First Aid for Outdoor Adventures: Essential Preparation for Hiking, Camping, & Traveling

by | Sep 4, 2023

Spring season had arrived, and the lure of adventure beckoned us to the high mountains of Colorado. With altitudes reaching 14,000 feet, we embarked on a challenging hike, eager to conquer nature’s playground. Little did we know that our journey would take an unexpected turn. It was the end of May, and the mountains were still adorned with a pristine white blanket of snow. As we set off, the sun’s rays danced on the glistening peaks, captivating our spirits. Excitement filled the air as our group of friends embarked on the ascent, brimming with anticipation. Unbeknownst to us, a silent threat lurked amidst the dazzling beauty. Our carefree spirit had overlooked a crucial detail—sunglasses. As the day progressed and the sunlight reflected off the snow, its brilliance intensified, searing into our unprotected eyes. Nightfall brought with it an alarming revelation within our tents. Three of our friends awoke us with anguished cries for help. Pain radiated from their eyes, their vision obscured by a veil of darkness. Panic surged through our veins as we grappled with the unknown. 

Snow blindness—the harsh consequence of the unforgiving sun on snow-covered terrain—had taken its toll. At that moment, we realized the importance of proper eye protection and the need to be prepared for any situation during our outdoor adventures. Temporary relief came in the form of soothing eye drops, providing a momentary respite from the pain. The next morning, with a sense of urgency, we sought help at the nearest eye doctor, eager to find solace for their aching eyes. Our journey had taught us a valuable lesson—one that would forever be etched in our memories. 

Outdoor adventures are exhilarating, but they demand respect and preparation. First aid skills, coupled with a keen awareness of potential hazards, become the compass guiding us towards safe and memorable experiences. Now, as we delve into the essential skills for hiking, camping, and traveling, we share our knowledge with the hope that others may embark on their own adventures equipped with the wisdom we gained through our unforgettable encounter with snow blindness.

Topics we’ll explore: 

Pre-Trip Preparation: Ensuring Safety and Readiness for Outdoor Adventures

Essential Safety Gear to Pack

Common Outdoor Injuries and First Aid

Pre-Trip Preparation: Ensuring Safety and Readiness for Outdoor Adventures

Before embarking on any outdoor adventure, proper pre-trip preparation is essential to ensure your safety and readiness for the challenges that lie ahead. One of the crucial aspects of preparation is packing the right safety gear to keep you protected and prepared for various situations. Here are some essential safety items to include in your outdoor adventure gear:

Research the Destination

Gather comprehensive information about the location you’ll be visiting. Understand the terrain, weather conditions, wildlife, and any potential hazards specific to the area. This knowledge will help you plan and pack accordingly, making informed decisions about your adventure. Additionally, consider checking for any travel advisories or warnings issued by relevant authorities to stay updated on potential safety concerns. Engage in discussions with experienced hikers or campers who have previously explored the area, as they may offer valuable insights and tips for a safer journey. Websites like AllTrails and Hiking Project have a community of other hikers who will help you do so. 

Check Weather Forecasts

Weather in outdoor environments can be unpredictable, especially in mountainous regions. Before heading out, make sure to check weather forecasts for the duration of your trip and be prepared for changing conditions. Dressing in layers will help accommodate temperature fluctuations, and don’t forget to carry rain gear to stay dry during unexpected showers. It’s also essential to familiarize yourself with the signs of approaching inclement weather, such as darkening skies, sudden temperature drops, or increasing winds, and be ready to seek shelter if needed.

Create a Detailed Itinerary

To ensure a safe outdoor adventure, develop a comprehensive itinerary that outlines your planned routes, campgrounds, and estimated timelines. Sharing this itinerary with a trusted friend or family member is especially important if you’ll be exploring remote areas with limited communication. In case of an emergency, having someone aware of your whereabouts can be crucial for timely assistance. Remember to include a backup plan in your itinerary to adapt to unforeseen circumstances or changes in trail conditions. Prioritize your safety by being mindful of your physical capabilities and setting realistic milestones to prevent overexertion during your journey.

How to Plan for a Road Trip Podcast

In this podcast, me and a few friends talk through how we planned for our 2 week road trip a few weeks back. Check it out below or by searching for The Godventure Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.

Essential Safety Gear to Pack

First Aid Kit:

A well-stocked first aid kit is essential for treating injuries and providing medical care. Include bandages, adhesive tape, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, blister pads, tweezers, and any necessary medications. It is also ideal to have a tourniquet in case of more severe bleeding. Better yet, an entire stop the bleed kit. This kid will have a tourniquet and other important items for stopping severe bleeding. 

Specific risks of the outdoor sport or activity you are doing may also require additional First Aid items specific to that activity. 

Illumination:

  • Headlamp or Flashlight: A headlamp or flashlight is indispensable for hiking or camping after dark. Opt for a headlamp for hands-free lighting, making tasks like setting up camp much easier.
  • Extra Batteries: Always carry spare batteries for your illumination devices to avoid being left in the dark.

Multi-Tool or Knife:

A multi-tool or sturdy knife with various functions can be invaluable for tasks like food preparation, gear repair, and building shelters. Choose a high-quality, lightweight option with a locking blade for added safety.

Communication:

  • Satellite Phones: For more remote and off-the-grid locations, satellite phones offer an effective means of communication. They rely on satellite signals, providing coverage in areas where traditional cellular networks do not reach. While they may be more expensive than walkie-talkies, they can be a reliable lifeline during emergencies. A great option to consider is the Garmin in reach or an emergency beacon if you don’t want a subscription. 
  • Walkie-Talkies: Walkie-talkies are excellent devices for short-range communication in areas with little to no cellular reception. They allow you to stay in touch with your fellow adventurers, especially when exploring different parts of the trail or camping at separate sites. Look for models with a long-range capability and durability to withstand outdoor conditions.

Emergency Shelter:

Lightweight Tarp or Emergency Blanket: Pack a lightweight tarp or emergency blanket to provide shelter in case of unexpected weather changes or emergencies. You can also get an emergency tent that packs up very small. 

Hydration and Nutrition:

  • Water Bottles or Hydration Bladder: Carry an adequate supply of water and hydration solutions to stay hydrated throughout your adventure. By carrying a water filter, you can create additional water if you run out.
  • Energy-Rich Snacks: Pack nutrient-dense snacks like energy bars, nuts, and dried fruits to keep your energy levels up during long hikes.

Clothing and Weather Protection:

  • Weather-Appropriate Clothing: Dress in layers to accommodate changing weather conditions. Include moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and a waterproof and windproof outer layer to protect against rain and wind. Choose clothing made of quick-drying materials to stay comfortable in wet conditions.
  • Sun Protection: Wear a wide-brimmed hat, polarized sunglasses with UV protection, and apply sunscreen to shield yourself from harmful UV rays. Lips balms with SPF are also essential for protecting your lips from sunburn.

Navigation Tools:

  • Compass: A reliable compass is a must-have for orienting yourself and finding your bearings. Make sure you know how to use it alongside your map to determine directions effectively.
  • Real-Time GPS Tracking: Family tracking devices utilize GPS technology to pinpoint your exact location. This information is then transmitted to a smartphone app or web platform that your designated family members can access. This real-time tracking provides them with a clear view of your whereabouts, ensuring they are informed and aware of your journey. While these platforms are great, they may fail if out of cell service. Having a satellite communication device is the only way to guarantee they will be able to locate you. 

Fire-Starting Equipment:

  • Lighters: A compact and convenient choice, lighters are excellent fire-starting tools that provide an instant flame. Opt for wind-resistant lighters, as they prove especially useful during gusty outdoor conditions.
  • Fire Starter: Include fire-starting materials, such as fire starters or cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, to ensure you can ignite a fire even in wet conditions. These are a game changer even when not in an emergency situation.

Camping Specific Essential Equipment and Gear

This is not an area to cheap out on ideally. Especially with a tent. The difference between the Walmart version and the name brand is vast. Getting good quality camping equipment will help you enjoy yourself in the outdoors and help you if there is an emergency situation. 

If you are an REI member, check out the Garage Sale section at your local store. That is a great place to find great deals on great equipment. 

Here are the key things you will need for camping:

  • Tent: Select a tent suitable for the number of occupants and weather conditions. Ensure it’s easy to set up and provides adequate protection against rain and wind. Choose a tent size that accommodates the number of campers and their gear. Consider whether you’ll need extra space for activities or additional storage. 
  • Sleeping Bag and Pad: Choose a sleeping bag rated for the expected temperatures. Include a sleeping pad to insulate yourself from the ground’s cold. Decide between synthetic or down insulation based on factors like moisture resistance and weight. Synthetic insulation retains warmth even when wet, making it suitable for damp conditions.
  • Rain Fly or Tarp: Pack a rain fly or tarp to create an additional layer of protection over your tent, guarding against rain and enhancing shelter. Familiarize yourself with setting up a tarp over your tent. Proper tarp setup can improve rain runoff, reduce condensation inside the tent, and offer a sheltered space for gear.

Campfire Equipment:

  • Fire Starter Kit: Carry waterproof matches, a reliable lighter, and fire starters in a waterproof container. Familiarize yourself with different fire-starting techniques.
  • Folding Camp Stove: A portable camp stove offers a controlled cooking option and is crucial in areas where campfires are prohibited or restricted.
  • Fuel Canister: If using a camp stove, pack an appropriate amount of fuel canisters to ensure you have enough fuel for cooking. 

Cooking and Food Supplies:

  • Cooking Utensils: Pack lightweight, compact cookware such as pots, pans, and utensils for preparing meals.
  • Food Storage: Use sealable containers to store food, reducing the risk of attracting wildlife to your campsite.
  • Water Filtration: Include a water filtration system to purify water from natural sources before consumption.
  • Reusable Water Bottles: Carry reusable water bottles to stay hydrated throughout your adventure, minimizing plastic waste.

Packing the right safety gear is essential for any outdoor adventure. While this list covers the essentials, tailor your gear selection based on the specific activities, environment, and duration of your trip. By being well-prepared and equipping yourself with the right tools and knowledge, you can confidently explore the wonders of nature while staying safe and ready for any challenges that come your way. Here is an REI list of all the essential gears mentioned above and more: Camping Essentials Checklist.

Podcast on Gear for the Outdoors

This episode also from the Godventure Podcast talks about what gear you need for getting outdoors and tips on how to get it. I am not in this episode, however; it is a great conversation about what gear you need. 

Common Outdoor Injuries and First Aid

When venturing into the great outdoors, it’s important to be aware of the potential injuries you may encounter. Knowing how to identify and treat these injuries can make a significant difference in providing prompt and effective first aid. Here are some common outdoor injuries and their appropriate treatments:

Sprained Ankles and Twisted Knees

Hiking over uneven terrain can increase the risk of ankle and knee injuries. If you or someone in your group experiences a sprain or twist, follow the R.I.C.E. method: Rest the affected limb, apply Ice to reduce swelling, use compression with a bandage to provide support, and elevate the injured area to minimize inflammation.

Blisters and Foot Care

Long hikes or extensive walking can lead to painful blisters. If you notice a blister forming, protect it by covering it with a blister pad or moleskin to reduce friction. Avoid popping the blister unless it becomes too large or painful. After your adventure, clean the blistered area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a sterile bandage.

Allergic Reactions

Outdoor environments may expose you to potential allergens, such as insect bites or plant contact. If you or someone in your group experiences an allergic reaction, such as itching, hives, or difficulty breathing, assess the severity of the reaction. If it’s mild, over-the-counter antihistamines may provide relief. However, for severe reactions or symptoms of anaphylaxis, administer epinephrine if available and seek immediate medical attention. Check out the video below on how to use 3 different epinephrine devices.

Heat-Related Illnesses

Spending time outdoors in hot weather can lead to heat-related illnesses. If someone exhibits symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as profuse sweating, dizziness, or nausea, move them to a cooler area, provide fluids, and have them rest. Heatstroke, a more severe condition, requires immediate medical attention. Call emergency services (911) and begin cooling the person using cold compresses or immersion in cool water if possible. 

The most important prevention for heat-related emergencies is hydration, but knowing what to where and when to limit being outside is also important. 

Improvising Splints for Fractures

In the event of a fracture or suspected fracture, improvising a splint can help stabilize the injured limb. Use available materials such as sticks, trekking poles, or clothing to create a makeshift splint. Secure the splint above and below the fracture site, ensuring it is firm but not too tight. Seek medical attention as soon as possible or call 911 for severe fractures. 

If you suspect a neck, back, or hip fracture, then you must leave them where they are and call 911. Moving them will cause increased injury.

Treating Bites and Stings

Insect Sting First Aid

From Merck Manuals

Outdoor adventures can expose you to various insects and creatures that may bite or sting. If someone is bitten or stung, remove any stingers or visible insect parts if present. Utilize a card or hard object to swipe the stinger from the side in order to avoid the toxin or venom from further injecting into the skin. Clean the affected area with soap and water, and apply a cold compress or ice pack to reduce swelling. Over-the-counter antihistamines or topical creams can help relieve itching or pain. However, if the reaction is severe or accompanied by signs of an allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention and call 911. 

Snake Bite First Aid

Encountering snakes while exploring the outdoors is not uncommon, and while most snake encounters are harmless, it’s essential to be prepared for the possibility of a snakebite. If bitten, you might experience immediate pain and swelling at the bite site. Look for two puncture marks, which are often a characteristic sign of a snakebite. The affected area may become red, swollen, and bruised. Keep the bitten limb still and immobilized to slow the spread of venom through the bloodstream. Remove any tight clothing, jewelry, or accessories near the bite site to allow for swelling. Keep the bitten area at or slightly below heart level. Avoid cutting the wound, attempting to suck out venom, or using a tourniquet, as these methods can worsen the situation. If it’s safe to do so and without risking another bite, try to identify the snake’s characteristics. This can assist medical professionals in providing the appropriate treatment. Taking a picture is your best option if it is safe to do so.

Next Steps for Outdoor Emergency Preparedness

In the exhilarating world of outdoor adventures, preparation and safety go hand in hand. By embracing the practices outlined in pre-trip preparation, carefully selecting essential safety gear, and arming yourself with knowledge about common outdoor injuries and first aid, you’re equipped to face the challenges of nature with confidence. Remember that thorough planning, the right gear, and an understanding of how to respond to potential injuries form the foundation of a successful outdoor experience. So, whether you’re hiking, camping, or exploring, prioritize safety and well-being, allowing you to immerse yourself fully in the beauty of the great outdoors while ensuring a secure and enjoyable journey!

Wilderness First Aid Training

Getting CPR, First Aid, and AED certified is a great start to being more prepared for emergencies outdoors. Learn about our CPR, First Aid, and AED training here or sign up for it here. After that, getting wilderness First Aid certified at a training facility near you will help you be prepared as possible. Currently, we don’t teach Wilderness First Aid, but we teach many of the most common topics you may come in contact with in our courses, just not with a wilderness focus. Most of the time, CPR, First Aid, and AED is a prerequisite for Wilderness First Aid, anyway. If you are looking for a place to take Wilderness, First Aid REI is a good place to look as well as just searching for a Wilderness First Aid course near you. Here is a link to REI’s Wilderness First Aid classes.

As a supplement for official training, check out this playlist of videos from NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). This is the same organization that REI’s training is done through. These are great videos to help you to learn the basics of outdoor survival.

NOLS Outdoor & Survival Basic Skills Playlist

Building Outdoor Knowledge

Experience comes with time and practice, but as I have heard a mentor say, “You can either learn from your own mistakes, or someone else’s mistakes—you choose.” So humble yourself and talk with other people who have more experience than you and learn from them. Check out podcasts like the Out Alive Podcast where they share survival stories of people who had near-death experiences in the outdoors, so you can learn from their mistakes in case you were ever to be in a similar place. 

Speaking of building outdoor knowledge, we would love to hear about any outdoor emergencies you have encountered, your favorite survival tip, or something you think we should add to this resource in the comments below. 

About First Response

First Response provides CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety training to clients across Georgia and South Carolina for over 23 years. We believe training should be relevant, informative, and fun! Feedback from our clients consistently shows that they not only enjoy our classes, they learn something new–even for folks that have taken the class many times before.

Contact us to book a class for your facility, or sign up for a class here.

About the Author

<a href="https://www.firstresponsecpr.com/blog/author/calvin/" target="_self">Calvin Go</a>

Calvin Go

CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety Instructor

Calvin has taught CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety for First Response since June 2023. He is also medical student working towards his PHD. His experience as a medical student and safety instructor brings a unique perspective into his articles.

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1 Comment

  1. Dionne Clark

    I’ve always been a bit nervous about hiking alone, but now I feel more confident knowing I have some basic first aid skills under my belt.

    Reply

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