I write this blog from Southern California, that part of the United States that is somewhat infamous for burning up at the drop of a match. If you have to resort to starting a fire in an area where fires are prohibited, be very, very careful as there is a good chance of burning down the entire forest around you.
That said, there are times when the choice is start a fire or freeze, there is a strong argument in favor of starting a fire. Fire can be a method to warm yourself and others, it can provide the means to disinfect water, it can help cook food. The ability to start a fire in an emergency can easily save your life when done properly.
The best way to be able to start a fire is to carry some waterproof matches along with a small bit of fire starter. For fire starter, many people will purchase specific things made for that, but even carrying some dryer lint in a ziplock bag can do the trick. If you don’t have waterproof matches, a regular lighter is an acceptable alternative, although they tend to be more sensitive to wind and rain.
Overall, use fire cautiously, especially when you are in an area that tends to burn easily. Always follow the rules and regulations that are in play for the area you are in. Fire, when used properly, can be a great tool.
If you have seen someone having a very bad day on the trails, you may have seen the rangers/SAR/whoever come up with a giant orange or red first aid kit that probably weighs 10 pounds by itself. You don’t need one of those. Most first aid you will need to do in the field is going to be dressing small cuts and scrapes, and immobilizing injured joints. In the first aid kit I use, I carry ibuprofen, some bandages, gauze, topical antibiotics, ace bandages, scissors, pen and paper and other miscellany. I carry far more than most people really need, but I tend to bring bigger groups out, so I like to be ready.
Probably the most essential thing you can do in regards to first aid, is simply make yourself knowledgeable. I went through National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification process. The course cost about $130 and took a weekend at a local REI store and is good for 2 years. While the course may be overkill for someone who is only interested in doing very small day hikes, as soon as you start doing bigger hikes, the knowledge and confidence that comes with it are indispensable, and may even save yours or someone else’s life.
One of the big takeaways from the course was the concept of the SOAP report which stands for
- This is basically a high level report of what the injury is and any relevant details about the person. A SAMPLE history is good here.
- These are measurements, such as vital signs, medications taken, findings from physical examination (if you know how to properly do one)
- As assessment of what is likely wrong with the injured person. Sometimes this is obvious, sometimes it isn’t.
- A plan for how to proceed. If someone has broken their wrist, a good plan is to immobilize it, and quickly, but safely exit the backcountry.
One thing to remember about backcountry medicine is that it is generally not focused on fixing serious injuries long-term. It’s focus is on ensuring that whoever is injured can be patched up enough to survive transport to a front country medical facility.
- Signs and Symptoms
- Relevant past medical history, injuries, illnesses
- Last Meal Intake
- Events leading to the injury/illness
To recap: bring first aid essentials, and know how to use them. If you are starting to do bigger adventures, learning what a SOAP report is and how to collect a SAMPLE history is a good skill to get into. These reports can make the jobs of first responders go much more quickly, and in some cases the time saved may save someone’s life.
Bring light, and plenty of it. A headlamp only weighs a couple of ounces, and spare batteries only a few more, so bring them anytime there is any chance of being stuck out after dark (even if you intend on being back before the sun goes down). There is often an argument between flashlight and headlamp users, and while both have benefits, headlamps tend to win out, especially for people who use trekking poles.
The one big advantage with a regular flashlight is that it can give better spot illumination when you are scouting trail in the dark. For example, I tend to carry both when I do tricky trails like Cactus to Clouds, as there are portions at the beginning where the trail is very easy to use.
Remember though: your headlamps and flashlights are only good so long as they have energy. Bringing extra batteries is essential if you are going to be using your lights heavily. Getting stuck and lost in the dark is no fun at all (been there, done that).
Hiking in the sun, hiking in the snow, hiking in the cold, hiking in the heat, there are a few different ways to hike. In this post lets look at insulation and sun protection, numbers 3 and 4 of the 10 essentials.
Continue reading 10 Essentials – Sun Protection and Insulation
Alone, scared in the failing sunlight, with pine trees so heavy overhead that any moonlight there was going to be tonight would never make it to the ground. Cutting through thick brush, and not a clue which direction the car is, scrambling to find some landmark before the light fails completely.
Continue reading 10 Essentials – Navigation
Anyone venturing into the backcountry should know of the 10 essentials, and should always have the 10 essentials with them. These are the 10 items you need to stay alive if your backcountry excursion goes bad. Continue reading 10 Essentials