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By Lucy Higgins • September 29, 2022

The old adage is true: Even the best-laid plans can go sideways, and when those plans involve traveling along trails far away from immediate medical attention, the stakes can be even higher. In the case of an injury, some upfront preparation can make the difference between that injury and its surrounding situation escalating into something dangerous, and a relatively smooth evacuation process. Here are a few tips to prepare for an on-trail injury. 

Education is Key

As with any avenue in outdoor adventure, education is paramount. When it comes to getting injured while on the trail, a class like a Wilderness First Responder or a Wilderness First Aid course can give a knowledge base on things like conducting a physical exam, coming up with an evacuation plan, and applying basic first aid to injuries or illness. Both provide basic medical information, though the Wilderness First Responder course is more in depth and better suited for those venturing father out and for longer stretches of time. 

Flex Point / Unsplash

Carry Communication Tools

If you or a friend does end up injured, it will be vital to communicate with the outside world about your change of plans, whether that means being home later than expected or needing medical personnel dispatched to you. These days, cell service is far reaching but it isn’t a guarantee. Do some research into where you’re traveling to make sure you’ll be able to use your cell phone in the case of an emergency—then make sure it’s charged and you have the right contact information saved. Keeping phones on airplane mode until you need them is a great way to save battery, too. When heading somewhere that doesn’t have cell service, a satellite phone is a must. Not only will you still be able to call in for help, you’ll also be able to send GPS location and check in on any changing weather. 

As with any trip into the outdoors, it’s vital to tell a friend or family member where you’ll be headed, expected return time, and with whom you’re traveling. In the case that you aren’t able to call or radio for help after an injury, this will allow your friend to contact authorities and send help your way. 

Dial in the First Aid Kit

Having an appropriate first aid kit can be the difference between a slight hiccup on the trail and an injury that spirals into an emergency situation. There are plenty of kits available for purchase already assembled, or you can build your own—either way, be sure that you’re comfortable with every single item within the kit and how to use it. At the minimum, a wilderness first aid kit should include gauze, tape, over-the-counter pain medication, small shears or a pocket knife, antibiotic ointment, and a space blanket or extra dry layer. With store-bought first aid kits, it may still be necessary to tweak and add to the kit so that it includes items specific to your climate and the type and duration of trip you’ll be embarking on. 

Mat Napo / Unsplash

Hunker Down

So you’ve gotten injured, called in for some help, and applied what you’ve needed to from your first aid kit. Now what? It’s time to get comfortable and wait for medical attention to arrive. That means, if possible, fixing yourself a snack and staying hydrated, as it’s easy for your body to quickly become depleted and weak with an injury to tend to. Now is also a good time to use the space blanket or emergency dry layer form your first aid kit. It’s crucial to keep your body temperature from dropping, and it can sometimes take hours for medical help to arrive. Lastly, gauge where you are on the trail. Are you out of the path of other hikers, bikers, or runners? The last thing you need is an escalating injury or for someone else to not see you then take a last-minute crash. WIthout wandering from your location (that is where medical personnel will be heading), move to a safe, dry location and remain as comfortable as possible.