Survival: Improvise a Splint and Treat Burns

Two skills to take with you to the backcountry

If I Only Knew Then (Feature Narrative) | Recognize Grizzly Behavior | Save Yourself in Whitewater | First Aid Emergencies | Unsafe Snow Conditions | Unexpected Accidents | Make Good Judgment Calls

Improvise a Splint
Tracy Ross, contributing editor

While skiing in the Colorado backcountry, I hooked a branch with my ski tip and heard the sickening crack of my tibia fracturing. I had to crawl an excruciating half a mile to reach help, and it took all winter for the break to heal. During the down time, I learned how to treat a fracture in the field:

1) Check for a pulse below the break; realign the break if you can’t find one. If a pulse is present, use a SAM splint, sticks, ski/tent poles, or pack stays to splint the break from the joint above the break to the joint below.

2) Attach the splint with pack straps, bandanas, or extra clothing, and take care to pad the empty spaces with extra layers (especially behind a slightly bent joint).

3) Recheck pulse and evacuate.

4) If you’re with another skier, build a litter out of your skis, avalanche shovel, and a piece of webbing (to hook the ski tips together).


Treat a Burn Victim
Annette McGivney, Southwest editor

Bad: My partner carelessly knocked a pot of boiling water over on his foot at our campsite in the Grand Canyon. Worse: In an attempt to stop the searing pain, he tore off his sock, taking the skin with it. Everyone knows to cool burns with cold water, if you have it, but I wish I’d known to warn him not to remove burned clothes. Also, never ice a third-degree burn. If you sustain one (and don’t melt your clothes to it), hold the burn under running water for 10 to 15 minutes; cover with a sterile gauze bandage (taking care not to put pressure on the wound); and administer aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen to reduce swelling and alleviate the pain caused by evacuation. Stuck in the field? Burns are prone to infection, so keep the wounds clean.

Prevent Blisters
Todd Arndt, M.D., long-distance hiker and ER doc

Prevent Frostbite
Chris Thomas, mountaineer