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Multi-Function Backpacking Gear for Wilderness First-Aid

Wilderness First Aid Training
Wilderness First Aid Training

I took a refresher course on Wilderness First Aid last weekend and we had a brainstorming session in class about how all the things in your backpack can be used for multiple purposes in a first aid incident.

We never focus on this in a UL backpacking context when we try to think about multiple ways to use our gear. But it’s pretty relevant. I’ve come across plenty of accident scenes on my hiking and backpacking trips, and I expect I’ll have to deal with some of my own when I start leading group trips again later this year.

Here are some multi-purpose items in my backpack that can be used for Wilderness First Aid:

  • Splinting sprains and broken bones
    • A foam or inflatable sleeping pad can help build a splint
    • Articles of clothing can be used to pad a splint
    • Articles of clothing can be cut up to tie or swath an upper body sling in place
    • Guy lines and tensioners can be used to hold a splint together; they’re better than duct tape because they can be adjusted to prevent circulation loss
    • Tarps or ground sheets can be used to wrap splints tight
    • Hiking poles and pack stays can be used as rigid split elements
    • A fleece sweater can be wrapped around the patient’s neck to limit head movement
  • Soft tissue injuries
    • Articles of clothing can be used to apply pressure to a bleeding wound
    • Hosers and bottles with narrow spouts can be squeezed to irrigate and clean open wounds
    • You can also put a hole in a sandwich bag to create a pressurized stream of purified water
    • Base layers make good scrubbing pads for cleaning abrasion wounds with soap and water
    • Use a sewing needle to lift up the skin and pull out a barbed fish hook
    • Hot spots can be covered with duct tape before they become blisters
  • Treating hypothermia
    • Tarps and ground sheets make a good vapor barrier layer for rewarming hypothermic patients in a human burrito (hypowrap)
    • Sleeping pads, sleeping bags and insulated clothing are good insulators to add to a human burrito
    • You can fill a platypus hydration reservoir with hot water and put it in a human burrito to warm a patient
  • Treating heat exhaustion and heat stroke
    • A sleeping pad can be used to fan a patient
    • Water bottles or hosers can be used to pour cold water all over them
    • A tarp can be used to provide the patient with shade
    • A poo trowel or tent stakesl can be used to dig a 18″ deep ditch that the patient can lie in to cool off – this ground is always cooler than surface temps
  • Scene Safety
    • An insulated sleeping pad or sit pad can be used to provide the patient with thermal insulation from the ground
    • Tarps, ground sheets, or fabric tent bodies can be used to drag a patient away from a dangerous accident scene to safe ground
    • Sandwich bags and ziplocs can be used as gloves to keep the patients body substances off you and vice versa
  • Vital Signs
    • A watch is important to count out 20 seconds for pulse and breath counts
    • Cell phones have timers that can be used for vital sign count if you don’t have a watch
    • A pen or pencil are important to write down vital signs and fill in SOAP notes

That’s quite a lot of reuse, isn’t it? You can get really creative about using your gear in multiple ways in an emergency and this doesn’t even include items from the environment around you that you can use to stabilize a patient.

If you’ve never taken a Wilderness First Aid class, you should consider it. It might change what you put in your backpack to help others or yourself in an backcountry emergency.

24 comments

  1. Excellent post! When I took my Wilderness First Aid course we covered many of the same things you listed. But, it's always good to review someone else's list.

  2. Good reminders!

    The excellent "Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations" by Andy Tyson & Molly Loomis has an solid section on improvised carrying devices and litters/stretchers. Search for "stretcher" on the Google Books page.

  3. Thank you! I would love to take a wilderness first aid course.

    I remember watching a documentary years ago about a young man who was mauled by a bear on a camping trip in the wilderness of MT. The bear left him for dead and he was able to hike out (he was in really bad shape). The first campsite he came to was a Dr. on a camping trip. The Dr. literally "taped him back together" with duct tape and then they transported him out. Duct tape is pretty useful stuff!

  4. After our first multi-day backpacking trip with the scouts, we realized how little we know. Standard first aid training relies so much on 911 and immediate transportation to a medical facility that it is quite sobering once you realize it can be hours or even days to get out of the backcountry.

    I've found there can be a vast difference in the quality of instruction. My first course was from a small company that specializes in WFA. It was very thorough and well organized. My recertification class was from a larger organization where WFA is just a minor sideline topic, and was only good for getting an easy re-cert. Next time I'll stick with the smaller specialty providers.

  5. Yeah. I've taken both of my classes from SOLO. They are excellent! I would imagine NOLS does a pretty good job too.

  6. Why do you specify Platypus for the hot water bladder? Just curious if a Camelbak be as good.

    Thanks for the post.

    Sean

  7. This is a great post. Do you have any posts on first aid kits?

  8. First off – this is my backpack and I only use platypus reservoirs. But for first aid purposes, you wouldn't want to pour boiling water into a camelbak for 2 reasons. 1) it's incredibly easy to burn yourself trying to fill a camelbak opening because you have to hold it open by hand. Playpus reservoirs stand up by themselves so you can pour hot liquids into them without becoming a 2nd victim. 2) Platypus reservoirs only have a screw-top opening and not a hoser attachment. The last thing you want in a hydrowrap is for water to leak out of a camelbak and destroy the insulating power of the sleeping bag. Make sense?

  9. It does make sense. I'm unfamiliar with platypus and thought they had more in common with camelbak. Thanks!

    Sean

  10. Dave,

    http://sectionhiker.com/diy-first-aid-kit/

    This is still pretty close to what I still carry in my first aid kit, although I've ditched the medical tape and just use duct tape now. If I were leading a group trip, I'd probably add a SAM splint, but this is about it.

  11. I've used both SOLO and the local red cross, and SOLO was the most detailed and rigorous, by far (though the red cross did more scenarios as was a bit more fun). The one bit of first aid gear I've added to my kit is a sam splint – which makes much better neck braces than the improvised alternatives (and so makes sense in a group situation where the odds of a problem are a bit higher – not sure I'd take it if I were solo'ing (don't usually)).

    Of course the only time I ended up using it was on a visit to family in the UK, where I took it because we were boating and would be at least 1-2 hours away from responders when we dialed 999, and then needed when my son slipped while playing with his uncle (for a broken wrist) a 5 minute drive from the hospital. The emergency room triage nurse said "so, you just happened to have this with you?" and must have considered it further evidence that we "yanks" are all crazy.

  12. My UL first aid word for the day is: pack energy drink powders.

    I was the one who needed assistance last month and besides for getting through the situation, there were many things observed that I wanted to share.

    I was out for a low altitude hike into the WMNF wilderness. Easy in my book, hike 5 miles miles along Lincoln woods, heart rate was low enough that I could talk, I would only climb if I felt like it. Cool streams, generous breaks and many hiking buddies to make for a nice morning. What could go wrong? It was 75 degrees, I'm drinking straight water, and I wasn't interested in eating yet. Compound the fact that I had finally lost 10 pounds on a balanced diet. I'm feeling great.

    I started to feel weak- so I knew it was time to sit down and eat and drink. STOMACH CRAMPS, and still dizzy, I took my pack off and made my way up to my freinds to tell them my day was over. I'm still DIZZY! That's when I realize I hadn't had any salts/gatorade, but my camelpak is almost empty. I was given a Cliff "gummie" chew: not the best choice since I passed out shortly after that. When I came to I was DESPARATE for a drink supplement, and I would have chased a concentrate with fresh water. I had an irregualr heart rate, so an aspirin wouldn't hurt, but at the moment I was CONFUSED and didnt realize my stash of powder was right in my camelpak pocket.

    Scary for my buddies, a few 911 calls were made-the reports were varied as to what had happened.

    You know that if you ask me how I am, I'd say I'm fine, why? Hikers are optimists. Its normal to be in survival mode and if possible most of us want to walk out rather than be asssited. So get the symptoms and report only your observations. I would have gotten my cocktail faster when someone recognised the symtoms of possible HYPONATREMIA.

    Ask: what have you eaten?, what have you drank? and how much. Do you have any medical conditions?

    I got my drink and lots of food and I was ready to leave. Still a nice day, I hated that they wouldnt let me carry my pack, but it probably was a good idea.

    We know we take a risk hiking into the wilderness. Even though a Spot Call was made and several 911 calls were phoned in, it was about 2 hours before I met my First Responders who checked my glucous levels and determined that I was well enough to keep going. By then, they had heard I had fallen 50 feet and was having seizures. Just report the symptoms.

    In a civilian situation, we would have sat put, and waited for help. But out here, Fish and Game agreed with me, if I'm stable, let me get up before my muscles stiffen up.

    It was enough of a situation for me to get a heart check, and my physician finally got the message that I needed a exercise stress test. So far, so good. Its every hikers responsiblity to go into the woods as healthy as possible.

    Thank you guys for your efforts.

  13. My UL first aid word for the day is: pack energy drink powders.

    I was the one who needed assistance last month and besides for getting through the situation, there were many things observed that I wanted to share.

    I was out for a low altitude hike into the WMNF wilderness. Easy in my book, hike 5 miles miles along Lincoln woods, heart rate was low enough that I could talk, I would only climb if I felt like it. Cool streams, generous breaks and many hiking buddies to make for a nice morning. What could go wrong? It was 75 degrees, I’m drinking straight water, and I wasn’t interested in eating yet. Compound the fact that I had finally lost 10 pounds on a balanced diet. I’m feeling great.

    I started to feel weak- so I knew it was time to sit down and eat and drink. STOMACH CRAMPS, and still dizzy, I took my pack off and made my way up to my freinds to tell them my day was over. I’m still DIZZY! That’s when I realize I hadn’t had any salts/gatorade, but my camelpak is almost empty. I was given a Cliff “gummie” chew: not the best choice since I passed out shortly after that. When I came to I was DESPARATE for a drink supplement, and I would have chased a concentrate with fresh water. I had an irregualr heart rate, so an aspirin wouldn’t hurt, but at the moment I was CONFUSED and didnt realize my stash of powder was right in my camelpak pocket.

    Scary for my buddies, a few 911 calls were made-the reports were varied as to what had happened.

    You know that if you ask me how I am, I’d say I’m fine, why? Hikers are optimists. Its normal to be in survival mode and if possible most of us want to walk out rather than be asssited. So get the symptoms and report only your observations. I would have gotten my cocktail faster when someone recognised the symtoms of possible HYPONATREMIA.

    Ask: what have you eaten?, what have you drank? and how much. Do you have any medical conditions?

    I got my drink and lots of food and I was ready to leave. Still a nice day, I hated that they wouldnt let me carry my pack, but it probably was a good idea.

    We know we take a risk hiking into the wilderness. Even though a Spot Call was made and several 911 calls were phoned in, it was about 2 hours before I met my First Responders who checked my glucous levels and determined that I was well enough to keep going. By then, they had heard I had fallen 50 feet and was having seizures. Just report the symptoms.

    In a civilian situation, we would have sat put, and waited for help. But out here, Fish and Game agreed with me, if I’m stable, let me get up before my muscles stiffen up.

    It was enough of a situation for me to get a heart check, and my physician finally got the message that I needed a exercise stress test. So far, so good. Its every hikers responsiblity to go into the woods as healthy as possible.

    Thank you guys for your efforts.

  14. AMCLTHIKER (Mark War

    This is great stuff. It confirms I have not been carrying extra supplies needlessly.

    One item jumped out at me, though. If a victim is suffering from heat exhaustion or stroke the ambient tempature is probably pretty warm. What sort of knuckhead is going to dig an 18" deep trench in temps that were so warm that a nearby person suffered heat stroke or heat exhaustion. The safety and well being of the rescuer must be considered.

  15. In this situation, stablizing in a safe location was the best first action. Hydrate, elevate the feet, and cool off (it was 75-80 degrees). I went out wedged between some rocks. Lucky for me, I was sitting down already.

    I keep a nylon poncho packed for rain or a shelter. It was in my pack 100 feet below where I had taken it off. I really regretted leaving my pack.

    It was about 1/2 hour for the guys to gather hikers together to assist me off the incline, by that time I had started to absorb the fluids and felt like my old self…I was cooperative, but I really wanted to get down myself. no matter how stubborn your patient is, get them to take a break. I wasn't going anywhere without my pack.

    BTW Fish and Game never recieved the Spot call and I was interviewed as to what I was wearing and had in my backpack. Glad I was pack- ready. Another thing to note is that these calls are not reported to the news ( I was wondering) but the reporters sometimes hear the radio calls.

  16. Mark – I was told that the temp was at least 15 degrees cooler 18 inches down than outside. Think about it, if you want to cool the entire surface of someones body, getting them to lie in a trench makes some sense (especially if you pile cold earth on top of them too). Eerie but not that bad of an idea.

  17. Diane – Did Fish and Game interview to see whether you were culpable for paying for the rescue (ie. not being prepared).

  18. regarding: "Hosers and bottles with narrow spouts can be squeezed to irrigate and clean open wounds"

    First time I read this a few years ago I thought "cool!" but asked both an ER nurse and an EMT about that and they both responded that it you don't have anything else, go ahead and use a water bottle but a real irrigation syringe is MUCH MUCH more effective, weighs almost nothing, is not bulky and does more good using much less water … you want to use water that is safe to drink (filtered, boiled or treated).

  19. I carried a syringe like that for about a year after my first WFA certification. I gave up because it kept ripping my first aid gear bag. You are right of course – it is way more effective, especially with a thin curved tip like dental surgeons give you after wisdom tooth surgery. I should probably get one for group hikes – thanks for the reminder!

  20. I had an experience with hyponatremia last summer. I had major surgery in June, 2010 and two more surgeries in July. I was supposed to drink 3-4 liters of liquid daily. I was drinking only water since, to me, Gatorade is lime flavored sweat. One morning in August, I passed out twice, falling and breaking my ankle and incurring both a high and low ankle sprain. I still limp on that ankle but it doesn't stop me from doing whatever I want to do (other than walk limp free). My doctor told me to start adding electrolytes and it hasn't happened since. I use an electrolyte mix and flavor it with Crystal Light.

  21. As far as Fish and Game has to make a report after any instance, so I imagine that everyone will get the Hikesafe interview. I clearly could have spent the night out there and was with a small group.

    As a result of my physical, I need to reduce my pack weight & not overexert.

    My only change after this hike was to carry my water filter, a bottle for electrolyte mix, Nuun tablets, and camelpak. Carry less water and stop to filter water (warm months). Grab a snack and It will give your body a few minutes to recover at the same time.

    Make sure you mix the mixes in the proper ratio. In the winter, everything will need to be premixed, but care still needs to be taken to stay healthy.

  22. Add the 11th Hiking Essential, a versatile, multipurpose wood walking stick.

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