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.
With plenty of mountains, hiking trails, and national parks with stunning views, enjoying the outdoors in Britain is easier than ever. But knowing how to stay safe and what to do in the event of an emergency is essential.
Whether you enjoying high-altitude trekking, mountain-climbing, or simple weekend strolls in the outdoors, you should have an understanding of how to keep yourself and your group safe – as dramatic as it sounds, it can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
It’s safe to say that Britain doesn’t have the warmest climate, so if someone in your group becomes injured on a long hike, hypothermia becomes a secondary risk. Rescuers often have to treat casualties for symptoms of hypothermia as well as the original injuries.
To minimise the likelihood of hypothermia setting in, you should always pack extra layers and a waterproof coat. Investing in a survival bag for your first-aid pack is vital if you’re going to be hiking or climbing in a hard-to-reach area, where emergency services won’t be able to quickly reach your group. In this scenario, a survival blanket will offer the casualty protection from the elements and will help to preserve body heat.
You should carry a survival blanket with you year-round, because temperatures can plummet overnight, especially at higher altitude.
Limb injuries account for the majority of climbing and hiking accidents – particularly lower-limb injuries like sprains and breaks. Slippery conditions caused by rainfall or ice can increase the likelihood of these injuries.
Sprains can be treated using the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) method – which is where an elastic bandage in your first-aid kit will come in handy. Carrying an ice pack around would be impractical, but you can create a makeshift one using a spare t-shirt submerged in cold water. In an ideal situation, you would rest and elevate a sprain, but eventually you will have to start making your way home.
Walking-poles can be used to create a makeshift splint and stabilise ankle sprains, whilst the injured person is supported by a member of the group as they walk.
In the case of a more serious injury like a fracture, fingers and toes can be taped to neighbouring digits for support, and fractured limbs can be temporarily stabilised by splints.
When dealing with an unconscious casualty, the first thing you need to establish is if they are breathing and whether they have any obvious life-threatening injuries. Once you have established that they are breathing and if it’s safe to move them, you should place them in the recovery position to keep their airway clear and open – this will also ensure that they don’t choke on any fluid or vomit.
Climbing and hiking on uneven terrain increases the risk of falling, and if a person falls from a significant height or directly hits their head, you should treat them with extra precaution in case they have suffered a spinal injury. If you suspect a spinal injury, it’s important that you do not attempt to move the casualty, because this could cause further damage.
Instead of placing a person with a potential spinal injury in the recovery position, you can keep their airway open by placing your hands on either side of their head and gently lifting the jaw to open their airway.
The ideal first-aid kit should include all of the necessities whilst still being light enough to pack in with the rest of your essentials.
Although your kit should be made up of the same basic items all year round, don’t forget to swap and change items to account for seasonal dangers. For example, in the summer, antihistamines and sunscreen will be useful additions, but in the colder months they will be unnecessary extras that should swap out for items that are more useful.
If you frequently enjoy the outdoors in more remote areas, consider investing in an automated external defibrillator (AED). In the case of sudden cardiac arrest, an AED can be the difference between life and death and is a life-saving addition to your first-aid kit if emergency services need extra time to reach you.
Are you an avid climber or a lover of high-altitude walking? If you’ve never taken a first-aid training course before, you should consider enrolling on to one. Having a first-aid kit with you is only half the preparation for emergency situations. After all, what good is the kit if you’re not confident in how to use it?
A training course will give you the tools to carry out basic procedures and safety measures that will help stabilise a casualty until the rescue services can reach you. Basic knowledge of how to apply a splint, recognising the signs of hypothermia, and keeping an unconscious person’s airways open are all life-saving skills on a mountain (and off one!)