Wilderness first aid is not the type of thing you want to be thinking of during any outdoor activity. You just want to have fun and enjoy the great outdoors. Your trip should be a vacation and not an exercise in survival!
Unfortunately even the most experienced person can be caught in an accident and require first aid assistance. It might be as simple as a sprained ankle, or it could be as bad as a natural disaster. The truth is, there’s always a chance you could get hurt or stranded due to a freak accident..
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Injury Statistics for Outdoor Activities
According to a study by the BC injury research and prevention unit. 6.1 out of every 1000 hikers receives an injury. For other activities, their findings reported 4.7 injuries per 1000 backpackers and 2 injuries per 1000 people for day hiking.
A different report shows injuries based on how many hours you spend outside and found that there are 0.56 injuries per 1000 hours. More worrying, there are 0.13 deaths per 1000 hours spent outside.
These studies found that the most common cause for any type of injury is being underprepared. They either don’t bring the appropriate gear or don’t know how to deal with situations properly. Feel free to take a look at the report here at https://activesafe.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Hiking.pdf.
In this article, we’re going to help you get ready for the worst possible situations and teach you the basic skill of how to survive them.
First steps for Wilderness First Aid
The first thing you need to do is remain calm. A level head is your greatest tool in any emergency situation.
You won’t be able to help yourself or anyone with you if you’re panicking. Determine if there are any immediate dangers and get yourself and others to safety. Leave behind anything that isn’t essential to surviving. Once you’re safe and sound you can try to come back and get your things at a later date.
Second, see if anyone needs first aid. If you’re with a group, determine who needs the most help with basic triage procedure. If someone is going to die if not treated immediately, help them first. Whereas someone with a broken foot can probably wait in pain for hours. If you’re alone, you’ll have to do the best you can and realize that you need to rely on yourself to survive.
Finally, create a survival plan and stick to it. Do you want to send people out in shifts to search for help? Or do you try to travel as a group together towards a known exit? If you’re alone, do you stay in one spot and wait for help or do you need to keep moving? Every situation will require a different plan depending on what happened.
You should always update the plan if the situation demands it, but don’t change it just because you feel like it. Stick to the same plan as much as possible, it could be the difference between life and death.
Emergency Survival Kit
You should never leave home without one. Your kit should have all the basic gear that would help you survive on your own. Your kit should be divided into two sections:
This is where you keep all the bandages, plasters, safety pins, rubbing alcohol, and tape, etc. It might also be helpful to include basic manuals or instructions on how to treat wounds here. You won’t be able to check instruction videos online!
Make sure everything is fully stocked before you leave home. Check for expiry dates and immediately replace anything that needs it.
Always make sure you know where to access these medical supplies, and ensure that they are close by. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use them, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Long term survival
This is where you keep the tools that will help you stay alive. You won’t need these things to treat an injury, but they’ll help you in the long run: Water purification, survival knife, fire starter, or a map and compass.
You won’t have the luxury of going to the local store out in the wilderness! So, you need to make sure your wilderness first aid kit also includes the tools you need to survive a few days.
You won’t be eating regular meals and water might be scarce, but at least you can get the minimum. Fortunately, you can survive without water for about 7 days, and 3 weeks without food.
Read our Basic Emergency Survival Kit guide for a better idea of how to pack an emergency survival kit.
Even if you’ve got a survival kit you’ll want to find a way out of your situation eventually.
The final step in wilderness first aid is creating an escape plan. Usually, this means contacting someone from the outside to save you. If you’re in a situation where you need help you probably can’t just get up and leave.
Check your cellphones if you’re lucky enough to have a working one. Call an emergency line and follow their instructions on how to get help. Usually, they’ll tell you to stay in one spot and wait for help to arrive. This way rescue workers can cross off areas as they search them instead of going in circles.
You can assist rescue efforts by leaving flags or brightly colored objects on the ground. You could also start a fire, but be careful that you always have it under control or you could start a forest fire.
NEVER go out without letting someone know when to expect you home. That way, if you’re late by 12 hours they can call the authorities and send help to you. Do the same if you know someone was supposed to be home and you haven’t heard from them.
No amount of first aid or survival tools will help you if no one knows you’re missing.
For a full list of ways to seek help, check out our guide on Backpacking Communication Survival Gear.
Available Wilderness First Aid Classes in the US and Canada
If you are interested in taking a professional course on wilderness first aid, please visit the following websites with government-approved WFA courses;