April 04, 2023
One of my favorite courses I attended during my time in the U.S. Army was the Combat Lifesaver Course (CLS). Of all the skills I learned throughout my enlistment, the CLS course is arguably the most practical for civilian life. The CLS course isn’t as in-depth as the training for a medic or even a first responder/EMS course, but we learned the basics to keep someone alive long enough for proper medial care. The CLS course revolves primarily around the individual first-aid kit, or IFAK, like the Blackhawk Foundation Series IFAK featured in this article.
IFAKs come in many different shapes and sizes, but I am a big fan of this Blackhawk Foundation Series IFAK for general civilian everyday carry (EDC). It’s compact enough to easily conceal, and it’s designed for rapid access in an emergency. Despite its size, I can pack the minimum medical essentials I consider necessary for an everyday carry IFAK. Before we get more into the Blackhawk IFAK, let’s break down some realistic scenarios why one might want to carry a compact IFAK on a normal day.
Individual First-Aid Kits
First, it’s important to remember the primary role of an IFAK, which is clearly stated in its description — Individual. An IFAK should be set up first and foremost for the individual carrying it. That’s not to say you should be stingy with your medical supplies if you come across someone in need. But, much like a drowning man pulling under the person trying to save him, you need to be able to take care of yourself before you can worry about helping others. Don’t confuse the role of an IFAK with a bigger medical kit set up to care for others.
An EDC IFAK is also going to be quite different from a combat IFAK. Those are generally bigger and designed to carry more medical supplies, and they’re not practical for concealed carry. It’s also highly unlikely you will face as extreme a situation as extended combat in civilian life, so it’s reasonable to sacrifice capacity for concealability and comfort for general everyday carry.
For those who conceal carry a pistol every day, like me, the first consideration for a compact IFAK is an injury during a defensive gunfight. There are countless situations where one can win a defensive fight but still become injured. Gunshot wounds are extremely traumatic, but provided one hasn’t been shot directly in the heart or brain, they can be surprisingly survivable with immediate medical care.
While a gunshot wound is often the first use-case scenario when I consider using my IFAK, it’s one of the most unlikely scenarios I’d face. As long as you’re not an active gang member, it is incredibly rare to be injured by gunshot in the U.S., despite what the media reports. What does happen every day are vehicle crashes, heavy machinery accidents, worksite accidents and dozens of other scenarios where one could face an injury that requires more than a basic first-aid kit. Even if you don’t carry a firearm for self-defense, a compact IFAK could still save your life in any number of situations.
IFAK Essentials and the ABCs
So, there are many reasons to carry a compact IFAK for everyday carry, but what should you put inside it? Since we are sacrificing some capacity for more concealability, you have to prioritize your supplies, and the primary deciding criteria is based on the ABCs — Airway, Breathing and Circulation.
As long as air can enter your lungs, you’re breathing properly and you don’t have excessive blood leaving your body, there is a solid chance you are currently alive. However one might be severely injured, if you can control the ABCs right away, then there is a high probability of survivability once you get to a doctor. Fortunately, it doesn’t really take many supplies to control the ABCs during a severe injury.
Let’s start with circulation. If you are operating a chainsaw, heavy equipment or are near anything that could sever an artery, you are a fool to do so without a good tourniquet. From combat and car crashed to loggers and construction sites, modern CAT tourniquets have saved many lives, and a minimum of two should be in your IFAK. Most experienced EMS personnel will tell you that if you need to apply one tourniquet, then it’s likely you will need to apply two. Even if you have severe bleeding on just one appendage, it can often take two tourniquets to properly stem the bleeding. Tourniquets can stay on for hours before you need to worry about permanent limb damage, so when it doubt, apply a tourniquet.
Tourniquets only work on limbs, though, so for severe bleeding elsewhere, quick-clot gauze is a must-have IFAK essential. As the name suggests, quick-clot gauze is infused with a clotting agent that quickly stems the flow of blood. Normally, I would also want an Israeli-style bandage, too, but they would eat a lot of room in a compact IFAK. A smaller trauma dressing like the 4-inch flat emergency trauma dressing from North American Rescue is a solid alternative.
If an airway is obstructed, then a nasopharyngeal airway kit is the first thing to grab from your IFAK. They usually come with a lubricant since it’s a plastic tube that is inserted through the nose and extends into the esophagus to provide a clear airway. Once an airway is clear, it’s also important to confirm proper breathing. With a vented chest seal dressing, a sucking chest wound is a very survivable injury.
Medically referred to as tension pneumothorax, a sucking chest wound occurs when one or both lungs have been punctured, preventing proper breathing. A chest seal covers the hole(s) and allows the lungs to fill with air. The vent on a modern chest seal can be pulled back to allow air to escape when necessary; no big, scary needle needed anymore! Most chest seal kits come with two seals in case of multiple punctures.
It’s a good idea to throw in a pair of rubber gloves in your size, too, but a list-form of the most-important IFAK essentials is as follows:
- CAT Tourniquet (2)
- Quick-clot gauze
- Flat trauma dressing
- Nasopharyngeal airway kit
- Vented chest seal dressing
How to Everyday Carry an IFAK
With the essentials ready to go, it’s time to consider how exactly to everyday carry an IFAK. The Blackhawk Foundation Series IFAK is low-profile with the medical gear positioned properly, and there are numerous straps and pockets to prevent the supplies from spilling out when opened. Consider what gear you might most need first (usually a tourniquet) and have it positioned to quickly grab first.
What makes the Blackhawk Foundation Series IFAK so appealing for EDC is that it is made up of two parts. The first part is the outer casing with built-in molle attachments that is designed to be securely attached to a belt. The IFAK itself sits inside the casing and is designed to be removed quickly in an emergency. A traditional IFAK is simply once piece and stays attached to wherever you decide to place it. This can make it more challenging to access, and it could be more challenging to see the specific piece of gear you need.
Since the Blackhawk IFAK can be removed so easily, it’s convenient to carry almost anywhere. The most important consideration is that you can access the kit with either hand if you are ever in a situation where you only have one hand to use. While this is a great kit to wear on a belt, it would also work well on the outside of a backpack. Many people consider it easier to carry a small EDC backpack, and it’s simple enough to attach the IFAK to the outside of the bag. It can be removed quickly in an emergency, with no need to dig around inside the bag.
That brings me to my only real complaint about this IFAK. Yes, it’s an individual first-aid kit, so you are the main person that needs to know about it. However, if you ever needed to direct someone else to grab it, there are no medical markings on the outer case or IFAK. It’s nice for concealability, but a subtle red cross or other medical marking would be good addition.
Finally, it’s worth noting that a great IFAK setup like this is worthless if you don’t know how to use it. Almost everyone has no issue spending big money on a new gun. Some people will also spend money on quality firearms training, but few take a basic trauma course. Yet, we are far more likely to be in an accident than we are ever to be in a gunfight. Whatever situation you find yourself in, a compact IFAK like the Blackhawk Foundation Series is a great asset to have, but take the time to learn how to use it!
About the Author
Jack Oller is a U.S. Army veteran, having served in the Military Police with one deployment to the Camp VI Detention Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has extensive firearms training from military and civilian schools and is a passoniate shotgun shooter and hunter. Jack has an English degree from Illinois State University, and he started his career in the outdoor industry as Associate Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine. After Gun & Ammo, he worked as Brand Manager for Crimson Trace and now is the Digital Editor for Firearms News.
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