Whether your adventure of choice is bombing down steep singletrack on your mountain bike, grabbing your climbing gear and hitting the rock, or lacing up the trail shoes for a long run in the woods, a great day can quickly take a bad turn with a twisted ankle or a nasty spill. Sure, chances are things won’t go wrong, but if they do, are you prepared?
We spoke with David Richards, outdoor enthusiast and U.S. Army Special Operations Medic, and Brooks Wolfe, who runs the survival school and wilderness medical program for SOLO Southeast, to talk about the gear, the knowledge, and the mindset you need to stay happy, healthy, and chasing those outdoor adventures you know and love. Here's what they had to say:
Be Prepared and Take Ownership
Richards and Wolfe agree, there’s little downside to being prepared. But there’s a major downside to finding yourself or your buddy hurt in a remote area and unable to do anything about it. The good news is that the vast majority of stuff that can go wrong is completely preventable.
“This is about taking ownership for your well-being and your friends’ well-being,” Richards says. “The medical things are just one piece of that puzzle. Have a full tank of gas. Keep a wool blanket in your car. Tell someone where you’re going. If you have your phone out there, make sure it’s charged. Keep a mental checklist of all these little things, and they can make your day a lot better even if it gets really bad.”
Bring the Stuff You Truly Need
Put together a small, portable first aid kit that you can easily take with you. This can be smaller and lighter than a Nalgene, something you can throw in your gear bag or strap to your hydration pack—include basic wound care items, Benadryl for allergic reactions, and aspirin for cardiac emergencies. Then keep a bigger kit in your car to deal with anything you can’t treat with your basic supplies.
“Focus on things that are multi-use,” says Wolfe. “The riskier and more remote something is, the bigger your pack gets. But you can’t take everything and the kitchen sink into the backcountry, so we’re big on trying to figure out—how do you get your med kit down to a reasonable size but carry things that you know you’re going to be able to use in multiple situations?”
In addition to your standard kit of bandages, athletic tape, moleskin, cravats, and meds, here are some useful items Wolfe and Richards recommend that you might forget:
- 550 Paracord – Great for strapping, tying, rigging, splinting, and a thousand other uses, paracord can also be cut open and unraveled to reveal smaller string inside that can be used for sewing up equipment, fishing, or making snares in a backcountry survival situation. Super useful. Super versatile. Add this to your kit.
- Tincture of iodine – Gash open your knee on the trail? Apply tincture of iodine to disinfect the wound. Out of drinking water? Find a stream and, boom: clean. This versatile antiseptic can be used both for wound care and to sanitize water for drinking.
- Honey – No seriously, honey is a great multi-use item for your kit. It works as an antiseptic for cuts and blisters, and it's also great to have around for diabetic emergencies, replacing electrolytes and sugars if you get too dehydrated, or to help produce energy if you’re getting cold and sluggish. Plus, it’s delicious. There’s no downside here.
- Aspirin – Not only good as a pain reliever or fever reducer, aspirin can be a literal lifesaver if you or a trail buddy have a heart issue.
- Headlamp – You’re running some sweet new trails when—uh oh, you should have been back at the car two miles ago, the sun is about to set and… is it a left turn or a right turn? Keep a headlamp on you, even if you’re just hauling your hydration pack. On rough terrain or in a first-aid situation, you need to be able to see.
- Space Blanket - If you’re on a day hike in the middle of the summer in the South, even if you have to spend the night in the woods, the elements probably won’t kill you. If it’s January, however, some basic backcountry skills and a space blanket could make the difference in a reasonably comfortable night in the woods and going hypothermic.
Learn How to Use It
“This stuff isn’t going to fix you on its own,” says Richards. “If you’re not sure how to use it then there’s no point in having it in the first place.”
Worse, getting that top-notch first aid kit can lull you into a false sense of security and make you sloppy if you don’t know what you’re doing. Take a wilderness medicine course or just engage your curiosity and learn how to take care of yourself.
Planning, prevention, and training are way more likely to save you when things get hairy than a top-notch tourniquet you’re not sure how to use. Research your gear and know how to use it. It might make the difference between a bad day in the woods and a really, really bad day in the woods one day.
Did we miss anything? What do you carry in your adventure med kit during Southeastern excursions?
Originally written for BCBS of Tennessee.