Basic Wilderness First Aid

It’s essential that you have some basic principles of wilderness first aid and know how to apply them, even under stress. Even knowing how to treat minor injuries can make a difference in a emergency situation. You can treat minor injuries and keep serious casualties stable until further help is available.

Although there are innumerable injuries and ailments that could affect you, as long as you learn the basic principles of first aid, you can apply them to almost any situation.

Wilderness first aid training

Please keep in mind that the information presented here are only general guidelines. For medical information, consult a physician, take a first aid class or a wilderness first responder course (highly recommended).

First aid priorities

Anyone practicing first aid must determine the priorities of treatment.

First, check if the casualty is in any danger, or will put you into a dangerous position by helping them. Avoid moving a casualty with unknown injuries, unless there is a greater danger in leaving the casualty where he or she is. If necessary, make the area safe, but put your own safety first. Do not move anyone with a suspected neck or spinal injury, unless difficulties in breathing make this necessary.

1. Check breathing

check breathing

Check that the airway is open and the casualty is breathing. A person who is unconscious has no control over their muscles, therefore, their tongue is the single most common cause of an airway obstruction. The airway can be cleared by simply using the head-tilt/chin-lift technique, see the figure. This action pulls the tongue away from the air passage in the throat.

Recovery position

Place an unconscious but breathing person in the recovery position:

recovery position

· Place the casualty on his or her side, with their uppermost leg at a right angle to the body. Once again, do not move anyone with a suspected neck or spinal injury.

· Support the head by the hand of the uppermost arm.

· Tilt the head back to ensure that the airway is clear.

2. Bleeding


Stop any bleeding. All types of external bleeding, such as open wounds, are treated in the same way:

· Squeeze together the sides of the wound. Apply direct pressure to the wound with your fingers, or preferably a sterile dressing. In an emergency, an article of clean clothing will do.

· Lie the casualty down.

· Lift the wounded part above the level of the heart. This slows the bleeding.

· Bandage the wound firmly but take care not to cut off the circulation to the area. If you suspect that an injury may have caused internal bleeding, the most important thing you can do is to prevent shock from occurring. Urgent medical attention is necessary.

3. Shock

Shock is a condition of general body weakness, and is present in all cases of accidents, to a varying degree. The shocked casualty may feel weak, faint, giddy, anxious or restless. Keep the casualty warm and quiet and give all the reassurance you can.

Cold injuries

Do you want to be prepared for a trip in cold weather? Learn more about hypothermia and frostbite treatment.

Wilderness first aid kit

Do not forget to bring your own wilderness first aid kit. Make sure you know what your kit contains and how to use the materials for effective first aid. A good idea is to add an easy-to-read basic first aid instruction book.

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