Welcome to our quick guide to wilderness first aid basics.
Today, I’m going to teach you some very basic wilderness first aid tips and techniques to use in the great outdoors.
Remember, hiking and camping are great – but if you get injured, you’re likely on your own for several hours until help arrives.
Even a rudimentary grasp of basis first aid practices will help enormously if you or someone else is injured deep in the wilderness.
Wilderness First Aid Without a First-Aid Kit
Let’s start by talking about a few first aid tips for those situations where you don’t have a first-aid kit.
Of course, we hope you never find yourself in such a situation, so we urge you to bring even just a simple outdoor first-aid kit with you on all your hiking, backpacking, and camping trips.
Don’t forget to check out our wilderness survival post on how to identify useful trees for even more useful tips.
How to Make a Poultice
A poultice is a paste used to relieve inflammation, keep a wound clean, and help it heal more quickly.
In the outdoors, there are endless situations where you might need a poultice – sharp rocks, pitching a tent, or even a fall can cause cuts or other wounds.
Luckily, there are several plants found in the wild you can mash up to create a poultice.
The finished poultice will go between a bandage and your cut to help sooth the skin and provide antibacterial healing benefits.
Chickweed, plantain, and red rose all help heal wounds.
Don’t forget to check out our list of poisonous plants to avoid while outdoors!
How to Make a Splint
Breaks and fractures are commonplace in the hiking world, whether you’re in the foothills or the mountains.
Even the most experienced hikers can lose their footing and become injured miles from civilization.
If you or someone else on the trail experiences a break or fracture, you can provide basic treatment for that injury until help arrives.
At the very least, you can position the wounded limb into a safer position as you wait for help.
Create a simple splint out of two pieces of wood on either side of the injured arm or leg to immobilize it. Wrap the two pieces of wood tightly with paracord to finish the splint.
Do not try to reset the bone unless you are a trained professional. Just immobilize the break and wait until help arrives.
How to Make Stitches
Trail stitches are sometimes necessary if you’re cut to such an extent that pressure and a bandage simply will not suffice.
For smaller cuts like those made by a knife, I prefer to simply utilize super glue. It burns and is tough to apply, but it does the trick. Just make sure to apply it very carefully.
For more serious cuts, you can utilize the brutal tactic of stapling cuts shut.
Of course, this would require you to have a staple gun. Although not a common camping tool, it’s definitely not the worst thing to take into the wilderness.
A tourniquet will also limit the amount of blood loss you experience if injured outdoors.
Couple a basic tourniquet with some duct tape to minimize blood loss until professional help arrives.
In the wilderness, you can tie a shirt or similar material above the cut very tightly to stop the blood flow. You can then tape the wound shut.
Always be careful about how tight you tie a tourniquet and how long it is left on.
Although a tourniquet can stop blood loss, it can also stop blood flow to areas that need blood. In extreme instances, tying a tourniquet too tight and leaving it on too long can result in amputation.
Once the bleeding stops, remove the tourniquet.
How to Deal With Hypothermia and Shock in the Wilderness
Hypothermia and shock are two common problems that arise in the wilderness that every outdoorsman should be equipped to deal with.
Dealing With Hypothermia
In the event of hypothermia, the victim’s core body temperature has dropped dangerously low. This is can be a killer if not treated quickly. You will need to act fast to save yourself or the person you are treating.
Here’s what to do:
- Get them out of the elements as quickly as possible.
- Get them near a fire or other heat source.
- If the victim is wet remove all wet clothing.
- Cover them with a cloth, emergency blanket or another type of dry insulated material.
Dealing With Shock
After the body experiences a severe injury or several injuries, it can oftentimes go into shock. The symptoms are cold clammy skin, rapid pulse, and rapid breathing.
Here’s what to do:
- Lay the person down.
- Elevate the feet of the victim.
- Do not elevate the head.
- Keep the person warm and comfortable.
- Treat any other injuries.
- Give fluids.
Create a Basic Wilderness First-Aid Kit
Never go into the wilderness without a simple wilderness first-aid kit.
This lightweight magic dust is one of the best first aid items to have in the wilderness.
It’s one of the most absorbent materials available. It’s often used in water filters and can be used to filter water in the wild as well.
However, since we’re talking about first aid, an activated charcoal poultice will help draw bacteria out of cuts.
It can also be used if you ingest something toxic like a poisonous berry or plant. It also works well if you accidentally drink contaminated water.
One of the rare uses, though very effective, is its ability to absorb venom from snake bites.
If you apply some activated charcoal powder to the bite location, it will draw out some of the venom. Depending on what you get bit by this could make all the difference in the world.
We strongly recommend adding activated charcoal to your camping first-aid kit right away!
Be Prepared: Know Your Wilderness First Aid Basics
It’s good practice to never go into the woods without a basic first-aid kit on hand.
To take that to another level, we strongly recommend packing the 10 essentials on trips into the backcountry or off the beaten path.
Another incredibly useful wilderness survival tool is a satellite communicator, like the Garmin inReach Mini, with a built-in SOS function that uses GPS to guide rescuers to your exact location.
Remember, even very basic knowledge of wilderness first aid can make all the difference in the world if you’re injured away from civilization.