistance.
“Trauma bandage or “Israeli dressing”:
“The trauma bandage replaces the field dressing found in old first aid pouches. The main purpose of the trauma bandage is to serve as a pressure dressing. It can also be used for a “tourniquet-like effect” to slow blood circulation, though Hayes emphasizes that Soldiers should use a CAT as a first choice if a tourniquet is needed. Unlike the CAT, it must be kept inside the package to keep it clean. Directions on how to use the bandage can be found on the back of the package.
“I think it’s a big improvement from the field dressing,” Stewart said about the trauma bandage.
“The kit also contains a bag of compressed gauze, a role of surgical tape and a standard pair of sanitary gloves.
“Each kit is designed to treat only one Soldier, so it is recommended that Soldiers keep it accessible, especially when going off post, said Spc. Alfrado Varela, a CLS instructor at the Jameson CMTC. Varela recommends that Soldiers keep it attached to their Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) at all times.”
(From “The Improved First Aid Kit — more than a field dressing,” by Spc. Spencer Case, 207th MPAD, Anaconda Times, March 2006)
The Improved IFAK was later replaced by the newer IFAK 2.
US Army IFAK 2
The US Army began issuing the Improved First Aid Kit 2 (or II) in early 2014. It consists of a pouch with two openings on either side, into which an insert is placed. Like the previous IFAK, the insert is connected to the carry pouch by a lanyard. The IFAK II is to be worn on the lower back, where US soldiers typically carry less gear, and can be opened with either hand.
The IFAK II contains the same contents as the Improved FAK, with the addition of a second tourniquet, a tactical combat casualty card (to note what kind of first aid was applied to a wounded soldier), a mini-Sharpie marker, an eye shield, a rubber seal with a valve for sucking chest wounds, and a strap cutter.
Other Military First Aid Kits
The British military issue a similar medical pouch as the IFAK, with a folding insert carried inside a zippered pouch. The Canadian military has also begun issuing first aid kits, at this time apparently contained in a medical pouch produced by Tactical Tailor.
Posted on June 10, 2015, in Gear Reviews, Warrior Fieldcraft and tagged combat application tourniquet, field dressing, First Aid Kit, IFAK, IFAK 2, Improved First Aid Kit, Individiual First Aid Kit, israeli bandage, tourniquet. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.