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Backpacker Magazine – September 2011

5 Steps to Saving Lives

How the pros treat an injured hiker

by: Steve Howe

Illustrations by Supercorn
Illustrations by Supercorn

Your buddy fell while downclimbing Longs Peak—do you know how to react? When serious accidents happen hours or days from help, the steps you take directly impact his survival odds and path to recovery. Ideally, you will be able to diagnose and treat a range of injuries, as well as stabilize your patient until experts arrive. Guides and other pros master these skills in a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, but the intensive training takes up to 10 days and costs hundreds. What’s a time-strapped hiker to do? A good first step is to learn the five-tier WFR Patient Assessment System, which we’ve detailed here along with its nifty mnemonic memory devices.

The patient assessment system outlined in these articles is adapted from contributing editor Buck Tilton’s Wilderness First Responder ($35; For WFR certification information: NOLS Wilderness Medical Institute (, Wilderness Medical Associates (, and Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (

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Sep 28, 2013

This article was great very informative

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And don't forget to read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon). Learn essential hiking skills and how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass. A fast, easy read that could maybe save your life but definitely will make your hike more enjoyable and safe!
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Denise Hagan
Sep 24, 2011

This was an excellent article. I started hiking back in January 2011, and I knew that I would be doing most of my hiking alone. I did extensive research before I started--from items to take, how to handle emergencies, etc. All this knowledge came into play in July. I was descending a mountain trail and my right foot slipped on a wet rock; my left foot was caught between 2 rocks. I broke both the tibia and fibula. My cell phone worked, and while I waited for help, I applied first aid to my wounds, stabilized my leg (no open fracture), and just waited for help. The biggest thing you have to do is STAY BUSY while waiting! Fear is your biggest enemy--the army will tell you this. It is imperative to always be aware of your surroundings. I was on a trail that was a dedicated bear sanctuary. Your body is pretty amazing, and once survival mode kicks in, it has the ability to shut out lots of things. For me, pain was one of them. Initially I had severe pain, but once I started first aid, etc., I totally tuned out the pain. In fact, I even refused pain medication in the ambulance. And do not even plan to go hiking unless you are leaving detailed instructions with someone. I told friends, the park ranger, and folks in the campground. I also left the same detailed list under my car seat.

No, it's not wise to hike alone, but when you go through this life, you are not always going to have someone with you. I have added a few things to my backpack now--I found a temporary splint, and I picked up a survival handbook I can carry with me. But the best thing that I purchased is a personal locator beacon. Do not rely on your cell phone! I was extremely lucky that mine worked. And it's very important to know how to read a map and compass--can't rely on GPS either.

Steve Cash
Sep 23, 2011

Being prepared is something not to take for granted. If there is one wilderness skill I want my hiking friends and family to know well and hope that they never use it is first aid. But the reality is that it probably will be used. First aid is not one of those things like computer programming that you can 'let someone else who is interested learn about it.' It is a must for every one. Take a first aid course. Many Boy Scout units make this a top priority and teach young guys - ages 11 to 18 - all of these points. Back when I was a Scout, our district in Portland, Oregon had first aid competitions, where hundreds of guys working in small groups (patrols) demonstrated their techniques for different scenarios and had to perform before judges. Thirty years later, if I was in an emergency, I would not think twice about those guys in my group knowing what to do and being up to date. I am confident, because every once in a while, I hear about things these guys have done and the first aid they have given. I won't list all the examples, but with just my old Scout friends,I am amazed at how a few kids learning to be prepared and taught by some great leaders has helped many people around the world.


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