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1. STOP THE BLEEDING
Use firm hand pressure and gauze (or your cleanest T-shirt) to stanch the flow. If possible, lift the wound above heart level and hold pressure steady for at least 10 minutes. If surface pressure won’t stop the bleed, you may have to insert your fingers into the wound to put direct pressure on the vein or artery.
Last resort Only consider a tourniquet if you’re prepared to trade the gushing limb to save the victim’s life. Learn more about tourniquets at backpacker.com/lifeorlimb.
Pro gear A couple of 2-inch and 4-inch ABD (army battle dressing) pads ($1 at pharmacies) are all you need, says Tod Schimelpfenig, Curriculum Director at NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute. “If they’re not enough, use extra clothes.”
2. CLEAN THE CUT
A dirty wound is the perfect place for a bacteria-laden infection. Prevent it: Once bleeding stops, lift the dressing and direct potable water into the wound at a perpendicular angle from 1 to 2 inches away. Use at least 8 ounces of water, or as much as needed to flush dirt and debris from inside the wound.
Last resort Absolutely no treated water available? In a group: While one person stops the bleed, have another boil water to use for washing out the wound. Alone: Make a judgment call on cleanish sources of water like creeks or springs.
Pro gear Pack latex gloves on every trip (in a zip-top bag). Also add a plastic syringe—the wound-spraying tool of choice for EMTs—to your first-aid kit. (Improvise with your hydration-bladder hose.)
3. ASSESS RIPPED SKIN
Got a gaper? Leave suturing to the pros, but use ¼- to ½-inch-wide strips of medical or duct tape to close a cut (see below). Know when to leave wounds open: Animal bites, crushing injuries, and punctures are all at high risk for infection. Pack with moist gauze and dress as best you can, but don’t close them.
Last resort Superglue is FDA-approved for skin, but save it for very neat, clean cuts (like a knife slip), because you risk sealing bacteria inside. Better? Dermabond ($29; .5 ml vial; amazon.com) is easier to remove for follow-up care.
Pro gear Keep tape and even moleskin in place by first applying Mastisol Liquid Adhesive, a medical glue that makes skin super sticky ($3; .6 ml vial; metromedicalonline.com).
4. DRESS THE WOUND
Irrigate, then dress with a moistened pad (use antibiotic ointment if you have it), followed by a dry one. Far from help? Change a wound’s dressing every 12 hours, being careful not to restart bleeding when you remove padding. Monitor closely for infection. If the wound starts to swell, ooze, stink, or turn red, reopen the dressing, clean the wound, and leave it open. See signs of infection? Get to a hospital asap; deadly sepsis can set in within six hours.
Last resort Only have dirty clothes? Boil them. If you don’t have a multiday supply of gauze, you can boil, dry, then reuse it.
Pro gear Stuff a few antibiotics in your first-aid kit. (Ask your family doc about a prescription for ciprofloxacin or azithromycin.) They’ll slow the onset of most infections.