Overlanding First Aid

Safety and preparedness is key to a good time wheeling outdoors. Knowing what to do, under what conditions, is important.

You can be a first responder at any moment outside.

First Aid Kit Assembly

One of the most important things in first aid is to prepare and have an adequate first aid kit (FAK) with you at all times when overlanding. A good first aid kit must allow you to treat most (if not all) injuries that you or anyone in your group might get.

The best tip I’ve heard is from Dr. Chris Solis of Overland Bound. He recommends having three different kits: A Trauma Kit, a Basecamp Kit, and a Bites and Burns Kit.

Trauma Kit

A trauma kit is a first aid kit that should be assembled specifically to treat wounds, fractures, sprains, blood loss, and other trauma injuries. A good trauma kit must have:

  • Gauze: Preferably sterile gauze pads for small wounds and compressed gauze for bigger wounds on extremities. Gauzes are great for wound packing and may sometimes even be used to compress and immobilize injured parts of the body.
  • Bandages: Having an Israeli bandage, a triangular bandage, and a compression bandage would allow you to treat a wide range of trauma injuries. You can use said bandages to compress, immobilize, or dress wounds and fractures on extremities, junctions, and the head.
  • Adhesive Tapes: Any medical-grade adhesive tape will do. Use it for dressing wounds and to help hold gauze or other wound-packing pads in place.
  • Trauma Shears: These can be used to expose a wound underneath clothing.
  • Tourniquets: Tourniquets are critical tools to stop blood loss. However, it is not advised to use tourniquets on minor to moderate wounds. Usually, having a SAM or CAT Tourniquet in your FAK is good.
  • Wound Disinfectant: Wound disinfectants are very useful to prevent infection of minor to moderate wounds. Any wound disinfectant would do such as antiseptic wipes or sprays.
  • Splints: Having one moldable splint and one rigid splint of varying sizes on your FAK can allow you to treat different types of fractures or sprains.
  • Stainless Tweezers: These would help you dress and clean wounds and even help you take out that irritating splinter.
  • Thermal Blanket: When someone experiences a significant amount of blood loss, they tend to feel cold. To help retain heat and raise their body temperature, use a thermal blanket.
  • CPR Mask: CPR mask is helpful when dealing with extreme shock. It helps you assist the someone's breathing.
  • Nasal Airway: A nasal airway is an alternative to a CPR mask. Having both on your FAK may be beneficial when a CPR mask is inapplicable.
  • Pain Relievers: Pain relievers like Acetaminophen reduce pain from wounds and trauma injuries.
  • Protective Gear: Administering first aid to trauma injuries is very delicate. Keeping a set of sterile nitrile gloves, surgical facemasks, and protective goggles is in your best interest.
  • Flashlight or Glow Sticks: Accidents can happen in the dark. Keep a flashlight or a glowstick in your FAK so you’ll be ready whenever.
  • Emergency Whistle: You cannot handle all trauma injuries on your own – especially those that are severely life-threatening. Have something on your FAK that would easily allow you to call for help should you need it.

Basecamp Kit

A basecamp kit is a first aid kit that you could leave in your truck or at your camp. You don't necessarily need to bring it with you when you are out hiking or doing something else outside the vehicle or the camp. It's good to fill this kit with tools that would help treat minor and bearable injuries. Keeping this in mind, I advise you have:

  • First Aid Booklet: Even though you might think that you are knowledgeable about first aid, your mind may betray you in times of panic. Keeping a First Aid Booklet in your basecamp kit can be handy.
  • Over-the-counter/Prescription Medication: Having a medicine kit at your basecamp is good. Keep allergy meds, pain relievers, fever meds, and cold meds in there.
  • Elastic Bandages: Having a set of elastic bandages would also help your basecamp kit for small wounds at camp.
  • Gauze Pads: Another good thing to have in the camp are gauze pads. These will help you dress minor wounds easily.
  • Adhesive Tape: You’ll need adhesive tape to secure wound-packing pads.
  • Wound Disinfectant: Keeping wound disinfectant would also be a great idea for small wounds that might be susceptible to infection.
  • Moleskins: Moleskins are used to treat skin irritations due to friction.
  • Petroleum Jelly: Petroleum jelly can be used with skin irritation and also as an alternative cooling agent in case of minor burns.
  • Thermometer: Thermometers are handy tools to have to check a person’s body temperature in case of fever or heat exhaustion.
  • Thermal Blanket: Thermal blankets are useful for when someone is cold or is losing body temperature due to shock.
  • Adrenaline Auto-Injector: Anaphylactic shock is life-threatening. Having an auto-injector (even if you don’t have a certain allergy) can help you.
  • Antihistamine: Keeps them allergies away!
  • Ice Packs: Ice packs can be used to treat a number of minor injuries. It could help cool down a burn, slow down inflammation on sprained or fractured parts, and it can even help a person having a heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

Bites and Burns Kit

A bites and burns kit allows you to treat minor burns and bites. Now, even though you have this kit, it is imperative that you know when to call for help. Snake bites and major burns are some examples of when not to rely too much on this kit and to immediately seek medical help. Nonetheless, a good bites and burns kit should have:

  • Burn Dressings: Ideally, bandages that do not stick to the skin such as non-adherent pads and fine-mesh gauze are used to dress burns. Cooling bandages are also good such as hydrogel pads and hydrocolloid bandages.
  • Burn Ointment: Burn ointments are used as an antimicrobial agent for minor burn wounds. Three of the most often used burn ointments are Bacitracin Ointment, Polysporin Ointment, and Neosporin Ointment.
  • Cooling Agents: Cooling agents are applied to the burn in order to cool it down. Some great cooling agents are Aloe vera, petroleum jelly, or a cool compress.
  • Sting Relief Wipes: Sting relief wipes are used to alleviate irritation and pain from insect bites.
  • Anti-itch Hydrocortisone Cream: A very important component of this kit, hydrocortisone cream can treat insect bites, stings, and even irritations due to poison ivy.
  • Antihistamine: If a person is allergic to the sting or bite of a certain insect or plant, having an antihistamine in the bag would help.
  • Moldable Splints: In case of a venomous snake bite, you’ll want to immobilize the bitten part until the person bitten receives proper medical help. You’d want to have a moldable splint in your bites and burns kit.
  • Triangular Bandage: Used with the moldable splint to immobilize bitten part.
  • Flashlight or Glowstick: Insect bites and snake bites are most likely to happen outside. It could get dark out there so keep a flashlight or glowstick handy.

Basic First Aid

Different injuries call for different treatments and actions. Some injuries might end up being fine after first aid administration and some injuries might need more than first aid. Regardless, here are some of the basic first aid techniques that can serve you.

Also, here are some videos that would help you learn different first aid skills in a jiffy!

  1. Backcountry First Aid Skills
  2. Bleeding Control on the Trail
  3. Wilderness First Aid Tips
  4. Overlanding First Aid Preparedness
  5. How to Pack Your First Aid Kit
  6. Basic Wilderness First Aid
  7. Advanced Outdoors First Aid

How to Treat Wounds, Abrasions, Cuts, and Bleeding

Your approach to wounds and cuts, in general, will depend on their severity. If it is a minor-level cut, cleaning the wound, applying antiseptic, and dressing it with gauze pads or elastic bandages would get the job done. However, for bigger wounds with severe bleeding, here are some first aid pointers you might want to remember:

  • If the wound is not bleeding at an alarming rate, the first thing to do is to clean the wound by rinsing it with water and then disinfecting it with antiseptic wipes or solution.
  • If the wound is bleeding severely, your first response is to try and stop the bleeding. You can do this by applying pressure using gauze, bandages, or towels.
  • If the bleeding soaks through the dressing, add another layer of gauze or bandage and apply direct pressure to the wound.
  • Here are some ways you can dress a wound properly using bandages or gauze.
  • For wounds on the head, see this video on how to properly dress a wound on the head.
  • If the bleeding stopped, replace the dressing with a clean one.

Triangular Bandages

Triangular bandages are one of the handiest things to have in your First Aid Kit. It can be used not only to dress trauma injuries on several areas of the body but it can also be used to immobilize fractured extremities. Here’s a great video on how to use a triangular bandage for different situations.

Israeli Bandages

Another really good bandage to have in your FAK is the Israeli Bandage. The Israeli bandage is great at stopping bleeding and keeping pressure on the injured extremity. If you’re curious on how to use and Israeli bandage for bleeding control, have a look at this video.

How to Treat Puncture Wounds

Puncture wounds are deep wounds caused by sharp objects such as pointy rocks or knives. Puncture wounds can sometimes be small but deep, in which case, you’d still want to clean the wound using antiseptic and dress it thoroughly as this type of wound is more prone to infection.

Here are some of the things you’d want to do when dealing with a more severe puncture wound:

  • Wipe off the area around the wound to remove the blood and help reveal the actual wound.
  • If there are foreign materials left in the wound, try to remove it carefully using tweezers, cotton buds, or cotton balls.
  • You may also want to encourage bleeding for a bit to help rid the wound of bacteria and other things that might infect it. Do this by gently applying pressure around the wound using your hand or tweezers.
  • When the wound is clean, stop the bleeding by applying pressure directly on top of the wound using sterile or clean gauze or bandages.
  • Secure the dressing in place.
  • Consider getting medical help for a tetanus shot if needed.
  • Here’s a quick video explaining the basics of treating puncture wounds.

For really deep puncture wounds, however, you’d want to pack the wound. Learn how to pack a puncture wound using gauze.

Using Tourniquets

Tourniquets are bands that are used to stop blood flow to a certain area. As simple as they seem, tourniquets are delicate to use. There are three (3) most common types of tourniquets. See each link below on how to use them properly: * SAM Tourniquets * CAT Tourniquets * Junctional Tourniquets

How to Treat Sprains

Sprains are ligament injuries that commonly occur due to over supination or pronation of the ankles or wrists. They tend to last a few weeks to heal completely, tend to limit the joint’s mobility and cause swelling and pain around the affected area.

The best treatment for a sprain can be remembered using the acronym RICE.

  • Rest the injured part
  • Ice the area to slow swelling
  • Compress it using bandages. Learn how to bandage an ankle sprain and a wrist sprain.
  • Elevate the injured part higher than your heart to slow down blood flow.

How to Treat Fractures

A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. It can occur as either an open or closed fracture. An open fracture is one where the bone tears through the skin which opens up a wound and causes severe bleeding. On the other hand, a closed fracture is one that does not cause an open wound.

In the case of closed fractures, the best approach is to immobilize the injured part by bandaging or splinting it. Then, you may apply ice to the injury to reduce swelling around the area.

On the other hand, to treat an open fracture you must first stop the bleeding from the area where the bone punched through the skin. You can do this by applying pressure on the wound using clean or sterile cloth, bandages, or gauze. Once the bleeding stops, you may proceed to immobilize the area as you would a closed fracture. Then, if considerable blood loss were to occur, treat for shock.

These are only first aid responses, you would want immediate medical attention for the someone regardless if they suffered an open or closed fracture.

Take a peek at this video to learn more about treating fractures..

Basic Splinting

Splinting is done to immobilize injured or fractured parts of the body to protect it from further damage. It is also done to keep the broken ends of the bones from misaligning due to excessive movement. Learn more about the fundamentals of splinting.

Here are some of the most basic splinting approach for different injured parts: * Arm Splinting * Leg/Ankles Splinting * Finger Splinting

How to Treat Concussions

A concussion is a trauma that occurs in the head due to excessive bumping force. It can temporarily affect someone’s brain function and cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and blurry vision.

Concussions can be serious and people who suffer from it should seek immediate medical attention. Should you find yourself to be a first responder to a concussed person, check this video to know what to do..

How to Treat Insect Bites

Insect bites or stings are pretty common outdoors. Learn how to treat them.

How to Treat Snake Bites

Bites from venomous snakes are always a concern when doing outdoor activities. They are delicate and should not be treated without correct knowledge on how to do so. There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding how to treat snake bites such as pumping or sucking out the venom or using tourniquets to prevent blood flow to the bite area.

These misconceptions could worsen the situation if practiced. The only thing you should do in snake bite situations are:

  • Check for the bite area.
  • Clean the area that was bitten if there is excessive bleeding.
  • Remove clothing and accessories on the bitten area before it swells.
  • Immobilize the bitten area using splints or bandages. Do not put too much pressure on the wound when bandaging it. Remember how the snake looks or take a picture if it is completely safe to do so.
  • Seek immediate medical attention.

You could also watch this to learn more.

How to Treat Burns

Not all burns can be treated by first aid. Harsher burns such as second degree or higher need immediate medical attention. For superficial and minor burns, you can treat it by:

  • Cooling the burn immediately under running water for at least 20 minutes.
  • Cleaning and sterilizing the affected area using antiseptic.
  • Applying topical burn cures such as burn ointments or cooling alternatives such as petroleum jelly.
  • Dressing the burn wounds using fine-mesh gauze or other dressings suited for burn wounds.

Watch this for more information about first aid approaches on burns.

Basic CPR

CPR is an essential skill in first aid. It is used when someone is unconscious and is suspected to have difficulty breathing or a restricted airway. Take a peek at these videos to learn how to do CPR correctly to adults and children.

How to use Nasal and Oral Airways

Nasal and Oral airways are devices used to assist you when administering CPR. They are delicate but not complicated tools that can be used if regular CPR can’t be administered safely for any reason. See below to learn how to use them safetly.

How to Treat Shock

Shock is something that a person with significant blood loss may experience. The usual indicators of shock include low blood pressure, rapid and heavy breathing, weak or rapid pulse, and cold skin. To treat it, here are some thing you’ll want to remember:

  • If the person suffered an injury and is bleeding a lot. Prioritize stopping the bleeding as instructed previously.
  • Lay the person down and elevate his or her feet above her heart unless you think it’d cause more damage to the injury.
  • Keep the person still and rested. Do not move him or her too much.
  • Loosen clothing and get rid of tight accessories that might restrict blood flow.
  • Keep the person warm by putting a thermal blanket or a regular blanket around their body.
  • Monitor the person. If they become unresponsive, check their breathing and proceed to do CPR.
  • Seek immediate medical help.

You could also watch this to learn more about shock treatment.