Discover crucial first aid for hikers: Learn wilderness first aid techniques and how to handle injuries and emergencies while hiking. From minor injuries to life-threatening situations, being prepared and knowing some wilderness first aid can make all the difference. Here’s a guide to specialized first aid techniques for those venturing into remote areas.
Preparing for the Wilderness
Before heading out, it’s essential to:
- Pack a comprehensive first-aid kit.
- Know your location and share your itinerary with someone reliable.
- Have access to some form of communication, like a satellite phone or emergency beacon, especially if you’ll be in an area without cell service.
First Aid for Hikers
1. Cuts and Scrapes
Technique: Cleaning and Dressing
- Rinse the wound with clean water.
- Apply antiseptic.
- Use sterile dressings or gauze to cover the wound.
- Use adhesive tape to keep the dressing in place.
- Replace the dressing on a daily basis or as soon as it becomes wet or soiled.
2. Sprains and Strains
- Rest: Avoid putting weight on the injured area.
- Ice: Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling.
- Compression: Use a bandage to wrap the affected area.
- Elevation: Elevate the injury above heart level to minimize swelling.
3. Broken Bones
- Stabilize the broken limb with clothing, backpack straps, or natural materials like sticks.
- If possible, place padding between the splint and the limb.
- Secure the splint with ropes, belts, or tape.
Technique: Warming Up
- Remove wet clothing.
- Wrap the person in dry blankets, clothing, or a sleeping bag.
- Provide warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
5. Heat-Related Illnesses
Technique: Cooling Down
- Move the person to a shady area.
- Apply cool, wet cloths to the skin.
- Provide water and electrolytes.
- Seek medical help immediately for signs of heatstroke, such as confusion or unconsciousness.
6. Altitude Sickness
Technique: Descent and Oxygen
- Descend to a lower altitude if possible.
- Provide supplemental oxygen if available.
- Hydrate and rest.
- Seek medical attention.
- Stay hydrated by consuming ample fluids, such as water and electrolyte solutions.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Rest in a shaded area.
8. Snake Bites
Please refer to the previous section on “First Aid for Snake Bites: What You Need to Know” for comprehensive advice.
- Navigation Skills: Familiarity with Map and Compass Usage. GPS devices can fail.
- Signal for Help: Know how to signal for help using mirrors, flares, or creating ground signals that can be seen from the air.
- Fire Starting: Be capable of starting a fire for warmth or for signaling help.
9. Insect Bites and Stings
Technique: Relief and Monitoring
- For bee stings, scrape off the stinger using a flat object like a credit card; avoid using tweezers as it may release more venom.
- Clean the affected area with soap and water.
- Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
- Administer antihistamines to manage allergic reactions.
- Monitor for signs of severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) such as difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, and swelling of the face, lips, or tongue. If any of these symptoms appear, seek emergency medical help immediately.
10. Animal Attacks
Technique: Immediate Actions
- If attacked, defend yourself by making loud noises and using any available tools (e.g., sticks, rocks) to deter the animal.
- Once safe, assess injuries and apply first aid accordingly.
- Get to a medical facility for rabies shots and other necessary treatments as soon as possible.
11. Water-Related Issues
Technique: Avoidance and Management
- Always purify natural water sources before drinking to avoid waterborne diseases.
- If someone starts showing signs of waterborne illness (diarrhea, vomiting), keep them hydrated and get medical help.
Technique: Cooling and Covering
- For minor burns, cool the area immediately with cold water for at least 10 minutes.
- Place a sterile, non-adhesive bandage over the burn.
- Do not apply ice, as it can cause frostbite.
13. Eye Injuries
Technique: Rinse and Protect
- Rinse the eye with clean water if it comes into contact with foreign substances.
- Cover the eye with a clean cloth or an eye pad, but avoid putting pressure on the eyeball.
14. Blister Care
Technique: Drainage and Protection
- Clean the blister and surrounding area.
- Utilize a sterilized needle to carefully puncture the blister at its edge.
- Drain the fluid and apply an antiseptic.
- Cover with a blister pad or gauze.
15. Avalanche Rescue
Technique: Locate and Dig
- If caught in an avalanche, try to “swim” to stay near the surface.
- Once the avalanche stops, create an air pocket in front of your face.
- If you’re part of a rescue team, locate buried persons using avalanche beacons and probe poles.
- Dig out the buried person as quickly as possible, focusing on freeing their airway first.
16. Gastrointestinal Issues
Technique: Hydration and Isolation
- For diarrhea or vomiting, keep the person hydrated with small sips of water, oral rehydration salts, or electrolyte solutions.
- Isolate the person’s waste and utensils to prevent the spread of infection.
Technique: Gradual Warming
- Move the person to a warmer environment if possible.
- Use body heat or warm (not hot) water to gradually rewarm the frostbitten areas.
- Do not rub the frostbitten areas, as it can cause more damage.
- Seek medical help for severe cases.
18. Lightning Strikes
Technique: Crouch and Cover
- If you’re caught in a thunderstorm, avoid open fields and high ground.
- Crouch down low on the balls of your feet, keeping your feet together.
- Cover your ears and close your eyes to protect against noise and light.
- Once the threat passes, check for injuries and administer CPR if needed.
19. Spinal Injuries
Technique: Immobilization and Signal
- Do not move a person who is suspected to have a spinal injury unless absolutely necessary.
- Use items like backpacks, rolled-up clothes, or foam pads to keep the head and neck aligned and immobilized.
- Signal for emergency help immediately.
20. Psychological First Aid
Technique: Listen, Comfort, Engage
- In traumatic situations, emotional well-being is important too.
- Offer a listening ear and comforting words.
- Encourage participation in simple, grounding activities like setting up camp or making food.
Additional Wilderness Tips
- Multi-tool or Knife: Always carry a multi-tool or knife for various tasks and emergency situations.
- High-Energy Foods: Keep high-energy foods like trail mix and energy bars readily accessible.
- Flares and Signals: Carry flares and other signaling devices to alert rescue teams in case of emergency.
- Knowledge Sharing: Ensure more than one person in the group knows essential survival and first aid skills.
- Regular Updates: Keep a local authority or ranger station updated on your whereabouts if possible.
21. Tick Removal
Technique: Steady, Gentle Pull
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure.
- Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine, or soap and water.
- Never twist or jerk the tick as this can cause parts to break off and remain in the skin.
22. Wild Plant and Mushroom Poisoning
Technique: Identification and Support
- Try to identify the plant or mushroom ingested, even take a sample if you can do so safely.
- Do not induce vomiting unless directed by medical professionals.
- Keep the patient calm and hydrated.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
23. Lost in the Wilderness
Technique: STOP (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan)
- Stop: Halt and try to calm yourself down.
- Think: Assess your situation—do you know how to get back or do you have a means of communication?
- Observe: Check your available resources, weather conditions, and time of day.
- Plan: Based on your assessment, make a plan. This might include setting up a temporary shelter, signaling for help, or moving to a better location.
Technique: Cool and Protect
- Cool the area with cold compresses or cool water.
- Apply aloe vera or over-the-counter creams designed for sunburn relief.
- Keep the affected area covered to protect from further sun exposure.
25. Fish Hook Removal
Technique: Cut and Push Through
- If the hook is superficial, you can gently back it out the way it came.
- For deeper hooks, you may have to push it through until the barb emerges from the skin, then cut off the barb and remove the hook.
- Always clean the wound thoroughly and monitor for signs of infection.
Gear to Consider
- Emergency Blanket: A compact, lightweight space blanket can help retain body heat.
- Whistle: Useful for signaling help.
- Duct Tape: Has various uses, from repairing gear to medical applications like securing splints.
- Fishing Kit: In very remote areas, a small fishing kit can help you obtain food.
- Personal Locator Beacon: A life-saving device that can signal your exact location to emergency services.
If you’re planning an adventure that takes you far from medical facilities, consider specialized travel insurance that covers emergency evacuation and medical treatment.
Emergencies can happen even to the most experienced hikers and campers. Being knowledgeable in wilderness first aid can prove invaluable when medical help is far away. Always consult professionals for comprehensive training and remember, these first aid tips are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Stay safe and prepared!