A first-aid kit is part of the National Park Services’ 10 Essentials, and for good reason—you want to have medical supplies on hand in case of illness or injury when you’re far from a doctor’s office. But even a well-stocked kit won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to use what’s inside. Here are the first-aid skills you’ll need to treat five common backcountry injuries.
In this article, you’ll learn how to treat:
- Cuts and scrapes
- Broken bones
Perhaps the most common hiking issue, blisters form when there’s too much friction between your skin and something else—usually, your shoe or boot. They’re not serious injuries, but anyone who’s had a bad one can attest that they can make walking very painful.
First aid: The best defense is to nip blisters in the bud by stopping as soon as you feel a “hot spot,” or uncomfortable rubbing. Cover the area with moleskin, duct tape, or medical tape to prevent further abrasion. If you already have a blister, clean the area with soap and water or an antibiotic wipe, then carefully pop it with a sterilized safety pin or knife (better than letting it pop in your sock on its own). Smear some antibiotic cream on it, then cover it with an O-shaped piece of moleskin, placing the hole over the blister itself. Tape it in place with medical or duct tape.
Cuts & Scrapes
Whether it came from a slip of the knife while cutting cheese for dinner or an accidental brush against a sharp rock or branch, a cut can be painful and messy. When treating, you’ll need to stop the bleeding and prevent infection.
First aid: Clean the wound by irrigating it with a syringe from your first-aid kit, a water reservoir hose, or the corner of a zip-top bag. If it’s still bleeding, apply pressure with a sterile gauze pad and elevate the area until it stops. Apply antibiotic cream to the wound, then dress with another sterile gauze pad. Tape in place; replace bandage several times a day. Watch it for signs of infection, such as red streaks emanating from the wound, swelling, pus, or general redness. If they appear, hike out and seek medical care.