Because of yet another self-inflicted minor pocketknife injury, I was just forced to break into my voluminous first aid kit. While standing there trying to keep leaking body fluids off the bedroom carpeting while rooting through the kit, I realized that this might be a good time to discuss the 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 and seeing a young Brent Wheat standing impatiently with improvised tourniquet in hand.
Since that time, I have both formal training and field experience in emergency medical care and no longer pose a serious threat to those in need (mostly). Unfortunately, the one in need is usually I.
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.
However, if you really want to learn skills beyond bandaging, I would suggest taking a class and certification known as “Emergency Medical Responder” (EMR or ‘First Responder’). This training runs 40-50 hours and bridges the gap between basic first aid and that of an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). EMR certification is the level of training that all police officers and firefighters receive and teaches you how to stabilize a seriously injured person until professional help arrives.
If you are interested, EMR evening classes are often sponsored by local volunteer fire departments or area hospitals.
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.
First, in my vehicle, is the medium daypack full of first-aid supplies. This serves as my base-camp ‘hospital’ when having fun outdoors and holds enough stuff to treat a range of minor to severe problems. I’ve also used it several times on the road because it’s 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 supplies and sterile water for wound irrigation. I also keep a supply of pain reliever 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, tick-removal device and tourniquet completes the kit. Of course, nitrile gloves are stowed multiple places because in this day and age of diseases, human blood is perhaps one of the most dangerous substances known to mankind.
The primary bag is there for when we’re near the vehicle but I also address human-powered travel where the big kit can’t go along. I’ve got several smaller firsts aid kits that get permanently stowed away in all sorts of places such as the tackle box, boat dry box and hunting bag. These scaled-down versions serve two purposes: 1. To treat small and annoying “boo-boos” in the field and 2. Handle the major problems that literally require first aid while seeking real medical help.
In a small zippered waterproof pouch, I put gloves, assorted adhesive bandages, a few 4x4 gauze pads, small bottle of hand sanitizer, a military trauma dressing and a military tourniquet. The bandages and hand sanitizer take care of minor problems while the military dressing will handle serious wounds and can even serve as a sling or splinting material for broken bones. The tourniquet is for those ‘gushers’ resulting from gunshot, axe or chainsaw accidents. A tiny Mylar “space blanket” to keep a serious casualty warm and dry rounds out the pouch.
One item I always carry are the proprietary blister-treatment bandages and a bit of duct tape because blisters are the most common 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 blister treatment.
I typically don’t carry pre-packaged first aid kids. While some are good, such as those from Adventure Medical Kits, most other commercial kits simply don’t stand up to the rigors of dirt and water.
I have many other ideas on outdoor first aid but unfortunately I’m starting to get woozy from blood loss. Therefore I will conclude by saying: I see a bright shiny light; I’m coming, grandma!
Adventure Medical Kits Bighorn - First Aid Kit (we often carry this one in the field!)
Our favorite Military Bandage (good for all sorts of uses and easy to carry)
RAT Tourniquet (our favorite of all the types on the market for ease of use)