Wilderness First Aid Basics

Wilderness First Aid Pt. 2: Medical Emergencies and First Aid Kits

Now that everything is closed or canceled if there are more than 100 people gathered, rightfully so at that, it’s a great time to go outside and do some hiking. But medical emergencies can still happen in the wilderness. 

You may remember my post last weekend about dealing with physical injuries in the wild. When out in the wild, there are times that you will have medical emergencies as well.

Knowing what to do and your own limits can help you in those instances. ALWAYS stay calm, that is how you are able to save yourself and others. Be aware because things like a stroke or a heart attack can also happen while hiking or fishing.


A woman using an inhaler for asthma
[Image via CHEST Foundation]
Asthma is a breathing condition in which the lower section of the windpipe constricts and limits air going into the body. Asthmatics should ALWAYS carry an inhaler on them. When an emergency arises, if you have one: share if need be. While not recommended for long term use, sharing yours may make enough time for the other person to get theirs. Each brand is a different color and they contain different medicines, but in an emergency or in the woods, use what you have and then get help. 

  • I’ve shared my personal inhaler. They’re washable. The medicines contained all do similar things. Only your doctor should switch your inhaler long-term, but when you’re out on a trail, breathing is more important. Unless that person has an allergy to a different brand (which they would know and is not common), it’s the best thing you can do.  


allergies graphic
[Image via Cleveland Clinic]
Allergies out and about are rarely life-threatening. For individuals that you believe are having a severe allergic reaction, that has swelling to their face, tongue and cannot breathe, then they should have an Epi-Pen of some sort. 

  • Epi-Pens literally point the needle onto their leg and push. The needle will automatically inject the medication into the person if they cannot give it to themselves. 
    • There are instances of individuals holding the pen upside down and sticking themselves. They end up being watched in an ER for a few hours, but the person they give the medicine to is saved. (*The pens are clearly labeled though. And if you’re calm, then you’ll see the arrow indicating which end to put towards the victim)


A hiker freezing in snow
[Image via Live Science]
In other words, you’re too cold. In instances where you are cold or outside and worried, there are things you can do. Obviously, being near a fire will help warm you up. If you’re in the snow, make sure you’re DRY. Water draws out heat, so no socks are better than wet socks at a camp. 


An overheating male
[Image via Medical News Today]
The opposite of too cold is too hot. The first thing for these instances is to remove yourself from the heat. Get to a cooler area or shade. Drink lots of water and take a cool, wet towel from a creek or water bottle to your head and rest. 

  • Always ensure that you drink water. Sweating gets rid of a lot of water, and on hot days, it can be nearly impossible to keep enough water in you. Rest often, stay cool and drink water. Sports drinks are an acceptable alternative, but water is best. 
  • If you feel dizzy, stop sweating or find someone passed out, call 911 and take these steps while you wait. You can die from heat, aka heat stroke, but these steps can help to cool the person down until help arrives. 


signs of having hypoglycemia
[Image via Diabnext]
Having low blood sugar can make an individual confused, sleepy, or even unconscious. If you or a friend are a diabetic, be sure to keep things on hand if blood sugar gets low. A piece of candy, sweet drink or a snack can be lifesaving. There is nothing that you can do if it’s too high other than call for help (you can’t give a person insulin yourself unless you’re trained or have a pen that does the dosing). 

All of these injuries and conditions are possible at any given minute when you’re out or at home. Staying calm and knowing the initial steps can save you or a loved one’s life. As always, when in doubt get help. This guide is meant to tell you the first steps and not to replace an expert or take the place of a doctor. Taking these steps can buy you time and help you make the right call though. 

A Wilderness First Aid Kit From Dollar Store Supplies

Walmart first aid kit
[Image via Walmart]
A first aid kit doesn’t have to be super fancy or expensive. As a professional paramedic, I honestly go to the local dollar store for all of my kit’s supplies. Either way, below are the essential things that you should have in any first aid kit. 

  • Tylenol or Motrin for pain, strains, and fevers. 
  • Benadryl (pills and cream) can both come in handy. 
  • Any emergency prescription medications like an inhaler, epi-pen, diabetes supplies. 
  • Gauze- You’ll want pads that are just squares of it and roller gauze (like a small toilet paper roll) that you can use for wrapping. 
  • Ace Wrap
  • Tape. I honestly carry duct tape, it’s strong and works on everything. You can also get medical-grade, paper or silk tape. 
  • Instant Ice Packs
  • Water bottle. Works for cleaning wounds or drinking. 
  • A granola bar (or a sugary snack- especially if your blood sugar drops)
  • Antibiotic Cream. You can also carry aloe or an antiseptic. 
  • Band-aids
  • A pair of gloves. These can be kitchen gloves or medical gloves. Just something if you’re dealing with a blood mess. 

You can build a great first aid kit for around $10 and add extra things that you may want in there. I carry extra gauze and bandages, I’m not the most graceful, and my inhaler. Everything listed above is what I include on my own and often have more than one use for each. 

These kits can be custom made to fit you and include what you think you’ll need. Keep in mind though, it should be light and compact so you’ll be able to take it with you in the car, keep it in the bathroom or throw it in a backpack on a hike. 

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