A beginner's guide to outdoor first aid

Basic essential first aid skills for walkers, runners, cyclists and trekkers you need to treat those minor injuries that occur when out and about.

Many lovers of the great outdoors spend more time learning survival tips they're very unlikely to need than they do learning simple, essential first aid practices. While these tips might not seem as glamorous, you'll be happy you know them when you're out amongst nature with no phone signal.

Of course, first aid isn't something you can teach in a blog - it requires full training and practical experience. In this article, we'll be going over some useful beginner's knowledge and must-have items to get you started on outdoor first aid.

Treating muscle strains and ankle sprains

Easily the most common outdoor injury, strains and sprains occur when we're trudging along some uneven terrain or traversing a rocky edge, but then again, they also happen playing footy in the park. To prepare yourself for them, ensure you have a portable dry ice pack on hand to reduce any swelling. If you don't have anything to use as a splint to immobilise the sprain, look for a piece of wood - a broken finger, for example, can be supported by something as small as a strong twig and some medical tape. If you fracture a bone in your arm, you could also use a rolled-up newspaper of even a blanket to support it.

Remember - elevate the sprain/fracture to decrease the blood flow to the injured area.

Treating cuts and scrapes

There are countless ways we can cut ourselves when out in mother nature; you might walk into a sharp tree branch and clip your cheek, fall and scrape the skin off your knee when hiking, or accidentally nip yourself with a knife when setting something up for your camp. That's why being prepared is crucial for any lengthy outdoor excursion.

You'll need to clean and treat the wound, and then keep it clean until you can seek professional help or get home for further treatment. Painkillers, antiseptic wipes, bandages and medical tape should be among the first things you pack (and essential to any first aid kit).

Blisters are another common problem for keen runners, walkers, hikers and campers. Avoid piercing the blister if possible, and cover it in a plaster or dressing that can be taped in place. It's always handy to take a specific blister treatment kit out with you. Treated early, you can reduce blister formation which will make the next day far more comfortable.

Remember - when possible, use drinking/bottled water to clean the wounds, as in rare instances rivers, ponds and lakes may contain germs that lead to infections.

Treating burns and sunburn

Whether you've been a bit overzealous roasting marshmallows on the campfire or you've just spent too long out in the blazing sun without taking the necessary precautions, there aren't many things more painful than being burned. If you've burnt yourself over a flame, remove any clothing or jewellery near the area and cool the burn with cool or lukewarm water (if you're low on water, a wet wipe can also provide relief. Avoid your ice pack in this instance - instead, when the burn has cooled, apply strips everyday kitchen cling film to the area (a clean plastic bag will also suffice for hand burns). Take some painkillers to help you cope, and if it's serious head to a hospital. See also our guide to campfire safety.

For sunburn, you should really be preventing it in the first place by applying plenty of sun lotion. If you do burn, again - apply cool, wet compresses to the affected areas, and apply an after-sun lotion and moisturiser containing aloe vera or soy.

Remember - if you're heading out on a very hot day, wear a baseball cap to keep your head shaded and cool. Any parts of the body exposed should be covered in sun lotion, and don't forget to take plenty of water with you.

Treating insect bites and stings

When you're hiking across conservation areas or camping out under the stars in the US, for example, you better make sure you're prepared for snake and spider bites. Here in the UK, however, the threat of being bitten is far lower. Still, insect repellent spray or cream is an absolute must in the summertime - don't be embarrassed to cover yourself 24/7 from head to foot. Mosquito or midge bites, as well as stings from wasps, hornets and bees stings, are afflictions you'll want to avoid in order to enjoy your time outdoors. If you do get bit by a bug, apply an antihistamine cream and a portable ice pack to help tame the itching.

If you're camping, it's also important to block the entry to your tent with mosquito netting, or - if you're that way inclined - an ultraviolet bug zapping light.

Remember - if you do get stung by a bee, don't squeeze the stinger as this will only release more venom. Instead, scrape it out quickly using something with a hard edge, like a credit card, or even your fingernail.

When it comes to outdoor first aid for beginners, forget Bear Grylls and remember the basics of preventing the situation getting worse until you can get proper medical assistance. If you are planning a longer trip, lead a walking group or just want to sharpen your skills, why not consider signing up for a First Aid training course - you could save someone's life.

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