Cadette Trail Adventure Badge Activity
First Aid For Hiking And Trail Running
Learn about common trail injuries so that you’re prepared to avoid or respond to them if they happen.
Time needed: 20–30 minutes
- Comfortable clothes
- Comfortable shoes for a workout
Setup: Hiking and running are both excellent forms of exercise. Each provides cardiovascular and pulmonary benefits and works major muscle groups so that you improve your stamina, endurance, strength, and muscle tone. You use many of the same muscles for each activity, but at different intensities. A strong core is crucial for both.
Outdoor adventures may also lead to some injuries. If it’s cold, you could get frostbite. If it’s hot, you could get a heat stroke or become dehydrated. You can also sprain your ankle if the ground is uneven. You will learn about some common injuries and what you can do to avoid them and how you can treat them. Take this knowledge and apply it for your safety in your training plan.
Activity: Hiking comes with its share of injuries. Most are minor, if treated promptly. Imagine you are in the heart of a 100-mile wilderness, a three-day hike away from the closest town. Murphy’s Law says the chances of something going wrong are just about 100 percent. Maybe it’s not something to worry about? Maybe the diligent prep work before this hike has paid off. Maybe another 60 miles to town is painful, but not impossible.
Common Hiking Injuries
A common first thought when it comes to hiking injuries is how to prevent them. Nonetheless, unfortunate as they are, injuries are likely occurrences when hiking. It’s therefore important to not only know how to prevent or mitigate common ailments and accidents, but also how to treat them.
At least two people in your hiking party will need to know some basic first aid. You should have adequate supplies in your backpack that can tackle any eventuality. Knowledge of how to identify various injuries and conditions is also very important.
The most common hiking injuries are:
- Bug bites
Let’s go through all the injuries below and identify the best ways to prevent and treat them.
Blisters are one of the most common hiking injuries and are caused by friction between your skin and ill-fitting socks and/or footwear.
To prevent blisters from forming, ensure your sock doesn’t slip up and down when you walk. Your hiking boots should fit tightly to prevent your foot from moving around or rubbing against the inside. However, they shouldn’t be too tight either, and should allow for a little extra wiggle room if you like putting on thicker socks, or two pairs, for winter hikes. Furthermore, your boots should be broken in at least somewhat before embarking on your journey. Nobody recommends picking up a new pair at your local outdoors store and immediately hitting the trail.
Keeping your feet dry is also important in preventing blisters. To this end, ensure that you have two or three spare pairs of socks so that you can change them if you happen to step in a bog hole. And it goes without saying, but make sure you have those spare pairs adequately waterproofed inside your pack as well.
How do I treat it?
If you do get a blister (it happens to the best of us), you may want to act quickly to prevent any unnecessary discomfort, and to stop the blister from getting any worse.
If you have a sterilized needle at hand, pop and drain the blister. Apply disinfectant and then wrap it up with a bandage to minimize the risk of infection. It’s unlikely that you will have a sterilized needle while you’re hiking. Don’t try to pop a blister with anything that is unsterilized as you will risk the wound getting infected. Instead, use a blister plaster or wrap it tightly with a bandage to avoid any further irritation through friction.
Everyone has their own preferred method of blister treatment, with some of these extra options doubling up as preventative measures as well. For example, many people also use moleskin, corn pads, medical tape, duct tape, wearing two pairs of socks at once, wearing woolen socks and using petroleum jelly. By the way, petroleum jelly is also very useful toward preventing and treating chafing while walking long distances. Finally, for certain routes, some hikers can easily get away with trail runners and sneakers. High-lacing hiking boots are inherently stiff and not always 100% necessary. Perhaps this is for the more experienced walker out there, but it is one way to have a more comfortable journey, in terms of preventing blisters and lightening the load on your feet.
The most common type of sprain to occur while hiking concerns the ankle. Prevention of this is simple: good hiking boots with sturdy ankle support and taking care and caution when placing your feet on uneven ground. Hiking poles are also a good option due to the extra stability they give you while walking. It is only ever advisable to wear sneakers or trail runners if the trail permits this safely without unduly increasing the risk of sprains, of course.
How do I treat it?
Sprains are part and parcel of hiking, no matter how cautious you are.
Follow the RICE procedure should spraining occur while out on a hike:
- Rest – Take any weight off of the sprained ankle immediately as this could do more damage to it.
- Ice – You probably won’t have an ice pack with you to treat this hiking injury. There are three things that you can do to replicate this step instead:
- Use packed snow to cool the injury.
- Submerge the ankle in cold water, such as a river or stream.
- Soak an unneeded t-shirt and wrap it around the swollen ankle.
- Compression – Apply compression using an elastic bandage or another unneeded t-shirt. Make sure that circulation isn’t impaired by the bandage being too tight.
- Elevation – Raise the ankle above the injured person’s heart.
You will eventually need to start walking again to get home from the trail. Use walking poles to create a makeshift splint to stabilize the ankle and get help from your hiking buddy to hobble down the trail.
Cuts are one of the most common hiking injuries and can happen at anytime from anywhere. They’re difficult to prevent but are not usually serious. Take care when walking on uneven ground to stop yourself from falling, as well as when passing undergrowth, in order to prevent any cuts from branches and brambles.
How do I treat it?
Treat a small cut simply by disinfecting the wound and putting a bandage on it.
Bigger cuts may require a tourniquet to stop the wound from bleeding. Use a belt or unneeded piece of clothing and tie it tightly above the wound. Write down the time the tourniquet was applied, so medical personnel know how long it has been on for.
Hypothermia is one of the most serious hiking injuries. Preventative efforts should be made such that you never get to the treatment stage. Hypothermia is the cooling of your core body temperature.
You can take many steps to prevent hypothermia, including:
- Plan your hiking trip properly, allowing for sheltered or semi-sheltered rest stops instead of halting in the open wind and elements.
- Know your route so you aren’t stopping and checking your map too frequently.
- Use equipment and wear clothing that is suited to the weather that is forecast.
- Keep yourself dry as much as possible.
- Keep your backpack and its contents dry.
- Ensure that at a bare minimum, you have 100% waterproofed spare warm clothes within your backpack.
- Pack an emergency shelter such as a tarp, or ‘bivvy’ bag if you intend to travel on routes where distances between permanent shelter points are particularly long.
- Include a space blanket (tin foil sleeping bag, effectively) in your first aid kit if you are hiking during winter, in a region subject to blasting tempests or in a climate prone to sudden, cooler weather and rainstorms.
- Bring a high visibility vest or similarly bright marker panel with you in case you need to signal to emergency rescuers in poor visibility which is associated with colder weather.
- Have a flask of warm drink, such as hot chocolate or something else sugary, and keep your hunger levels low to ensure that you have enough energy.
Hyperthermia is the opposite of hypothermia. It is the increase of body temperature which occurs when hiking in very hot conditions.
Ensure that you drink plenty of fluids while hiking in hot weather, and that you also have a hat to block the sun’s rays from directly hitting your head. Packing and using sunscreen during the summer months is equally important in terms of preventing yourself from adding insult to injury. There’s nothing worse than recovering from hyperthermia only to find that you now have a fairly severe sunburn for the next few days. Furthermore, this will only exacerbate any hyperthermia condition as well as potentially elongating your recovery time.
How do I treat it?
Identifying hyperthermia is, again, vitally important. Hyperthermia comes in three stages, each substantially more severe than the last. First you will experience muscle cramping, a minor discomfort often discredited as related to the hike instead of heat and dehydration. These cramps will, however, become more severe if you don’t begin to rectify your hydration and body temperature situation. After this comes heat exhaustion, the first real stage of hyperthermia. This is when things begin to get serious. If your case becomes particularly severe you will fall into a state of heat stroke, which is extremely dangerous and potentially deadly.
Symptoms include, in increasing order from muscle cramps to heat stroke:
- Profuse sweating
- Headaches, cramps, and nausea
- Stopping of sweating, which means it is imperative to call mountain rescue because the person has reached the heat exhaustion stage and can extremely rapidly progress to the heat stroke stage
- The “umbles,” which will kick in about the same time as the previous symptoms
- Unconsciousness, which is the worst case scenario and indicates medical attention should be sought immediately
The trick to preventing dehydration while hiking is simple: drink plenty of water.
How do I treat it?
Symptoms of dehydration are quite easy to diagnose in yourself. They can be:
- Feeling more thirsty than normal
- Lethargy or lack of energy
- Much darker shade of yellow urine than normal
Treat dehydration the same way you would to prevent it. Drink plenty of water and try not to hike during the hottest part of the day. The big mistake most people make when it comes to dehydration is that once they notice the first symptoms of it, they are actually much further progressed than they feel. It’s therefore a good idea to take a break in the shade and give your body time to absorb that water. Instead, most people think it is fine to simply press on while drinking more water.
Another effective way to both treat and prevent dehydration, apart from the obvious, is to consume and add salt sachets (grab a few from a restaurant or fast food place before your next hike) to your first-aid kit. If you are concerned that you are becoming dehydrated, then it is a good idea to replenish your body’s salt supply. As you perspire, you lose these vital salts from your body. Without an adequate level of salt in your body, you aren’t able to absorb and retain as much water. As such, drinking copious amounts of water without taking in salt as well can be a futile exercise, sometimes only serving to flush even more salt out of your body! Severe dehydration often requires medical attention and being placed on an intravenous drip for a number of hours.
You should always have sunblock of at least 25 SPF in your backpack to provide adequate protection from the sun’s rays. A sun hat or cap is a must in warmer, sunnier climates as well to stop the rays beating down directly on your head. And don’t forget, if the day is hot but overcast, you can still get burned through the clouds as well!
How do I treat it?
Sunburn can be a painful and irritating hiking injury. Treatments include applying an ice pack or a soaked rag or piece of clothing. Aloe vera and other after-sun remedies can be applied to create a cooling effect on the skin and prevent your skin drying out and peeling. Never let yourself get burned across your shoulders if you intend to put a backpack on the next day!
Bug bites can be difficult to prevent, especially when there are large swarms around. Insect repellant is a must while hiking. Remember that different repellants suit different regions and their accompanying insect types. A mosquito net to protect your face also prevents insects from biting you.
How do I treat it?
Avoid scratching the bite because this will only further irritate it. Apply an after-bite lotion to help ease the itching.
What Should Be in Your First-Aid Kit?
To summarize, here are some basics you should have in your first-aid kit while hiking. These will help you treat any of the hiking injuries listed above.
- Elastic bandage
- Ibuprofen (for headaches and to ease pain)
- Blister plasters
- Duct tape
- Safety pins
- Insect repellant
- Space blanket
- High-visibility jacket
- Salt sachets or electrolyte powders
- Sugar sachets
- Tweezers (to help remove any thorns)
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