First Aid Matters

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When most people think of getting outside, their minds turn to flying down a backcountry bowl, cruising epic single track, appreciating the view from a classic peak, or sending a five-star route. But, the truth is, these sports are dangerous and injuries do happen. Here are 5 tips to follow so that you’re prepared for the inevitable.

  1. Assemble Your Kit. At least one person in a group should have a first aid kit. The kit I carry varies depending on activity, but whether I’m climbing, hiking, or backcountry skiing, mine usually includes these essentials: gloves, a wound-care kit (for both minor and serious bleeding), splinting material, airways (OPAs and/or NPAs, along with a barrier for CPR), and a cellphone (assuming there’s coverage). Ideally, your kit should be small, lightweight, and packable so that you’ll actually bring it with you.
  2. Get Some Training. Having the best assembled first aid kit in the world is no good if you don’t know how to use anything in it. To ensure you’ll actually be able to help your patient, consider taking a training course. Folks spending a lot of time in the backcountry should check out SOLO’s 16-hour wilderness first aid and 80-hour wilderness first responder courses. The National Ski Patrol’s 80+ hour Outdoor Emergency Care program is also excellent.
  3. Keep Your Skills Fresh. Even if you’re trained, identifying some injuries can be hard and remembering exactly what to do is even harder. While nothing beats hands-on practice (where you do a mock assessment, then treat the patient), just discussing your way through a scenario is good training. One of my friends often does this with me while we’re cragging at Quincy Quarries, having me talk my way through various scenarios in a step-by-step fashion, then critiquing my “treatment.”
  4. Prevention Matters. Environmental factors like cold, wind, rain, and darkness can greatly influence propensity to injury. Just think about how quickly things changed on your last day hike where somebody “forgot” their raincoat and didn’t have anything to wear when the downpour started, or on that last ski tour when somebody didn’t pack a full face mask and hard shell to pull on for the last push to windswept summit in “full conditions.” Packing a headlamp, winter hat, emergency bivy, puffy coat, and extra food and water helps reduce the likelihood of exposure-based injuries and are great resources to have if something serious does happen.
  5. Planning Does Too. Picking the right activity for the day can significantly lower your risk profile. Skiing the trees when the avalanche activity is high, picking a hike that stays well below treeline on days that an afternoon thundershower is likely, or climbing a route that doesn’t have full sun exposure on a hot summer day are all obvious examples of how planning ahead can reduce your risk.


Words by Doug Martland
Photo by Luke Foley


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