Wilderness First Aid 101: What You Need to Know

There are some things you must know in order to take care of yourself and the people you are likely to find yourself with after an emergency. Any kind of scenario that puts you into the wilderness is likely going to include some type of injury.

Hopefully, the injury is fairly minor and can be treated without the need for surgery or a medical professional. Depending on what kind of situation you are dealing with, that is probably not going to be an immediate option.

Knowing even basic first aid can save the life of someone you love or even yourself. While it is one thing to read about it, it is another to actually get the training from a qualified instructor. There are plenty of first aid classes that you can attend through your Red Cross, a local hospital or through a paid service.

Your education will give you the knowledge needed to keep a relatively minor injury from becoming serious. It can also keep a serious injury from resulting in death by knowing just what to do to minimize the damage and keep the person alive. The human body is amazing and can withstand a great deal, even healing when it seems impossible.

The following are some of the skills you should learn just in case you find yourself in a survival situation with an injured person.

Stopping Bleeding


Pressure directly on a bleeding wound is the best way to stop the bleeding. It is best to use a clean cloth or a gauze pad placed over the wound and pressed down upon. You don’t want your dirty hands adding more problems by dirtying up the wound. If it is an extremity, have the person lay down and elevate the injured, bleeding area.

If it is a torso bleed, elevating the feet can help slow the blood flow. Do what you can to keep the person calm. Wrap the wound and seek medical help if possible. Do not use a tourniquet unless you know it is a main artery and there is no other option. A tourniquet can completely cut off the blood supply to the limb, causing irreparable damage.


Shock can happen for any reason. If a person has witnessed a traumatic event or been injured, they can go into shock. Know the symptoms and take immediate action. Your best treatment is to have the person stay calm and wrap them in a warm blanket while their body regulates and calms down.

Symptoms of shock:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid pulse
  • Shaking
  • Weakness
  • Fainting

Unconscious Person

If someone has been rendered unconscious, check to see if they are breathing. If they are not breathing, place one hand on the forehead and gently push the head back while gently pulling the chin forward. This will open up their air passageway. If they are breathing, roll the person onto their side with the top leg bent at a 90 degree angle to prevent them from rolling onto their stomach. If you suspect the person has a back or neck injury, it is best not to move them.


Exposure to cold weather can cause a person to develop hypothermia in less than an hour. If it is extremely cold or the person is wet, it can happen in 15 minutes. Know the signs of hypothermia. Be ready to spring into action to warm the person up to prevent them from falling into unconsciousness and ultimately dying. Drinking warm liquids and skin-to-skin contact is a quick way to get a person’s body temperature up. Have the person remove any wet clothing. A warm fire and shelter is key to bringing a person back from the brink.



  • Shivering
  • Dizzy
  • Rapid breathing
  • Confusion
  • Trouble talking
  • Tiredness

Hyperthermia/Heat Stroke

Extreme heat can be deadly and result in heat stroke. You only have a short time to get the person out of the heat before a heat stroke occurs. Shade is your best option. Limit any physical activity and push water if available. Soaking a cloth in cool water and placing it on the back of the neck is a quick way to cool the body. If there is water nearby, have the person get wet.



  • Headache
  • Thirsty
  • Irritation
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lethargic
  • Red cheeks
  • Nausea



A sprain can be extremely painful. It can be hard to tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture without the luxury of an x-ray machine. In the wild, if someone sprains an ankle, you will need to do your best to mobilize it.

Keeping weight off the injured foot will also be important, but not always possible. Wrapping the injured ankle, knee, wrist or other joint will help give it some stability while limiting swelling. If a cold stream is available, have the person soak their injured limb in it to try and reduce the swelling. If you suspect the bone is broken, making a splint out of some branches can help keep it straight.

If it is a broken leg or ankle, you will likely need to make a stretcher to carry the person. Walking on a broken leg or ankle is excruciating and can be too much for some who will quickly fall into shock.

These are some of the most common types of medical emergencies you would encounter in a wilderness survival situation. Knowing the symptoms and how to respond can truly save a person’s life. Don’t just read about what to do.

Sign up for a first aid class and carry a reference card in your bug out bag. An emergency has a funny way of making you forget everything you thought you knew. Having a card to remind you what to do will help take the pressure off of you and give you the information you need to make the best decisions.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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