Exploring the wilderness and spending time in remote areas poses special threats to your safety. Wilderness environments are hours away from help, and help might not even be available if you are lost without anyone knowing your location. 

As such, having the right preparations and taking the proper precautions before getting injured is crucial. However, if you are injured, this guide below will be sure to help you.

Prevention

Engaging in preventative actions like going to regular checkups, exercising, taking proper safety precautions when working outside, and having the right clothing and equipment for the conditions are paramount. Minimizing the risks to your health and safety will decrease the likelihood you will require medical treatment.

First Aid Supplies

First Aid Supplies

You should have a well stocked personal first aid kit. This should include over the counter pain medication so you can keep calm in the event you take a heavy injury or have a migraine and antiseptics, bandages, and medical tape to deal with cuts. 

Carrying a collection of your routine medicines like prescription drugs, insulin, or thyroid medication will ensure that you have an emergency supply, keeping you alive if you find yourself cut off from a pharmacy or other medical service provider.

Some other things you will want in your kit are tweezers, scissors, topical gels to treat burns and cramping, and food and water. Electrolyte supplements also help in the event you are dehydrated. 

Additional non-perishable snacks and water purification tablets will give you a cushion to fall back on if you are injured and unable to procure food and water for a time.

Finally, you will want a map, a compass, a flashlight, and maybe even a flare to signal your location, which can be life-saving if you are severely injured and require medical help. A phone and GPS unit or two-way radio can be of significant use.

Common Afflictions and Their Treatments

Knee Sprain Hiking

Insect Bites and Stings

To treat insect bites and stings, clean the area, use ice or a cold compress to reduce swelling, and apply an antihistamine cream to reverse any toxins. If you or anyone else in your party has a bee or wasp allergy, carry and deploy an epipen as soon as you see or feel the symptoms of anaphylaxis kick in.

Allergies

To treat allergies, use antihistamines and nasal sprays to ensure comfort and relieve congestion. If you need an EpiPen, carry one on your person at all times.

Cuts and Scrapes

To treat a scrape or cut, clean the wound with antiseptic wipes, apply an antibacterial ointment to prevent infection, and then cover it with a sterile bandage. If the wound is substantially deep, apply pressure until the bleeding stops, and seek professional treatment as soon as you can.

Burns

To treat burns, run cool water over the affected area for at least 10 minutes. Apply a clean bandage to the burn site, and if you can see muscle or bone, seek medical attention immediately. You can apply aloe vera gel or other burn ointment and take pain relievers to make the recovery more tolerable.

Sprains and Strains

To treat sprains and strains, rest the affected area, apply ice, apply a compression bandage, and elevate the limb. Pain relievers may be used as seen fit.  

I’ve found it helpful to remember the RICE method, which stands for:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

Fractures and Dislocations

Fractures and dislocations are substantially more dangerous, and require professional medical help. However, if there is none, immobilize the broken limb and apply a split as directed in your first aid kit guide. Pain killers can be used as needed.

Blisters

If you get a blister, apply antiseptic to the blister, and put a blister pad or bandage on it. Do not try to pop the blister, and let the hand or foot rest.  Having walked 400 km of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the advice of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure really paid off.  I prevented blisters by applying blister bandages on my feet each morning and changing socks halfway through the day. In the end, I only got a few blisters, but far fewer than I otherwise would have.

Muscle Cramps

If you have a muscle cramp, stretch the cramped area gently, and massage the muscle. If you have a heat compress, apply it to help the muscle relax. Prevent further cramping by staying hydrated and properly balancing your salt and electrolyte levels.  At the start and throughout the  day, do some light stretching and eat a banana, loaded with potassium.

Eye Injuries

If something gets in the eye, or the eye is injured, rinse the eye with clean water. If a foreign object is lodged, do not try to rub it out. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Animal Bites

Treat animal bites by cleaning the wound with soap and water and applying an antiseptic. Seek medical attention after being bitten, especially for bites from wild animals.

If you were bitten by a snake or animal you suspect is rabid, get help immediately. Both snake venom and rabies are life threatening and have a limited time to be treated. Carry a snakebite kit if in an area with venomous snakes, and consider rabies pre-exposure prophylaxis to protect yourself before you’re bitten.

Gastrointestinal Issues

To treat gastrointestinal issues, maintain your clean water consumption, and consider using electrolyte replacements. Anti-diarrheal medication and other medicine like Pepto-Bismol can help relieve stomach issues.

Respiratory Infections

To treat respiratory infections, rest, stay warm, and stay hydrated. You can use some over the counter medications to relieve symptoms. Tea with honey and lemon or throat lozenges can make sore throats more tolerable.

Dehydration

If you find yourself dehydrated, find and drink clean water, along with electrolyte replacements. Minimize activity until you are rehydrated and the symptoms of dehydration subside. Drink more in hot or strenuous conditions, and don’t be afraid to take frequent breaks if you have limited water.

Hypothermia

If you or someone in your group has hypothermia, immediately remove wet clothing and begin gradually warming the cold person. Warm packs, blankets, or a distant fire can work to restore the body to the proper temperature, but another person’s body heat is ideal. Do not put hot water onto the cold person.

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

To treat heat exhaustion, move to a cooler place, stay hydrated, and use a heat compress. If you have heat stroke, try the above after seeking immediate medical attention.

You can minimize the risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion by wearing light weight and lightly colored breathable clothing. Stay hydrated, take breaks in the shade, and avoid extraneous activity during the peak hours of the day.

Final Thoughts on First Aid

While there are risks to exploring the great outdoors, you can minimize them by keeping a first aid kit on you and leaving a detailed map and plan of where you are with someone you can contact in times of danger. With this guide in mind, you can feel more prepared to deal with common ailments in the wilderness. As always, prepare, continue learning and practice your skills, and you’ll be ready to provide some wilderness first aid.

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