First aid kits review and compare

Many of the first aid kits we tested could leave you ill-prepared when an accident strikes.
 
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  • Updated:29 Sep 2007
 

01 .Introduction

First-aid-kits

Test results for 22 First aid kits from $14 to $100

When an accident strikes at home, you may need to stop major bleeding, deal with a serious burn, treat a snake or spider bite, give first aid to someone with a fractured limb, or deal with a foreign body in a wound or eye. But even if you have a first aid kit on hand, is there any guarantee it’ll contain all the items needed to deal with the emergency at hand — or adequate instructions?

The answer is not necessarily.

Please note: this information was current as of September 2007 but is still a useful guide today.


Buying a first aid kit can be a very confusing exercise. Not only is there a huge range available, but there’s an astounding number of kits in each range. There are kits for home (small, medium, large, leisure, family, all-purpose) and for the workplace (office, retail, industrial); for travel (car, motor trauma, off-road, boat, outdoor, pocket) and for special purposes (diving and hiking, to name a few). They come in large, sturdy toolboxes or small, clear-plastic containers for easy access, and in compact soft packs that stow away neatly in a daypack or wrap around your waist on walks. General-purpose kits for use at home range in cost from less than $20 to over $100.

To help you through the jungle of kits on the market, we took a closer look at 22 widely available ones that sell for $120 or less — generally a brand’s cheapest in the domestic or general purpose range.

Findings

  • There’s an Australian standard that specifies what a general-purpose kit should contain, but it’s only voluntary. Only one of the 22 kits tested contains all the essential items, but not even that one complies with all the standard’s specifications.
  • Nine of the 22 kits tested provide insufficient equipment to cope with five common household emergencies: major bleeding, serious burn, fracture, foreign body in a wound or eye, and insect or snake bite.
  • With a few exceptions, we found that the more essential items included in a first aid kit and the better their quality, the higher its price. You're basically getting what you pay for. So it comes as no surprise that the What to buy list includes products that scored at least 70% overall includes two of the more expensive kits in the test.

If you just want to see what items you should have in your kit, see our free buying guide for first aid kits.

Brands trialled:

  • Amada First Aid Kit 9/S
  • Ambulance Victoria Home Kit #
  • Australian Red Cross Household Kit 12730
  • Australian Red Cross Personal Kit 12700
  • Brenniston Home Essentials First Aid Kit
  • Brenniston Motor Vehicle First Aid Kit Q150W
  • Equip Family First Aid Kit
  • Equip Rec 3
  • First Aid International Basic Domestic Kit
  • First Aid International Domestic Kit
  • First Aid Kits Australia Home and Away KP295GP
  • First Aid Kits Australia Medium Risk Home Portable K410GP
  • Protector First-Aid Kit
  • Quell Home and Family First Aid Kit 128381
  • Quell Home and Office First Aid Kit 128378
  • Royal Life Saving Everyday First Aid Kit TS445
  • Royal Life Saving First Aid Kit Bumbag TS450
  • St John All Purpose Small Leisure Kit 640001
  • St John Small Emergency 619501
  • Trafalgar Handyman First Aid Kit T94225 #
  • Trafalgar Home Kit T94020 #
  • Tyco Healthcare TFK1

# Discontinued or being phased out. Price and availability checked August 2008.

 
 

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What to buy

  • Australian Red Cross Household Kit 12730 $79
  • Brenniston Motor Vehicle First Aid Kit Q150W * $38
  • First Aid Kits Australia Medium Risk Home Portable K410GP $88

* We included this kit because it’s also labelled for home and personal use.

The Australian Red Cross Household Kit lacks an insect bite treatment, but has all items recommended in the Australian standard, though not always in the specified sizes. The other two kits have sufficient equipment to cope with five common household emergencies (serious burn, major bleeding, fractured limb, foreign body in wound or eye, snake or spider bite).

Results table

  Results
Brand / model Overall score (%) Resuscitation shield Gloves Basic first aid instructions Container type Dimensions (H x W x D, mm) Price ($)
Australian Red Cross Household Kit 12730
www.redcross.org.au
78 Plastic box with handle 160 x 325 x 185 79
Brenniston Motor Vehicle First Aid Kit Q150W
www.brenniston.com.au
73 Soft bag 55 x 275 x 195 38
First Aid Kits Australia Medium Risk Home Portable K410GP
www.firstaidkitsales.com.au
70 Plastic box with handle 150 x 400 x 225 88
Quell Home and Family 128381
www.quell.com.au
65 Plastic box with handle 115 x 290 x 250 55
First Aid Kits Australia Home and Away KP295GP
www.firstaidkitsales.com.au
58 Plastic box with handle 155 x 321 x 180 66
Amada 9/S
03 9555 1133
55 Soft bag 50 x 330 x 205 55
St John All Purpose Small Leisure 640001
www.stjohn.org.au
55 Soft bag 70 x 260 x 180 50
First Aid International Domestic Kit
www.firstaidinternational.com.au
52 Plastic box with handle 145 x 400 x 230 100
Trafalgar Handyman First Aid Kit T94225 #
www.firstaid.com.au
48 Plastic box with handle 140 x 325 x 170 50
Ambulance Victoria Home Kit #
1800 248 859
43 Soft bag 80 x 280 x 165 30
Royal Life Saving Everyday First Aid Kit TS445
www.royallifesaving.com.au
43 Soft bag with handle 90 x 245 x 175 55
Australian Red Cross Personal Kit 12700
www.redcross.org.au
42 Soft bag 40 x 170 x 140 25
Equip REC 3
www.equip.com.au
42 Soft bag 70 x 210 x 150 60
First Aid International Basic Domestic Kit
www.firstaidinternational.com.au
42 Plastic box with handle 150 x 405 x 225 70
Brenniston Home Essentials
www.brenniston.com.au
35 Plastic box 70 x 195 x 135 28
Quell Home and Office 128378
www.quell.com.au
35 Plastic box 65 x 195 x 135 17
St John Small Emergency 619501
www.stjohn.org.au
35 Plastic box 70 x 195 x 135 20
Tyco Healthcare TFK1
1800 252 467
35 Soft pouch 70 x 135 x 95 14
Protector First Aid Kit
131 772
33 Plastic box 45 x 215 x 140 20
Royal Life Saving First Aid Kit Bumbag TS450
www.royallifesaving.com.au
33 Soft pouch (bum bag) 110 x 200 x 135 30 
Trafalgar Home Kit T94020 #
www.firstaid.com.au
30 • (A) Soft bag 80 x 180 x 130 25
Equip Family First Aid Kit
www.equip.com.au
27 Soft bag 60 x 215 x 160 30
 

Table notes

# Discontinued or being phased out.
(A) Plastic, not latex

Score For the overall score, we considered:

  • Compliance with the standard.
  • Provision of adequate information on how to use the items.
  • Rust resistance.
  • Bandage ‘stretchability’.

Price: Recommended retail at August 2008, or what we paid in June 2007 (excluding postage).

Profiles – the best

Australian Red Cross Household Kit 12730

Price: $79

  • Includes a foil emergency blanket
  • One point of the forceps had visible rust after the rust test
  • No resuscitation mask
  • No insect bite treatment

Brenniston Motor Vehicle First Aid Kit Q150W

Price: $38

  • Includes a foil emergency blanket
  • No gauze swabs
  • There are no compartments in the bag, which makes it difficult to find what you want

First Aid Kits Australia Medium Risk Home Portable K410GP

Price: $88

  • Includes a foil emergency blanket and a cold pack
  • No visible rust on the scissors after the rust test
  • No inventory

Profiles – the rest

The remaining kits scored considerably worse — for lacking essential items, providing insufficient quantities of the items they did include, or failing the rust or bandage-stretch tests. For details, check out their profiles on the following page.

In general, you get what you pay for. Almost all the kits tested that cost $30 or less occupy the bottom end of the table. While their contents might be fair value for the price you pay, they aren’t comprehensive enough for a ‘general purpose’ kit.

Quell Home and Family First Aid Kit 128381

Price: $55

  • No visible rust on the scissors after the rust test.
  • Good scores in the bandage stretch and rust resistance tests.
  • The box doesn’t have separate shelves or sections, which makes it difficult to find what you want.

First Aid Kits Australia Home and Away KP295GP

Price: $66

  • Includes a foil emergency blanket.
  • Bandages scored equal highest in the stretch test.
  • The hinge on the top basket in the box is a little stiff.
  • No inventory.

Amada First Aid Kit 9/S

Price: $55

  • No rust on the forceps after the rust test.
  • Only one (small) stretch bandage.

First Aid International Domestic Kit

Price: $100

  • Includes a cold pack.
  • Good supply of gauze swabs.
  • Scissors were missing from the kit, along with shavers, the thermometer and a 30 mL medicine cup.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.

St John All Purpose Small Leisure Kit 640001

Price: $50

  • Includes a foil emergency blanket.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.
  • No inventory.

Trafalgar Handyman First Aid Kit T94225 #

Price: $50

  • Includes a cold pack.
  • No gauze swabs.

Ambulance Victoria Home Kit #

Price: $30

  • Includes a foil emergency blanket.
  • No non-adherent dressing.
  • No insect bite treatment.
  • No inventory.

Royal Life Saving Everyday First Aid Kit TS445

Price: $55

  • Includes a cold pack.
  • Only small bandages.
  • No inventory.

Australian Red Cross Personal Kit 12700

Price: $25

  • Supplied bandages gained full marks in the stretch test.
  • Clear plastic bag makes items easy to see.
  • Only one (medium) bandage.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.
  • No saline or similar.
  • No insect bite treatment.
  • No first aid literature.

Equip REC 3

Price: $60

  • Bandages scored equal highest in the stretch test.
  • Good supply of gauze swabs.
  • No adhesive tape.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.
  • No insect bite treatment.

First Aid International Basic Domestic Kit

Price: $70

  • Includes a cold pack.
  • Good supply of gauze swabs.
  • Scissors were missing from the kit, along with forceps, a 30 mL medicine cup and five splinter probes.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.

Brenniston Home Essentials First Aid Kit

Price: $28

  • Clear plastic box makes items easy to see.
  • Scissors’ hinge rusted severely in the rust test.
  • No forceps.
  • Only one (small) stretch bandage.

Quell Home and Office First Aid Kit 128378

Price: $17

  • Clear plastic box makes items easy to see.
  • Only small bandages.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.

St John Small Emergency 619501

Price: $20

  • Includes a foil emergency blanket.
  • Clear plastic box makes items easy to see.
  • Only one (medium crepe) bandage.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.
  • No non-adherent dressing.
  • No insect bite treatment.

Tyco Healthcare TFK1

Price: $14

  • The only kit to have both scissors and forceps pass the rust test.
  • No gauze swabs.
  • No wound dressings 13,14 or 15.
  • No non-adherent dressing.
  • No insect bite treatment.
  • No saline or similar.
  • No first aid literature.
  • No inventory.

Protector First-Aid Kit

Price: $20

  • Clear plastic box makes items easy to see.
  • Only small stretch bandages.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.

Royal Life Saving First Aid Kit Bumbag TS450

Price: $30

  • Includes a foil emergency blanket.
  • No gauze swabs.
  • Only one (small) stretch bandage.
  • No scissors.
  • No insect bite treatment.
  • No inventory.

Trafalgar Home Kit T94020 #

Price: $25

  • Removable, small plastic pouch.
  • Scissors’ hinge rusted severely in the rust test.
  • No gauze swabs.
  • Only one (small) stretch bandage.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.
  • No saline or similar.

Equip Family First Aid Kit

Price: $30

  • Good supply of gauze swabs.
  • No scissors or gloves.
  • No wound dressings 13, 14 or 15.
  • No saline or similar.
  • No insect bite treatment.
  • No triangular bandage.
  • No inventory.

04.How we tested and what to look for

 

How we tested

Our tester checked the items included in each kit and awarded different scores based on:

Full compliance with the standard (including provision of an inventory and instructions, rust resistance for scissors and forceps, and adequate stretching for bandages); or fulfilling the function but not having the required number or size of items; partially meeting the function; or items were absent, or failed to meet the function.
The tester awarded scores for the inclusion of an inventory and basic first aid information.
For the rust test, she put the washed and rinsed scissors and forceps in plastic containers lined with wet cotton wool, and checked them for rust after one week.
To determine whether bandages would stretch to at least twice their length, she placed clamps on each of the bandages one metre apart, stretching them to capacity before comparing their stretched length to their unstretched length recorded earlier.

Items missing

Both First Aid International kits had some items missing, such as scissors, forceps and other items. We don’t know whether they’d never been included or had gone astray before they were sold. In a shop, look for tamper-proof packaging to ensure no items have been removed or swapped. If a kit isn't sealed, items can go walkabout. When you buy a kit online, check its contents against the inventory on the receipt.

Discounts

Members of the NRMA or RACV receive a 15% discount when purchasing a St John first aid kit, after showing their card.

Putting together your own kit

If you're not inclined to buy a first aid kit, you can make your own. Any container is suitable as long as it’s resealable, waterproof and gives you good access when open. You don’t want to waste time rummaging through the contents when you need a bandage fast.

Your kit should contain painkillers, antiseptic creams, insect treatment and the like. Check the use-by dates regularly and update the contents as necessary.

Five common emergencies

Dealing with common emergencies
We also assessed the kits to see whether they’d cope with five common emergencies:

  • stopping a major bleed
  • treating a serious burn
  • giving first aid to someone with a fractured limb
  • handling a foreign body in a wound or an eye
  • treating an insect or snake bite.

Our thanks go to the Australian Red Cross and St John Ambulance Australia, for their advice on what you’d need for these emergencies.

Thirteen of the 22 kits passed this test, containing at least the necessary minimum equipment or equivalent. Nine failed, but three of them did so only because they lacked an insect bite/sting relief treatment or cold pack. This was a common omission, lacking in eight kits, but given that you can easily buy bite/sting relief cream, we didn’t think it was as bad a failure as some of the others.

All kits had items to help users cope with major bleeding, with at least one combination dressing (which includes a pad and bandage) or separate wound dressing pads and a bandage. However, three kits (Ambulance Victoria, St John Small Emergency and Tyco Healthcare) failed to include even a single non-adherent dressing, which you’d need — together with a stretch bandage — to give adequate first-aid treatment for a serious burn.

Saline or an equivalent is needed to clean and remove foreign bodies from eyes, wounds and burns. Four kits (the Australian Red Cross Personal Kit, Tyco Healthcare, Trafalgar Home Kit and Equip Family First Aid Kit) failed to include it.

The Equip kit also lacked a triangular bandage, which you’d need to use as a sling for a fractured limb.

Standard being ignored

We tested all 22 kits against Australian standard AS 2675-1983 (Kit B, general-purpose kits).

This is a voluntary standard, and while many kits’ contents are obviously based on it, none fully complied with it. In fact, only one kit included all the items that are essential to provide first aid in an emergency, according to the standard: the Australian Red Cross Household Kit. However, not even in this top-scoring kit were all items sized as specified in the standard.

Some kits were really just basic ‘personal’ kits, which are generally cheaper and less comprehensive than ‘general purpose’ kits. However, we’ve included them in this test because they were often described as for ‘general purpose’, a label that’s obviously used to cover a wide range of kits.

Some kits didn’t come close to meeting the standard. They lacked, for example, the non-adherent dressing you’d need to cover a serious burn, or a triangular bandage to use with a fractured limb. Others had the correct items you’d need in an emergency but not enough of them, or in sizes different from those specified in the standard: fewer gauze swabs, different-sized bandages, or bandages that won’t stretch enough to do a proper job.

Even basic but essential items were missing from many kits, such as:

  • a pencil and notepad
  • tissues or a hand towel
  • plastic bags and
  • safety pins

And things weren’t much better with regard to optional items. These items were also often missing from (or inadequately provided by) kits:

  • An emergency foil blanket
  • alcohol swabs
  • saline and
  • insect bite treatment

Last, but not least, we checked the provision of information in the kits according to the standard. After all, what’s the use of having the correct equipment if you’ve no idea what to do, or how to use certain things? Two kits provided no first aid instructions, and eight no inventory of what they contained. Only seven had an inventory and explanatory notes on how to use each item.

Given such obvious disregard by the first aid industry for the detail in the standard, we think it’s in urgent need of an update to make it seem relevant again.

The standard is adequately comprehensive with regard to major emergencies, but doesn’t mention basic infection control items, such as gloves and a resuscitation mask or shield. All but one of the 22 kits in our test contained disposable gloves, but only 10 had a resuscitation mask or shield.
 

What to look for

With these contents (based on AS 2675-1983, Kit B) in your ‘general purpose’ first aid kit, you should be equipped for a range of emergency situations.

Essential items

  • At least nine sterile, cotton-gauze swabs, for cleaning wounds and placing over non-adherent burn dressings.
  • At least three disposable hand towels or tissues, for general cleaning, other than wounds.
  • 24 sterile, adhesive dressing strips in assorted widths, to cover small cuts, blisters and abrasions.
  • One roll of low-allergenic adhesive strapping, at least 25mm wide x 2.5m long, to hold dressings in place.
  • Two sterile, individually packed, non-adhesive dry dressings, 100 x 100mm, to use for burns, abrasions, cuts, lacerations and weeping wounds.
  • Three sterile wound dressings of different sizes, to protect wounds, use as an eyepad, or help control bleeding by applying pressure.
  • Three rolls of stretch bandage, 50, 75 an 100mm wide and at least 1.5m long (and stretchable to twice that length), to hold dressings in place, support injured limbs or give first aid for poisonous bites.
  • Two triangular calico bandages with at least 900 mm edge length each, to use as slings or dressings, or as bandages to hold large dressings or splints in place.
  • At least five safety pins about 40mm long, to hold bandages in place.
  • One pair of rust-resistant scissors about 100mm long, with at least one blunt point, to cut dressings and bandages, or to cut away clothing.
  • One pair of rust-resistant, pointed forceps, with accurately aligned tips and in a protective case, for removing splinters and stings.
  • One pencil and notepad, to record times and details or for passing messages.
  • At least three sealable plastic bags, about 150 x 200mm, for carrying water, making ice packs, disposing of dirty dressings or carrying severed body parts.
  • Disposable latex gloves and an approved resuscitation mask, for infection control.
  • First aid information — books are available from St John Ambulance Australia, the Australian Red Cross and other expert ambulance services.

Optional items

  • At least six individually wrapped isopropyl alcohol swabs, for cleaning areas around wounds.
  • One sterile, thick and absorbent ‘combine’ dressing, 90 x 200mm, to cover wounds.
  • One plastic squeeze-bottle of saline solution, about 100mL, clearly labelled with usage instructions and expiry date, to clean eyes, wounds and burns.
  • One aluminium foil blanket, to keep a casualty warm.
  • Sting relief treatment, 10mL minimum, clearly labelled with its purpose and expiry date, to relieve discomfort from stings or bites.
  • Hydrogel burn treatment, to treat burns if no cool water is available.

The first, very basic steps

The best way to learn first aid is to attend an accredited course. In an emergency, you probably won’t have the time to read instructions thoroughly. First aid courses are available in every state — contact an organisation such as the Australian Red Cross or St John Ambulance Australia. If they don’t run a course that’s convenient for you, they should be able to tell you who does.

Summarised below are some very basic steps you can follow in an emergency while waiting for an ambulance. It’s based on information provided by St John Ambulance Australia.

Burn

  • Don’t touch the burn, don’t apply anything to it, and don’t try to remove anything that sticks to it.
  • Remove jewellery or clothing unless it’s stuck to the burn.
  • Cool the burnt area with running cold water for at least 20 minutes (or with hydrogel if no cool water is available).
  • Cover the burn with a sterile, non-adherent dressing.
  • Seek medical aid if the burn is larger than a 20 cent piece or involves the face, hands, feet or genitals.

Severe bleeding

  • Remove or cut clothing to expose the wound.
  • Apply pressure (with a pressure pad, or your gloved hands, if the casualty can’t do it).
  • Squeeze the wound edges together.
  • Raise and support the injured part.
  • Bandage the wound and, if it still bleeds, apply a second pressure pad.
  • Check circulation below the wound.
  • If severe bleeding persists, give nothing to the casualty by mouth and call 000 for an ambulance.

Fracture

Signs/symptoms can include pain at the injury site, difficulty moving, tenderness and swelling, discolouration and bruising.

  • Control bleeding and cover the wound.
  • Ask the casualty not to move the injured part.
  • Apply a broad bandage to immobilise the fracture.
  • Support the limb by placing a splint along it.

Eye injury

  • Don’t touch the eye (or let the casualty rub their own eye).
  • Don’t try to remove an object that’s embedded in or protruding from the eye.
  • If tears don’t remove the object, flush the eye with cool, flowing water.
  • If not successful, place a sterile dressing over the eye, but don’t apply pressure when bandaging it.
  • Seek medical aid.

Snake or funnel web/mouse spider bite to limb

  • Apply a very firm roller bandage, starting just above the fingers or toes and moving up the limb as far as possible.
  • Splint the bandaged limb.
  • Make sure the casualty doesn’t move.
  • Call 000 for an ambulance.
  • Write down the time of the bite and when the bandage was applied, and stay with the casualty.

Redback spider bite

  • Apply an ice pack.
  • Seek medical aid.