Backpacking Fitness

How To Improvise An Ankle Brace

Sprained or broken ankles are the most common injury for hikers and backpackers. Here's how to deal.


1. The first step is to use R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice (use cold water if available), Compression, and Elevation). Start by sitting the patient down, propping their leg up comfortably, and removing shoes and socks to survey the damage.


Wrap the ankle with an Ace Bandage or Coban Self-Adhering Wrap, to support the ankle and minimize the rapid swelling that occurs immediately after injury.


Check the toes often to make sure there’s blood circulation beyond the bandage. If they turn blue or numb, loosen the wrap slightly.


Begin building the splint by padding around the ankle to fill space around the narrow ankle and help immobilize the joint.


Fold a foam or self-inflating pad length-wise. Put it under the foot stirrup-fashion, wrap it up either side of the leg, and fasten it tightly. You can cut a foam pad to shape if needed.


Any bindings will work; sleeping bag straps, climbing web, tent cord, tape, bandanas or bandages. Tighten and retighten them until the ankle is firmly immobilized.


When finished, the splint should look roughly like this. More bindings would be better. Check to make sure the ankle is immobilized well.


Self-evacuate if possible; it’s often faster than signaling or running for help. Support the person on their uninjured side, and have them use a stick or trek pole to minimize weight on the injured leg. The pad will protect the foot even on rough terrain.

Photos by Jennifer Howe /