Because of yet another self-inflicted minor injury, I was just forced to break into my voluminous first aid kit. As I stood there simultaneously trying to keep leaking body fluids off the bedroom carpeting while I rooted through the backpack, I realized that this might be a good time to discuss the fine art of first aid in the outdoors.
When I was a young Grub Scout, we learned all kinds of neat tricks and tips for stopping bleeding and bandaging broken limbs. After thinking back for a few moments, I cannot imagine anything more horrifying than being seriously injured in the wilderness and seeing a young Brent Wheat standing impatiently with a tourniquet in hand.
Since that time, I have received actual formal training in emergency medical care and no longer pose a serious threat to those in need. Unfortunately, the one in need is usually myself but at least I’ve not harmed other patients.
Training in basic first aid is important for all outdoor enthusiasts. If you wish to take a first aid course, look up the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Having taken this class, it offers a good, practical look at the basic principals of helping others who are sick or injured.
If you wish to proceed further, I would suggest taking a class known as “First Responder” that bridges the gap between basic first aid and that of a state-certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). First Responder certification is the level of training that most police officers and firefighters receive and is geared heavily toward helping people involved in traumatic accidents such as car crashes. Overall, it is probably the most appropriate course for a non-professional outdoors enthusiast seeking training to deal with common outdoor injuries.
If you are interested, First Responder classes are often sponsored by local volunteer fire departments or area hospitals.
Taking things a step further, you can also become certified in Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness Advanced First Aid and Wilderness First Responder. To achieve these various certifications will involve time, travel and money; in our view, you’re better offer getting locally trained in “standard” first aid unless you plan on a career in the outdoors.
Once you have a basic idea of how to help someone in a medical crisis, the next matter is logistics. Through a great deal of trial-and-error, along with discussion with friends who are paramedics and/or wilderness medicine-certified, I have developed a few strategies for first-aid kits that have served well to this point.
In my van is the large primary backpack full of first-aid supplies. This stays with the vehicle because, other than while backpacking or canoeing, it is fairly rare in Indiana to be more than a half-hour’s hard hike from your vehicle. I have also found that it is not uncommon to run across traffic accidents while driving to or from your recreation destination.
The big kit contains a large assortment of bandaging material, gauze, tape, and even splinting material. I also keep a supply of non-prescription pain relievers (such as “Vitamin I” – Ibuprofen) and individual packets of antibiotic ointment, taking care to make sure the medicines are not expired, along with instant cold packs. Emergency shears, hemostats, a pair of splinter tweezers and bee-sting treatment completes the kit. Of course, rubber gloves are stowed in every bag because in this day and age of disease, human blood is perhaps one of the most dangerous substances known to mankind.
The primary bag is there for big problems or smaller problems around base camp but other modes of travel should also be addressed. In this case I have made up several smaller kits that get permanently stowed away in all sorts of places such as the tackle box, boat dry box and hunting bag. These smaller kits serve two purposes: 1. to treat those small and unnecessarily annoying “boo-boos” in the field and 2. Handle the major problems that require immediate treatment.
Into a small zippered nylon pouch, preferably waterproof, I put gloves, assorted adhesive bandages, a few 4×4 gauze pads, a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a military trauma dressing (such as the well-known Israeli Military Bandage). The bandages and hand sanitizer will take care of minor to moderate problems while the military dressing will handle serious wounds and can even serve as a sling or splinting material for broken bones. I also include a small Mylar “space blanket” to help keep a serious casualty warm and dry.
A new item that I carry is a tourniquet for those pesky gunshot or major knife wounds to extremities. My current favorite is the RAT Tourniquet; it is so simple that even untrained people can figure it out within seconds. (check out our recent review of “blow out kits” on BearingArms.com)
One item I always carry are the proprietary blister-treatment bandages because blisters are the most common yet trip-wrecking malady encountered in the outdoors. Regardless if your hiking boot is chafing or a canoe paddle has raised a hot spot, these bandages work far better than any other material for treatment.
There are only a few commercially prepared first aid kits that past muster. We have used Adventure Medical Kits products extensively and we’re also a big fan of Rescue Essentials. However, most other prepackaged kits simply don’t stand up to the rigors of dirt and water.
There are many other ideas on outdoor first aid to share but unfortunately I’m already getting woozy from blood loss. Therefore I will conclude by saying: “I see a bright shiny light…”
For more information: National Outdoor Leadership School Wilderness Medicine Institute