The Ultimate First-Aid Manual: Evacuate or Wait for Rescue?

Your buddy just slid down a steep scree and broke his leg. Should you go for help–or haul him out? It's a tough call. The answer depends on several factors. Here's how to decide.

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Your buddy just slid down a steep scree slope and broke his leg. Should you go for help–or haul him out? It’s a tough call. The answer depends on several factors. Here’s how to decide.

How bad is it? Patients with life-threatening injuries should usually stay put and wait for trained medical professionals; those with less serious injuries can walk or be carried out. If the patient can handle it, walking out is the best option.

How far is the trailhead? One fit hiker can move a lot faster than a group carrying a litter. If you’re deep in the wilderness, a messenger might bring back help before you could carry the patient out.

Can the rescuer(s) handle it? You’ll need strength, stamina, and skill to navigate the terrain with an injured person in tow.

What’s the weather like? Stay put if severe weather puts the rescuers in danger of getting lost or injuring themselves.

Is there imminent danger? Even severely injured patients might need to be moved if the current location is unsafe–e.g., lightning is striking or you’re on an unstable slope.

If you’ve decided to evacuate, stabilize the patient and make sure he’s warm, comfortable, and hydrated. Here are three rescue methods.

Backpack Carry

Best for One rescuer carrying a smaller, lighter patient
Technique Unzip the sleeping bag compartment on a pack. Have the patient get in the pack by sticking his legs through the unzipped compartment, cutting holes to fit if necessary. The rescuer then shoulders the pack with the patient in it.

Two-person Pole Carry

Best for Two rescuers moving over relatively easy terrain
Technique Tape or bind two ski poles, trekking poles, or sturdy branches together. Attach them to the bottoms of the rescuer’s backpacks using their ice-axe loops, compression straps, and extra webbing (you can also slide the poles between the rescuer’s backs and their packs, on top of the hipbelts). Place a folded sleeping pad or extra clothing on the poles to make a seat. Have the patient sit on it with his arms over the shoulders of each rescuer.


Best for Groups of at least six (at least four to carry the litter, two to clear and scout the trail) over short distances
Technique Turn the sleeves of two (or more) jackets or T-shirts inside out, zip them up, and lay them on the ground, hem to hem. Slide two sturdy branches or skis through the sleeves (they should be about two feet longer than the patient). Place the patient on the jackets and have rescuers grab the branches and lift.