Living Big Travel

Living Big Travel Blog

Travel tips, guides, and real life stories to inspire your next adventure. Go explore! 

Wilderness 101: first aid

Last weekend I participated in a two-day wilderness first aid training course hosted by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School.) I signed-up for the course because I was having a growing list of WHAT IF’S keeping me up at night.What if during a Living Big trip someone rolls an ankle while hiking? What if someone finds out on the trip they are allergic to bees and go into anaphylactic shock? What if someone trips on a rock and cuts their leg? What if someone brings the wrong hiking shoes and blisters threaten to ruin their trip?

You see, it’s the planner in me. I can’t just have these thoughts and NOT have a plan in mind. So I signed-up for a training course 


But first: you should know that beyond this course, I have no formal medical training. And if one of the above instances happens I’ll lend a hand, as any person would do, and now I feel better equipped to lend that hand. What this course taught me is how to perform basic first aid in a wilderness setting, (i.e. away from proper medical services) how to evaluate injuries to determine if they can be treated in the wilderness or not, when someone needs to be evacuated (or rapidly evacuated) and how to offer comfort, immediate care and prep someone for professional care that is on the way.

I learned a LOT this weekend, and the studying will need to continue, but there are three tips I want to pass along to you!

If you get a blister in a spot that is bound to pop (i.e. on your foot) then go ahead and remove the liquid built-up inside if you just can’t stand it anymore. Sterilize a needed and insert it into one spot on the side, release the liquid built up, and cover with a bandaid. You want to minimize the exposed surface area that bacteria can get into. If you can, avoid popping the blister altogether. It will cut down on your risk of bacterial infection. To protect the blister, take Moleskin, cut it in a circle, then cut a circle in the circle (like a donut) for the blister to breathe. You don’t want to add any pressure to the surface of the blister. Stack similar Moleskin “donuts” on top of each other until the highest point of the blister is protected.


If you stumble and fall, and have a cut with rocks, grass, dirt and probably a little blood in it, you want to get it cleaned out right away, and thoroughly! Rather than dumping a bunch of water on your cut (you don’t want to waste any – you might need it!) bring along a syringe like the one pictured below. Fill it up with clean water and then inject right on the wound. The pressure will efficiently clean out all the nooks and crannies of your wound while using minimal amounts of your precious water.


Before you head into REI to purchase a pre-packaged first aid kit, or build your own, think about what you’ll be doing. If you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking, make sure you have supplies for blisters. If you’re going to be mountain biking, bring extra bandages and supplies to treat wounds. If you’re going to be hiking into swamp lands be sure to bring tablets to clean the water. If you’re going to be running or hiking on trail, be sure to pack extra tape in case you roll your ankle. And most importantly, make sure you know how to use everything in your kit.

There is a WHOLE lot more I learned, but to learn more you should consider checking out the class. I participated in an extended class, designed for field and trip guides, but there are also shorter classes offered through NOLS or you can book directly with REI.

Cheers to Living Big (and lots of fun and safe adventures in your future!)