9 Basic First Aid Skills That Every Hiker Should Know

Rilor Staff
Update: November 24, 2021
Table of Contents

Hiking is a fine pursuit until something untoward happens. From leg injuries to accidental falls, all of these mishaps can take place outdoors. 

Hence, it is essential that every hiker out there should know the basic first aid skills to compensate for these misfortunes. Always remember that while in the wild, you have no one to rely on but yourself and your company (if you have one). Rescue may not come immediately, especially if you are trailing a far backcountry route. 

Surely enough, I do not wish any ill intentions to all of you. But at the same time, I want you to have a sense of realization that anything can happen once you are in the bosom of Mother Nature. Being prepared can save you from potentially life-threatening conditions. After all, you hike and trek to have fun, not to experience inconveniences and disasters. 

If you are a hiker or any form of outdoor enthusiast, this guide is for you. Here, I am going to showcase all the essential first aid skills that you should know. 

Basic First Aid Skills For Hikers

1. Reading Vital Signs

Every hiker should know how to check someone's vital signs. While it might appear simple, such an act can save lives. You see, being able to read vital signs will let you assess how serious a particular emergency is. In turn, it will help you decide promptly what to do next. Should you temporarily rest? Do you need to head back and call for rescue? All these questions can only be answered if you are sure about the vital signs of your companion.

Now, there are multiple vital signs that you need to check. They are the following:

  • Respiration rate
  • Pulse rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Body temperature 

Each of these vital signs may indicate specific conditions. For instance, a low respiration rate may mean that the throat has been obstructed or an allergy is taking place. It could also be a subtle sign of a cardiac arrest. But as long as the person doesn't breathe anymore, it is already bad news; you are required to get professional medical help at this point. 

Of course, having low body temperatures may mean that a person is experiencing hypothermia. It requires immediate intervention to ensure that it would not lead to further complications. 

I seriously suggest that you gain mastery over these vital signs so that you know how to respond once you encounter abnormalities on them. Learn the normal rates so that you can assess emergencies faster. 

2. Making Splints And Slings

You can deal with various injuries by just knowing how to make slings and splints. Most of the time, the immediate treatment of these problems is by ensuring that the affected areas don't move unnecessarily. Or if not, the injured part should be repositioned so that it won't get aggravated anymore. 

Of course, you can achieve these temporary remedies by knowing how to make a sling or splint correctly. They are affixed to the injured parts so that they would remain unmovable, which, in turn, prevents them from getting worse. Slings stop fractured parts from swinging. Meanwhile, splints are designed to stop a particular body part from moving. Splints are specially designed for the legs, while swings are for the arm. 

3. CPR 

It's important to know how to perform CPR in case you need it.

In this day and age, most of us don't carry a resuscitation mannequin in our backpacks. However, there are advantages to knowing how to do it. Of course, I have to remind you that you shouldn't execute CPR if you are not trained to do it. And by saying that, I mean that you should get proper CPR training first. 

Of course, some people would suggest that you can do it on a whim. But proper CPR is quite different from an incorrect one. Executing it right yields significant value--and yes, it can save lives. Numerous organizations in the world, such as the Red Cross, conduct CPR classes. You might attend one. 

Essentially, CPR can prevent brain death, which is downright deleterious. After your heart stops beating for at least four minutes, conducting CPR will enable you to operate your cardiac organ manually, enabling it to continue to supply blood and oxygen to the brain and other crucial organs. 

It would also be beneficial if you could learn how to remove blockages in the throat since it can prevent someone from breathing properly. Here, you should at least know how to do the Heimlich technique. 

4. Treating Wounds

Wounds are among the most common injuries that you can encounter while hiking. Some wounds are minor--just tape a band-aid on them, and you are good to go. Other wounds, on the other hand, are serious and require proper and immediate treatment. 

When treating wounds, the first thing that you need to do is to clean them first. This means that you need to take out any dirt and debris present. In this way, you'll prevent instances of infection. Of course, it is essential that you have the right tools in this process, so that you'll be able to execute it properly. 

A wound that doesn't stop bleeding can pose serious issues, especially if you are far from civilization. Without the right tools and medications, you have to improvise. Some survivalists plaster wounds with material present in their surroundings--such as leaves and dirt. Needless to say, these elements can lead to infection. But if you are certain that they can help you contain the bleeding before you arrive at the nearest health facility, that's a deal that you should take. 

5. Poison And Venom Treatment

Hikers and outdoor people should be wary about the risks of poisoning while they are on the move. The most problematic aspect of this issue is that poisoning comes in different types and severity. Hence, they require independent treatment. Always keep in mind that there's no one-size-fits-all cure for poisons, especially if they came from various sources. 

One of the most common types of poisoning that you can encounter while in the wild is food- and waterborne poisoning. They are caused by drinking from questionable water sources. Meanwhile, eating spoiled food while on the trip causes food poisoning. Normally, these conditions can be treated by drinking lots of water and going to the bathroom a lot. 

However, if you are away from civilization, you couldn't just do those things conveniently. Once someone suffers from food and water poisoning, they might experience disorientation and dehydration. Other inconveniences and painful occurrences can also manifest. They should be dealt with accordingly. 

Meanwhile, another type of poisoning that you can encounter outdoors is wildlife poisoning. This includes those that have been derived from insects and animals. You have to try your best to avoid meeting creatures that you are allergic to--such as bees. Of course, you should stay away from the paths of snakes. Most of them are venomous, so you should test your luck. 

The best way to deal with them is by avoiding them entirely. Well, based on the Leave No Trace principles, we humans should never attempt to disrupt the wildlife of our current environments. Furthermore, it is crucial that we know how to identify various forms of wildlife. In this way, you will be able to know what kind of treatment that you should administer. 

Don't suck blood to take out the poison or venom. That's a terrible idea. 

6. Dealing With Hyperthermia / Heatstroke

If you are hiking during warm seasons, experiencing heatstroke is within the realms of possibility. Heatstroke, in a nutshell, is simply your body heating to an unprecedented degree. Of course, it is a deleterious situation. It is life-threatening, and if not treated, can cause long-term damages. 

The problem here is that heatstroke requires immediate treatment. And that's something that you can't easily access when you are in a backcountry. Hence, prevention is always better than cure here. You need to spot the symptoms of heatstroke, such as extremely high body temperature, vomiting, nausea, headaches, and difficulties in breathing. Anomalous conditions such as the absence of sweating even while doing high-exertion pursuits are a tell-tale sign that something is wrong in your body. 

The best way to avoid heatstroke is by avoiding the heat of the sun. This means that you need to stay off the trail and find the nearest shaded shelter. You should do things that cool the body, such as drinking cool water. But if you think that the problem is out of control, seek medical help right away. 

7. Dealing With Hypothermia

For those who want to try winter hiking, be wary of hypothermia and frostbites. They are as equally lethal as heatstroke, so it is essential that you can deal with and prevent them appropriately. 

Hypothermia is the abnormal drop in the body's temperature. Meanwhile, frostbites are the lowering of temperature in your body's extremities--such as your fingers. 

You can't ignore these conditions, as they can result in a lifetime of repercussions. You should try avoiding these sudden drops in temperature by ensuring that you remain warm and dry throughout your trip. Always wear multiple layers of clothing, and make sure that your garments have moisture-wicking properties. Wet clothes can amplify the effects of hypothermia and frostbites. 

Of course, don't forget that you should bring insulated blankets, sleeping bags, and hot beverages. The more defense you have against the cold weather, the easier you can avoid these cold-related risks. But again, if you think that the problem is too severe, don't hesitate to seek medical support. 

8. Treating Sprains And Fractures

Since you are hiking, you are not explicitly safe from fractures and rolled joints. Fortunately, if you train and move correctly, you will avoid these injuries. But then again, accidents could happen. You should always anticipate the unexpected and prepare for them accordingly. 

When it comes to your bones and joints, having the ability to position and brace them is highly beneficial. That would help you get out of a potentially stressful situation. Of course, that could also help you get the necessary help that you need. 

Bracing fractures and strained joints are crucial for their stabilization. As much as possible, you should prevent them from moving unnecessarily. If you keep immobilizing them, the pain and damage could be mitigated. Always remember that these braces aren't designed to heal the injury. Instead, they are designed to prevent them from getting worse. 

9. Applying A Tourniquet

Hikers are required to know how to apply a tourniquet. You see, a tourniquet is something that you should only use if you think you no longer have any options. Once you use a tourniquet to a particular limb, the latter will not be able to move. After all, the correct usage of a tourniquet would inhibit the blood flow to a specific body part where it is applied. As a result, it can lead to long-lasting damages, especially to your extremities. 

Use a tourniquet only if the wound is exceptionally severe and you have no access to immediate help. By using it, you might be able to save someone's life.

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