No matter if you’re hiking on the local trails at Cheesequake State Park, trekking through the water cascades and lush paths of Coppermines Trail or backpacking on vacation somewhere in the wilderness, you should be prepared for anything to happen… at any time. The purpose of this first aid treatment for hikers guide is to provide you and your loved ones with a general overview should the unexpected accident occur.
Note: These guidelines should not be considered final, as they are constantly updated to reflect current standards of care. See the American Red Cross Wilderness and Remote First Aid Emergency Reference Guide for more information.
Building a Minor First Aid Treatment Kit for Hikers
Staying safe in the wilderness starts at home. Before leaving the house for a hike through the woods, prepare a first aid treatment kit; this is an essential part of your hiking equipment.
A first aid kit’s supplies should be customized to include those items that are likely used on a regular basis, such as medications, insect repellent, a multi-use tool and a small roll of duct tape. But the base of your personal wilderness first aid kit should include the following:
- Adhesive bandages (6)
- Sterile gauze pads, 3-×-3-inch (2)
- Adhesive tape (1 small roll)
- Moleskin, 3-×-6-inch (1)
- Soap (1 small bar) or alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel (1 travel-sized bottle)
- Wound gel (1 small tube)
- Scissors (1 pair)
- Latex-free medical exam gloves (1 pair)
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) breathing barrier (1)
- Tweezers (1)
- Wilderness and Remote First Aid Report Form/Rescue Request and pencil
Already have a kit? It’s wise to take inventory of it and check expiration dates on all medications.
5 Common Injuries and Minor First Aid Treatment for Hikers
1. Insect Bites and Bee Stings – Insect bites, such as those from spiders, mosquitoes and ticks and stings from bees, are common when you’re out in the wilderness. Your best defense is to cover up properly and avoid grassy areas. If symptoms are minimal, for example, the area of the bite is red, itchy or slightly swollen, use an antihistamine to stop the itch and ice to cool the area.
2. Blisters and Cuts – Although not technically a medical emergency, blisters are all too common and can ruin your trip if they’re not handled well. To treat a blister, wash the area and sterilize a sharp point with alcohol to drain the fluid out. Cover the area with antibiotic ointment to prevent the lanced hole from infection.
For cuts with bleeding, apply pressure to the wound area to stop the bleeding first. Once bleeding has been controlled, the next step is to think about preventing infection and promoting proper healing. Wash, or “irrigate” the wound with clean water to flush out any dirt and germs that may have made their way into the wound and under the skin. Use an alcohol wipe (from your first aid kit) to wipe the skin around the wound. Once clean, cover it with antibiotic ointment and clean gauze, wrap securely in place.
3. Sprains and Fractures – Soft tissue injuries to the knee and ankles are the most common things people need to be rescued for. Use the common “RICE” acronym as a guide: R-Rest, I-Ice (alternate 20-30 minutes of cooling with 15 to naturally rewarm), C-Compression (wrap securely with an ace wrap, ensuring circulation is preserved, E-Elevation (have victim lie down and elevate feet above their heart).
4. Dehydration – Water supports brain function, helps keep joints lubricated, boosts healing process and supports a healthy digestive system. Once you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, so be sure to carry plenty of water in your Camelbak and an extra water bottle with you on the trails and another in the car for when you’re done.
5. Burns and Sunburns – If you’re camping on your hike, you’re likely handling fire and boiling water. Burns, including sunburns, are common when you’re outside. Your treatment will depend on the severity of the burn, but the first step for a minor burn is to treat the affected area with cold, clean water and then cover the burned area with antibiotic ointment and clean gauze. And then follow up with a medical professional.
Follow Up with a Comprehensive Exam at eMedical
First aid treatment should be the first thing you do after you or a loved one sustains an injury on the trials, but it’s not the only thing. Once you make your way safely off the trails, visit your nearest eMedical Urgent Care clinic for a comprehensive exam.