Summer time is a great for outdoor activities. Good weather brings the opportunity to get far afield and afloat. When running hither and thither up rocks and down rivers, sooner or later basic first aid skills will be necessary to help someone in your party or someone you come across. If you are lucky, help may be a phone call away, but in the backcountry it’s necessary to carry the basics of survival with you.
Basic outdoor safety starts with being prepared. Know the basic types of emergencies and have a plan in place, along with enough knowledge to get a victim to help. Knowing what to do after a broken bone can prevent further injury, blood loss and infection. Nothing can replace the knowledge gained from a standard Red Cross or American Heart Association training course.
Some of the situations most of us will come across sooner or later are:
- Heat Stroke or Heat Exhaustion
- Broken Bones
- Preexisting Illness
This list isn’t exhaustive but it covers the basics.
Dehydration is a killer and it can sneak up on you. Lots of water is the simple solution, but it isn’t always that simple. Bring plenty of water for whatever you plan to do and keep extra in camp or in your vehicle. Then drink it! Hydration packs are great because they encourage constant hydration. Part of the equation is how much water you are losing through exercise or just plain hot weather.
Heat related emergencies are often rooted in dehydration. If someone is red and sweating profusely it’s likely heat exhaustion. Get them into the shade or a cooler area and give them small drinks of water. Cool wet towels can be used to help cool and relieve the heat.
Heat stroke is an advanced form of heat exhaustion that can lead to death if not treated promptly and properly. The symptoms include dry hot red skin, alterations in consciousness. Shade coolness and sips of water are again the cure. If the victim is having trouble being coherent make sure to seek advanced medical help.
In the back country broken bones can be hard to treat. Immobilize the break using splints and, if necessary, by eliminating all movement for the victim. Broken bones can puncture the skin and cause further injury if not treated carefully. Transporting a broken leg may require a helicopter or a handmade travois. At the very least it will require one or two assistants to help the victim out of the woods.
Bleeding in the back country must be stopped as quickly as possible. When there is no ambulance coming you are on your own.
- Elevate the wound
- Cover the wound with bandages
- Apply direct pressure with dressings
- If necessary apply pressure to the nearest artery
For major bleeding it is necessary to seek advanced medical help as soon as possible.
Be aware of preexisting heart conditions, allergies and other medical conditions of people in your party and learn how to identify them in others. Many a tough medical diagnosis can be simplified with a little knowledge. Diabetic emergencies can be easy to fix, but hard to diagnose without understanding what is happening.
Whenever possible a phone call is the best way to start first aid. In the back country you have to know the basics to ensure safety for everyone in your party and others you may come across.