2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Life-or-Death Decisions - Injury

Learn how to plan and react when and unexpected injury creeps up on you.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

(Illustration by Supercorn)
(Illustration by Supercorn)

6. Reacting to injury
WRONG: Panic. The last thing you want to do is let a surge of adrenaline lead to hasty decisions.
RIGHT: Sit down, breathe slowly, and focus on small, right-brain tasks (setting up the tent, applying a bandage). Think positive: Remind yourself of your skills, think of family and friends, or repeat encouraging phrases to yourself. Treat your injury or condition:
Hypothermia: Put on warm, dry layers and get in your sleeping bag. If you don't have a bag, sit on top of your pack with your arms curled around your knees. Drink hot liquids and snack on something with fat and carbs. Do jumping jacks or squats to generate heat.
Heat exhaustion: Get out of the sun, remove restrictive clothing, and spray yourself with cool water. Drink cool liquids and rest.
Altitude sickness: Drink a liter of water and do light exercise to bring more oxygen into your body. Take an ibuprofen tablet. If you don't feel better within two hours, descend 1,000 to 2,000 feet.
Injured ankle: Apply a bladder or zip-top bag filled with cold water or snow for 30 minutes. Wrap with an elastic bandage or tape and take ibuprofen. If it's very painful, can't bear weight, or you heard a popping sound, it's a more serious injury. Splint your ankle with a sleeping pad, clothes, and backpack straps or bandannas.
Bleeding: Apply direct pressure with a clean bandage, adding extra bandages on top of the first without removing it. When the bleeding stops, irrigate the wound with a stream of water from a bladder or zip-top bag, then close with a butterfly bandage or 1/4-inch strips of duct tape, leaving space between for drainage.

How to tape a sprained ankle
First, apply tape in a stirrup pattern: down one side of the ankle, under the heel, up the opposite side. Next, tape several figure 8s: Bring tape across the arch, under the foot and around the back of the ankle to return to starting position.

7. Deciding to stay or go
WRONG: Drag yourself across dangerous terrain with a serious injury.
RIGHT: "If the injury impairs mobility, like a bad sprain or a broken leg, you're probably better off staying put and waiting for rescue," advises Anderson. "Walking out will be extremely painful and maybe even hazardous." Don't try to move anyone with a head or neck injury, heavy bleeding, or loss of consciousness. The exception: If you're alone and nobody knows where you are–or even that you went hiking–consider self-evacuating.

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -


Dec 20, 2008

forgot to add to my post that I'm a LD hiker. things happen.

Dec 20, 2008

got booted off
at any rate, if you haven't BTDT, then don't assume that injuries are a result of improper planning. I should know. I fell 30' on the Eagle Creek Trail of the Oregon PCT. Fortunately, I only suffered a few cuts and a few bruises to write home about, which I did in my blog - complete with pictures.

The tripod to cross a stream is good, if you're using hiking poles; used that on the Zigzag above Timberline Lodge.

Far worse for me was crossing the Sandy River on three logs roped together with the largest log being about 8" in diameter. Scary. My hiking partner couldn't watch!

Dec 07, 2008

I'm assuming that the author meant to say that one should focus on left-brain tasks, since the right brain centers around imagination and feeling. The point is that when reacting to an injury, one should concentrate on practical things, remain calm, think about the facts, and NOT give in to the irrationality associated with right-brain imagination and feeling.

Dec 01, 2008

The recommendation of forming a tripod to cross a stream requires two people to walk sideways, or possibly backward. This does not appear to be a safe bet for stream crossing.


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Trailhead Register
Trekking the Huayhuash
Posted On: Aug 29, 2014
Submitted By: RebeccaD
Trailhead Register
bicycling question
Posted On: Aug 29, 2014
Submitted By: hikerjer

View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions