First aid for the trail

April 13, 2001

First aid for the trail


Ah, the great outdoors. ... hiking, camping ... blisters, cuts and scrapes.

Hitting the trail, while fun, can also mean grappling with bumps and bruises thanks to unsure footing here, an unseen brier patch there.


Luckily, a little emergency preparedness - and forethought - can go a long way to making injuries more tolerable by assembling the supplies needed to treat boo-boos suffered after a nasty spill.

"It depends on how sophisticated you want to get as to how much you want to take," says Tom Ambrose, park superintendent at Cacapon Resort State Park. "You could probably take out a whole first-aid kit hospital if you wanted. But that would probably take some of the fun out of it."


Minus the field hospital, there are several simple ingredients to any first-aid kit.

In addition to Band-Aids, gauze pads are good for stopping bleeding. Insect repellent is a must to ward off mosquitos or gnats.

Donna Carey, paramedic and EMS administrative specialist for Washington County Hospital, says people allergic to bee stings should consult a doctor to get the medication they'll need if they are stung.

But perhaps the most crucial component to any trail first-aid kit is ... water.

"You need that for keeping yourself hydrated, but you could also use it as a treatment in case you have an accident," says Robert Gray, chief ranger of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

If you don't have water, a wound can wash itself, Carey says.

"If it's a minor bleed, if you let it bleed for a couple of minutes it washes that bacteria out," she says. "If you can't do that, then just brush as much of the debris away and then, when you get to a water source, wash it off."

Other useful items to keep with you include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Aspirin

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A reflective blanket. Not only are they light and compact, they can be used as a shelter or to keep warm, Carey says.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Wear boots instead of sneakers. They provide more ankle support, lessening the risk of turning an ankle if you are traversing more treacherous, rocky terrain.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Rubbing alcohol or matches for detaching ticks.

Ambrose says rubbing alcohol works well for getting rid of the little blood suckers.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A pocket knife. Gray says it can be used to cut bandages or clothing if necessary to expose an open wound.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Wear a hat and keep sunscreen nearby, particularly on hot summer days when hikers can suffer from sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Carey says it's important to realize there are things in the outdoors that can be used as well. For example, straight sticks could be used to mobilize a broken arm or leg.

Another common injury on the trail is the blister, caused about by moisture and friction. Ambrose suggests keeping an extra pair of socks in your backpack in case your feet get wet.

Moleskin and bandages can prevent or treat blisters. Gray says using foot powder ahead of time can also keep blisters from forming.

The key to approaching first-aid in the wild is to be proactive whenever possible. Planning ahead can avoid aggravation on the trail.

It also helps to keep a cool head if and when an accident happens. And Gray thinks hikers should plan to bring one other piece of equipment - a whistle - just in case a particularly severe, immobilizing injury occurs because it can be used to alert help to where you are.

"You can blow on a whistle all day long and not wear yourself out," he says. "But if you don't have a whistle, after an hour you're hoarse."

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