The scene in Castaway where Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks, does a bit of amateur dentistry with an ice skate is excruciating to witness. Knocking a tooth out with the steel blade isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time but the scene brings to mind just what should you have in a first aid if you’re on a trip in the great outdoors?
Wilderness medicine is a relatively new academic discipline but with the growing interest in hiking, fishing and general wandering across the primordial landscape it is an area of study interesting to professional and amateur alike.
As an amateur the question is just how much should you prepare for? When it comes to the wilderness you have to carry any extra weight you may deem necessary “just in case.” Whether you’re doing a week long hunt for deer in the Alaskan mountain ranges, hog hunting in the open fields of Oklahoma, or staying at a local campsite for the weekend, there are a few absolutes that everyone should have with them.
Here are the essentials in no particular order.
Tweezers, good ones, nothing is as irritating as a splinter in your hand and one in your foot can be excruciating. Combine a good, sharp pointed pair of tweezers with a magnifying glass. Even if you’re a 20-something with incredible eyesight, in perfect physical condition you’ll be glad you carried the extra two ounce magnifier. It can also double as a fire starter on a sunny day. Just aim the beam on a dry leaf or shreds of wood and soon, poof!, you have fire.
The second item is good ol’ white athletic tape. Many people have a personal preference for the one inch or two inch variety or vice versa but it doesn’t really matter. A roll of athletic tape can ease the pain of blisters, support a sprained ankle, wrist or knee and help you or your partner get out of the wilderness if you or they are injured.
The next item is wound dressing and once again it is personal preference.
A roll of gauze combined with the tape can cover most wounds but Band-Aids are often a better solution, waterproof style small, medium, and large (4×4”) should be in every kit.
A few pairs of latex gloves are a good idea as well. You don’t want to infect your own wound or another person’s with dirty hands and the magic of the wilderness is that it is far from antiseptic.
A pair of small sharp scissors is a good idea as well. You can cut bandages to fit if necessary and scissors work much better than a knife in removing loose skin from a burst blister or around a bad cut.
Blister kits which usually include foam, gel pads and moleskin are also a good idea. Some people may tape directly over blisters as a protective layer, but the adhesive in tape creates more problems than it solves and can greatly enhance the chance of a bad infection. Infection is a major concern in the backcountry with an open wound.
A big plastic syringe, 60cc or more can be found at local agricultural supply stores. You can store bandages, etc inside them and when they’re needed they can provide good pressure in washing out a wound.
Antiseptic cream in a squeezable tube, a small bottle of antiseptic wash (iodine based) and antiseptic dressings don’t take much space and can prevent a painful incident from becoming a traumatic event.
Light cloth towels can have a variety of uses on any outdoor adventure, from drying your hands to splinting a broken limb, make sure to carry a couple with you at all times.
The final topic is medicine. If you take prescription meds, pack them with you. Over the counter medications for pain, diarrhea and allergies are abundant in the store aisles.
Take the medication that works best for you. Ibuprofen is a must, it relieves pain and reduces fever if you carry a bug into the woods and get sick far from home.
Nothing is worse than a case of diarrhea in the middle of nowhere, even at a campsite. Over the counter meds abound for this condition. Take a couple of tablets and pack a few grains of rice in the container to keep them from dissolving in the humidity.
While you can’t prepare for every condition you might find in the wilderness. A well packed first aid kit gives you a step up when a challenge arises.