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Treat Deep Wounds

Miles from the trailhead, your hiking partner springs a gusher after taking a fall on an iffy scramble. Here's what to do.

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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

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.”

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.)

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; 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;

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.
Prevent Shock Maintain blood flow to a victim’s brain.
After you’ve stopped a bleed, expect and preempt shock. Symptoms include a weakening, rapid pulse; gray, cool, or clammy skin; nausea; and shallow breathing. Lay your victim down, elevate his feet 6 to 10 inches, and keep him warm and hydrated. Prepare to turn him on his side in order to prevent choking if he vomits.

Key Skill Close a Wound
After bleeding stops and the cut is cleaned, trim ¼- to ½-inch-wide strips of duct or medical tape long enough so they will extend at least 1 inch beyond each side of the gash. A. Starting in the middle of the wound, apply strips of tape in pairs: First, attach the end of each strip to opposite sides of the cut. Then, gently pull the strips to close the wound, and adhere the loose ends to the cut’s far side. B. Continue placing pairs of tape strips above and below the center closure (allowing 1/8 inch between strips of tape) until the wound is fully closed. Dress the cut to keep dirt out, and check it regularly for signs of infection.


DIY Demo
Watch Ted dress a big bleed—and learn how to practice the skills yourself using a hydration bladder, pigs’ feet, and a whole lot of red food dye.

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