What’s the Difference Between a First Aid Kit vs Trauma Kit?
First aid kits and trauma kits (also known as bleeding control kits) are two different kinds of first-response kits that laypeople can use in the case of an injury. Each of these kits has a different purpose and contains different tools and materials. Understanding the difference between a first aid kit vs trauma kit can help you choose the best kit for your home, institution, or workplace and use it to its full advantage.
Purpose of a First Aid Kit vs Trauma Kit
The main difference between a first aid kit and a trauma kit is that a first aid kit is designed for treating minor injuries while a trauma kit is designed for treating life-threatening injuries.
First Aid Kit
First aid kits are designed for responding to non-life-threatening injuries like bumps, bruises, scrapes, minor cuts, burns, and stings. For this reason, an individual first aid kit (IFAK) generally contains band-aids, gauze, triangular bandages, sting swaps, ointment, antiseptics, and analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications to keep a sick or injured person comfortable.
Medical Care Is Usually Not Required
The kinds of minor injuries that warrant a first aid kit usually don't require a doctor or hospital visit. After treating any small cuts, bruises, stings, or burns, the injured person can simply rest and return to their activities when they're feeling better.
Trauma kits—also known as bleeding kits—are designed for life-threatening injuries such as gunshot or stab wounds, amputations, or any other massive hemorrhage that could kill within minutes if not treated. To stop heavy bleeding, trauma kits contain tourniquets, pressure dressings, and sometimes hemostatic gauze and chest seals to prevent a severely injured patient from bleeding out before emergency medical services arrive.
Medical Care Is Still Required
Whereas the kinds of minor wounds that you'd treat with a first aid kit typically don't require medical care, the kinds of major bleeding that you would treat with a trauma kit always require medical care. Tourniquets should not be left on for longer than two hours and are only intended to stem the flow of blood from a wound until the victim can be transported to a hospital and treated by a medical professional.
Typical Contents of a Trauma Kit vs First Aid Kit
The difference between a trauma kit and first aid kit becomes immediately apparent when you compare the tools found in each kit.
Trauma Kit Contents List
Bleeding kits come in different versions and brands, but any good bleeding control kit will have a tourniquet that has been approved by the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (CoTCCC) or one that is equally as effective, along with pressure dressings, nitrile gloves, wound-packing gauze, and a permanent marker.
Our standard bleeding control kit, for example, contains:
- (1) x Tourniquet (SWAT-T™ or SAM XT or C-A-T®)
- (1) x 6" Emergency Trauma Dressing
- (2) x Compressed Wound Packing Gauze
- (1) x Stainless Steel Trauma Shears - 7.25"
- (2) x Pair Nitrile Responder Gloves, Large
- (1) x Survival Blanket W 51" x H 82"
- (1) x Permanent Marker, Small
- (1) x Instruction Card
- (1) x PVC Bleeding Control Patch
- (1) x Nylon Carrying Bag, Red
The intermediate kit comes with everything contained in the standard kit, plus two HyFin® Vent Compact Chest Seals for chest wounds that may have perforated the lungs. The premium kit contains everything in the basic and intermediate kits, plus one Quikclot® Bleeding Control Dressing Roll 3" x 4' with hemostatic agents in place of the compressed wound packing gauze. Hemostatic agents (contained in a hemostatic dressing) can help a wound clot in minutes.
First Aid Contents List
First aid kits are much more varied in their contents, ranging from purse-sized FAKs with band-aids, bandages, and alcohol wipes to backpack-sized kits designed for workplaces and field trips.
At a minimum, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stipulates that every workplace first aid kit include:
- Gauze pads (at least 4 x 4 inches)
- Two large gauze pads (at least 8 x 10 inches)
- Box adhesive bandages (band-aids)
- One package gauze roller bandage at least 2 inches wide
- Two triangular bandages
- Wound cleaning agent such as sealed moistened towelettes
- At least one blanket
- Adhesive tape
- Latex gloves
- Resuscitation equipment such as a CPR bag, airway, or pocket mask
- Two elastic wraps
- Directions for requesting emergency assistance
[59 FR 51672, Oct. 12, 1994; 60 FR 47022, Sept. 8, 1995]
In addition, many people choose to include medications like:
- Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (Advil)
- Analgesics like acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Cough and cold medications
As well as topicals including:
- Aloe vera gel
- Calamine lotion
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Petroleum jelly (Vaseline)
While it’s not always included, it's a good idea to carry a CPR pocket mask in your first aid kit or even on your keychain so that you're prepared to offer ventilation breaths without running the risk of infection.
Please note: If you’re not trained in rescue breaths, the American Heart Association recommends performing hands-only CPR.
A medical kit is different from both a first aid kit and a trauma kit. This kind of kit is designed for use by trained medical professionals and includes medical equipment like chest decompression needles, nasopharyngeal airways, and bag-valve masks for situations that require advanced techniques.
Do You Need Training to Use a First Aid Kit or Trauma Kit?
Many of the items in first aid kits can be used without training, such as band-aids and disinfectants. If you take a first aid class, you will learn things like how to apply a bandage, how to tie a sling, how to apply a splint, and how to dress bee stings and snake bites. Medical devices like tourniquets also require minimal training to apply correctly (though our tourniquets are all user-friendly enough to be operated by lay users).
Ideally, people who want to be prepared would take a first aid class that includes STOP THE BLEED® techniques. Additionally, educators and others who work with the public can benefit from training in automated external defibrillator use, anaphylaxis (including epinephrine auto-injector use), and asthma.
Should You Go With a First Aid Kit or a Trauma Kit?
The first aid kit vs trauma kit decision largely depends on the risks you and others face in your day-to-day life. If you're more likely to deal with "boo-boos," get a first aid kit. If there's even a possibility that you or someone else could face a major injury from a household accident, traffic accident, industrial equipment, a natural disaster, or a gunshot wound, you need a trauma kit.
Ideally, up-to-date first aid kits and trauma kits would be available and accessible to all people at all times. In fact, the state of California recently passed legislation to make trauma kits mandatory in new buildings. You never know when a disaster could strike.
Don't Risk a Life - Invest in Quality Medical Gear
Whichever kit you choose to buy (by now, we hope you'll have decided to get both a first aid kit and a trauma kit), it's essential to choose one that has quality, approved medical devices and dressings that actually work.
While you can save money by opting for a cheap kit online, it's worth spending a bit more to get a kit that will do what you need it to do in an emergency situation.