A common question that family medics ask of me is “how much”? Indeed, the state of the world is making people more and more uneasy, and many casual preppers are now becoming more serious about their preparations. This means a real inventory of medical items they currently have, and what else would be useful if the you-know-what hits the fan.
The grand majority of prepared folk have non-perishable food in storage and some means of defense, but are woefully short on medical supplies. I would guess that, regardless of your level of preparedness, you could probably improve on your medical stockpile. Of course, it would be terrific if everyone had unlimited funds and the space to put together their own field hospital. Reality is cruel, however, and we must concentrate on the most important items. But what are they?
Well, that depends on the specific situation you consider most likely to take society over the edge. Many people are now concerned about the situation in Ukraine. The idea of tactical nuclear weapon deployment is becoming less hard to believe as hostilities continue. If such an event occurred, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a war involving some kind of nuclear exchange could occur. Recently, one Russian strategist even floated the idea of setting off a nuclear bomb in the Yellowstone caldera!
This scenario has specific challenges that will confront the survival medic: Massive trauma, burns, crush injuries, and radiation sickness are just some. Add to that the likelihood of mass casualties. Indeed, more than one member of your family and group may be injured or ill in such an event. A large number of supplies similar to what you’ll find in the contents of this large backpack kit would be required to deal with multiple casualties at once.
The supplies you’ll need aren’t just trauma-related. Outside of the nuclear destruction scenario, there are various natural disasters that can overwhelm the existing medical resources. Even a massive solar flare may knock out power in your area for the long term. If that’s the case, water treatment failures and lack of refrigeration may lead to food contamination. Without significant stockpiles of materials to disinfect water, properly cook food, and maintain good sanitation, you can expect the return of many epidemic diseases of the past, like cholera. Antibiotics and other medications like loperamide will be very useful in these circumstances.
Many medical kit makers claim that their products can handle the needs of a specific number of people (“enough supplies for 25 people!”). Others claim that the supplies within will suffice for a group’s medical needs for a period of two, three, or five years. This is, of course, absolutely impossible to gauge with any accuracy.
For example, take the example of an injury with severe bleeding. Let’s say a liter or two of blood has spurted out of a torn femoral artery before you could stop the hemorrhage. I would bet it would take all the dressings you had in your storage to absorb that amount of blood from the wound. That means you’ll need more commercially-made or improvised dressings than you currently have at hand to function as the medic for more than that one incident. Better than that, you might consider the expensive but more effective blood-clotting items like QuikClot, Celox, and Chitosam, which can stop severe hemorrhaging in three minutes.
If your family’s camp is near a group of armed hostiles, your people will be more at risk for these kinds of injuries. You’ll certainly need much more in quantity and variety of items like bandages, tourniquets, and blood-clotting dressings than if you lived on top of a mountain with no other humans around for 25 miles.
So, in reality, no medical kit should be advertised as being sufficient for 25, 50, or any other number of people. One major disaster or hostile encounter can wipe out the contents in one day.
What a medical kit can “handle” also depends greatly on the specific family or group, the demographics of its members, and how perilous the conditions are. Even in decent off-grid scenarios, survivors will get injured performing acts of daily survival to which they’re not accustomed. Let’s take chopping wood for fuel as an example. If your survival group is composed of lumberjacks from the Great Northwest, you’ll probably end up with fewer injuries than if you handed axes to a group of accountants. How about the simple transport of water to base camp? If your group consists of 28-year-old ex-marines, you’ll likely have less problems lugging 5-gallon buckets from a water source than if you assigned the task to your grandmother and eight-year-old niece.
Therefore, the amount, variety, and longevity of medical supplies depends so much on the situation that it’s simply impossible to guarantee that this or that amount is enough. The best medics can do is to accumulate as much as their financial resources and storage space can accommodate. If there is such a thing as surplus medical supplies, they will make great barter items (something we’ll talk about in the near future).
Obtaining these materials isn’t something that must be done all at once. Dedicate a small amount of money to buy items every month or work in some time regularly to improvise, say, bandages from old sheets.
You should not feel that the more advanced supply lists are your responsibility to accumulate alone. Your entire group should (under the medic’s coordination) contribute to stockpiling medical stores over time. The accumulation of medical knowledge is even more important: Your members should be working to learn how to stop bleeding, wrap orthopedic injuries, and care for those bedridden with infections and other medical illnesses. If you have these skills, start teaching!
The responsibilities of the survival medic may seem daunting, but with diligence, study, and supplies, you’ll have a better chance to keep it together, even if everything else falls apart.
Joe Alton MD
Check out our Stomp Supreme to get an idea of what the serious medic might need in a long-term off-grid scenario without hope of medevac, plus our other kits, many one-of-a-kind, at store.doomandbloom.net. Learn about the medical supplies you’ll need in times or trouble and 200 other medical topics in disaster settings in the award-winning 4th edition of The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide For When Help Is NOT On The Way...