Drifter's Loom

wilderness first aid wrapping a sprained ankle

Wilderness First Aid for Camping and Hiking

Ah, the great outdoors! Nothing quite beats the thrill of camping and hiking, where the only WiFi you need is the wild fidelity of nature itself. But before you lace up those hiking boots and pack your s’mores supplies, there’s one crucial thing to remember: safety. Yes, the wilderness can be as unpredictable as my grandma at a bingo game. So, let’s talk about Wilderness First Aid for Camping and Hiking.

Ripstop material for your hammock

Remember Prevention is always better than Treatment!

Common Injuries and Their Causes for Camping, Hiking, Kayaking, and Canoeing


  1. Cuts and Scrapes: Often caused by handling sharp objects like knives or coming into contact with rough surfaces.
  2. Burns: Frequently result from campfire mishaps, cooking accidents, or touching hot surfaces.
  3. Insect Bites and Stings: Common due to the presence of mosquitoes, bees, and other insects.
  4. Blisters: Usually caused by friction from walking in ill-fitting shoes or doing repetitive tasks without proper hand protection.
  5. Sprains and Strains: Typically occur from tripping over uneven ground or lifting heavy objects improperly.


  1. Blisters: Commonly caused by friction from ill-fitting shoes or prolonged walking.
  2. Sprains and Strains: Often result from walking on uneven terrain or losing balance.
  3. Dehydration: Can occur from inadequate fluid intake during strenuous activity, especially in hot weather.
  4. Sunburn: Caused by prolonged exposure to the sun without proper sun protection.
  5. Hypothermia: Often occurs when hikers are unprepared for sudden changes in weather or get wet without adequate clothing.

Kayaking and Canoeing

  1. Shoulder Injuries: Commonly caused by repetitive paddling motions or overexertion.
  2. Sunburn: Results from prolonged exposure to the sun, especially on open water without shade.
  3. Blisters: Often caused by friction from paddles, especially if gloves are not worn.
  4. Capsizing and Drowning Risks: Can occur due to strong currents, waves, or inexperience in handling the watercraft.
  5. Hypothermia: A risk in cold water environments, particularly if the kayaker or canoeist gets wet and cannot dry off quickly.

The Essentials of Wilderness First Aid

Picture this: you’re deep in the forest, miles from civilization, when suddenly your buddy steps on a sharp rock. No, it’s not the beginning of a horror story, but it could be if you’re not prepared. Knowing wilderness first aid can turn potential disasters into mere inconveniences. So, let’s get cracking on the basics.

First Aid Kit: Your Survival Sidekick

Your first aid kit is like Batman’s utility belt—compact, essential, and full of nifty tools to save the day. Here’s a handy checklist of what to include:

  • Bandages and Gauze: For all those cuts and scrapes.
  • Antiseptic Wipes: Because infections are not fun.
  • Tweezers: For removing splinters or the odd tick.
  • Medical Tape: Holds things together when you can’t.
  • Scissors: Snip, snip, snip away.
  • Pain Relievers: Aspirin, ibuprofen—your call.
  • Hydrocortisone Cream: For those itchy, scratchy bug bites.
  • Moleskin: A lifesaver for blister-prone feet.
  • Gloves: Protect those hands.
  • CPR Mask: Safety first, even in the wilderness.

These are the key basic requirements for an outdoor first aid kit. You may want to include other items based on your experience, specific trip, access to medical help, and individuals who will be on the journey.

Here’s a little table for a quick visual on what to pack:

Bandages and GauzeCuts and Scrapes
Antiseptic WipesPrevent Infections
TweezersRemove Splinters and Ticks
Medical TapeSecure Dressings
ScissorsCutting Tape or Clothing
Pain RelieversAlleviate Pain
Hydrocortisone CreamSoothe Bug Bites
MoleskinPrevent and Treat Blisters
GlovesProtect Hands from Contamination
CPR MaskSafe Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation
With the basic first aid kit packed and ready now think through the hazards and specifics of your journey. You should think about what are my most likely hazards and what additional supplies should I carry.

This is some additional thought to think through.

Additional First Aid Kit Items

When preparing for a camping or hiking trip, it’s important to be equipped for a wide range of possible medical issues. Beyond the essentials, consider including the following items to handle specific conditions like allergies, upset stomach, bee stings, blood clots, severe bleeding, and sunburn.

For Allergies

  1. Antihistamines:
    • Use: To treat allergic reactions, including mild to moderate allergies to pollen, insect stings, or food.
    • Examples: Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Claritin (loratadine).
  2. Epinephrine Auto-Injector:
    • Use: For severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). Critical for individuals with known severe allergies.
    • Examples: EpiPen.

For Upset Stomach

  1. Antacids:
    • Use: To neutralize stomach acid and relieve heartburn or indigestion.
    • Examples: Tums or Rolaids.
  2. Anti-Diarrheal Medication:
    • Use: To treat diarrhea and reduce discomfort.
    • Examples: Imodium (loperamide).
  3. Motion Sickness Medication:
    • Use: To prevent and treat nausea and vomiting related to motion sickness.
    • Examples: Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) or Bonine (meclizine).

For Bee Stings

  1. Bee Sting Relief:
    • Use: To alleviate pain and itching from bee stings.
    • Examples: StingEze or After Bite.
  2. Allergy Medication:
    • Use: To reduce allergic reactions and swelling from insect stings.
    • Examples: Benadryl (diphenhydramine).

For Severe Bleeding

  1. Hemostatic Gauze:
    • Use: To help stop severe bleeding by promoting rapid clotting.
    • Examples: QuickClot or Celox.
  2. Tourniquet:
    • Use: To control severe bleeding from a limb when other methods are ineffective.
    • Examples: CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet) or SWAT-T (Stretch, Wrap, And Tuck Tourniquet).

For Sunburn Treatment

  1. Aloe Vera Gel:
    • Use: To soothe and moisturize sunburned skin.
    • Examples: Any brand of pure aloe vera gel.
  2. Burn Relief Spray:
    • Use: To cool and relieve pain from sunburn.
    • Examples: Solarcaine or Dermoplast.
  3. Hydrocortisone Cream:
    • Use: To reduce inflammation and itching from sunburn.
    • Examples: Any brand of 1% hydrocortisone cream.

Having a well-rounded first aid kit ensures you’re prepared for a variety of situations that could arise during your outdoor adventures.

Assessing the Situation: Keep Calm and Stay Collected

First rule of thumb: don’t panic. Easier said than done, right? But a clear head is your best asset in an emergency. Here’s a quick guide to assess any situation:

  1. Survey the Scene: Check for any immediate dangers—falling rocks, wild animals, or precarious cliffs.
  2. Check Responsiveness: Is the person conscious? Give them a gentle shake and a loud “Hey, are you okay?”
  3. Call for Help: If you have signal, dial emergency services. If not, send someone to get help while you provide aid.

Basic First Aid Techniques

Now, onto some nitty-gritty techniques. Remember, you’re not aiming for a medical degree here, just basic know-how.

Bleeding and Wounds

  1. Apply Pressure: Use a clean cloth or bandage to apply pressure to the wound.
  2. Elevate the Injury: Raise the injured area above the heart level if possible.
  3. Clean the Wound: Once bleeding is controlled, clean with antiseptic wipes.
  4. Dress the Wound: Cover with a sterile bandage or gauze.


  1. Cool the Burn: Hold the burn under cool running water for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Cover the Burn: Use a sterile, non-adhesive bandage.
  3. Pain Relief: Administer pain relievers if necessary.

Sprains and Fractures

  1. Rest: Stop using the injured area.
  2. Ice: Apply ice to reduce swelling.
  3. Compress: Use an elastic bandage to wrap the injury.
  4. Elevate: Keep the injured limb elevated.
sprang ankle first aid

Sprained Ankle First Aid Guide

A sprained ankle can put a damper on your outdoor adventure, but with the right first aid, you can manage it effectively. Let’s go through the steps you need to take if you or someone in your hiking group twists an ankle on the trail.

Steps for Treating a Sprained Ankle
  1. Rest
    • Action: Immediately stop using the injured ankle.
    • Reason: Prevent further damage and allow the healing process to begin.
  2. Ice
    • Action: Apply ice or a cold pack to the injured area for 15-20 minutes.
    • Reason: Reduces swelling and numbs the pain. Make sure to place a cloth between the ice and skin to prevent frostbite.
  3. Compression
    • Action: Wrap the ankle with an elastic bandage.
    • Reason: Provides support and helps reduce swelling. Ensure the wrap is snug but not too tight, as this can cut off circulation.
  4. Elevation
    • Action: Elevate the ankle above heart level.
    • Reason: Helps reduce swelling by allowing fluids to drain away from the injured area.
Additional Tips
  • Avoid Heat and Massage: Both can increase swelling in the initial 48 hours.
  • Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen can help manage pain and inflammation.
  • Seek Medical Attention: If the pain and swelling do not improve within a few days, or if you suspect a more severe injury (such as a fracture), seek professional medical help.

Dehydration and Heat-Related Issues

Let’s face it, hiking up that steep trail under the blazing sun can leave you thirstier than a cactus in a drought. Here’s how to deal with dehydration and other heat-related issues:


  1. Hydrate: Drink plenty of water.
  2. Rest: Take breaks in the shade.
  3. Electrolytes: Replenish lost salts with electrolyte drinks.

Heat Exhaustion

  1. Cool Down: Move to a cooler area.
  2. Rehydrate: Drink water or electrolyte solutions.
  3. Rest: Lie down with feet elevated.

Preventing Dehydration and Heat-Related Issues

When you’re out enjoying nature, the last thing you want is to be sidelined by dehydration or heat-related problems. They can sneak up on you faster than you can say, “Where’s my water bottle?” Let’s dive into some practical tips to keep you cool, hydrated, and happy on your outdoor adventures.

Hydration: The Golden Rule

1. Drink Regularly:

  • Tip: Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. By the time you feel thirst, you’re already dehydrated.
  • Strategy: Take small sips of water frequently rather than guzzling large amounts sporadically.

2. Choose the Right Fluids:

  • Tip: Water is your best friend, but sports drinks can help replenish electrolytes if you’re sweating a lot.
  • Strategy: Balance your intake with a mix of water and electrolyte-rich beverages, especially during intense activity.

3. Avoid Dehydration Culprits:

  • Tip: Steer clear of alcohol and caffeine; they can dehydrate you.
  • Strategy: If you enjoy a morning coffee or evening campfire beer, make sure to drink extra water to compensate.

Heat Management: Staying Cool

1. Dress Appropriately:

  • Tip: Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to help your body breathe.
  • Strategy: Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics that draw sweat away from your skin, keeping you cool and dry.

2. Take Breaks:

  • Tip: Rest in the shade regularly to give your body a break from the heat.
  • Strategy: Plan your activities to include shaded areas and take frequent breaks to cool down.

3. Plan for the Heat:

  • Tip: Avoid strenuous activities during peak heat hours (typically 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
  • Strategy: Schedule hikes, paddling, or other strenuous activities for the early morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler.

Nutrition: Fuel for the Body

1. Eat Water-Rich Foods:

  • Tip: Fruits like watermelon, oranges, and cucumbers are not only nutritious but also help keep you hydrated.
  • Strategy: Pack snacks that provide hydration and energy, like fresh fruits, salads, and hydrating smoothies.

2. Balance Your Diet:

  • Tip: Include a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to keep your energy levels steady.
  • Strategy: Opt for balanced meals and snacks that sustain your energy throughout your activities.

Monitoring and Signs: Stay Alert

1. Watch for Symptoms:

  • Tip: Know the early signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion, such as dizziness, headache, and excessive thirst.
  • Strategy: Keep an eye on yourself and your companions for any symptoms and take action immediately if they appear.

2. Buddy System:

  • Tip: Keep an eye on each other, especially in extreme heat conditions.
  • Strategy: Check in regularly with your hiking or camping buddies to ensure everyone is staying hydrated and cool.

Hypothermia: Cold but Not Cool

When temperatures drop faster than your WiFi connection, hypothermia can set in. Here’s what to do:

  1. Warm Up: Move to a warmer environment, if possible.
  2. Remove Wet Clothing: Wet clothes can accelerate heat loss.
  3. Insulate: Wrap the person in blankets or sleeping bags.
  4. Warm Drinks: Give warm (not hot) beverages if the person is conscious.

Handling Animal Encounters

So, you thought you’d just be hanging out with squirrels and birds, huh? The wilderness has a few more surprises up its sleeve. Here’s how to handle some common (and not-so-common) critters:


Ticks are tiny, but they can be a big pain. Here’s how to deal with them:

  1. Inspect Regularly: Check for ticks daily, especially in hair and clothing folds.
  2. Remove Promptly: Use tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin and pull straight out.
  3. Clean the Area: Disinfect the bite with antiseptic.


Snakes can be sneaky. Most are harmless, but some can be venomous.

  1. Stay Calm: Move away slowly.
  2. Identify the Snake: If bitten, try to remember the snake’s color and pattern.
  3. Seek Medical Help: Get to a hospital ASAP if bitten by a venomous snake.

Training and Resources

While this article gives you a good starting point, formal training can be incredibly beneficial. Organizations like the American Red Cross and NOLS Wilderness Medicine offer comprehensive wilderness first aid courses. Check out their websites for more information:

Also Read: Top Water Purification Techniques for Hikers – Drifter’s Loom (driftersloom.com)

Wrapping Up: Stay Safe, Stay Smart

So there you have it, folks! Wilderness first aid isn’t just for hardcore adventurers or survivalists. Whether you’re a weekend camper or a dedicated hiker, these skills are invaluable. Remember to pack a well-equipped first aid kit, stay calm in emergencies, and keep learning.

With a bit of preparation and a dash of humor, you’ll be ready to face whatever Mother Nature throws your way. And hey, if all else fails, at least you’ll have a great story to tell around the campfire.

So, what’s your next adventure? Are you ready to conquer the great outdoors? Share your stories and tips below—let’s keep the conversation going. Safe travels and happy hiking!

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