It pays to be prepared for any emergency situation that could happen when you’re out in the wilderness. While we all hope for the best and take the right precautions, sometimes hiking injuries occur despite our best made plans and intentions. Here are some of the most common injuries that hikers, campers and backpackers face, with useful tips on how to deal with them.
Injuries that cause wounds can happen in several different ways. You could cut yourself on a knife, a sharp can or sharp rocks. It’s even possible to get deep scrapes from the local flora and fauna as you walk by. Any time there is a break in your skin, there is a potential for infection to set in. When you’re away from help for several days, a small wound can turn into a life threatening health issue. Here are tips for dealing with wounds.
If the wound is deep, the first step is to control the bleeding. Apply direct pressure directly onto the wound and elevate that part of the body above the heart. It’s a good idea to carry sterile gloves in your first aid kit to avoid contamination from a fellow hiker’s blood. Place a piece of sterile gauze onto the wound before applying pressure. This helps to keep the area clean.
If the gauze becomes soaked, add more gauze on top while leaving the original piece in place. You can make a pressure bandage by wrapping gauze tightly around the area and securing it with an ace bandage.
Just make sure that you can slip two fingers underneath and the injured person does not experience tingling in the extremities. You’re not trying to make a tourniquet.
After the bleeding is under control, wash the wound thoroughly with clean water. This will flush out any dirt or debris that may have lodged inside. If there is debris that doesn’t dislodge, remove it with tweezers.
Next, cover the damaged area with antibiotic ointment (Check out Antibiotic Ointment by Globe Pharmacy). Reapply the ointment twice daily and check for any signs of infection which include redness, swelling, heat or pus. If infection begins and you cannot reach medical help, wash the wound again with extremely warm water, soaking it to help remove the germs. Re-treat with antibiotic ointment.
When bleeding is severe or infection is present, if possible, it is time to call it quits and seek medical attention.
Burns are the second most common outdoor injury. Whether you’re scalded by burning water or get too close to the campfire, the first thing to do is to soak the burned area in clean, cold water for several minutes. This helps to prevent the burn from moving deeper into the tissue.
Afterwards, gently pat the area dry, apply a layer of antibiotic ointment and wrap loosely with clean gauze. This protects the burned area from germs that can cause infection. Elevating the burned area can reduce the swelling. You should also keep the person well hydrated and as comfortable as possible. If the burns are deep exposing layers of skin or bone, it’s time to seek emergency medical treatment.
Knee & Ankle Injuries
Injuries to the soft tissue of the knees and ankles are of particular concern for hikers and backpackers. It’s easy to sustain these types of injuries from turning or twisting a knee or ankle or from stumbling or falling. Injuries to muscles, tendons, joints and bones can become serious when you must depend on your ability to hike back to civilization or help at base camp.
You may even aggravate an existing condition when hiking, just through the increased activity. Instead of attempting to “tough it out,” take immediate action. If you’re still mobile and can put weight on the injury, wrap it with an ace bandage or with athletic tape. Make sure that it isn’t too tight because you don’t want to cut off the circulation.
When possible, rest the affected area and avoid unnecessary activity so it will have some time to repair. Rest is the single most important thing you can do to relieve the pain and prevent worsening of the symptoms. Use ice for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, then allow at least 15 minutes in between for the skin to warm. Keep the injured area elevated if possible. If you can, take a day off for recuperation. This can help you to avoid further damage.
In a case where the injury makes the affected area unusable, the person should avoid hiking on it. A splint is recommended along with an ace bandage as a compression bandage to stabilize and support the area. Make sure that it is done with the ankle, knee or foot in a comfortable position. You should seek medical help as soon as possible. This is particularly true if there is a broken bone that is protruding out of the skin because infection can set in quickly and can be life-threatening. If necessary, prepare a litter and carry the person to the closest available help.
Blisters from hiking are also common injuries that can quickly become debilitating. It’s important to protect the area from further friction to avoid worsening of the condition. Blisters, like any other injury, can break and become infected. The best course of action is to very carefully drain the fluid from inside, then treat it as you would any other wound to the skin. Wash the area with clean water, then rub an alcohol pad across the surface. Sterilize a sharp object with a flame or with alcohol, then slowly pierce the blister. Apply gentle pressure until the contents have drained. Wash the wounded area, pat dry and apply antibiotic ointment and cover to protect it from further rubbing or abrasions.
Dehydration is treatable if you catch it early. The beginning signs are dry lips and feeling thirsty. When it progresses to a more serious state, the person may feel irritable, achy, or become mildly confused. The best course of treatment is to re-hydrate with cool clear fluids and rest in a cool or shaded area until the episode passes.