“Safety doesn’t happen by accident.”
If you plan on spending any significant amount of time in the wilderness, it makes sense to do a First Aid course. In the event of a crisis situation, skills such as CPR, injury assessment and management and how to deal with venomous bites and stings, can potentially be lifesaving.
For general reference purposes, I highly recommend William Forgey’s Wilderness Medicine: Beyond First Aid and Paul Auerbach’s Medicine for the Outdoors. Both books are written in a clear, concise style and represent excellent resources for the novice and experienced outdoors person alike.
First Aid Kit – What to take?
I have met overnight hikers carrying first aid kits that would put your average paramedic to shame. At the other extreme, I have encountered walkers on longer treks, armed with nothing but duct tape and a “I’ll be ok, nothing ever happens to me” attitude. For most of us, the answer lies somewhere in between. Find a balance that meets both your individual needs and the dictates of the environment into which you will be venturing.
Before each and every hike, sit down and evaluate the length and nature of your trip. Go through all the items in your First Aid Kit and ask yourself three questions:
- Do I really need this?
- What will happen if I don’t have it?
- Is there something missing?
Minimize bulk and weight by carrying appropriately sized quantities of your chosen items. A sample first aid kit for a solo hiker on a five day trip may include:
- Tiny roll 3M Micropore Medical Tape (general purpose, breathable surgical tape for blisters, cuts)
- 3 antiseptic or alcohol wipes (cleaning wounds)
- Sterile non-stick absorbent dressing/gauze (for more serious wounds)
- Antibiotic cream (sample size tube)
- 10 ibuprofen tablets (anti-inflammatory; pain relief)
- 4 antihistamine tablets (for bites, allergic reactions; e.g. Benadryl)
- Duct tape (tiny roll)
- Small utility tool (which has knife, scissors and tweezers; e.g. Swiss Army Classic Knife)
- Sewing needle (use dental floss for thread)
- Emergency fire starter | I normally use a Vaseline coated cotton ball or a Light my Fire – Firesteel.
- Small whistle (check the sternum strap of your backpack; you may have one without knowing)
When hiking in developing countries, first aid supplies are often thin on the ground. Generally speaking your best bet is to bring any necessary medications from home. If you forget or run out, don’t worry too much as most medications can be purchased in developing countries without a prescription. The prices are invariably cheaper, however, the catch is that you may not always be getting the genuine article.
Before embarking on your trip, gather as much ‘health-related’ information as possible in regards to your chosen destination. The World Health Orgainization (WHO) website represents a good starting point for your research. For hiking trips in the developing world, consider adding the following items to your general list of essentials:
- Broad spectrum antibiotic (e.g. Ciprofloxacin)
- Diarrhea stopper (e.g. immodium)
- Rehydration solution sachet
- Medication for giardiasis (e.g. Tinidazole)