First Aid is an important subject if you’re serious about hiking, hunting, or other wilderness experiences. If that’s you, consider taking a First Aid course.
You can sign up for a course with your local EMT, Paramedic, or Ambulance service. Or you check out a Red Cross course at: Redcross.org/services/hss/courses/
Even if you’ve got the greatest First Aid skills imaginable, it’s important to learn how to not get yourself into situations where you need to use those skills in the first place. So before considering actual First Aid procedures, let’s begin by thinking about how to prevent problems.
Develop a prevention strategy before a trip. Following this simple seven-step plan can help keep you out of sticky situations:
- Go with a competent buddy
- Take gear appropriate for your adventure. For example, most people don’t need guns, knives, hatchets, and other gear that can be dangerous if handled carelessly.
- Walk on good ground over known terrain
- Advise others of your itinerary
- Pack a compass (or GPS) and a walkie-talkie
- If hiking in groups, pre-determine rendezvous points
- Pack proper medications (asthma inhalers, for example) and a First Aid Kid
First Aid Kit Contents
While a trained First Aid provider should know how to improvise using just about any available materials, having a First Aid Kit on hand is as important as packing an extra pair of socks. You can buy Kits just about anywhere, from large department stores to outdoor sporting goods shops. But avoid ones manufactured by band-aid manufacturers – they often lack the real “goodies” that make a Kit valuable. Here are a few suggestions:
Why gloves? If you can’t wash your hands, thin latex gloves or plastic baggies over your hands are the only solutions. I like plastic baggies because you can rip out a corner and stick it in someone’s mouth as a rescue-breathing barrier. And if you don’t need them for first aid, you can just use them to hold trash!
SAM splints are recommended for orthopedic injuries because they can be cut and molded and even make a usable cervical collar. They are also reusable. Wire splints are not recommended.
In North America, diarrhea is treated mostly as a joke. But if you somehow get lost or injured somewhere where you might not be found for several days, dehydration from diarrhea can be serious. To retain fluids, a combination of sodium and glucose is recommended, such as a formula called Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) developed by the World Health Organization. Kaolectrolyte is a commercial brand.
- 3×3 and 4×4 Telfa gauze pads
- Optional hydrogel dressings, such as Spenco 2nd skin
- Peroxide in a tube
- Wound closure strips (better than butterfly band-aids)
- Tincture of benzoin (spread on the skin to help tape and bandages stick)
- Waterproof cloth tape 1″ wide: Also works for fixing tears
- 1-1/2 or 2-inch roll of gauze
- Alcohol swabs with Lidocaine
- Dishwashing soap in a little bottle
- 10% chlorine (Chlorox) solution in a bottle (also, add to dish rinse water to help prevent diarrhea)
- “Super glue” for skin, sometimes sold as “Second Skin”–good for sealing cuts and building a protective layer on heels to prevent blisters
- Elastic (ACE) bandages
- Scalpel blades or single edge razor blades: For removing big splinters and blisters, etc.
- Tweezers (if not on your knife)
- Old plastic credit card to sweep away a bee stinger (flat of the knife also works)–don’t use tweezers; it squeezes more venom into the skin
- Stainless steel needle & thread: mostly for repairing gear
- Hemostat: A needle nose pliers on a Leatherman makes a good substitute.
- Fever Thermometer (on multi-day trips)
- Safety pins – although tape usually works better in a lot of cases, the pins are handy for some things, such as repairing clothing.
- Mirror (metal)
- Instruction card with First Aid info and Ground/Air signals
Change into a fresh pair of socks IMMEDIATELY upon noticing any friction or irritation. Leave blisters intact unless an infection is suspected. Spenco 2nd Skin (moleskin) may help if used early.
Snake Bite Kits
Forget ice, constriction bands, or tiny kits with razor-sharp blades and suction cups. The Sawyer Extractor is the only snake bite kit that is acknowledged as useful in certain situations. But the best procedure is to get the victim to a hospital where antivenin may be given safely.
- Tylenol: To reduce fever and pain
- Insect repellent–this is a whole subject in itself, so read the labels carefully
- Ibuprofen (Nuprin, Motrin, Advil): To reduce swelling
- Benadryl: For mild allergic reactions
- Epinephrine: An Epi Pen to treat serious allergic reactions
- Sunscreen – For maximum protection, use 30+ sunblock or higher
- Tecnu-brand poison ivy and oak skin cleaner
Useful in an emergency: a small bottle with water and crystalline iodine (tetraglycine hydroperiodide TGHPI) – the Kahn Visscher technique. Not for people with thyroid disease or iodine allergy. A filter is also required for removing protozoan parasites, such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia.
First Aid Procedures
Of course, you need more than a good kit to be of use in First Aid situations – you need to know how to use the items in your kit. There are a dizzying number of First Aid procedures you can learn, and again we refer you to the Red Cross site for training information. The important thing to remember is that problems compromising major life functions – respiration, circulation, and brain function – require immediate medical attention. In such cases, the fundamental first steps of proper First Aid procedure involve:
- Checking the exact condition
- Calling for assistance
- Care to stabilize or minimize the condition
Being trained in First Aid does not make you even an amateur physician. And chances are you’ll never need to use this knowledge in a trip to Cook Forest, where you can follow marked trails and where help is usually close-by. But if something were to come up, hopefully, you can prevent a problem from getting worse.
*This article is for informational purposes and not to be construed as specified medical advice. For professional advice regarding First Aid, consult your physician or a certified first aid expert.