Wilderness First Aid 101

wilderness first aid 101

Why learn wilderness first aid?

Any time we’re out in the wilderness we open ourselves up to some risk, no matter how careful we are. It just goes with the territory.

I was part of a couple different backcountry expeditions this summer: A day hike into the mountains in southeast Wyoming, and a few days in the Boundary Waters here in northern Minnesota.

Thankfully we never needed to pull out our first aid kit, other than some Band-Aids and moleskin.

But how do we prepare for mishaps and even emergency situations when we need to carry everything with us? When we’re out of cell phone range, very possibly in a remote area and can’t just call 911?

There’s only so much we can do when we’re miles into the backcountry. But—there are things we can learn so we know how to: 1) minimize risk and 2) take correct action.

Prevent accidents and incidents before they happen

A little common sense and proper preparation go a long way:

Know your own level of fitness, strenth and skill, and plan your trip accordingly. Why?

  • You’re much more likely to enjoy yourself when your activity matches your fitness and skill levels.
  • You’re much less likely to injure yourself when your activity matches your fitness and skill levels.

You know I’m a firm advocate of fitness. One of the main reasons I exercise is so I can keep doing the outdoor activities I love—canoe trips, hiking, cross-country skiing, riding horses—safely and with minimal “aftershocks”!

When we’re in shape, recovery from both injury and muscle stiffness is faster. That’s more important the older we get!

Know the weather forecast. If thunderstorms are predicted, don’t be in a metal canoe on the lake! Don’t be on a mountain top above the tree line when there’s lightning in the area. Bring a raincoat. Dress in layers.

More preventers:

  • Bring plenty of water and, better yet, a good water filter.
  • Bring enough food for your excursion, plus some extra in case you’re stuck out there longer than planned.
  • Bring matches and fire starter if there’s any chance of hypothermia (i.e., cold weather, wet weather, cold water, high altitude).
  • Be with others. If you just have to go out alone, let others know where you’ll be and when you expect to be back.

Know basic wilderness first aid

It’s awesome if at least one person in your party is a medical professional. Seriously! I always feel better when I’m with my sister in the outdoors because she’s a nurse practitioner. She may not be trained in extensive ER-type care, but she knows a whole lot more than I do!

If you’re an avid outdoor adventurer, have you thought about going through a Wilderness First Aid course? I haven’t—until now!

An organization called NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) offers 2-day courses in Wilderness First Aid all over the US. They partner with other schools, associations and retailers like REI.

Put together a comprehensive first aid kit

Rather than list all the suggested items here, I’ll lead you right to a great downloadable checklist from outdoors guide and author Andrew Skurka:

  • First aid kit checklist (go to the link under “Download & Edit These Lists”)
  • Andrew’s copyright guidelines and other info are also on that page.

(BTW, Andrew’s website is chock-full of tips, gear suggestions, lists and more for hiking, backpacking, and overall adventuring. Check it out!)

The National Park Foundation also has suggested items for a first aid kit. Even if you buy a ready-to-go kit, you may want to stock it with some custom supplies of your own.

Do you have any other suggestions about Wilderness First Aid? Know something I missed? Email me and I’ll add it to this post!

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