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A Practical Approach to First Aid Use While Hiking

Hiking is an incredibly favoured, scenic and health promoting nature endeavour to engage in - but what happens in the case of a first aid emergency?

Read on to find your practical hiking first aid steps in this article - ensuring a trip that is both enjoyable and safe.

How can I apply first aid while hiking?

Short answer: a first aid kit (that also includes supplies for snake bites) should accompany you on every hiking trip.

  • There are a variety of common hiking incidents that may occur, including: falls, broken bones, sprains, insect/animal bites (snakes), open wounds, cuts or grazes etc.
  • Preparation and sufficient knowledge on core first aid practices is important. Have an instruction manual/booklet on hand to help, and inform yourself prior.
  • Refer to our list of everything that should be in a hiking first aid kit, and make sure to restock regularly!
  • Essential hiking items to always have are an emergency phone, first aid kit and instruction set to refer to.
Hiking

What Should Be In My Hiking Kit?

Hiking is a common and renowned activity, for good reason - it offers both immense health benefits and a re-connection to the natural world/environment.

In saying that, hiking is also amongst the most common activities that present potential first aid hazards.

Since it is of course conducted in a natural setting, you face exposure to the elements and potential safety risks.

For this reason proper safety precautions and knowledge on first aid steps is crucial to ensuring you have a safe, well planned trip.

So, exactly what do you require for your hiking first aid kit?

Below, we include everything needed to perform possible hiking first aid steps.

Hiking first aid kit:

  • A snake bite first aid kit OR supplies, including:
    • 1-2 compression bandages (with clips)
    • An emergency blanket: (for shock/hypothermia)
    • A marker of some sort: (to mark the bite location)
    • 1x snake bite instruction/information pamphlet or card
    • A splint: (to immobilise)
  • Adhesive dressings/band-aids: various sizes both small and large (about 10 or so)
  • 2x or more non adhesive dressings
  • Gauze/cotton pads, sterile: a few minimum, various sizes (small-large) suggested
  • A triangular bandage
  • A roller bandage
  • 1-2 pairs nitrile gloves
  • Bandage/first aid shears
  • 1x Tweezers
  • Splinter probes (recommended)
  • 1x CPR resuscitation face shield
  • CPR instruction card
  • 1-2 tubes saline solution
  • Notepad and pen/pencil
  • A few safety pins
  • 1 roll adhesive skin tape (for bandaging)
  • Antiseptic skin wipes (few sachets) or spray
  • Medications (optional but highly recommended:
    • Painkillers (Panadol, ibuprofen etc)
    • Anti diarrhoea drugs (such as Imodium/loperamide)
    • Laxatives (in case constipation occurs)
    • Allergy meds, such as antihistamines or hydrocortisone in tablet or cream form. An EpiPen is suggested if you suffer from anaphylaxis or allergies.
    • Any other personal medications.
  • First aid instruction booklet (usually included).

These are the absolute core essentials that you will want to include in your hiking first aid, but there are also some optional additional inclusions.

Note: for instance, you may wish to include insect repellant or antibiotic cream - or other bendicial items in accordance with your situation.

The items may differ slightly depending on the environment you are hiking in.

Considerations for your kit:

  • Opt for a durable, preferably waterproof/water resistant kit
  • Your kit has to withstand quite a bit.

    Again, you are in nature - potentially roaming bush terrain.

    • There is a risk of rain, water exposure and damage to your kit. Many kits are water resistant.
    • You also want a kit that is going to reliably last and not break down on you, so remember that the case is also important alongside the contents!
  • Amounts: how many people are you preparing for?
  • Make sure to decide on the amount of first aid supplies being stocked in your kit: e.g 4 people will require more preparation than 2.

    There is always a chance multiple people become injured, so it is good to have supplies for more than one person.

  • Consider a lightweight, compact and easily portable option
  • Factor in weight and ease of portability.

    Lugging a heavy kit around is impractical when hiking.

    • Some first aid kits are even so convenient and light as to be equipped with latches/attachments to clip it to your belt.
    • Alternatively, you may carry the kit in a backpack or have a cord or strap for it.
    • Either way you are aiming for a compact, relatively lightweight kit.
  • Restock your kit!
  • Make sure to replenish supplies so that they’re always available when needed.

    After usage, replace them.

Hiking Injury

Can I Administer First Aid By Myself?

The answer to this question is; it depends.

If the emergency is relatively minor or moderate, it may be solely possible to provide first aid.

This will still require being properly prepared, which we cover below.

If you experience a serious emergency, it may be inadvisable to self administer first aid.

In such scenarios, you will take two primary steps.

  • Firstly, minimising damage and risk in all ways possible until help arrives.
  • Secondly, prioritising immediate contact for medical help and waiting for it to arrive.

It is also worth mentioning that If you are hiking in a remote area, there may be little degree of choice in terms of doing so until help arrives.

  • Typically, remote or isolated bush areas will require you to be properly prepared in the case of an emergency.
  • A lot of the hiking first aid steps will incorporate holding out until medical help arrives.

Note: in the case of a serious incident such as a snake bite for example, this can make the difference between life and death.

In any instance, you need to be prepared.

Common Hiking Accidents That Require First Aid Treatment

Where to begin!

This may of course depend on the terrain/environment you are hiking in (example: mountain hiking will vary slightly from bushwalking), but there are some general common threats.

Let’s get into some of the most common hiking first aid scenarios, and what to do.

Common hiking accidents:

  • Insect or animal (such as snake/spider) bites or injuries
  • A fall, blunt trauma or force related accident (resulting in injury) 
  • The list here is endless, but these are amongst the most common risks.

    • Falls (tripping on rugged trails, slipping in wet environments etc), accidents, blunt force trauma (such as a tree branch to the face) and many more are potential hazards.
    • Broken bones, sprains/strains and other common injuries are risks here.
    • Another common and simple example is wind blowing debris into the eyes.

    All of these issues may potentially be amended with simple first aid precautions in place.

  • Open wounds, blood loss or injury
  • If anybody in your group sustains a wound, (even a relatively minor one such as a cut/splinter), infection and blood loss are two crucial concerns.

  • Diarrhoea or other illness
  • Possibly due to bad water/food contamination or similar

What Will I Need In Case Of Emergency While Hiking

  • A means of contact in an emergency, be it a phone/radio etc
  • A hiking suitable first aid kit, including snake bite supplies
  • Instructions or information on core first aid steps such as CPR/snake bites to refer to (highly recommended)
  • A non material item that is arguably more invaluable than any other; knowledge.

Proper education on first aid hiking steps can be a primary necessity in an emergency.

Tips:

  • Consider bringing a first aid booklet (one that details all relevant steps - see our free handy survival booklet here!).
  • Some first aid kits include these or step sheets/information pamphlets. 

  • Another option is taking a first aid course, either online or in person.
  • Or, reading up thoroughly on credible first aid information (similar to these steps) for common hiking emergencies.
Hiking

Related Questions:

What are some important considerations when hiking remotely?

Probably the most important thing not to overlook is how you will contact for medical help if something happens.

It is all well to be prepared, but do you have a route to make contact if something happens?

Ensure you have a backup plan (such as a remote/off grid phone or radio) to seek medical attention in an emergency.

Can a hiking first aid kit expire?

This is a common question, and one that varies per the items in the kit.

Some items, such as medications for instance, are much more prone to expiry and degradation than others.

Such items will require earlier replacement.

Consider restocking your medications according to expiry.

Also keep an eye on your external case and ensure it doesn’t degrade over time, alongside replacing the other contents inside every so often (e.g antiseptic spray).

Takeaway: 

Hiking can be potentially dangerous if you are not adequately prepared.

For a safe and enjoyable trip, both education and supplies are important to have on hand prior to departing.

Make sure your hiking first aid kit includes supplies for snake/insect bites, and add in any additional desired items to it.

Ensure that you restock, stay safe and happy hiking!

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