Emergencies happen every day everywhere. Some of those crises require professional medical care, racking up 130 million emergency room visits every year in the United States alone. The key to handling an emergency is preparation, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about half of adults in the United States are completely unprepared for an emergency. In fact, 44 percent of American adults don’t even own first aid kits. Ouch! The best first aid kits keep emergency equipment within reach so you’re always ready for the unexpected.

The Best First Aid Kit: Basic Emergency Supplies Plus Specialty Items

The best first aid kit keeps emergency supplies right at your fingertips. They’re quite an innovation, considering that back in the 19th century, commercial first aid kits weren’t yet a thing. Even visiting a doctor or hospital was often difficult.

That all began to change with western expansion. As railroad companies laid down track and began shuttling people and resources out west, railway workers found themselves performing exceptionally dangerous jobs with almost zero access to life-saving medical care. The solution was arguably the first employer-funded healthcare: railroads began hiring railway surgeons to treat injured railroad workers on the train or in nearby hotels.  

In 1888, Robert Wood Johnson—one of the founders of the eponymous company that brings you baby shampoo and Covid vaccines, Johnson & Johnson—was riding the rails and chatting with a railway surgeon. He learned that railroad workers frequently died of injuries because there simply weren’t sufficient emergency supplies on board trains.

Johnson saw an opportunity and pulled together the very first commercial aid kits. These were loaded with first aid supplies railway surgeons needed to save injured workers, such as sterile wound dressings and sutures. As new modes of transportation and hobbies came on the scene—from airplanes to cars to recreational hiking—the company produced specialized first aid kits to meet the unique needs of the users.

Choosing the best first aid kits today relies on the same basic principle: consider your specific needs, and look for a trauma kit tailored to meet them.

Get a Travel First Aid Kit to Keep in Your Vehicle

According to AAA, the average American spends nearly an hour driving every single day, and all kinds of serious emergencies happen in the car. The best car first aid kit includes basic first aid supplies plus specialized gear for crises that could pop up on the road. A good travel kit should feature basic first aid supplies for common injuries, such as bandages, wraps, antiseptic spray or wipes, burn gel, antibiotic ointment, and medications. Having specialized gear—jumper cables and a flashlight plus extra batteries—is always a good idea, too. Other handy additions for roadside emergencies include tools like screwdrivers and duct tape for emergencies that require quick MacGuyver-ing and instructions sheets to help guide you through a roadside crisis.

Best Travel First Aid Kit: AAA First Aid Kit

Optimized Design

This premium road kit features jumper cables, flashlight, and first aid supplies. Lifeline

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The AAA travel first aid kit includes all the basic emergency supplies plus specialized equipment like jumper cables. Other unique contents include flashlight, duct tape, screwdriver, poncho, and a brochure for managing car accidents.

Looking for Emergency Equipment for CPR?

Commercial first aid kits rarely include one crucial piece of emergency equipment: CPR masks. These resuscitator masks rely on a one-way valve to make rescue breathing more efficient and safer for the person performing CPR. While hands-only CPR is sufficient for many situations, some emergencies—especially when the victim is a child, or the victim’s blood is likely to be deoxygenated—still require rescue breathing.

A CPR kit is an essential item for rendering aid to unconscious parties, because they may need rescue breathing. Look for a trauma kit that’s packaged in a carrying case you can tuck into the glove box or a larger first aid kit.

The best CPR first aid kits include separate masks and valves for resuscitating adults as well as children and infants. The kit should also include disposable safety gloves and alcohol prep pads to help minimize cross contamination while you’re rendering aid.

Best First Aid Kit for CPR: Ever Ready First Aid CPR Masks

Valuable Safety Gear

This CPR kit includes separate masks and valves for adults and children or infants. Ever Ready First Aid

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These CPR masks are a must-have supplement to any first aid kit. This emergency kit includes gloves, prep pads, and valves for use with adults, children, and infants—plus a convenient carry case.

Caring for the Little Ones: Kid & Baby First Aid Kits

Seeing your child hurt is painful—and it can be excruciating if you’re not prepared to deal with an injury properly. Parents of small children have a lot to juggle, so a kid and baby first aid kit should prioritize efficiency and weight.

Look for a small first aid kit you can stash in a diaper bag or backpack—and that’s easy to locate by feel when you stick your hand in the bag during a crisis. The bare essentials for a child-focused kit include kid-friendly bandages, antiseptic wipes, and ointment. Ideally, the emergency kit should also feature a few specific extras, such as fever reducer, antihistamine, and tweezers.

Best First Aid Kit for Kids: Welly First Aid Kit

Tiny but Mighty

Doctor all the boo-boos with this handy tin full of premium bandages and first aid supplies. Welly

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This Welly first aid kit includes a variety of colorful bandages plus antiseptic, ointment, and basic medications. The tin case is easy to slip into a diaper bag or backpack so it’s there when you need it.

Always Be Prepared with a Survival First Aid Kit

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the most comprehensive first aid kits are survival packs. Planning a multi-day hike into the wilderness? Worried about a natural disaster or zombie apocalypse? You need an emergency survival kit.

A survival pack tends to be heavy. Look for an option that weighs no more than 10 percent of your body weight and boasts an ergonomic design. A well-stocked survival kit will include first aid supplies, emergency rations, and tons of specialized survival gear. Look for extras that could make the difference in a life-or-death emergency like paracord, utility knives, fire starters, and a radio. Many survival packs are rated for a specified survival time—for example, a survival kit may contain everything you need for two people to make it three days without assistance. If you may be with a pet, don’t forget to account for its survival necessities as well.

Best Outdoor First Aid Kit: Surviveware Emergency First Aid Kit

Tons of Extras

This ergonomic backpack is loaded with emergency supplies for extreme survival scenarios. Surviveware

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This fully-loaded first aid kit is designed to keep two people alive for 72 hours. The first aid bag is ergonomic and includes first aid supplies, food and water, and specialized gear, including a LifeStraw, utility knife, fire starter, and paracord.

The Basic First Aid Kit

Even a basic first aid kit is better than none. If you want something simple, look for one with a sturdy case and general purpose first aid kit supplies—like bandages, antiseptics, and medicine—and enough room to add extra items over time.

Experts recommend checking your kit regularly, replacing used or expired items at least a few times a year. These checks are a good time to add extra items—like medical tools or flashlights—to take a budget first aid kit from basic to awesome very easily.

Best Basic First Aid Kit: Johnson & Johnson First Aid Kit

Sturdy Construction

This basic kit includes all the essential first aid supplies and a compact hard case. Band-Aid

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Johnson & Johnson’s all-purpose kit features a wide variety of bandages, antiseptics, and medications. The hard case is compact, portable, and durable.

Emergency Supplies FAQ:

Do first aid kits expire?

Many of the components of a first aid kit have expiration dates. These include medications, ointments, antiseptic sprays and wipes, and eye care products. The shelf life for each of these will vary, but most products expire 3 to 5 years after the date of manufacture.

How often should first aid kits be checked?

First aid kits should be checked regularly to ensure the contents are unexpired and in good shape. People who use first aid supplies frequently should check their emergency equipment every month. People who use first aid supplies infrequently should check their kit at least a few times a year.

What do you do with old first aid kits?

An old first aid kit requires proper disposal. Components that don’t expire can be thrown away or recycled by donating them to veterinary or humanitarian organizations. First aid kit supplies with expiration dates—such as medications and antiseptics—should be disposed of in accordance with local regulations.

A Final Tip on Emergency Supplies & Kits

Emergencies can happen at any time, so even the most basic first aid kit is better than none at all. First aid kits aren’t expensive—the Johnson & Johnson first aid kit above sells for less than $12—so think of it as a very inexpensive investment in your and your family’s well being.