There are always risks involved with any outdoor activity. Injuries can occur in a wide variety of ways in the great outdoors. Although you can never really be 100-percent prepared for every potential outcome, you can mitigate risks by being diligent and well-prepared. In this guide, we’ll cover some core fundamentals of outdoor emergency preparedness and first aid, along with some basic tips on how to stay safer.
No matter the type of outdoor activity you pursue, there are always risks involved. Injuries can occur in a wide variety of ways at any time. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be you; it could be a friend, a person in your outdoor adventure group, or random strangers you come across during your hike.
Although, you can never really be completely prepared for every possible outcome, but you can certainly mitigate the risks by being diligent and well-prepared. In this article, we will discuss about some of the common first aid challenges in the wild and emergency preparedness tips on how to safe safer.
First-Aid Kit Essentials
The most basic skill to have when it comes to wilderness first aid is proper preparation. Stocking up your first-aid kit is the first step to preparation, and this helps make sure that you have all the necessary resources to handle an emergency situation when in the wild.
- Adhesive bandages
- Nonstick sterile pads
- Antiseptic wipes
- Gauze pads
- Pain-relief medicines
- Safety pins
- Splinter tweezers
- Medical adhesive tape
- Insect sting relief ointment or medication
- Blister medication
- Allergy medication
- First-aid manual
These are just the basics to have in your first-aid kit. There are a lot more items you can carry pertinent to specific injuries or emergencies. It is vital that you check your first aid inventory before your adventure, so you can restock items before your trip.
Preparing for Outdoor Emergencies
When hitting the outdoors, try to avoid potential injuries as much as you can. The best way to do this is by understanding your physical limitations based on your experience spending time in the wilderness. The next best thing to do is plan. Whether you are planning on a backpacking trip to the mountains or other remote locations, the most important thing you should do is plan your route properly using a map. Carrying a GPS device or a compass and map, or both is better, to avoid struggles with route finding.
Other things to remember is to pack extra food, take note of water sources along the trail, be prepared for changing weather conditions, and make a checklist of all the gear and supplies you need to carry along. Though these may sound obvious, keeping in mind and following these instructions will do you loads of good in avoiding or managing emergency situations. And last but not the least, inform as many people as you can about your trip, the location, duration, and your planned return date, regardless of whether you plan on going alone or with a group.
Treating an Injury
When it comes to outdoor injuries, the most common types include cuts and scrapes. Though these wounds are small most of the time, there could be times when they can be major. As a matter of fact, sometimes a cut that seems small can get infected when you leave it untreated, leading to even life-threatening issues.
So, how do you treat an injury?
- The first step to treating an injury or wound is to stop the bleeding. To do this, first wear gloves or use another impassable barrier, like a plastic bag, to protect your hands and apply direct pressure on the wound.
- If the wound is on a hand or leg, you can slow the bleeding by raising it to a position above the heart. Continue applying pressure on the wound for a few minutes to arrest the bleeding. However, if the bleeding persists, the pressure you apply should be moved to a wider area and maintained for a few more minutes.
In case the injured person loses a lot of blood, they may go into shock, making them unconscious. During such circumstances, make sure that you keep them warm until help arrives.
Treating Heat Exhaustion or Dehydration
If you plan your outdoor adventure during the summer months, you could be highly vulnerable to various heat-related illnesses. As you would be aware, remaining hydrated is extremely essential during a hot day’s hike. The best way to stay hydrated is to start your outdoor trip fully hydrated. Drink water every 10 or 15 minutes on the trail. So it’s important to have a proper water plan for your entire trip. For instance, if you plan on carrying a particular amount of water and source the rest along the way or at your destination, you need to make sure that there are sufficient water sources and that you have the right gear to collect water fast and in large quantities for camping.
In addition, remember to take a breather every now and then on your way to your destination. Look for shady areas and give your body time to cool down before moving on. Other ways to avoid dehydration and heat stroke is to take a quick dip in a nearby lake or other water source, loosening tight clothes, or pouring water over the head.
Another important point to remember when it comes to hydration is that over-hydration can be as dangerous as dehydration, if not more. This is a condition where the body takes in too much water, thus diluting the sodium level in blood and leading to symptoms like nausea, fatigue, headache, and confusion. Therefore, it is important to intake water in just the right amounts to avoid over-hydration.
When the body gets exposed to cold conditions, it loses heat, which eventually brings down the body’s core temperature (usually below 95oF). As the temperature keeps dropping, the body begins to shiver, which is an indication that the person requires immediate shelter or extra clothing to prevent further loss of body heat. If the body temperature falls below 90oF, the person’s condition will be called severely hypothermic, and if it is between 90oF and 95oF, it is referred to as mildly hypothermic. Older adults, young children and infants are the most vulnerable to hypothermia.
In the case of hypothermia, the first thing to do is take them to a dry environment, remove wet clothing and help the person change into dry clothes slowly and carefully. Give the person some warmth by wrapping them in blankets or use additional layers of clothing for the same. Another option is to get them into a sleeping bag. For more serious conditions, skin-to-skin contact would be the fastest and best way to increase core temperature.
When the nose, fingers, toes, and other extremities in the body get exposed to extreme cold conditions for a long period of time, blood circulation in those areas starts to slow down, slowly freezing those parts. Frostbite begins with the outer layer of the skin and gets worse when the exposure to cold continues. This can even lead to permanent damages, like gangrene – dead tissue caused by lack of proper blood flow.
The obvious solution to this issue is to find shelter, protect the affected person from cold, and warm the extremities to enable circulation again. When you plan your outdoor trips during winter months, it is vital to carry an emergency shelter and heat packs to face situations like these.
Injuries like sprains, strains, dislocation, and fractured bones all come under the category of painful injuries. These injuries require medical attention as early as possible; however, when you are in the wild where it could take some time for help to arrive, proper first-aid technique will come in handy.
Sprains and strains, hands down, are the most common painful injuries people encounter in the wild. To treat these injuries, the magic word you should remember is RICE:
- Rest the sprained or strained joint
- Use Ice on the affected area in 20-minute intervals
- Apply Compression on the area using an ACE bandage (or any other resource you have at hand that doesn’t impede blood circulation)
- Keep the injured joint in an Elevated position
Dislocation usually happens in areas like the shoulder, knee, jaw, toes, elbow, fingers, foot, and hip, and is indicated with symptoms such as swelling, bruising, reformation, pain, and reduced movement. This is a type of injury that should be treated only by a trained medical professional or doctor. Therefore, when in the wild, the best way to manage dislocated joints is to immobilize or provide support using a splint.
Bone fractures vary in their severity. However, when it comes to treating fractures in the wilderness, you should start by immobilizing or supporting the area. The most common way to do this is by using a splint. There are also customizable splints available in the market, which can be cut or molded to be used for different injuries. However, if the injury is to the skull or spine, the person should be immobilized until you get help.
In many parts around the world, mosquitos are known to cause more deaths in a year than any other insect or animal. There are also various other insects in the wild that transfer harmful diseases to humans. Therefore, fighting and protecting yourself from insects should be a part of your first aid basics for the outdoors.
The first and best, but often overlooked, way to protect yourself from insects is to wear appropriate clothing. While the type of clothes you wear will vary based on the seasons, your outdoor clothing should always include a base layer and outer layer (which can be the middle layer in cooler conditions).
In addition, you can also find a lot of different products in the market that provide insect protection. The most popular of these are insect repellent sprays. There is also clothing designed specifically for this purpose. For kids, you will be able to find insect repellent bracelets that do the job excellently well. When choosing your repellent spray, go for something that has at least 20% DEET to enjoy long lasting protection. Choosing a tent with insect resistant mesh will also be helpful.
Photo by Anton Nikolov on Unsplash
In various regions of the country, poisonous plants like poison sumac, poison ivy, etc. pose another threat in the outdoors. When you touch these plants, you are likely to encounter different allergic reactions such as inflammation, redness and itching of your skin. When you know that you, or someone else, have come in contact with one such plant, wash the area immediately and also remove any clothing that also got exposed.
Use soap and water to wash the exposed area and also the clothes. Use sanitizers after to neutralize the effects of the poisonous resin. Apply calamine lotion on the skin, covering the entire affected area; however, remember to consult with your doctor beforehand regarding the use of such products. Above all, before heading out, learn about the different types of poisonous plants present in your area of hike and to identify the same, so you can avoid coming in contact with them.
Trouble always comes when you least expect it; therefore, your best bet is to be prepared. Remember, your aim with wilderness first aid basics is to keep the victim stabilized long enough to get help from professionals.