Part of the appeal of going four wheeling is getting away from civilization. A quiet camping spot away from the asphalt jungle can be a dream come true. Or, if disaster strikes, it can be a nightmare. Just like you want a bigger fire extinguisher than you think you need or more winch capacity than you think you’ll ever use, you should carry plenty of first aid supplies. Having the tools is not enough though, just like having a multimeter or a spare axleshaft. If you don’t know what to do with it, it is useless. And when you are in the middle of nowhere, you cannot depend on help arriving in a timely manner. Fortunately, we have assembled some tips and recommendations for how to be prepared for the unexpected. This article is by no means comprehensive but rather addresses common situations encountered on the trail to get you thinking about first aid preparedness before you venture off the beaten path.
Step By Step
Andie Woodward assisted us with this story. She works for Air Saint Luke’s in Boise, Idaho, as a flight paramedic. In the past 20 years Andie has seen just about every situation you can imagine, and her biggest advice to first responders is to keep the patient calm and remain calm themselves.
We carry an Adventure Medical Kits Comprehensive kit in our vehicle. The company manufactures a variety of first aid kits to fit any requirements or budget. Woodward recommends purchasing the most complete kit you can afford, as it is cheap insurance should you need it.
Ankle sprains are a common occurrence when trying to walk through loose rocks. A camp pillow or blanket can be used, in conjunction with an elastic bandage, to snugly hold the ankle in place. Add ice inside the pillow to minimize swelling.
Dehydration is one of the most common issues on the trail and if not treated, can lead to more serious issues such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If this occurs, have the person lay down in a shady area or in a vehicle with air conditioning and remove restrictive clothing. Avoid dehydration by drinking water throughout the day and avoiding diuretics such as coffee and alcohol. Sports drinks with electrolytes are good for replacing sugars and salts to the body.
When a blow to the head shakes the brain within the space between the brain and the skull, the resulting shaking is known as concussion. A concussion can occur when someone hits their head, such as during a rollover. Large, dilated pupils are one sign of a concussion but others include drowsiness, slurred speak, and short-term memory loss.
If you suspect a broken bone, you need to stabilize both sides of the fracture to keep it from moving. Larger Adventure Medical Kits come with a SAM (Structural Aluminum Malleable) Splint, but anything rigid can be used in conjunction with elastic bandages. Here we are using an ice scraper, but Woodward suggested that a long, straight branch would work as well.
Burns can occur around the campfire or when working in a hot engine compartment or undercarriage. Clean the burn with cool water, apply antibiotic cream, and cover with a sterile dressing. Affix tape to the dressing above and below the burn, not directly over it.
Finger splints are inexpensive and hardly take up any room. They can be used to immobilize a finger that has been dislocated, sprained, or broken. Don’t have a splint? Woodward recommends taping the injured finger to the one next to it in order to limit motion.
The first rule when you suspect a neck or spine injury is to move the person as little as possible. Support the neck and head and check for movement at the extremities (fingers and toes). If the person must be moved, keep the head and neck aligned with the body.
Most over-the-counter medications, such as pain relievers and antihistamines, have expiration dates. Adventure Medical Kits offers resupply kits or you can source your own items locally when you have used them or they expire. The important consideration is to ensure that your first aid kit is stocked and up to date.
Latex gloves are a useful tool when you need to keep your hands clean, whether you are contacting blood and bodily fluids or grease and oil. Remember to replace anything you use out of your first aid kit when you return home so you have what you need the next time you are on the trail.
Hypothermia and frostbite can occur when wheeling or camping in extreme cold conditions. Woodward explained that frostbite typically occurs at the extremities and can be easily identified by white skin, where the blood has stopped circulating. The skin should not be rubbed, as damage can occur, instead place the skin under warm water. For hypothermia, place the person in a vehicle with the heater running and give them warm, sugary liquids to drink.
Leaves of three, let them be! Poison oak and poison ivy can all be identified by having leaves in groups of three. If you come in contact with poison oak or poison ivy, Woodward recommends disinfecting your skin with rubbing alcohol (or soap) and thoroughly wash your clothing to rid them of the oils. Hydrocortisone cream can reduce the itching, as can antihistamines.
Minor cuts are a common occurrence in the garage and on the trail. These are not life threatening, but infection can be avoided and the wounds will heal more quickly if they are cleaned with soap and water before covering with antibiotic cream and an adhesive bandage. We prefer the fabric bandages that stretch and conform more easily than plastic bandages.
Blisters occur as a result of friction between the skin and sock. Woodward advised against puncturing the blister, as this creates a path for infection. Instead, cover the area with moleskin that adheres to the skin and eliminates the friction.
Altitude sickness can occur with rapid increases in elevation due to lack of oxygen. Symptoms include headache, nausea, and swelling of the hands and face. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen can be used to reduce the symptoms, but the best course of action is to descend to lower elevations.
Common Trail Items than can be used for First Aid
Don’t carry a comprehensive first aid kit with you in every vehicle? Forgot to replace the ibuprofen that you used on the last trip? Don’t worry, there are many items that you likely have with you on the trail that can be used in an emergency.
Duct Tape: To hold a bandage in place.
Bottled Water: To flush debris from an eye or an open wound.
Super Glue: Close a cut and seal across the top.
Honey: Can be used on burns as an ointment.
Firewood: Useful as a splint for a leg or arm.
Dish Soap: To clean a wound before covering.
Ice From Your Cooler: To reduce swelling or relieve burns.
Safety Pins: To pin a jacket arm across the chest and immobilize the arm.
Garbage Bags: Cover a wounded arm, leg, or foot to keep it free from infection.
Credit Card: Can be used to remove a splinter or bee stinger.