The call of the wild is a trope for a reason. All over the world, especially in developed areas, people travel into the wilderness for relaxation and to reconnection with nature. Some choose to spend a week or more exploring. During these camping or hiking trips, it’s easy let anticipation of adventure distract from the thoughtful planning required to keep all members of the group safe. If one of the members is a nurse, medical responsibility may automatically be assigned to them. However, it’s important that everyone know basic survival and first aid skills.

Basic Knowledge of the Wilderness

It may be tempting to throw some clothes, a sleeping bag, and a tent in the trunk of a car and head off for an impromptu trip but, as all seasoned campers can attest to, it’s important to know where you’re going, how long you’re going to be there, and what you’ll need before setting foot on any trail. Get a map of the area to be explored. Hikers and campers should know how to read a map and use a compass, and have a charged phone or radio in case of emergency.

  • First Aid and Travel Safety – No matter if you find yourself lost in the woods or stranded on an unfamiliar highway, the steps to get yourself composed and ready to act are still the same.
  • Preparing for Safe Travel to High Altitude (PDF) – Differences in altitude can have a major change in how the human body works. Learn what to expect and how to keep yourself healthy before you go.
  • Camping Health and Safety Tips – The secret to a stress-free camping trip is preparation. Make sure you and all other campers have all recommended vaccines and check in advance to see if there are any new strains of disease to be aware of.
  • Camp Safely in the Winter – Winter can be a silent but dangerous enemy. Know how to dress for the weather and what to do if temperatures dip below what you’ve prepared for.
  • How to Avoid Getting Lost (PDF) – Many hikers have experienced the panic that sets in when they no longer know where they are. Don’t let that emotion prevent you from making thoughtful and informed decisions.
  • Ready for Wildfires – Whether it’s hot weather or careless campers, wildfires can flare up at any time. Having a plan already in place can make it easier to navigate to safety.

Staying Safe Outdoors
Modern conveniences and luxuries can make it easy to forget about the simple risks of “roughing it” and the simple tasks that we often take for granted are made more difficult. Even drinking water from a stream can be dangerous if the water is not properly treated. Similarly, carelessness while walking can result in twisted ankles, missed turns, or an accidental encounter with wildlife. Staying aware of your surroundings can help prevent the need for any first aid, making it well worth the effort and focus.

  • Outdoor Safety – The best way to avoid a medical emergency is with careful prevention. Make sure you have fully prepared for the conditions of your environment.
  • Wilderness Safety: Your Responsibility – Exploring the outdoors can be extremely engaging, but, regardless of whether or not you’re a nurse, medical student, or other health professional, your personal safety is solely your responsibility.
  • Woods Safety for the Family – This guide from KidsHealth covers an extensive range of topics, including planning ahead and safely foraging for edibles.
  • Poisonous and Non-Poisonous Plants: An Illustrated List – If you find yourself without enough food supplies, you may want to hunt for something edible among the regional plants. Foraging can be a great way to enhance your camping trip, as long as you know which plants are safe to eat.
  • How to Hike in Bear Country – Animal bites are nasty and can easily become infected. Learn how to hike harmoniously without alarming the wildlife on this page from the Washington Trails Association.
  • DIY Coffee Can Survival Kit – Got an old, empty coffee can kicking around? You’re halfway to putting together your own emergency survival kit, which can then be taken with you on a boat, hike, or drive.

Essential First Aid Skills

In the event that an injury does occur, first aid may need to be administered. Depending on the severity of the event and corresponding injury, the first aid may only be able to stabilize the individual until professional help arrives. The good news is that many first aid skills are already covered in training for nurses. If a topic hasn’t been taught, or if there is a risk unique to the region, it may be wise to do a bit of studying before leaving on the trip.

  • Wilderness and Remote First Aid (PDF) – During training to become a nurse, medical knowledge is an essential skill to learn. However, there are also first aid considerations unique to hiking or a wilderness environment.
  • Your Basic First Aid Kit (PDF) – Before you set out on the trail, make sure you have a few essential supplies in case of an emergency.
  • Treating Dehydration – The human body needs a lot of water to function well. Exercise, especially in warm climates, can make the body run through more water than usual, and if it’s not replaced, dehydration may set in.
  • First-Aid Supplies for Backpacking (PDF) – There is still a significant number of hikers who find themselves without medical items in an emergency. Learn about the most commonly used supplies and what should be pack before the hike.
  • Treating a Broken Leg in the Middle of Nowhere – As any nurse, medical student, or doctor will know, there are many different ways a bone can break, each with differences in severity and recommended treatment.
  • Dealing with Rattlesnake Bites – Observing wildlife can be a magical experience, but every once in a while, someone gets too close. If you or a member of your party are bitten by a rattlesnake, this interview has tips on what to do.
  • Helping Someone Who is Choking – Choking can happen anytime, anywhere, and hiking and camping are no exceptions. There are different techniques used, depending on the age of the person choking, and this handy chart details all of them.

Outdoor Emergency Survival
Most camping trips end as scheduled, with a thankful return to indoor plumbing and perhaps a more reluctant return to work or school. Unfortunately, not all plans go as intended, and some campers may find themselves lost or severely injured. In these cases, the goal shifts from enjoyment to survival. If this happens, the most important rule is to avoid panicked decision-making. Determine what is needed for survival: fresh food, clean water, or a warm shelter, and work accordingly. With a cool head and ingenuity, the situation can be successfully managed.

  • OA Guide to General Emergency Procedures – As a nurse, medical emergencies may require your immediate action. This guide will help you determine if the issue can be safely dealt with while in the wilderness or if you need to organize an evacuation.
  • From Lost to Found – Getting lost is inconvenient, but with a cool head and proper preparation, it doesn’t have to be the defining moment of your trip.
  • Help Me Make It Through The Night (PDF) – Too many hikers and campers fail to let anyone know about their plans. If something goes wrong in the wilderness, having a friend who knows you should be back at a certain time can mean the difference between the immediate dispatch of a search-and-rescue team and fending for yourself.
  • Winter Survival Handbook (PDF) – Not all survival situations begin with a hike. Sometimes, a flat tire or a stalled car can be the segue into surviving a hostile environment.
  • You Alone in the Maine Woods (PDF) – This guide may have originally been produced in 1972, but it’s since been updated to keep the practical advice it contains relevant for today’s outdoor adventurer.
  • Survival Skills 101 – When situations get complicated, the knowledge you possess may be essential to your survival. This guide covers a vast range of topics, including navigation and shelter construction, in a quick-to-read, easy-to-understand layout.