Do you know how to make a limb splint out of bootlaces and branches?
Did you know the most common injury during camping is burns from boiled water?
Injuries or wounds are unavoidable in the backcountry while hiking, skiing or doing whatever it is you do out in the wilderness. Basically, what you do on your own time in the woods is up to you.
Whether it’s an itchy mosquito bite or slash from a grizzly or other wildlife, it’s important to prevent infection, minimize pain and most importantly, make a decision on whether or not the injured individual needs to be evacuated. Here are the five steps to helping an injured person in the backcountry. Follow these, and you’ll get the best results in times of grave tragedy.
1. Protect yourself
You can’t help another injured person if you are injured yourself. Always make sure that the snake or falling tree that injured your companion does not have the possibility to do more harm. It’s also imperative to wear protective rubber gloves (usually provided in a first aid kit) when dealing with blood when tending to a wound. A waterproof raincoat and sunglasses to protect your eyes and body from sprayage is also a smart idea. Acting like you’re dealing with a contagious zombie when it comes to bodily fluids is the key.
2. Major risk check
First do a quick once over. Is there a trekking pole sticking out of your friend’s thigh? Look for the serious things first and perform any necessary tasks – like removing a bee stinger or any other foreign objects. Safely put pressure on any bleeding and try to make the injured person as comfortable as possible. Of course, if there is something serious that cannot be stabilized, then all thoughts need to go to rapid evacuation.
3. Changing environment
It is difficult to bind or clean a gash when it’s drizzling and it’s too slippery to hold tweezers. Move the injured individual to a better environment if necessary. Bring the person out of the cold, rain, snow or wind and into a solid tent and warm sleeping bag. Or if it’s a scorcher out there, provide the injured person with shade, a cold water bottle and a clean dry shirt.
4. Cleaning or splinting
Once situated and the threat of anything more serious has been ruled out then the real work can be performed. Clean the wound with water, do any bandaging and dish out any standard pain relievers. Is there a fracture or dislocation? Prepare the individual in a split or sling close to the body to keep the phalange from moving during a walk out evacuation. Not sure how to clean an injury? Do your best and then get the hell out of there.
It’s fairly obvious that wounds need to be continuously cleaned with new bandages, but it’s also important to keep watching for other symptoms like disorientation. If anything new arises then think about heading back to civilization.
Remember, don’t try any first aid you aren’t trained or completely sure of how to perform.
When in doubt make sure to hike out or call for more help or medical attention. And always carry a basic first kit when you are more than an hour from civilization.
As a final food for thought, why did someone get injured in the first place? Were they being careless or were they just unprepared for the terrain or conditions? If carelessness was involved, try to do better next time, okay?
Here’s a video of an ice climbing accident and evacuation:
Anna Baldwin graduated from Colorado State University with a Journalism and Technical Communication degree, although she spent more time skiing and backcountry touring than she did in class. She has written for more than five publications and the online entities on a variety of subjects, and some of her work has appeared on MSNBC.com and in Skiing Magazine. Her interests include biking, skiing, reading, skiing, cooking, skiing, hiking and skiing. Anna lives in Boulder.