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18 Sudden Threats: The Right and Wrong Responses

Things happen fast in the wilderness. It's important to learn the right and wrong actions beforehand so you can react accordingly.

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EMERGENCY: Sudden Thunderstorm

DO THIS: Shed pack and run downhill to ravine or gulley. Crouch on sleeping pad.

NOT THIS: Lollygag. Huddle together as a 2-for-1 target.


DO THIS: Stay together. Follow known trail down, or take cover if lost.

NOT THIS: Separate the group, or wander off-trail.

EMERGENCY: Broken crampon strap

DO THIS: Retie with plastic zip-tie or pack strap.

NOT THIS: Depend on remaining straps.

EMERGENCY: Lost child

DO THIS: Backtrack to last sighting, contact authorities, enlist help.

NOT THIS: Search all alone; imagine the worst-case scenario

EMERGENCY: Knocked-out-cold partner

DO THIS: Stabilize spine, manage airway, keep warm, call for help.

NOT THIS: Move victim, throw water on face. Shrug it off when he wakes up.

EMERGENCY: Dirt in the eye

DO THIS: Flush with water, check under eyelids.

NOT THIS: Rub with hands.

EMERGENCY: Bee sting

DO THIS: Scrape off stinger with knife, watch for anaphylactic shock, apply compress.

NOT THIS: Use tweezers to extract stinger (releases more venom).


DO THIS: Run downhill, find barren ground or depression, lie facedown.

NOT THIS: Run uphill, cover mouth with wet bandana, pull out marshmallows.

EMERGENCY: Deep flesh wound

DO THIS: Apply pressure, elevate, irrigate, bandage loosely, keep clean.

NOT THIS: Peel off blood-soaked bandages, apply antibiotic directly to wound.

EMERGENCY: Avalanche

DO THIS: Seek shelter, swim and kick, make air space with arms, fight for surface.

NOT THIS: Hold on to skis or ice axe, open mouth to shout or scream.

EMERGENCY: Dislocated shoulder

DO THIS: Immobilize joint, remove tight clothing, RICE therapy, evacuate.

NOT THIS: Pop it back in Lethal Weapon-style, then bind too tightly.

EMERGENCY: Flash flood approaching

DO THIS: Evaluate escape routes, seek higher ground, float feet first.

NOT THIS: Race the flood, keep gear,inflate pad and body-surf.

EMERGENCY: Burn from hot water

DO THIS: Remove wet clothing, soak with cool water, apply dressings with antibiotics.

NOT THIS: Apply snow or ice, scrape wounds, leave burn open to air.

EMERGENCY: Rattler bite

DO THIS: Clean wound with soap, remove jewelry, keep limb below heart. Evacuate.

NOT THIS: Make incision to suck out venom, move victim rapidly.

EMERGENCY: Can’t climb down

DO THIS: Scout a better route, remove pack, call for help.

NOT THIS: Ascend without a plan, avoid seeking help.

EMERGENCY: Stove catches fire

DO THIS: Turn off nozzle, smother with dirt or snow, let flames die.

NOT THIS: Fling it–unless you like wildfires.

EMERGENCY: No feeling in fingers

DO THIS: Remove pack and stick ’em in your armpits or underpants.

NOT THIS: Rub with snow, plunge in hot water.

EMERGENCY: Dropped mitten

DO THIS: Substitute a spare sock, sew leashes on for next time.

NOT THIS: Swap one mitten back and forth.

Return to the Backpacking 101 home page.

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