FIRST AID IN THE OUTDOORS
Everyone should know a bit of first aid, but such knowledge is even more essential for an
outdoorsman who frequently is far from a hospital or doctor. Knowing what to do when a
calamity strikes could ease pain or suffering, and even prevent death.
The basic techniques for first aid are simple. There is no reason for not knowing them.
With a little knowledge of first aid and a firstaid kit such as the one described in the
previous chapter, you can handle most minor mishaps.
Whether treating a victim of an accident or illness, there are several basic rules you must
follow in administering first aid. They are:
1. Remain calm. Carry out your first-aid tasks quickly, quietly, and with an absolute
minimum of fuss and panic.
2. Check the breathing of the victim. Give artificial respiration if breathing has stopped.
With this procedure, every second counts.
3. Check bleeding. Do not touch burns or injuries with your bare hands.
4. Do not move the patient unless you are certain he can be moved safely.
5. Reassure the patient and keep him calm, warm, and comfortable.
6. Do not administer liquids to an unconscious person.
7. Watch for symptoms of shock.
8. Do not attempt too much. Do the minimum that is essential to save life and to prevent
the condition from worsening; but remember, you are only a layman.
There are two types of afflictions that can mar an outdoor trip accidents and illnesses.
The following will give you a brief idea of what to do in the case of the more common
types of accidents and illnesses. There are several good books available on general first aid
procedures, one of which is put out by the St. John Ambulance Association, the
volunteer first-aid organization.
Cuts, Scrapes, Abrasions. These types of wounds are fairly common in the outdoors,
resulting from falls, misuse of knives, and so on. What generally has to be done in these
cases is to stop the bleeding and prevent any infection. Make the patient sit or lie down.
Blood escapes with far less force when the patient sits quietly, and still less force when
the patient is prone. Elevate the bleeding part, except in the case of a fractured limb. It is
important to remember not to remove any blood clot that has already formed. Remove
any foreign bodies that are visible in the wound and around it, by picking or wiping these
off with a piece of clean dressing. Apply and maintain pressure until the bleeding stops.
Apply a dressing pad and a bandage.
In the case of lacerations stop the bleeding as quickly as possible by applying hand
pressure above the wound; then apply a dressing pad.
In the case of very severe lacerations, a constrictive bandage, such as a tourniquet, may
have to be used to stop or retard hemorrhaging. Be sure to loosen the bandage every
fifteen minutes so that the remainder of the limb receives an adequate supply of blood.
In the case of hemorrhage, pressure will have to be applied to the part of the wound from
which the blood is coming. If a foreign body or a broken bone is present in the wound,
press alongside it and not over it. Dress the wound and continue the application of
pressure until the bleeding stops.
Fractures The most important thing to remember with a fracture is to treat it on the spot.
You should never try to move the casualty until the fractured part has been immobilized,
unless, of course, the life of the patient is in danger from some other cause. If circumstances dictate that final immobilization cannot be completed
on the spot, then sufficient temporary immobilization should be carried out so that the patient can be moved safely to another location. Generally
speaking, hemorrhages and severe wounds should be dealt with before fractures.
Fractures can be immobilized by the use of bandages and splints. Be careful when
applying either of these - there may be more than one broken bone involved. Bandages
must be applied firmly enough to prevent harmful movement, but they must not be so
tight as to prevent blood circulation. In the case of a broken limb, swelling may occur and
then the bandages will become too tight. If this happens, loosen them.
Splints should be long enough to immobilize the joint both above and below the fracture.
They must be firm and preferably wide and they should also be well padded. Splints can
be improvised from staffs, ski poles, pieces of wood, or even from stiff cardboard. Once
the fractured limb has been immobilized the patient should be moved out very carefully
to medical help.
Burns It is important when treating burns to avoid handling the affected areas any more
than necessary. Always make sure that your hands are as clean as possible. Do not apply
lotions of any kind. Do not remove burnt clothing, and do not break any blisters that may
form. Cover the burn with a prepared, dry, sterile dressing from your first-aid kit. You
can bandage the burned area firmly while seeking medical help, but if there are blisters
present on the burn, bandage only lightly.
Sunburn All outdoorsmen like to get out in the hot summer sun, but watch out for
sunburn! Prevention is the best cure for sunburn. Sunburn is treated in much the same
way as other bums. If the sunburn is severe, an antiseptic emulsion can be applied freely
and covered with a dressing or bandage. Leave the dressing on. Do not break any blisters
that may form. And remember, sunburn can also occur on a bright day in winter.
Windburn can also be a problem in the out-of-doors. It can be treated in much
the same way as sunburn, but it, too, can be prevented by wearing proper clothing and by
covering exposed areas of flesh with a lotion or cream to prevent the skin from drying out
on windy days.
Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke, and Sun Stroke All are very serious if you are far away
from medical help. The best treatment for all of these is to place the patient in the coolest
spot possible, to remove his clothing, and to sprinkle him with water or wrap him in a wet
sheet and fan him. The idea here is to lower his body temperature. But take care not to
lower the temperature too much.
When the temperature has been lowered, wrap the
patient in a dry sheet and continue to fan him. If his temperature rises again, repeat the
treatment. In the case of heat exhaustion, the patient may complain of feeling cold. If he
does, keep him comfortably warm.
Watch his body temperature carefully.
Heart Attacks It is very difficult, if not impossible, for first-aid laymen to tell if a person
who becomes faint or unconscious is suffering from a heart attack. If you are going into
the outdoors with someone who is known to have a heart condition, he will probably have
medication with him. Find out beforehand where his medication is kept and what the
In the case of a suspected heart attack, move the patient as little as possible. Support him
in a sitting position, as a failing heart works more economically this way than lying
down. Be careful not to let him fall forward. Also, undo any tight clothing around the
neck or waist to lessen any impediment to blood circulation or breathing. Get the patient
medical aid as soon as you can.
revision..... in the case of frostbite...
Never apply heat directly to frostbite!
Never rub a frostbite!
Remember, frostbite is a condition where the very cells in your body have frozen. Any radical change in temperature can cause uneven thawing and
result in cells and blood vessels rupturing.
Rewarm the affected part by placing it next to an unaffected area of skin. For instance, if your hand is frozen put it inside your parka and place it
directly against your belly.
If you can heat up water put the affected part in water that is not more than warm, and never hot.
Also, give the patient 2 aspirin for pain and to help expedite blood flow.
From The Wilderness First Aid Guide by Wayne Merry.
Get the patient to a doctor as soon as possible.
Snow blindness is becoming increasingly frequent due to the growing
popularity of winter sports such as snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country
skiing. Snow blindness is literally a "burning" of the eyes caused by light reflected in all
directions from snow. Treatment consists mainly of shielding the eyes from light. Put a
bandage around the eyes and get the victim to medical aid as soon as possible. The victim
will probably need an opthalmic ointment and a week or more of care to cure his eyes.
Incidentally, people who have suffered from snow blindness before are more susceptible
Blisters are one of the medical scourges of the outdoors. Every outdoorsman, at
one time or another, gets a blister on his foot from a pair of boots that just do not agree
with him. The best way to avoid blisters is to wear comfortable boots and good socks.
Make sure your boots are well broken in before going on long hikes or trips. If blisters do
occur, do not break them. Keep them bandaged with dry sterile gauze and let them dry up
on their own.
Shock is a condition of severe depression of the vital functions. It can occur in
conjunction with most of the afflictions mentioned above. Shock is generally associated
with changes in the circulatory system, mainly due to loss of whole blood or plasma. The
severity of shock depends on the amount and rapidity of the blood loss. When treating
any of the conditions mentioned above, always watch for signs of shock. General
symptoms of shock may vary from a transient attack of faintness to a complete state of
collapse. General signs include giddiness and faintness, coldness, nausea, pallor, cold
clammy skin, a slow pulse rate which tends to become progressively worse, vomiting,
Shock is treated by laying the victim on his back with his head low and turned to one side
(unless there is an injury to the head or chest). Reassure the patient and loosen clothing
about the neck, chest, and waist. Wrap him in something warm. If he complains of thirst,
give him sips of water, tea, or some other liquid, but no alcohol. Do not apply heat or
friction to the limbs. Get the patient to a doctor as soon as possible.
Illnesses are not very often encountered in the out-of-doors. Perhaps the most common
ones are diarrhea and constipation due to change of habits and change of food. Any
first-aid kit should contain medication to combat either of these afflictions, but if the
conditions persist, the patient should go to a doctor.
Nausea can occur on canoeing or boating trips to people who are prone to seasickness. If
you are prone to seasickness, take along some anti-nausea pills (available in any
People who suffer from hay fever or other allergies sometimes have problems in the
outdoors during the late summer and early fall because of the amount of weed pollen in
the air. People with known allergies should carry their prescribed medications with them.
Anyone going on a trip into the outdoors who has a particular medical problem should
make certain that he has enough prescribed medication with him for the trip and in case
of possible emergency. If you have any medications that should be taken at specific times
or for specific purposes, let your outdoor partner know about them.
A knowledge of first aid is particularly important in the out-of-doors because so often
medical help is a fair distance away. But the most important thing to remember on your
outdoor adventures is the old cliché about an ounce of prevention being worth more than
a pound of cure.
In this book, I have tried to pass on many of the elemental skills and some of the basic
know-how that everyone who ventures into the outdoors should have. Some sections
have dealt only with pleasures and esthetics, others have dealt with practical knowledge,
and some are for emergency use only.
But equally important, I have tried to give a glimpse, a basic insight, into the rational use
of the outdoors. There are times when it is just as wrong to lead a string of pack-horses
over a mountain meadow as it is to shoot a bull elk. But there are times when both can be
done without nature being the loser. The real outdoorsman knows the right and the wrong
things, the right and wrong times. When in doubt do nothing but seek help imminently!!!!
edit on 8-9-2011 by DaddyBare because: Edit to update treatment