Basic First Aid For Hikers

Three of the more valuable skills hikers can learn are CPR (Cardio-pulminary Resuscitation), executing the Heimlich maneuver and dealing with fractures. Not only are those three responses to serious issues but, after cuts and sprains, choking and bone breaks are among the more likely problems. Keep in mind, though, that ‘more likely than other problems’ doesn’t mean ‘likely’ – the odds are still low.


Cardio-pulminary Resuscitation is a technique to re-start normal breathing. It’s far better to take an actual class where you can receive hands on training and practice. But here are some basic tips that could save a life.

If you can, call 911 or a local rescue team immediately. Call out loudly for a physician or trained specialist. You never know who is hiking on the trail near you. If you must go ahead, especially if you see the victim turning a bluish tint, there are several things to check.

Consider how the person came to have the problem. If they were swimming in cold water they may just need warming up. If they went under and were pulled out, you should put him or her on the stomach and try to remove water by modest, short compression on the diaphragm, located above the stomach and below the chest.

Then, put the person on his or her back and hold the nose. Breath into the mouth, covering his or her mouth with yours and watching out of the corner of your eye for chest expansion. Then let go and tilt the body to allow expulsion of water. Repeat, giving two breaths of two seconds each.

If that has no effect, try chest compressions. Push down firmly along the sternum above the diaphragm. Repeat several times, about once per second.


The Heimlich maneuver is designed to remove foreign objects from the air passages. Food or other obstructions can interfere with breathing. Look for obstructions in the throat. Do NOT slap the victim on the chest – that will tend to lodge the object even deeper.

Instead, stand the person up and move behind them. Grasp your own wrist with the opposite hand. The bone at the base of your thumb should be against the victim’s body. If you can’t stand them up, at least make sure the face is generally forward and down. Let gravity work for you, not against you.

Give a sharp, short, firm jerk inward against the diaphragm. Repeat a few times, watching for the object to dislodge. Take care not to press against the rib cage, but only against the diaphragm. You don’t want to crack any bones.


Fractures can vary in seriousness, everywhere from an invisible toe break that simply makes walking painful to a compound fracture. Taking a first aid course is preferable, but here are some guidelines for treating some fractures.

If the bone is protruding from the skin, this is a compound fracture and the most serious. Not only is the bone badly broken, but rupture of the skin leaves an opening that is prone to infection.

Cover the wound with sterile gauze and get professional help as quickly as possible. Do not try to straighten the fracture. If you need to immobilize the limb, apply a splint to keep it at the same angle.

Find a straight stick or use a piece of walking pole or other straight, rigid object. Pad the splint and wrap with an elastic roll bandage or medical tape. In the absence of supplies, look for a thin, strong vine to tie the splint to the limb. Tie firmly, but take care not to completely shut off blood flow to the limb. Gangrene can result.

In all cases, seek professional medical help as quickly as possible. NEVER continue the hike in any of these cases.

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