4 basic first-aid skills every prepper needs

October 07, 2015

As a beginner prepper in an urban environment, getting our food and water supplies going first is an important first step. The next step is getting our medical preparations started.

Medical and urban prepping

In a disaster (or even in just daily life), having basic medical supplies and the skills and knowledge to deal with a life-threatening injury could mean the difference between someone surviving and not. In an event that would cripple your area’s infrastructure (i.e. earthquake, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.), the immediate result would almost certainly mean loss of life and injuries. In catastrophes of this magnitude, the first responders will be focused on helping the largest amount of people first (schools, malls, theaters, etc.). In the first few weeks, emergency personnel will be stretched thin meaning you probably won’t be able get immediate help when dialing 911 if you are or family members are injured or if someone is attempting to harm you (more on this later). Knowing basic first-aid and having the right tools to stabilize an injured person to get them to a hospital is critical.

In addition to the tools and skills outlined below, it would be a great idea for you to get some solid training either through your local Red Cross or getting involved with other programs offered in your community (i.e. C.E.R.T. training).

It’s easy when starting to prep to focus on obtaining tools and gadgets, but having a basic level of keeping someone alive is a critical skill.

4 basic first-aid skills needed

Stabilizing an injured individual in those first few minutes or hours of injury buys them time in order to get them professional help.

Below are the bare minimum first-aid skills every prepper should learn.

1. Be able to establish an open airway and confirm a heartbeat

If someone isn’t breathing, we’ve got big problems. The typical person can’t live without 3 minutes of air. Establishing an open air way is the first and most important step if you are treating an unconscious victim.

Establishing an open airway

The first step is to check the unconscious person to make sure their airway is open by using a simple chin lift. Below is a quick and simple video explaining this technique.


Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR is a technique used for getting the blood flowing to deliver oxygen to the brain and organs. It’s a simple technique that gives a victim a fighting chance until an A.E.D. can be used or until an ambulance arrives.

Get into a local class if at all possible at your local Red Cross to learn CPR. Click here to find a class in your local area to get signed up. Having just taken the class recently, it was well worth spending a day learning how to keep someone alive.

Don’t have time to take a class? At least know the basics. This simple 2 minute video can teach you the foundations, but should not be a substitute for getting certified in CPR.

2. Stopping bleeding

Minor cuts

Typically these can be controlled by applying pressure for 10 minutes and bandaging the cut giving your body time to form clots. Be sure to clean the wound with running water and ensure you’re using fresh bandages/band-aids/gauzes to wrap the wound. Proper hygiene when dealing with a cut or scrape can ensure that a simple cut doesn’t develop into something worse. If the wound is fairly small (i.e. not requiring stitches or a trip to the hospital) using a simple topical antibiotic like Neosporin will help to prevent the cut from getting infected.

The following video gives you a quick overview of dealing with bleeding.

Trauma involving heavy bleeding

If the bleeding is more than a small cut, a more aggressive approach may be needed. The sight of blood can often shock people (both the person cut and the person helping), so be aware of this going into the situation if you’re going to be administering first-aid.

The following video gives you sufficient information for dealing with heavy bleeding:

In the case of heavy bleeding that is not stopped by applying pressure and a bandage, you should have some additional tools in your kit to handle more severe trauma until either you can get to a physician or an ambulance arrives. I carry all 3 of these tools in my first-aid kit at all times.

  • Tourniquet: (a belt can work as well). One thing to note about a tourniquet: after applying a tourniquet, make sure you mark down the time when it is applied as the doctor will need to know this. The typical time frame you want to apply this may range from 1 to 3 hours, but there have been cases of soldiers in Iraq leaving them on as long as 6 hours. While it’s not advised to leave these on for long periods of time, if it means saving my life, I’d take living over loosing a limb.
  • Quick-clot: this has been used by soldiers that have been shot or received severe wounds causing them to bleed out. It helps the bleeding to clot up and has proven to be highly effective not only in gut shot wounds but other forms of trauma involving heavy bleeding.
  • Israeli bandage: carried by many EMTs here in the U.S., these are battlefield tested by the Israeli military and serve as both a tourniquet and a bandage to stop severe bleeding.

3. Treating shock

Shock is a condition resulting in inadequate oxygen to the body’s tissues and major organs and will accompany illness or injury to some degree. Shock can cause damage to the body if not properly treated.

Shock may be caused by:

  • loss of body fluids
  • damage to the heart
  • standing still for too long
  • sudden emotional shock
  • fear
  • pain
  • unpleasant experience (i.e. seeing Rebecca Black singing “Friday”)

How to treat shock

Lay a person down and elevate their feet to increase blood flow to their heart. While waiting for an ambulance or if you’re having to transport the person to a hospital, try and keep the person calm as stress and anxiety can worsen the condition. During this time keep the person warm and reassure them they’ll be fine, but do not give them food or water. Loosen any tight clothing to help increase blood flow to the vital organs.

4. Handle broken bones

When a broken bone occurs, the first goal is to immobilize the broken bone. You can do this with either an available splint or you can improvise with almost anything stiff and rigid like a board, a pole, a yard sign, etc. Once you apply the brace/splint to the broken joint, you will want to wrap the splint to keep the broken joint from moving.

You can also use a triangular bandage to create a sling for a broken arm.

Building a First-aid kit

You can pick up a first aid kit at your local Walmart, online or easily build your own kit.

If you choose to go the do-it-yourself route, here’s some items you’ll probably want to pick up. These first 4 are not in your typical first aid kit, but they’re definitely high priority items for my first aid kit to help deal with severe injuries beyond basic cuts.

  • Tourniquet: (a belt can work as well)
  • Quick-clot
  • Israeli bandage
  • SAM Splint (for broken bones)
  • Band-aids (assorted sizes)
  • Rolls of gauze
  • Triangular bandage
  • Scissors
  • Laxatives
  • Vasoline
  • Silk tape
  • Tweezers
  • Suture and thread
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Rash cream
  • Allergy tablets
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Latex gloves
  • Burn ointment
  • Thermometer – traditional, not electroni
  • Superglue (this can be used to hold a cut together in place of stitches)
  • Aspirin
  • Prescription medication
  • Antibiotic spray/cream
  • Antacids
  • Anti-diarrhea meds

As you read over the list of things to buy above, don’t get overwhelmed. The challenge most people face when starting to prep is to be overwhelmed with the sheer amount of “things” they feel they need to get. Don’t let this happen to you. Pace yourself and budget. I didn’t get all my tools at one time and am still working on building out my first-aid kit even to this day. I set aside a certain amount of money each month and when the finances are available, I pick up the next item. Create a list and prioritize…you’ll get there.

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1 year ago

I really appreciated this refresher in first aid. I took a WFR course, but it has been at least three years. Without review, I had forgotten some of the smaller details that the videos helped to refresh. Thanks!


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