IFAK 101: The Complete Guide to IFAK's

IFAK

What is an IFAK? 

So what is an IFAK? Well, IFAK’s are trauma or first aid kits.

The term IFAK might come off sounding fancy or technical, but IFAK is actually the acronym for individual first aid kit (or improved first aid kit). 

When the individual first aid kits were first integrated by the US military (and militaries around the world) they included mostly basic first aid supplies to cover the most deadly injuries obtained by soldiers. Wich are massive hemorrhages, airways, and respirations. 

Nowadays thanks to the massive military integration of IFAK’s they have been widely adopted by the civilian and paramilitary world.

Because of that the individual first aid kit has evolved from the classic first aid kit to more of a mini trauma kit.

They are still focused on the basic MAR (Massive Hemorrhage, Airway, Respirations) but the average IFAK’s content has doubled in size and variation. 

Why Should You Carry An IFAK? 

The answer to this question is actually quite simple, having an IFAK on you or nearby can save your or somebody else’s life.

Tactical situations can be quite dangerous and hazardous. You never know what can go wrong or what can happen.

From small scratches and cuts to life-threatening wounds. Accidents happen, even in our everyday lives, not to mention shooting ranges, training exercises or on the battlefield. 

How To Use an IFAK 

You don’t have to be a medical professional to use an IFAK. But it does require some basic medical or first aid training and knowledge.

You should never jump over your head too much when it comes to giving first aid. Because if you don’t know what you are doing you can cause a lot more harm than good.

So before using any medical equipment you should familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques and get some first aid training. 

The first step using an individual first aid kit is to familiarize yourself with everything that is in your IFAK pouch. You should know exactly what and where you have and how to use it.

Fumbling through your med kit searching for something is really stressful. And costs valuable time. The time you could be used to deal with the critical situation at hand.

Practice using the individual first aid kit and its contents. For example, you should practice using your tourniquet (on yourself and on others) 

IFAK Contents 

Although I mentioned earlier that the IFAK has evolved from a first aid kit to a trauma kit, in its core it should still mainly contain your essential life-saving supplies (bleeding control, airways and so on.)

Of course, you can (and should) add more minor medical supplies to your IFAK kit. So you would have something handy for minor medical issues.

Without treatment even the most minor medical issues can grow into bigger ones (cuts and bruises can get infected) easily), or just cause you a lot of inconveniences. (it’s not fun to run around with a helmet when you have a small migraine) 

Keep in mind that the contents of your IFAK should match your level of medical/ first aid training 

The basic IFAK should contain the following: 

  • Tourniquet 
  • Wound Dressing 
  • Gloves 
  • Trauma Sheers 
  • Hemostatic Agent 
  • Chest Seal 
  • Burn Gel 
  • Bandages, Medical Tape/ Wound Patches 
  • First Aid Guide/ MIST 
  • Other 

Tourniquet 

A tourniquet is one of the most important pieces of medical equipment in an IFAK. They are fast and effective tools to stop massive bleeds.

Tourniquets themselves are devices that stop blood flow by applying pressure on the bleeding limb. ‘

The tactical tourniquets consist of a strong loop and a windlass to apply pressure to the target area. 

Trauma Wound Dressing 

The trauma wound dressing is your number one tool/ medical supply to use to stop larger bleeds.

Trauma wound dressings are heavy-duty wound dressing that help you apply extra pressure on the wound.

The most common type of wound dressing used in the army is the Israeli wound dressing.

Gloves 

Medical sterile gloves are necessary to protect yourself against possible contagious diseases the patient might have.

They also protect the so-called patient, from possible infections they might get from the dirt and other particulates on your hands. 

Trauma Shears 

Having a pair of trauma shears in your IFAK can make your life a lot easier and at the same time can speed up your first aid process.

They are great for cutting through clothes and other things that might interfere with accessing wounds. And it’s great to have a tool for cutting bandages and etc. 

Hemostatic Agent 

The purpose of hemostatic agents is to stop bleeding and do it fast. They do this by causing rapid blood clotting.

There are a few different types like powdered form, sponges and gauzes.

Although effective at stopping bleeds, there is some controversy on using them. Because they tend to be very hard to clean afterward (especially the powders). 

Chest Seal 

Sucking chest wounds are some of the most common traumatic injuries. They are quite serious and can be real killers.

A sucking chest wound is a wound that creates a new airway into a lung. Forcing more extra air into a lung.

A Chest seal is used to seal the wound/ hole, so extra air can’t get in, but the air in your lungs can escape through it. 

Burn Gel 

Burns are some of the most common minor injuries and quite easy and common to come.

Even small burns without treatment can lead to more serious problems. And they can be a real nightmare to have.

So having something to ease the pain and deal with the burnt area is a great idea. 

Bandages, Medical Tape/ Wound Patches 

Not all wounds are life-threatening. Smaller bruises and cuts are easy to come on the field. Left unattended, they can be quite irritating. 

It’s a good idea to have something like smaller bandages or patches to cover them up.

And of course, if necessary medical tape and extra bandages can come quite handy when dealing with more serious injuries as well. 

First Aid Guide and a MIST 

It’s mandatory in many military units to have a first aid guide and a mist report in your med pouch or IFAK. 

A small first aid guide or a reminder sheet can go a long way. In critical and stressful situations we tend to start forgetting things and we start to focus on the wrong things.

For example, a first aid ABC reminder would be a simple and effective tool to keep you on track. 

A MIST or MIST report is a verbal report used by the military and first responders (and emergency medical professionals alike). It’s a good and simple way to pass on the essential medical information about the patient at hand. 

MIST stands for : 

  • M – Mechanism of injury (what has happened, how the injuries where received) 
  • I – Injuries (what type of injury the patient has) 
  • S – Signs or symptoms ( symptoms, pulse, heartbeat and so on) 
  • T – Treatment given (what treatment the patient has received) 

The idea behind keeping a MIST report in your IFAK is that it would simplify passing on information about the patient to medical personnel.

Other Supplies To Consider 

So when you got all of your essentials and potentially lifesaving supplies all packed in your IFAK, you should start thinking about what else you might need. (and could fit in the IFAK pouch)

Think about the minor stuff you might want to include in the pouch. Things that might not quite be at the life-saving level, but more on the personal comfort level. 

So here’s a small list of things to consider : 

  • Painkillers/ aspirin/ ibuprofen 
  • Bug bite relief 
  • Foldable thermal blanket 
  • Extra wound patches 
  • Antiseptic spray 
  • Alcohol wipes 
  • Lip balm 
  • Duck tape 
  • Foldable triangle cloth 
  • Sterile cloth 
  • And so on… 

IFAK Pouch 

Choosing the right pouch can make a big difference. Different pouches have different properties, different pros, and cons.

There are plenty of different pouch types to choose from. But in general, the type and size of your IFAK pouch depend a lot on what and how many supplies you have to carry. It depends also on where you plan to carry one and on the user’s personal preferences. 

I would categorize IFAK pouches into two separate categories: rip off pouches and stationary pouches. 

Rip Off Pouches 

Rip off (or rip away) pouches are pouches you can literally rip or pull off your gear when you need to use them.

They are mounted on your gear by either some sort of special fast pull clips or a separate panel.


For example, the condor rip away EMT pouch uses a velcro panel that is attached to your gear by molle loops. The pouch itself is attached to it by the velcro. It has an extra strap to fasten and secure the pouch on the panel. 

These kinds of pouches are good for a few reasons. If you ever need to use one, you don’t have to fumble around blind in your pouch to find supplies.

You can just bring the pouch in front of you and pick whatever you need from it. It makes using your IFAK a lot quicker and more effective. 

Stationary Pouches 

Stationary pouches are great for larger IFAK/ Medkits and for carrying them in our backpack or range bag.

When using a stationary pouch on your gear (plate carrier, etc) for your IFAK, it should be placed somewhere where you can see it. Otherwise, it will be rather difficult to use. 

Where To Carry an IFAK 

We have gone through what an IFAK is, the contents of the individual first aid kit and the IFAK pouch basics. Now let’s look at where to carry one. 

There are multiple options when it comes to carrying your individual first aid kit. (or kits). But let’s look at some basics to consider here first.

You should always have an IFAK ready and on you (or in close proximity of you) whenever you need one. You don’t have the time to go looking for one when the need for it arises.

The IFAK should be always carried somewhere, where its easy to reach/ access. (for you, and someone else). You should be able to access your IFAK with both hands.

And your IFAK should be marked, if possible (a red cross or something alike), so when someone needs to give you first aid, they could easily identify the first aid kit. 

There is no one best place to carry an IFAK, neither is there a strict rule of carrying here. You should just carry the kit on the gear you use most. This way you will ensure you always have it on you. 

Here are a few good places to carry one: 

  • Battle belt 
  • Plate carrier 
  • backpack 
  • On you 

I carry a few different IFAKs on me. I tend to have a complete IFAK on my battle belt and a few simplified or more basic IFAK/ medkits in separate locations.

For example, when on duty I have a simple first aid pack in my uniform pants side pocket at all times. It contains my unit’s mandatory medical supplies: a tourniquet, compression wound dressing, a foldable sterile cloth sheet, a MIST report form, and a small first-aid instruction sheet.

On my plate carrier, I have a smaller IFAK pouch and an extra tourniquet.

And finally, a more personalized med pouch in my backpack, which includes more minor medical supplies like different kinds of medications and bandages. 

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