The best backwoods first aid is preventative

I’ve been thinking about taking a wilderness first aid course, and I’ve been reading whatever I can get my hands on to learn more about it. So far, I’ve learned that prevention is the best policy.

It turns out the most common ailments people experience in the backcountry are pretty simple things. That’s good news. And even better news is that most of these things are fairly easy to prevent in the first place.

The most common complaints in the outdoors are upset stomach, diarrhea, sprains, strains, and blisters. On the illness side of the coin, those gastrointestinal problems usually aren’t related to the water. Things like Campylobacter and Giardia are actually pretty rare, especially now that most people who go to the hills know about ‘em.

What’s much more common is your usual, run-of-the-mill intestinal bug. And it’s very easy to prevent. It’s caused by dirty hands. To put this in perspective, at the risk of getting a little too graphic, keep in mind that after you use the green latrine, you should always wash your hands. It’s even more important up in the hills than it is back here at home. Now, keep in mind that your own dirty hands probably won’t make you sick. At least, not any sicker than you already are. What makes you sick is your camping or fishing buddy’s dirty hands. If that doesn’t gross you out, not much will.

As for the injuries, like the minor sprains, strains, and blisters, they’re easily preventable, too. Make sure your boots provide good support, and break ‘em in well before you head out on your next 20-mile trip. Wear good socks with plenty of cushion, but not so thick that they make your boots tight.

Sprains and strains usually happen when you’re tired, so stop and rest before you wear yourself out too much. Don’t force yourself to go that last half-mile to camp if you’re feeling like you’re running out of steam. Listen to your body.

So be clean, and be careful. You’ll enjoy your trip more if you’re not in misery.