Photo: Helicopters aren’t as much fun when you’ve got a broken femur.

By Kalie Wertz

I’ve recently come to the realization that I know less than I thought. While many fresh-out-of-college 21-year-olds will tell you they can solve world hunger by a theory learned in class, I’m taking the humbler ground and admitting I’m still pretty naive. Take first-aid, for example. I have been scrambling up small mountains since I was in diapers and I carry a Red Cross First-Aid card in my wallet, but when my friend badly sprained her ankle coming down from Minotaur Lake, I found myself taxing my college-educated brain for what to do.

Luckily one of us had a bandana to wrap around the swelling and my friend was a trooper in hobbling down the remaining mile of steep, slippery trail to the car, but I kept wondering what else, with what we carried or was around us, could be used in this situation.

While an extensive Wilderness First-Aid Course sounds wonderful, I went on a search for quick, easy, innovative, and inexpensive techniques and supplies to deal with some of the most common wilderness injuries. After scouring the internet for hours, filing through the best “first-aid tips” and articles listing “items every backpacker should carry”, I began to get disgruntled. Every article recommended something different for first-aid and safety “must-haves.” If I were to follow this advice, I’d need to  carry the weight of a walk-in clinic on my back.

Luckily, I reached local outdoors man, Dr. Mark Shipman, who spent the length of his career in Emergency Medicine and is an avid climber, mountaineer and skier. He helped me narrow down wilderness safety to a few key tips and suggestions for those small to moderate injuries that may occur in the boonies where you can really help. For many larger injuries, your options are much more reactive: Stabilize the victim, give them a modicum of comfort with pain-relief drugs, and go get help.

Words from the Wiser

  1. Be able to call for help. Cell phones can be essential at critical times and the latest emergency locator devices will become key over the next few years. But for those times when technology fails us, have a loud whistle and/or fire making materials that could attract attention.
  2. Bring eye protection. If something happens to your eyes in the wilderness, you suddenly become a bat in sunlight. Always bring sun protection such as goggles and sunglasses. It’s also a good idea to pack an antibiotic eye ointment from a doctor in case you obtain an eye infection.
  3. Protect the wound. Anytime you receive a cut or wound, clean the wound with iodine and wrap it up with bandaging materials to put pressure on it. Bandage tape, bandanas, or scarfs are great materials to keep on hand. Additionally, the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) is ideal for wounds and injuries, but not always practical.
  4. Over-the-counter aids. An intestinal illness can completely kick a trip in the rear, so packing Imodium might make the difference between finding your way back to civilization and being tent-bound. Also, bring along aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen for pain relief, inflammation, and cramps, and benadryl for bee stings and other allergic reactions.
  5. Know your companion’s medical history. If your friend has type 2 diabetes, or another ailment that could impact him/her, you need to know. Ask your companion what complications could arise from this ailment and how you need to respond in an emergency.
  6. Prepare for yourself. Dr. Shipman says most first-aid kits are full of “silly, useless stuff” put in there to fill up room. Bottom-line for you: Make your own kit compiling items that you know how to use, you know to be useful, and that are appropriate for your activity and destination.
  7. Take a Wilderness First-Aid Training course. While I was looking for easy first-aid solutions to common, non-life threatening problems, Dr. Shipman does recommend more extensive training for those of us who spend many of our weekends outdoors because the wilderness if sometimes exactly that…wilder than anything we expect.

Photo. Taking precautions and having a simple first-aid kit can help with a significant amount of small to moderate injuries out in the wild.


Originally published: October 2013

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