Must-Haves for Your First-Aid Kit

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A first-aid kit and supplies.

First-aid kits are nothing new. They go back over 100 years to when, as the story goes, Robert Wood Johnson debuted the first-aid cabinet in 1888.(1)

First-aid kits have changed over the years, but they are as useful as ever. They make it possible for ordinary people to be the help until professional help arrives. You don’t need a special certification to provide first aid, but you do need the right supplies and education.

First-aid kit checklist

Kate Elkins is an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and 911 specialist in the Office of EMS and the National 911 Program. An active paramedic, Elkins also responds to 911 calls and serves as a medical specialist with Maryland Task Force 1, a FEMA urban search and rescue team.

First-hand experience has shown her how important having a well-stocked and maintained first-aid kit can be. “There are certain things you need to have at hand in the moment. In a crisis, you’re not going to have time to go to the store to get what you need,” Elkins points out.

The American Red Cross suggests that a first-aid kit for a family of four include the following items:

  • A first-aid guide
  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 emergency blanket
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets
  • 1 3-inch gauze roll (roller) bandage
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 3 x 3-inch sterile gauze pads
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • A thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers

Supplement basic items with personal needs and bleeding-control essentials. Things like a commercial tourniquet, bandages, and a felt-tipped pen. Take bleeding-control training to use such and prepare for a bleeding emergency.

Remove, throw away, or use and replace any supplies before they expire. Set a calendar reminder on your smartphone to update the supplies in your kit every six months and/or as the healthcare needs of your family change.

Customize your kit

Think about the healthcare needs of your family when putting together a first-aid kit. For example:

  • If you have a family member with a severe allergy, include antihistamine medicine and an epinephrine injector.
  • If you have elderly family members with fragile skin, including a roll of paper tape can be useful for protecting delicate skin.
  • If you or a family member lives with diabetes, include a juice box, glucose tablets and gels, and an emergency glucagon injection kit.
  • Chewable, baby aspirin might help someone who has coronary artery disease, provided the person is not allergic to aspirin.

Elkins also suggests attaching a note to your kit with instructions on where to find other items around the house and how to act in specific emergencies. For example, you can use a note to remind you where sugary drinks and foods are kept in case of a diabetic emergency.

A person who is using a first-aid kit in an emergency might need to call 911 for assistance. Having the home or office address written on the outside of the kit itself can give users a handy location reference for 911 operators.

First aid as practical skill

A first-aid kit is a tool, but any tool is only as good as the person using it.

First-aid kits are one place where personal needs and practical skills come together. There are ways to prepare for emergencies that have nothing to do with collecting supplies. This includes learning practical skills that you can use to protect yourself and others.

Many practical skills are easy to learn. Some require special certification or formal training. Others just education. Practical skills include learning how to:

Family, friends, coworkers, and bystanders—not first responders—are often first on the scene in a medical emergency. Elkins has seen this many times in the field. “One time, we had a patient who had a very bad accident with a circular saw,” she recalls. “There was a lot of blood on the floor. The patient’s coworker, who had no formal training, put all his body weight on the wound and used it to slow the bleeding. He yelled for help until others came and called 911. He saved his coworker’s life because he made the right decision and took action.”

You can take action today. “You Are the Help Until Help Arrives” and “Stop the Bleed” are examples of training that teach you how to provide first care. A good first-aid kit and the practical skill to use it can help you save someone’s life.

Learn more ways to prepare your health for emergencies on the CDC website.



  1. Johnson & Johnson First-Aid Kit History
  2. American Heart Association Aspirin Guidance


Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

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12 comments on “Must-Haves for Your First-Aid Kit”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    This is a very useful list — It would be even more useful if there was a print-friendly version to download and share with family and friends.

    Importantly, emergencies last more than a day or two. One might need to have diarrhea medication, meds to stop bleeding (topicals) liquid bandage…something to move the bowels for over taxed people… it seems like the kit by the EMC mostly describes needs for cuts in a first aid kit… there may be shock, dehydration and other conditions of prolonged exposure and lack of professional help that might be included. I live in Hawaii, they tell us be prepared for 14 days with no emergency services…. that is profound.

    The creation of a first-aid kit and ensuring that the right contents are inside may be the difference in saving someone’s life. As a nurse, I like to believe that I would be able to treat minor cuts and wounds with the first aid kit that I have in my home, but due to not replacing key items, I was unable to do so and had to utilize makeshift materials until I was able to drive to a nearby pharmacy. The article mentions replacing any supplies that are used or expired and that is one tip I would caution to listen to. I believe that it is always better to have a fully prepared and ready first aid kit in case of any home emergency. The personalization of the first aid kit and adding your home address are also great ideas. The article mentions that family, coworkers, friends, and public bystanders are often the first on a scene during a medical emergency and that is even more reason that everyone should have basic first aid knowledge. In addition to the great tips mentioned, I would also advise ensuring that everyone in the household knows the location of the first-aid kit, how to use the contents within it, and when to call emergency services.

    As a registered nurse, I found this blog to have very useful information regarding what an at-home emergency kit should be equipped with. Emergencies happen all the time and more often than not, it is family or friends who are witness to accident or injuries in the home. What impressed me the most about this blog was the customizing of the emergency at-home kit. This is particularly useful if someone in the home suffers from a chronic disease such as diabetes. It is good to have sugary snacks, or even an orange juice box in the kit. My daughter has epilepsy and in our emergency kit at home, I have dissolvable clonazepam prescribed by her neurologist and extra doses of her current antiepileptic medication. I absolutely agree that everyone should consider taking a CPR class. We always hope we never encounter an emergency with our loved ones at home, however, we should all take the time to be as prepared as possible in order to facilitate a positive outcome in the event of such emergency.

    I found the information in this blog very helpful and informative. As a former medic and current nurse, I would add that the first aid kit should reflect the location and activities it will be most frequently utilized for. If the activity warrants it, the kit should include items such as sunscreen or poison ivy treatments if a lot of time will be spent outdoors in the sun. A first aid kit carried on a hiking trip should include some ace wrap and oral analgesic in case of a sprain or joint injury. Specific medical needs of those utilizing the kit should also be taken into account, items such as a rescue inhaler or glucose gel may be included to support specific medical needs. The kit should also include a source of light such as a small self-powered flashlight or glow sticks. The first aid kit should be able to support a broad variety of common ailments or injuries and also meet the specific needs of those carrying it. The kit can vary from small and basic for a short trip to the beach or day hike to very advanced and specific for a multiday hike in a remote location. Just remember to familiarize yourself with the kit and what is in it. You should also know how to properly utilize everything the kit contains.

    I keep a list of contents and the quantity of each item in my first aid kit. I use the list to inventory the kit on the firth day of each month. I list every medical instrument, bandage, dressing, and miscellaneous item. I list every medicine and what it is used for. I keep a list of emergency phone numbers and a list of family members with their medical problems and allergies in my first aid kit

    PLEASE post this as a PDF or printer friendly form. Pictures not needed.
    This is information I would like to keep with my first aid kit.

    I sincerely thank you and all the comments given. I have been wanting to have a first aid kit for home/auto/hiking but have never been happy with what I find as pre-packaged.
    This is a huge help for me! Now I can make my own, and the inventory list was a smart idea!!!

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Page last reviewed: May 13, 2021
Page last updated: May 13, 2021