Improvised first aid items

posted in: Survival Articles 3

Good first aid skills and supplies are a real cornerstone of prepping, and essential for anyone involved in higher-risk outdoor activities where you may be far away from immediate help. So it’s always good to have a decent first aid kit and the knowledge of how to use it.

However, as much as we prepare, life can throw unexpected situations at us and perhaps a minor injury, or an unfortunate medical emergency has arisen and you are without your first aid kit. Here we will explore some every day items that could possibly be pressed into first aid action!


We don’t actually recommend using these techniques as they are based on anecdotal evidence and not clinically proven, they are merely here for thought and to open people’s minds to resourcefulness in an emergency. We do however fully recommend carrying comprehensive, CE-marked first aid supplies as often as possible, and gaining the knowledge of how to use them. For this reason we will say ‘have been used’ instead of ‘you should use’.


Canvas / webbing waist belts

Anyone wearing a pair of trousers with a fairly flexible belt could also be carrying a life saving device; an improvised tourniquet.

Leather belts are usually a little too stiff for this function but a canvas / webbing belt could be wrapped tightly around a limb and twist tightened with anything like a strong stick. Tourniquet use is somewhat controversial due to potential nerve / tissue damage and it would be a really extreme situation to require one, but make-shift tourniquets have indeed saved many lives.


Tea Bags

Tea bags

An important part of high-end medical aid kits are haemostatic powders and dressings; these are designed to absorb and clot blood at the site of traumatic bleeding. These are often poured onto the wound to create a clot ‘plug’ and can be highly effective, but are of course only an adjunct to direct pressure. They have not always been around and are not all that regularly encountered even today, mainly due to expense.

Amazingly, tea bags have been used in their place! Being British, I am always within reaching distance of a tea bag, even when out and about. The tea bag makes a naturally absorbent package, that also has haemostatic capability due to its high content of tannins. Tannins are polyphenols that give you that ‘dry’ taste in your mouth. The reason it makes your mouth taste ‘dry’ is because it coagulates the salivary protein and it will do the same to your blood plasma. Obviously the effect is much milder than a commercial haemostatic so don’t go kitting out your first aid kit with ‘PG Tips‘ just yet!



Yep, these are actually a fairly well known one as well! Tampons are naturally very absorbent and clean so have been pushed to use as an emergency dressing and even to insert into gunshot wounds. Their use for this is highly controversial given that they expand and given the serious nature of gunshot wounds, but marines and special forces members have carried them for this reason. Perhaps a more realistic use is opening them out and using as a dressing pad.




Vodka, and other strong spirits, have a long history of being used in medicine as well as causing trouble on a Saturday night. Alcohol is naturally a very good antiseptic and mild anaesthetic; alcohols of different types are still the primary general purpose disinfectant. The great thing about vodka, unlike hospital sanitiser, is you can drink it too.


Duct Tape

Duct tape

Is there anything duct tape cannot be used for? It was instrumental in successfully returning the Apollo 13 crew to Earth, and has probably fixed more things than anything else. It has also been used for medical emergencies, from taping on make-shift dressings to immobilising broken bones; damn useful stuff!


Super Glue


Another well-known one. Quite famous for sticking together the wounded soldiers in Vietnam. There is actually medical grade ‘superglue’ (cyanoacrylates) available which is slightly chemically different and quite expensive, but it doesn’t irritate as much as normal super glue. That hasn’t stopped the cheap stuff being used for emergencies, anyone who has stuck their fingers together knows how well it will stick skin back together. Again, not something we actually recommend you try, especially anywhere near the eyes, nose or mouth, but it has certainly helped fix up a lot of lacerations.




Granulated sugar has been used for disinfecting wounds and helping them heal. Due to osmotic pressure, sugar does a great job of drying out microbes and preventing infection of an open wound.

It’s not an old idea either; honey has been used for thousands of years on wounds which has the added benefit of hydrogen peroxide production. That very British brew kit with teabags and sugar is starting to look like a secondary first aid kit now…


Cling film

Large burns are often an injury most small first aid kits will struggle to deal with. The problem is a large area of damaged skin that loses a lot of serum / moisture and is prone to infection. Cling film on the roll is reasonably clean and has been used to wrap around a burn, protecting it from infection and keeping moisture in. It will of course cover much larger areas than most burn dressings. This is perhaps one of the more realistic ones here and is actually recommended by health professionals. A more extreme use of cling film, or other plastic sheet, is to create a valve for a sucking chest wound, along with some duct tape of course…


Dental floss

Being naturally quite strong, thin and usually quite clean in its packaging, dental floss has been used to suture-close lacerations. I have to say I think using duct tape butterflies or superglue would be my first port of call before attempting a suture, even if just for the reason of avoiding additional pain!




Garlic keeps well, so it is something that might be hanging around in an emergency. The reason it keeps well is also the reason it can be used in emergency medicine; it doesn’t go off easily as it fights off bacteria and fungi with a powerful natural antibiotic, allicin. When crushed, raw garlic will release a lot of allicin, and has been used for thousands of years as a natural antibiotic, either internally for stomach bugs or externally on anything from infected wounds to fungal infections. It’s less ‘hippy drippy’ than some might think, and has recently gained some serious reputation as an alternative antibiotic.

We are unsure how useful it would be in the event of a harrowing vampire apocalypse, however.




I hope you have enjoyed reading these somewhat alternative first aid ideas. I would like to reiterate my point about these being things people have used in emergencies and not something you should take as first aid advice. I do hope it has made you think about being resourceful in an unexpected medical emergency and perhaps decide to improve your first aid skills or carry a few first aid items yourself.

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3 Responses

  1. ___123___Improvised first aid items – Polymath Products___123___

  2. Monty
    | Reply

    Great article, I always keep tampon, super glue, and Dental floss in my survival kit for these, and many other reasons. One you could add to the list is the condom. They can be used for improvised surgical gloves to prevent infection, and in a similar fashion to the cling film for covering burns on hands, feet, or limbs (making sure you don’t cut off blood supply).

    I may now also have an excuse to pack a tea bag as well!! Thanks again.

  3. Biza De Legend
    | Reply

    yes the kit ia a bit useful waaal

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