“I never felt so helpless,” said a doctor friend of mine as we discussed the mock accident scenarios we practiced during a Wilderness First Aid certification course I took recently. “I’m used to having medical tests, and instruments, and nurses around me when patients come to the Emergency Room. We never see them at an accident site.”
That pretty much sums up the difference between hospital medicine and first responder care for me and why I’d rather be treated by an EMT than some random doctor at an accident scene. The contrast is even more stark in a Wilderness setting where you are hours and perhaps days from Wilderness EMTs or Search and Rescue and the only medical aids and treatments you can carry are in your pack, what you can MacGyver from backcountry resources, and in your head.
Which is why I recommend that all hikers, backpackers, and hiking leaders take the 16 hour Wilderness First Aid certification class. In addition to self-diagnosis and self-care, understanding how to assess a patient and stabilize them in the Wilderness until help can arrive can make a huge difference in whether an injured hiker lives or dies, or retains full bodily function after an incident.
Wilderness First Aid classes are available from REI, the Wilderness Medicine Institute, The Boy Scouts, NOLS, SOLO and many other regional outdoor groups. The classes combine classroom lectures and scenario-based practice sessions where you can apply the hands-on assessment skills you learn in class in mock accident scenes. It’s very useful training and will make you more self sufficient and self reliant on hiking and backpacking trips, whether you’re hiking solo or in a group.
Having a Wilderness First Aid certification is often the minimum requirement for any kind of outdoor job and having it has helped me land some guiding jobs, so it’s worth the investment in time and money. Course prices vary depending on where you take it, ranging from $120 when subsidized by an outdoor organization like the Appalachian Mountain Club to $225 from a commercial entity, but it’s definitely worth every penny you pay.
“Have you ever had to use your Wilderness First Aid training,” asked another friend of mine. “Yes, many times,” I replied, with surprising frequency, to treat everything from a heart attack to dehydration, bee stings, blisters, puncture wounds, sprains, and more. I can’t imagine what I would have done without this training.
But your patients aren’t the only people who benefit when you take a Wilderness First Aid training course. You also benefit personally by building your Wilderness skill set and the increased certainty and confidence that comes from it.