When planning a camping trip, there are plenty of aspects to check and make sure you have a solution for. Cooking, sleeping and many more will occupy your attention, but first aid is arguably the most important to cover. Because you will be exposed to risks with which you are unaccustomed, we have created a list of the 8 best first aid tips every camper should know. That said, we consider single tips to often be a bit underwhelming in actual practice and will approach this from generalizing the threats for broader approaches to yield more usable information.
Usually, the greatest threat that heat presents is heat exhaustion or a possible progression to heat stroke--both of which are different intensities of hyperthermia. While technically dehydration is a risk in hot climates, it is much easier to lose track of the temperature than it is to how much water you have. The risk for hyperthermia can increase depending on certain atmospheric factors, especially humidity, and all plans should be based on the Heat Index which is a complete assessment of the various factors combined with the atmospheric temperature as they feel to the average human body. Regardless, the response to hyperthermia will follow similar principles--even if the different levels of intensity will require similarly intense responses.
First, you will want to get the person out of the heat as best as you can with the recognition that you are unlikely to get to a climate-controlled room. If nothing else, you will want to make sure that the person is out of the sunlight which can be accomplished by fashioning a makeshift lean-to for shade. Once the person is out of the sun, you will want to give them liquids to rehydrate--though should their hyperthermia be advanced, they may not be able to hold down the water. Ideally, this is the point where you would take them to a doctor, but while traveling--using a gurney with something to provide shade--you should put ice packs under the arms and groin if you have them.
Just like the heat, extreme cold conditions can present just as much of a threat to life and similarly, the varying afflictions come in levels of intensity and are often solved with similar principles. That said, cold does present some unique difficulties in that it can affect individual body parts more than climate heat. In this instance, you have the threat of general exposure to cold temperatures and a decrease of the body’s internal temperature in hypothermia, but you also have to worry about individual extremities freezing separately from the rest of the body in frostbite. Of course, both of these conditions will generally occur in the same settings--though there are circumstances which can lead you to be more at risk for one than the other.
Regardless, the first thing you will want to do is warm the person up--which is also true of frostbite, despite what it may seem. For both conditions, you will not want to remove any clothing or fabric--even if it is wet--unless you are in a climate-controlled space or have plenty of dry fabrics to replace them with. At the same time, do not use heated blankets or pads to try to warm the body--especially for frostbite--as this can actually damage the skin. If possible, provide warm water for the person to sip--but do not let them drink too much too quickly as this will slow the warming of the extremities.
Outside of the frozen tundra--but not always to exclusion--insects are one of the most ubiquitous types of lifeforms on the planet. Whatever the biome, whatever the level of development, there are certain to not only be insects but be insects which can present issues for your health. While this may not necessarily be seen as much of an issue in urban environments where insect populations are somewhat artificially controlled, wild nature presents a legitimate risk that could potentially turn deadly in the wrong circumstances handled poorly. That said, the best advice when dealing with insects is to simply not get bitten by them in the first place. This may seem obvious, but it can require some genuine planning and potentially counter-intuitive solutions.
For instance, one would expect camping in the southern united states during the Summer to best be done in short sleeves and shorts--or even less clothing if you can get away with it. However, the sheer number of insects--especially mosquitoes--that both can carry communicable disease and have a tendency to bite people is so high that many people opt to sweat it out by not only wearing long sleeve shirts but wearing long johns underneath. Granted, this is generally something only people adapted to the local heat can do without potentially risking hyperthermia, but it shows the lengths that people in warmer, wetter biomes will go to to ensure that they do not get bit.
Just like insects, most biomes will have one form of plant life or another which presents a potential risk. Most of the time, these risks are fairly obvious for a large majority of the biomes and, much like with insects, the best solution is to simply avoid contact. Plants with thorns or other physical defenses of that nature should simply be avoided altogether unless you are a trained professional with the proper tools. Likewise, unless you have extensive knowledge of the region’s flora, you should not consume any kind of fruit, root, or nut. On the other hand, there may be members of your camping party who may not be able to trust the wisdom of others.
Children, for instance, may very well see a berry on a bush and eat it out of impulse--something that can be deadly depending on the plant in question. You will immediately want to induce vomiting in the child and seek immediate medical assistance. Another common issue is plants which can cause dermatitis, like poison ivy and poison oak. Being observant is the best way to avoid this issue, but this is actually not a condition which is likely to spread or threaten serious consequences. That said, a mixture of oatmeal and soothing essential oils can provide some immediate relief if you do not have a topical ointment.
Whether large or small, many of the same rules apply when dealing with an open wound in the wild. Specifically, you need to make sure that the affected area is disinfected--something which can be accomplished in a couple ways. It should be noted that generally it is advised you used isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or some other standardized antiseptic. On the other hand, there are plenty of ways to disinfect an open wound with common materials--alcohol being one of the best. Assuming the alcohol does not contain any sugars added after the distillation process, it can serve exceptionally well for this purpose.
Another thing you will need to make sure you do with all open wounds--regardless the severity--is to close them with clean dressings. Depending on the size of the wound, the dressings in question may be simple adhesive bandages, but a wound could potentially be large enough or positioned in an awkward enough spot to require significant amounts of gauze. In this situation, a fabric can serve as a substitute, but it is best to use clean fabric that has little treatments or adornments. Even something a basic as a color dye should be avoided if you are unsure what type of dye it is. That said, staunching heavy bleeding is the top priority and will demand the use of inferior dressings if that is all that you have at hand.
Interestingly enough, burns are actually far more likely to occur in an urban setting--especially in the comfort of your own home--than they are in nature. Of course, if you do burn yourself at home, you likely have everything you need to treat the burn--by calling an ambulance if nothing else. Still, burns in the wilds can present some distinct problems and will require proper treatment to avoid infection. Keep in mind, anything over a first-degree burn should likely require professional medical treatment as soon as you are able--though first degree burns, even larger ones, can often be treated on the go.
That said, the most common type of burn in the wilds is actually a sunburn and not a campfire related incident like many think. While it may seem different in nature, the effects are ultimately the same as is the treatment. You are going to want to submerge the burned area in cool water--not frozen water as this can actually damage the tissues. Once you have lowered the temperature of the affected area, generally about 5 to 10 minutes of submersion, you can apply a topical anesthetic as well as a topical antiseptic and dress the wound. An anti-inflammatory is indicated to help prevent the tissues from causing further damage to themselves and ease the person’s discomfort.
This is likely the most common issue that one is likely to run into while out camping, and it can actually be more surprising than one may first think. If you are not an avid camper, there is a good chance you have not come into contact with an allergen in the concentrations you will outside of an urban setting. Likewise, if you travel to a region with which you are not adapted, there can be new allergens that you did not even know would affect you that can make your trip miserable. In this instance, there are few beyond the best antihistamine that provides the best performance for you and hope for the best--and carry plenty of tissues.
That said, there are plenty of instances where you can learn of an allergy which poses a legitimate risk to your health. This will often include interaction with a type of toxin, venom, or other natural substance which sparks an extreme autoimmune response. While you and your camping party may not have any known allergies which can cause death, it is still best to keep an EpiPen in your first aid kit when you are camping in a region with which your camping party members have not been too often.
In a mild departure from the norm, we feel the need to devote an entire section to the risks to and care for your feet. This is because your feet are arguably the most important part of your body outside of major organs when in the wild if for no other reason than because they allow you more easily reach help should something happen to another part of your body. If your feet are in good working order, you can get out of the wilds to have a doctor try to help something happening to your eye. On the other hand, being able to see perfectly will not really help you too terribly much should you be unable to walk.
That said, most of the concerns relating to the feet will not in and of themselves prevent you from walking, but they can slow your pace to a dangerous rate in an emergency situation. In this case, blisters are likely the biggest threat, and like many health risks while camping, can be avoided altogether with proper planning. Making sure your footwear fits well and offers excellent support and traction while also having an appropriate level of moisture absorption is the best way to fight blisters. Still, if you do develop a blister on your foot, do not pop or otherwise release the fluids as they are there specifically to protect you from doing further damage and can lead to infection if opened and exposed.
As we can see, there are far more than 8 things to worry about when going camping, but a lot of these risks can be broken down into different categories which all have similar methods of prevention--even if the individual issues may require a more nuanced approach. That said, with a basic understanding of how these different settings, circumstances, and even body parts present difficulties can help you either prevent or properly respond to well more than 8 different first-aid issues. These different procedures allow you to respond to a variety of different ailments in the wild with makeshift tools if need be, though these tips are no substitute for professional medical advice which should be sought for even moderate conditions. For more tips on camping and other outdoorsman skills, check out our family camping guide.