Now is a great time to rekindle your love of the outdoors. In fact, record numbers of people flock every year into parks and wilderness to camp, hike, mountain bike or just be at peace. Just remember that when you are remote, your chances for serious injury escalate 50 percent higher simply because you can’t get professional medical attention quickly. Here are eight items Dr. Corey Vande Zandschulp recommends you add to your backpack, along with with advice on what to do if you’re injured in the outdoors.
A 2008 Center for Disease Control study found that nearly 213,000 outdoor recreational injuries were treated in emergency departments annually – more than half of these injuries happened to young people ages 10 to 24. When you’re injured in the outdoors, 911 might not be able to save you.
Many people prepare for a hike by filling up their water bottle, tying a hoodie around their waist and spraying on some bug repellant. Maybe they stick a granola bar or two in their pocket just in case. They’re totally unprepared for an accident. The first aid kit your car is no help if you can’t get to it.
A 2008 Center for Disease Control study found that nearly 213,000 outdoor recreational injuries were treated in emergency departments annually – more than half of these injuries happened to young people ages 10 to 24. Of these injuries, 27.4 percent were fractures and 23.9 percent were sprains. Fifty-two percent of injuries were to the arms or legs while 23.3 percent were to the head or neck.
Dr. Vande Zandschulp, cofounder of Go To Ortho and a specialist in trauma care, suggests bringing a few extra supplies to be prepared for an accident when you go into the outdoors:
- Elastic wrap bandage
- Protein food pouch (popular examples are FitAid or Fuel for Fire)
- Water purifying tablets
- Emergency blanket (lightweight silver blanket, also known as a space blanket)
- Instant cold pack
These items are small, lightweight and easy to carry. Put them in a ziplock bag and keep them in your hiking bag and another in your glove compartment when driving.
There are a few other simple precautions you can take before hiking:
- Let a friend or family member know where you are hiking. Plan on checking in with them when you get home.
- Consider using a walking stick or hiking pole to maintain your balance while hiking on rough, uneven terrain.
- If you are heading into the backcountry remember that you will most likely lose cell service. It’s a wise idea to invest in a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger.
- If you regularly head into the backcountry, consider taking a first aid class at your local community college or a Wilderness First Responder course.
What to do When Injury Happens
Many injuries are not life threatening, but can still cause significant problems if you are alone in the wilderness, no one knows where you are, and you can’t walk out (which is probably why this scenario is used to set up many a horror or suspense movie – just remember that if you are in a haunted forest, your doctor recommends you stay on the path).
A bleeding injury is no laughing matter – it needs to be dealt with immediately. If you or a companion are bleeding, you need to:
1. Stop the bleeding:
- Apply firm pressure with a clean gauze for at least 15 minutes. If you need to add more gauze, do not remove the original gauze, keep it tight against the wound.
- While applying pressure, elevate the injury.
- You may need to wrap a bandage tightly around the wound to hold the gauze in place. This should not be as tight as a tourniquet – you should be able to slide two fingers under the bandage.
2. Use a tourniquet for profuse bleeding:
If you have a minor injury, bleeding will stop with continued firm pressure, but if the wound is large and bleeding profusely or if continued pressure does not stop the bleeding, there is a real risk of death.
If this is the reality of your situation, do not wait to apply a tourniquet. A Wilderness and Environmental Medicine article on tourniquets cites a study conducted in a combat support hospital in Iraq that concluded early tourniquet use before shock had set in was associated with a 90 to 96 percent survival rate. If the tourniquet was applied after the person was in shock, survival rate plunged to just 10 to 4 percent. If a tourniquet was needed but not applied, the survival rate was zero.
Thankfully hiking into the wilderness is not the same as entering a combat zone, but this study sheds light on the need for immediate tourniquet use in cases of profuse uncontrolled bleeding.
3. Prevent or deal with shock:
- Wrap the injured person in a sleeping bag, jacket or silver emergency blanket.
- Keep them hydrated.
- Talk to them to help them stay calm and awake.
Signs of shock include:
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid shallow breathing
- Cool clammy skin
- Confusion or anxiety
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Nausea or vomiting
4. Get help:
After the bleeding has stopped and the injured person is wrapped up to help prevent shock, it’s time to seek medical attention. This is a tough situation with no one-size-fits-all solutions. If you are alone, you may have to wait until help finds you. This is the time to use your personal locator beacon or satellite messenger. If your friend is injured and you don’t have one of these devices, you may decide to:
- flag someone down on the trail.
- build a travois (a platform between two sticks or branches) that can be used to drag your friend out of the wilderness.
- leave your friend and go get help.
Dr. Vande Zandschulp is an avid sharpshooter, and he and his family regularly spend time in the outdoors. “It’s up to us,” he said, “The people who enjoy the outdoors, to be smart, to plan ahead, and to do what we can to be responsible for our own wellbeing.”
Hitting the slopes this winter? Before you do, check out Eight Ways to Prevent Injury and Keep Your Edge Skiing and Snowboarding.