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A Nurse's Guide to Outdoor First Aid

At first glance, camping probably sounds like a relatively safe activity. However, being out in the wilderness has its shares of risks, and it's best to be prepared for accidents and mishaps. Bring along a comprehensive first-aid kit and brush up on your first-aid techniques so you're ready for anything.

Preparing for the Unknown

It's impossible to know when and how you might need your first-aid knowledge and skills. Perhaps you'll never need them, or you might have to use them frequently.

  • Learn what to do in a variety of situations so you're ready to respond.
  • Be prepared with the tools and supplies you'll need to administer first aid.

Have the Right Tools

If you're just learning about first aid, it may be best to purchase a preassembled first-aid kit. You can always add more items to your kit as you need them.

  • If you're hiking in to your campsite, don't overpack your first-aid kit. Bring along just the essentials.
  • If you have access to a vehicle while you're camping, pack a more extensive first-aid kit.

Sterilizing and Disinfecting Checklist

Minor cuts and scrapes need to be treated while camping. You risk infection if you don't disinfect even minor injuries.

  • Pack a medical disinfectant to clean wounds.
  • Anti-bacterial wipes help remove bacteria from a wound.
  • Antiseptic wipes in individual, sealed packages also help with wound cleaning.
  • Bring extra clean water for drinking and to wash out wounds.
  • Saline solution is suitable for flushing out a wound.
  • Eye pads and drops are useful for cleaning out eyes.
  • Pack hand sanitizer to remove bacteria from hands.

Covering and Protecting a Wound

Always cover wounds to avoid infection and hasten healing. It's best to bring a variety of different bandage sizes.

  • Adhesive bandages in various sizes should be waterproof.
  • Gauze pads in a variety of sizes will enable you to cover bigger cuts and abrasions.
  • Compression wraps can cover larger wounds and also stabilize sprains.
  • Liquid bandage solution can cover wounds in awkward spots.
  • Adhesive tape and clips will hold dressings and bandages in place.

Painkillers and Other Medication Needs

Be prepared with over-the-counter medications for various situations. These products can help with basic pain and discomfort.

  • Pain relievers ease headaches and other types of pain.
  • Intestinal medicines can help with constipation or diarrhea, both of which can happen with a change in routine.
  • Bring antihistamines to treat allergic reactions.
  • Hot and cold packs can treat injuries such as pulled muscles.
  • Sting remedies help relieve pain and itching from insect bites.
  • Sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 30 will help prevent sunburn.
  • Sunburn relief ointment and aloe vera lotion can help ease pain from sunburn and other rashes and burns.

Other Accessories

Don't forget to pack other first-aid supplies that will help you treat injuries. You'll be glad to have these items with you when something happens.

  • Anyone who takes medication needs to bring it with them. It may also be prudent to bring extra medication.
  • Pack a cutting instrument to cut bandages and tweezers to remove slivers.
  • Non-latex gloves can help prevent infection when you're treating wounds.
  • A needle and thread will enable you to sew up rips in clothing and even a wound in an emergency.
  • Bring a fire source such as a lighter or waterproof matches. A rechargeable headlamp or lantern will also allow you to see in the dark.
  • A first-aid manual will give you important information if you're responding in an unfamiliar situation.

image of first aid bag and contents

How to Carry a First-Aid Kit

Assembling an extensive first-aid kit usually means that you'll have a lot of gear and equipment to take with you. Packing it all in a secure container is important.

  • Fishing tackle boxes make good first-aid kit containers because they have a strong outer shell and many compartments inside.
  • Toolboxes are also ideal, although metal ones can be heavy.
  • A laptop bag will often have both large and small compartments for organization, and it will fit easily in a vehicle.

Guidelines for Broken Bones

Immobilizing a broken bone with a splint or sling will be the primary goal, so stop wherever the injury occurs so you can administer first aid. Continued movement of an injured limb may make the injury worse. Be ready to give painkillers, too.

  • Use a sling for an arm injury. You can make a sling out of a piece of clothing. The goal is to support the arm and minimize movement.
  • A splint is often used for a leg injury. Tie a stick or metal pole to the injured limb to immobilize it.

What if Someone Is Unconscious and Still Breathing?

The acronym DRSABCD is important when responding to someone who is breathing but unconscious. Following this acronym will enable you to assist someone while also keeping them safe.

  • Danger: Make sure the scene is safe.
  • Response: Assess the person to see if they can respond to basic questions.
  • Send: Call for emergency help.
  • Airway: Open the person's mouth and unblock their airway if necessary.
  • Breathing: Look and listen for breathing.
  • CPR: Perform 30 chest compressions and two breaths.
  • Defibrillation: Use an automated defibrillator if needed.

What if Someone Is Unconscious and Not Breathing?

If someone is unconscious and not breathing, they need CPR immediately. It's still crucial to call for help, though.

  • Call for help first, and then start CPR. Continue CPR for as long as you can or until help arrives.
  • Follow the DRSABCD acronym, but prioritize CPR and the defibrillator.

Snake Bites

Unless you're a snake expert, you probably don't know if a snake is poisonous or not. Always assume that a snake is poisonous, and proceed accordingly if a snake bite happens.

  • Follow the DRSABCD procedure. Make sure the snake is gone before moving on to the other steps.
  • Check for breathing and start CPR if necessary.
  • Keep the victim as quiet as possible to prevent the venom from traveling through the body. Put a bandage over the bite and wrap it snugly to apply pressure.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Administer first aid, and transport the victim to a hospital as soon as possible.

  • Keep the victim quiet and still as much as possible. Move the person into the shade, loosen tight clothing, and call for emergency services.
  • Place ice packs in the armpits and groin; this is where the major blood vessels are.
  • Don't try to drop their body temperature too quickly, as this can induce shock.

Hypothermia and Frostbite

Hypothermia involves abnormally low body temperature due to winter elements. Respond quickly if you suspect hypothermia. Frostbite involves the blood moving out of the extremities because of cold. Symptoms include skin turning a white color.

  • Shield the victim from the wind and cold as quickly as possible. If clothing is wet, remove it and replace it with dry clothes.
  • Do not put the victim in a hot bath. Instead, wrap them in lots of blankets so their body can generate the heat it needs.
  • Do not submerge frostbitten extremities in hot water, as this will cause damage. Get emergency help to treat frostbite.

photo of hiker with wrap on knee from injury

Common Minor Injuries

Being active outdoors can cause a variety of minor injuries like cuts and scrapes. Some injuries may need to be seen by a doctor, but many won't.

  • Always clean any area of broken skin. Apply antiseptic ointment and cover the wound.
  • Clean the wound periodically, and keep it covered with fresh bandages.

Injury Prevention

Preventing injuries is the best course of action. Use common sense, don't push your limits, and stay vigilant for signs of danger.

  • Always tell someone where you're going before you head off into the outdoors.
  • Bring along a mobile phone or satellite phone for communication.
  • Don't go into the wilderness alone.
  • Pack the gear you'll need to protect yourself from the elements and keep yourself safe.
  • Don't take unnecessary risks, and stay aware of your surroundings.

Additional First-Aid Resources