What is Wilderness First Aid?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Many people love to get away from it all. In fact they get so far away that they remove themselves from areas where they could get swift medical help if it were needed. While trekking into the wilderness may be an experience that feeds the spirit, it also needs to be undertaken with considerable thought. This is where the topic of wilderness first aid enters into the picture. Wilderness first aid is both the learning and practice of medical care tactics in environments of varying types that are far from traditional medical aid sources.

Knowing wilderness first aid is essential for hiking.
Knowing wilderness first aid is essential for hiking.

It is always important when heading to areas cut off from the majority of civilization to understand how to perform some basic first aid/medical care, should injury or illness occur. This is why many people who enjoy hiking or camping in distant areas take wilderness first aid classes. These can be offered from a variety of agencies, and often offer hands on practice. Most classes take at least two days to complete, and others may take three days. They usually lead to some sort of certification, which might be required for people who work as guides in certain barely accessible parts of the world or for those who work in national parks as rangers or supervisors.

OTC antibiotic cream, which is often used for first aid.
OTC antibiotic cream, which is often used for first aid.

There are actually several levels of potential wilderness first aid training. What type is required may depend on interest in the area or jobs a person holds. Advanced wilderness first aid training could be necessary for guides of certain types, which usually calls for a week or 40 hours of training.

Classes that teach wilderness first aid will likely include CPR.
Classes that teach wilderness first aid will likely include CPR.

People can also train to become wilderness first responders, or they may take extensive training as emergency medical technicians. These classes are clearly lengthy as compared to basic training. For the average person who might hike or camp in remote areas, the minimum suggested training is beginning or advanced, and the names of types of training may vary by location.

A wilderness first aid kit typically contains gauze, bandages, and scissors.
A wilderness first aid kit typically contains gauze, bandages, and scissors.

A wilderness first responder responds to emergency situations that take place in remote locations.
A wilderness first responder responds to emergency situations that take place in remote locations.

The topics that are covered in wilderness first aid can be varied. They may include how to handle sudden illness caused by dehydration or exposure to cold/heat. Basic treatment of insect, animal, and reptile bites is normally taught. First aid topics might address when or when not to leave an injured companion to get help and how to make these decisions depending on environment. Classes may deal with other issues like the handling of sprains and breaks, minor to serious wounds, need for CPR, and illness from bacteria like giardia. Subjects learned get more extensive with greater training levels.

A wilderness first aid class can teach an individual how to deal with illness from bacteria such as giardia.
A wilderness first aid class can teach an individual how to deal with illness from bacteria such as giardia.

Wilderness first aid is taught separately from many other first aid courses because areas far from civilization have unique properties. For instance, the issue of treating a wound is quite different in the outdoors. It is much easier for infection to occur given the difficulty people may have finding clean water to wash their hands or a wound/cut. Additionally, the very nature of being far away from help has its own hazards. Learning how to deal with these hazards and make decisions, if another person gets ill, can be extremely valuable.

Injuries, both minor and major, can happen when venturing into the wilderness.
Injuries, both minor and major, can happen when venturing into the wilderness.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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