Depending on where you’re hiking or camping, you may be miles from the nearest road, and even further from modern first aid facilities. To make things worse, you may not have cell phone service. These factors can turn an injury that could have been treated in civilization into a life-threatening situation. So when a first aid emergency arises, you need to know how to handle the situation until you can find help.
Since you’re reading this, I assume that you aren’t camping and have therefore not started your trip. If that is the case be sure that you are not going anywhere alone. Bringing at least one other camper or hiker is one of the most important things you can do to make sure everyone stays safe.
The other precaution to take is this: have a working phone with service. You can buy a temporary satellite plan and keep your phone turned off in your pack, but having a way to contact a hospital or the police is not only smart, but imperative. This is especially true if you’re going on a long hike.
With those two safety checks out of the way, we can focus on some of the more serious types of wounds that commonly befall the outdoors-oriented.
How to Treat a Broken Bone
Fortunately, I’ve never had to deal with something like this while camping. Depending on the bone that may be broken (unless it’s a compound fracture, you should probably just always assume that the bone is broken) you will need to use items around you to replicate the cast that you would receive from a doctor.
If your arm or wrist is broken, you will need to create a splint. You might have a splint as part of your first aid kit, but if not you can improvise. Do not try to re-position the bone as you might cause further damage. Have the person lay their arm with their elbow forming a ninety-degree angle as you fashion a splint from two sticks and some tape or string. The goal will be to immobilize the injured arm by fastening the sticks to either side of the arm with the tape or string.
The same principle applies to a broken leg. But if you still have a long way to go before you reach help, take three six-foot sticks and lash them together so that they form a crude isosceles triangle. Lay a trap over your triangle and your injured friend can sit on the tarp as you and another friend carry the makeshift gurney.
How to Treat an Open Wound
If you or someone in your party has a wound that is bleeding profusely, you need to act quickly before too much blood is lost. If the wound clearly requires stitches, you can use a suture if you have it. You can also use a clean needle or safety pin from your first aid kit and attach it to a small string allow you to crudely stitch the wound yourself until help can be found.
The important thing is to stop the bleeding. You can do this by applying pressure to the wounded area and wrapping it in gauze, fabric, or clothing.
None of these treatments are sufficient on their own. They only serve to allow you to immediately find help. If you take a phone, a friend, and a first aid kit, you should be ready to deal with whatever nature has to throw at you.