Basic first aid is a very valuable skill to have when going on a camping trip or extended hike. Knowing how to identify and avoid hazards, and treat injuries in the field can even save a life. The American Red Cross offers CPR and First Aid classes in most communities. Check with your local fire company to see when their next CPR re-certification / first aid class is scheduled. You may be able to take the class with them. If not, check out the Red Cross First Aid & CPR schedule in your community using your zip code.
Many of the hazards that harm the most campers and hikers can be greatly reduced and even avoided altogether. Know the area that you’re going into and look up the potential hazards and weather information for that region before you go. Be prepared for all of the elements you’ll encounter. Here are some basic first aid tips for your next campout…
- If the camping area or hiking trail is in the sun, wear sunscreen. Pack a small bottle of it for you and your campers. Sunburn is no fun and can become a serious injury during extended exposure to the sun.
- If your camping trip includes long hikes, blisters can become an injury that may slow you down. Wear comfortable shoes and socks and try to use a lubricant like BodyGlide or Vaseline on your heels and toes to prevent blisters. It’s a good idea to pack some moleskin in your first aid kit…just in case.
- Some climates can be very hot during the day and very cool at night. Make sure that you have the right clothing and sleeping bag to keep you warm at night. A foil emergency blanket is a good lightweight addition to your daypack or first aid kit to keep you warm if you get separated from your gear or if your stuff gets wet from rain or river-crossings.
- Find out what dangers exist from the local ranger or park service employees. Your campout may be during a time when bees, ticks, or other critters are active. It’s nice knowing these things before you get in the woods. Something as simple as a bee sting kit could come or calamine lotion could save hours of discomfort.
And no matter how well you plan, chances are that you’ll encounter something that you didn’t plan on. Taking a basic first aid course can teach you about treating for shock, hypothermia, broken bones, and open wounds. Below is a brief list of less-severe or minor injuries that you can prepare for and even teach your scouts with a brief basic first aid class:
With minor cuts, you want to be careful to keep the area of the wound clean to avoid possible infection. Treat the cut with first aid cream or iodine to prevent infection. If the cut has not stopped bleeding, raise the wounded area above the heart and place pressure on the area to stop the bleeding. For larger wounds, locate the artery closest to the area and apply pressure on the artery to stop bleeding. Again, assuming that it’s a smaller cut, clean the area thoroughly, then apply some antibiotic cream and bandage. The bandage should be snug, but not so tight that it cuts off circulation.
Blisters can turn a fun walk in the woods into a miserable experience. If you’re prone to blisters, put the moleskin on your trouble spots on Day 1. Blisters are an open wound and can get infected if not cared for. Change your bandage and socks and keep the blistered area clean. Make sure that you pack different size bandages, gauze, and first aid cream. Areas where the pack straps touch your shoulders are also prime targets for blisters. Use BodyGlide or Vaseline here before you start your hike, too…you’ll thank me later.
If you’re lucky enough to live in areas of glacial till (i.e. rocky), your ankles may take a beating when you hike. If you’ve got a heavy pack on your shoulders, it can be very easy to twist your ankles. Walking sticks can be a hiker’s friend on rough terrain and save your balance when a rock or root trips you up. A good elastic or ACE bandage should be packed in the unfortunate event that you or someone with you twists an ankle. This can help immobilize the sprained area until you can get medical attention. ACE bandages are also valuable for larger wound areas, and can help make a good splint with a few straight sticks.
The woods can have lots of thorny shrubs and other prickly friends. It’s a good idea to pack a pair of tweezers and some alcohol wipes, just in case. These are also handy in removing ticks. After you remove the splinter or tick, clean and bandage the wound with first aid cream to prevent infection.No matter how short your camping trip is, learn some basic first aid skills before you go. Knowing how to treat small field ailments is good to know can prevent small injuries from getting infected or hampering too much of your camping fun. If you encounter more severe injuries, or if the symptoms are accompanied with fever or signs of shock, seek immediate medical attention. A basic first aid course is worth attending for symptom identification and treatment of more serious injuries.
After seeing the above potential hazards and treatments, it’s also helpful to pack a small basic first aid kit for your trip. Make sure that you include items that are unique to you and your travelers (like allergy items), and items that address your environment (snake bite kit, etc..). Have a safe & fun trip!