Wilderness first aid basics: Essential skills & training

Wilderness first aid basics: Essential skills & training

Wilderness first aid is the knowledge and ability to effectively address injuries, illnesses, or emergencies outside of modern facilities, out in the wild. Skills include knowing how to dress a wound, treat a burn or bite, or set an injured limb. These are important skills that can save your life or the lives of other outdoor enthusiasts. Learn more and be better prepared for your next hiking or backpacking adventure.

Preparation for first aid and wilderness essentials

The most basic wilderness first aid skill is the skill to properly prepare. Putting together a well-stocked travel first aid kit ensures that you’ll have all of the resources you’ll need should you or a hiking companion need assistance. Common items in a wilderness first aid kit include disinfectant, bandages, bite or sting ointment, a pair of tweezers, and Benadryl. It’s important that one inventory their first aid kit prior to their adventure so that if items need to be restocked before the trip, one has time to do so. Use the following resources to refresh your wilderness first aid skills.

Backpaking first aid kit

backpacking first aid kit by Deacon Kevin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Basic first aid

While having all of the supplies for first aid is important, knowing how to properly use all of the items in your first aid box is crucial ACLS, BLS, or PALS recertification may be beneficial to those who may have let their initial certification in these life-saving skills lapse and are in need of a refresher.

Basic first aid and life support are invaluable skills in any situation, but it may be the one thing between life and death for those out in the wild. First aid classes give you the information and skills to help people during a variety of emergency situations. Many national, regional, and local organizations (or even local boy scout troops) offer basic first aid courses to the public. These classes are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts interested in building their skills to become a safer hiker. Here are a few examples:

First Aid Kit by dlg_images is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Survival skills

Survival skills are also critical for those exploring the great outdoors. Knot-tying, shelter-building, fishing, fire-making, and foraging are all skills that, should you be stuck in the wilderness, will help to sustain you until help arrives.

Also helpful are flares, fire-starters, or signaling devices that you might have in your wilderness kit. For any hiker, regardless of whether they plan to build a fire or not, these items can do double-duty as emergency signals or fire-starters. Many wilderness first aid items have multiple uses, but the key is to think outside of the box and keep calm in an emergency.

  • Survival and first aid information: This resource provides some good, basic information about first aid and survival skills that anyone out in the wilderness should know.
  • Survival 101: This scare-you-straight-style guide offers first aid tips, information on survival gear, and what to do if you’re caught in an emergency out in the wilderness.
  • Wilderness survival tips: As a collection of survival and wilderness articles, this resource provides good information for those interested in educating themselves about wilderness survival and what is needed to remain safe and healthy outdoors.

General outdoor & wilderness safety

Wilderness safety is about more than just your own knowledge and what you bring with you. Safety in the outdoors is also about making sure someone who isn’t hiking with you knows how to reach you, and where you’re expected to be and when.

Communicating your plans to a friend or family member can help to ensure that if something unforeseen happens, the proper authorities will have a better idea of where to find you, should the need arise.

We hear too many horror stories of hikers being injured or killed in accidents while out in the woods because they don’t keep safety best practices in mind or aren’t prepared. Don’t let yourself become a victim of poor planning. Arm yourself with proper knowledge of health and safety.

  • Summit Climb: They specialize in organizing expeditions that get teams to the summit and back down safely.
  • Wilderness safety from the National Parks Service: Safety is your responsibility. Educate yourself on wilderness safety and what you can do to avoid needing first aid or medical attention.
  • Wilderness safety training: Why it’s important to know about wilderness safety before you head outdoors.
  • Backcountry safety tips: Check out these essential safety tips to get the most out of your hiking adventure.
  • Plan and prepare for success: This page and the resources it features offer basic, practical information on how to best prepare and plan ahead to stay safe when you’re out on a hiking trip.
  • Safety tips from professionals: This wilderness trekking organization offers great information for those entering the wilderness. Check out the bulleted list of safety tips for specific scenarios.
  • Wilderness safety tips: These common-sense wilderness tips are a great foundation upon which to build your knowledge of wilderness safety.
  • Tips on backpacking with toddlers: The outdoors hold a world of wonder for children, and hiking is a great way for the family to experience nature together, but before you head out, there are a few key safety tips you should know.

For preparation, taking your BLS certification will cover many key topics. Sign up at our training center to make sure you are ready for wilderness survival.

 This page was written by Amanda Menard, LPN on Feb 17, 2016.
 This page was last reviewed and updated by Caitlin Goodwin DNP, CNM, RN on Mar 23, 2023.