Five Medical Tips For The Backcountry

EMTSafety in the backcountry is paramount. When doing many of the activities we choose to do and love, we are taking inherent risks that could potentially put us in harms way. Anyone who has been in the backcountry knows that there are many uncertain variables from weather, to physical and mental health of you and those with you. There are many options for courses that will train you with the tools you need to respond to backcountry medical emergencies. The WFA (Wilderness First Aid) , WFR (Wilderness First Responder), and (Emergency Medical Technician) EMT are all examples of training courses that will certify you to preform certain medical procedures when far from definitive medical care.


There are many things that can be done to maximize safety and health that require no medical training, and should be known by everyone traveling to the backcountry. Here are a few tips that you can incorporate into your wilderness training.


Lightning Position– You are out in the mountains during the summer time having fun and suddenly 3:00 rolls around. Storm clouds that have been forming in the distance are now getting thicker, closer and darker. You can see the rain in the distance and hear the roar of thunder. As the storm gets closer you can see lighting strike almost 100 feet away from where you are peering, scared out of your tent. At this point, you should be doing two things: sitting on an insulated pad, in the lightning position. The lightning position is essentially a position that allows electricity to flow through you quickly and not bounce from point to point in your body. Be on an insulated surface like a sleeping pad to ground you. Squat with your feet on the ground, knees to your chest and hands over your ears. Be sure to keep your eyes closed. Wait indoors for the storm to pass before leaving the position!


Acclimatization– Ever go to climb a mountain with your friend and suddenly find yourself wheezing, and gasping for air? You probably didn’t acclimatize yourself to the altitude! Whenever climbing to above 10,000 feet, be sure to take 2-3 rest days with light exercise to adjust. From there try not to exceed 1,000-1,500 ft of elevation per day. Always climb high, and sleep low and be sure to maintain hydration! Don’t find yourself with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness!)

dehydration3Dealing with Dehydration– If you have ever hiked in the summer in the months when the heat of the day is enough to fry you, you know the feeling of being really, really dehydrated. Dehydration is caused by the loss of water through evaporation, and not enough H20 intake. The best way to treat dehydration is prevention, so stay hydrated! If you have become dehydrated, know that your body can only handle approximately 8 oz every 15 minutes and can become over-hydrated if not given salts and electrolytes in conjunction. Be sure to eat snacks with salt in them and stay hydrated on trips with high sun exposure. Wearing SPF rated clothes and traveling at times of day where the sun is less intense will help!


Good Samaritan Laws– These laws are in place to protect individuals who voluntarily offer care to sick or injured patients, but have no duty to act. Anybody looking to help somebody else can offer their services if trained to deal with the matter at hand. Be sure to ask for consent and know that these laws do not offer immunity from acts of gross negligence. Be deliberate and informed about what you are capable of doing for anyone you may find in need of assistance. If there is ever any question or you lack the training to make a decision, you should seek professional help or the assistance of a Wilderness First Responder.

poisonMitigating Poison Oak/Ivy and SumacРAny of these plants can ruin your trip. As with most medical issues, the number one way to deal with this is prevention! Know what these plants look like and avoid them. Signs and symptoms of contact with these plants include: red itchy blistered rashes, scaly  crusting wounds, and potential for swelling. Affected areas should be scrubbed with soap and cool water or Tecnu when available. Calamine lotion can help alleviate itching symptoms.


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