Wilderness First Aid Kit: A Basic Overview
Guide to using a Wilderness First Aid Kit
It is essential to have the basic understanding and principles of first aid and CPR if you are going to be spending any amount of time in the outdoors. Not only should one be able to understand the process, but they need to know how to apply them on themselves and others. Simply knowing how to identify and treat minor injuries is a plus and can be extremely useful on any outdoor adventure. If you know basic first aid you can keep serious casualties stable until further help can arrive, which is truly an invaluable skill to you and everyone you are traveling with or happen upon.
You may think your kit is self-explanatory, however, some people may not know how to use poison ivy soap, or what exactly moleskin is and how to use it properly. An easy to read pamphlet weighs nothing and can be a life saving addition to your kit. Having identified plants on the pamphlet can also help those who do not know what poison oak, ivy, and sumac look like. Helping others identify these toxic plants can keep them and others safe.
Safety is of utmost importance whenever you are planning to spend time in the outdoors. By having a basic knowledge of plants and keeping a first aid kit tailored to your specific needs and environment, you will keep yourself, your party, and others safe and healthy. If accidents or injuries occur, it is always best to have the basics on hand to prevent further infection or injury.
3 Tips for Basic First Aid Kits
- Easy & convient carrying case: Pick an easy to move case and keep organized by using color coded compartments or files. Clear plastic baggies are nice in the sense that you can see everything that is inside, but they are easy to tear and are not a good place to store many of the tools that are essential to any good kit. I have found that small tackle boxes or the clear divided jewlery making cases are a great way to create different sized compartments within one container. Not only do they give the ability to see what is inside each compartment, they also provide a safe non-tear container.The smaller containers are extremely cheap, so buying several is not going to break the bank. They can also be easily stored in backpacks which makes them easy to travel with.
- Label & protect equipment: Clearly label all compartments and laminate anything that is vital for identifying items within your kit. It is also a good idea to have a guide of dangerous plants and animals that you could encounter on the journey. Laminating ensures that your important papers stay clean, crisp, fresh and will not deteriorate in the outdoor elements.
- Clean & safe supplies: Keep your kit up to date and make sure everyone is knowledgable about where it is located and what is inside. A kit with outdated and expired equipment or medications is not going to be helpful in an emergency situation. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where your kit is too old to help you. I recommend checking your kit every six months or so. This will allow you to catch any items that are coming up on their expiration date and change them out. It will also allow you to make sure things like your swiss army knife, tweezer, or nail clippers have not gone dull or started to rust. You will need to check it more often if you take frequent trips or find that you use your kit frequently.
Wilderness First Aid Classes
When planning to go out into the great outdoors a first aid kit is a great tool to have on hand, as it’s hard to estimate when further help will arrive to the scene of an accident or serious injury. In the wilderness where a numerous amount of ailments can occur knowing basic principles of first aid can greatly improve any situation and your chance of survival.
If you plan to spend any amount of time in the outdoors, whether it be the mountains, desert, or somewhere inbetween you should be prepared. Wilderness First Aid (WFA) classes are available world wide and can be a great idea if you plan to be part of a camp staff, a trip leader, or you are simply an outdoor enthusiast.
Most WFA classes are a mix of hands on learning outside (despite weather conditions) and classroom lecture. At the end of one of these courses you will have the knowledge, skills, and the ability to make sound decisions in emergency situations.
WFA classes provide the fundamentals in a fun and practical way. Learning first aid should be a hands on experience, and having the ability to be in the elements adds a realism that is hard to find in the classroom. One can be sure that they will be prepared to administer any type of first aid once they have finished with this class.
First Aid Priorities
These priorities are common among any first aid training and are vital in order to properly and safely help someone in an emergency situation. Each individual incident will require different priorities, however, it’s a good idea to know and understand each of the top four priorities. These should always be checked in this order during any situation, even if it is believed to not be an emergency upon first glance.
1. Check the scene: First it is important to make sure the person is okay, and if helping that person will put you or them in any danger. Once you feel it is safe, you can go and check on them. Do not move a person if you do not know the extent of their injuries, unless the person is in immediate danger or is having difficulty breathing it is better to leave them where they are. In instances of scuffed knees or minor abrasions this priority would not always be necessary.
2. Check breathing: Insuring that the person is breathing is especially important if the person is unconscious. Someone who is unconscious has no control over their muscles and the tongue is no exception. The tongue is the number one reason most air ways are obstructed, and we need to make sure that it is not hindering breathing in any way. Again this may not be a necessary priority for every incident, but the knowledge of this step is still important.
3. Bleeding: Stop any bleeding that you may see. All external wounds are treated in the same way whether it's a small cut, graze or a severe wound:
- Apply direct pressure to the wound with gauze; or a clean strip of clothing will work as well. If you have gloves you should put those on. You don't know what illnesses or diseases the blood could be carrying.
- Lie the person down if the bleeding is substantial and lift the wound above the heart to slow down the flow of blood.
- Finally, bandage the wound firmly but take care not to cut off circulation to the area. If you suspect internal bleeding it’s important to make sure the person does not go into shock.
4. Shock: Shock is a condition of general body weakness, and is present in most accident cases to varying degrees. A person in shock may feel weak, faint, anxious, or restless. It is of upmost importance to keep the person warm and quiet to reduce shock and its possible side effects.
With smaller incidents it may not be necessary to check for breathing or protect a person against shock, however knowing these simple first steps is a good way to be prepared if something serious happens in the future. St. John's Ambulance has some great resources on how to take care of severe bleeding, as well as how to recognize the symptoms of shock. They also have an indepth first aid techniques page that is worth reading. They cover everything from how to use your kit and dressing bandages to resuscitation and how to us a defibrillator.
Along with these four principles, bringing a travel first aid kit can help mitigate different types of accidents or run-ins you may experience in the wild. Along with your wilderness first aid kit it’s a good idea to create an easy to read basic first aid instruction booklet so others can use your kit if needed. Color coded pamphlets with pictures, and glossaries create easy to read materials for those that are traveling with you who may not be familiar with everything first aid related.
Having a kit is not enough if you are the one injured and your party does not have the knowledge necessary to help you. Make sure you know what your kit contains and how to use each item. You need to be able to delegate orders or give precise instructions for anyone who is unfamiliar with first aid or CPR. If you are not familiar enough with your own kit, you cannot expect others to know how to use it either.
It is also a good idea to educate those you are traveling with. Let them know exactly what is in your wilderness first aid kit and how each item should be used if they do not already know. Go over the guide as a group and ensure that everyone is comfortable with all the materials inside.
What to Pack in a Wilderness First Aid Kit
Each first aid kit should be tailored to the needs and climate in which you plan to travel. Although each trip may require different tools of aid, below is a list of basics that should be included in every first aid kit. Along with the much needed sun block and bug repellent this list provides some important must haves for you.
- Aloe Vera (for the unfortunate sunburn that may happen)
- Antiseptics--Moist towelettes, alcohol prep towels, antibiotic ointments
- Calamine lotion and cortisone creams
- Latex free gloves (I suggest latex free to avoid any possible latex allergies)
- Q-tips and cotton balls
- Sterile gauze pads
- Adhesive bandage tape
- Bandages (band aids of all sizes and ace bandages)
- Wound closure strips (for medium wounds)
- Over the counter Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Benadryl, and any other pain or allergy medications that you use
- Poison Ivy/Oak Soap (this is a major necessity as normal soap will not remove the sticky, almost invisible residue of the poison ivy, oak, or sumac plant. Regular soap also runs the risk of making any reaction worse)
- Nail clippers
- Tweezers (used to remove ticks, thorns, or burrs)
- Swiss Army Knife or other foldable knife
- Water purification tablets
- Moleskin (blister treatment)
- Bandana (can be used as a sling, splint, etc.)
Do I need Poison Ivy Soap?
In short, no you do not need it. However, I highly recommend using poison ivy soap over some of the other options to remove any and all poison ivy toxins from the skin. Poison ivy dermatitis is not something you want to mess around with, and the best way to try and avoid an allergic reaction is to use poison ivy soap as soon as possible.
The toxins that are produced by the poison ivy plant spread easily and can be spread from one person to another, from your clothes to your skin, and can also be transferred to you from your pet. Your pet will not be affected if they walk through any poison ivy, oak, or summac making it harder to know if they have come in contact with the plants or not. However, the toxins from those plants will be on their fur and can spread to you if you pet them or they rub up on you.
It's also important to note that more than just the leaves contain these rash inducing toxins. The toxin can also be found on the roots, stems, fruits, and flowers as the whole plant contains the poisonous oil.
To keep the spread of the oils to a minimum, wash all contaminated skin areas immediately with poison ivy soap and water. After about 10 minutes the oil will have seeped into the skin and a rash outbreak is likely to happen within 3-10 days. The more often you are exposed to this poisonous oil the earlier you will break out and the more severe the rashes will become.
I recommend this soap because it is easy to carry and travels well. It is also the most effective way I have found to rid the skin of all toxins produced by poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
If you prefer, Dawn dish soap has been proven to work as well. You could also invest in Fels-Naptha. It will be the best laundry soap to remove all the poisonous oils trapped on your clothing. It may be a laundry soap, but you can certainly use it on your skin too. It's a great way to be able to clean everything with one soap. Either way, you are going to want a good laundry soap to remove all the oils from contaminated clothing and shoes. Without proper washing the oils can stick around for many years, causing continuous outbreaks when it comes into contact with human skin.
What is Moleskin?
Moleskin is a type of bandage that can be used to help protect blisters. It is usually made out of thin, but strongly woven heavy cotton. Regular bandages are noctorious for coming loose or falling off, especially when on a person's foot or heel. Moleskin however, will remain in place and can provide that extra layer of protection blisters need. Soft on one side with a sticky adhesive on the other, moleskin is a durable bandage that will be able to protect your blisters from further irritation.
To use moleskin follow the steps below.
- Cut off a piece of fabric that is slightly larger than your blister
- Fold both ends together and cut out a semi circle creating a hole in the middle of your bandage.
- Remove the adhesive sticky and put the bandage around your blister making sure that the blister is fully within the circle and will not be covered up by the adhesive.
- If your blister is taller than your bandage, you will want to repeat steps 1 through 3 to make an extra layer. By making sure the bandage is above the blister you will ensure that no rubbing will irritate or pop open your blister.
Whether you are heading out for a multiday hike, working as a camp staffer, or simply taking a family hike through the woods having a first aid kit close at hand is essential. These kits can be tailored to each individuals needs and when fully stocked can weigh as little as 4-5 oz. Having a small kit may seem okay when you start, but you won’t realize the importance of what’s missing until you really need it. An overstocked kit is better than having one that will not be useful in any probable situation.
Having a fanny pack or small backpack for your necessities is an easy and portable way to make sure you have everything you need if you end up in an emergency situation. A small wearable case is the ideal way to keep your kit close at hand.
© 2012 Cholee Clay