A life lived outdoors will inevitably include a few wounds (hopefully only minor ones). Injuries such as little cuts or deeper gouges, minor scrapes or larger abrasions are fairly common among outdoor adventurers, so knowing how to care for them is a good skill to have. Without proper treatment, something as simple as a scraped knee or a little nick on a finger can quickly become infected and require you to head home to see a doctor.
To treat cuts, scrapes and abrasions, follow these general steps:
Whether you sliced yourself with your pocket knife or scraped your knee on a rock, the first step in treating a wound is to get the bleeding under control. There are two primary ways to control bleeding: with direct pressure or with a pressure dressing. A third option, using a tourniquet, can help control severe bleeding, but that’s not something that will be covered here. To learn how to use a tourniquet, seek out professional medical training.
How to apply direct pressure to a wound: Simply applying direct pressure will typically stop most of the bleeding. Here’s how:
How to apply a pressure dressing to a wound: A pressure dressing is a large dressing that’s secured in place on top of the wound to apply pressure and stop bleeding. One of the benefits is that it frees up your hands to work on other tasks. Here’s how to create one:
When you have the bleeding under control, the next step is to thoroughly clean the wound. Take your time and do a good job with this to ensure you remove any contaminants that could possibly cause an infection.
To clean a wound, follow these steps:
With the wound suitably clean, it’s time to dress and bandage it. For small cuts, this can be as easy as putting on a simple adhesive bandage. For larger wounds, though, you may need some additional supplies.
To dress and bandage a wound:
At home, with easy access to clean water and soap, keeping cuts uncontaminated and infection-free is relatively easy. But, in the backcountry it can be more challenging. For this reason, you need to monitor even the smallest cuts very closely.
To monitor a wound for infection:
If you’ve recognised the signs and symptoms of a mild-to-moderate infection and it is localized to the site of the wound, then you can provide treatment in the field. A serious infection requires evacuation and treatment by a medical professional.
Treatment options if you suspect an infection:
While many cuts, scrapes and gouges can easily be cared for in the backcountry, there are some instances when you should head out and get professional medical care. Some reasons to evacuate include:
In the case of an injury that limits or prevents mobility, you may need to call for help. Cell coverage can be spotty in the backcountry so it’s wise to have a backup to a cellphone.