Bushcraft: How to Heal Yourself in the Wilderness

 

Dave Canterbury, one of the authors of Bushcraft First Air.  Iris Canterbury Photo

First Aid for Yourself– it’s called Self-aid, and it’s a crucial skill for all backpackers

From wilderness expert Dave Canterbury and outdoor survival instructor Jason Hunt comes the next installment in the New York Times bestselling Bushcraft series a go-to first aid resource for anyone headed into the woods.
Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care

Out in the woods or on top of a mountain, there s no calling 9-1-1. Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care teaches you how to be your own first responder. The authors years of experience and training will help hikers and backpackers deal with a variety of emergency situations, from cuts and burns to broken bones and head injuries.

You will also learn what to pack and how to make bandages, dressings, and slings at a moments notice. As bushcraft experts, Canterbury and Hunt explain how to use plants as medicine to treat various conditions. Bushcraft First Aid provides the lifesaving information you need to keep yourself and your fellow hikers safe on the trail.

Excerpt from the book: Bushcraft First Aid

Imagine . . .

You’re hiking with friends but they get ahead while you’re exploring a side trail. You slip and fall, twisting your ankle. You’re hurt and you’re on your own. Now what?

These are fairly frequent occurrences among outdoorsmen/women. So it’s crucial to know how to take care of yourself.

First aid, when applied to yourself, is known as self-aid and should be considered the cornerstone of your first-aid training.

After all, if you cannot properly care for yourself, why would you think you could care for someone else? Worse yet, if you and a friend both get injured, knowing how to care for yourself so that you can also care for your friend is a vital skill.

When you’re the injured person, it’s crucial for you to remain calm and act rationally because a momentary lapse in judgment could create a dangerous situation that you may not be able to

address in a remote location without proper medical care.

While the treatments for various injuries and illnesses are the same whether you’re treating yourself or someone else, treating yourself adds a level of complexity to the process. You’re in pain, your mobility may be limited, and you can only do one thing at a time.

Jason A Hunt, author of Bushcraft First Aid. Kevin Baxter photo.
Jason A Hunt, author of Bushcraft First Aid. Kevin Baxter photo.

The most important thing to remember is to keep calm. Then, assess the situation and make a plan. Can you call for help first, or do you need to stop the bleeding before doing anything else? Are you safe where you are or do you need to get to a more secure location before treating yourself? Though it can be challenging, with knowledge and the right attitude, you can give yourself appropriate first-aid treatment for many common emergencies.

Remember one important thing:

Most of us begin any journey dehydrated to some degree. That’s because the majority of us do not drink enough water daily. The chance of becoming ill from dehydration only increases when you are performing other tasks or caring for someone else and you forget the simplest preventative measures.

You should drink 64 ounces of water per day under normal circumstances. This volume increases with physical activity. If your urine isn’t clear or pale yellow, you’re already dehydrated to some degree (unless you’re on a medication or vitamin that colors your urine). If you’re not urinating at least every two hours, it’s a sign that you are already dehydrated. This simple issue gets more students at our bushcraft school into trouble than any other single factor.

Reducing the Likelihood of Illness

While much of the material in this book focuses on accidents and injuries, being ill in the great outdoors can be dangerous, too.

While you’ll survive a case of the sniffles even without a nasal decongestant and chicken soup, a bout with pneumonia may cause a lot more trouble.

Just because you’re in the wilderness doesn’t mean you should be any less clean-conscious than if you were in your home. Wash your hands before eating, keep your utensils and dishes clean, and be sure to wash your hands after going to the toilet.

Check food before you eat it to make it hasn’t gone off. Getting a case of food poisoning in the wild will really put a crimp in your trip. If you need certain medications, make sure you have them with you, as well as a backup supply that you can easily get to if your daypack gets lost overboard when your canoe capsizes.

Tips and Tricks

••Wood ash makes an excellent soap substitute. Use it to wash your hands to kill bacteria and eliminate odors. You may also use it to powder your feet or use it under your arms for the same purpose and use it to powder your thighs if you are prone to chafing.

••Give yourself a limited window of time to be late back home— no more than three hours. In the event you do become seriously injured, the sooner someone comes looking, the better.

••Pour out 1 cup, 1 liter, and 2 liters of colored water on a hard surface such as your driveway, then on the ground so you become familiar with blood loss amounts and what they look like. Depending on how big you are, your body has between 4.5 and 5.5 liters of blood. Lose a quarter of it, and you could die.

••If you are exerting yourself a lot and not resting properly, your immune system will suffer. Carry Emergen-C packets or a similar vitamin C supplement, or make pine needle tea from shortleaf pines to add vitamin C to your system as an immune booster.

Treating Dehydration

You may have a mental picture of sitting by a crystal-blue lake, sipping a cup of water you’ve just drawn from it as you gaze at the herd of deer drinking a dozen yards away. That’s a nice picture, but get rid of it. In fact, fresh water is often contaminated.

Biological pathogens are the main water concerns if you’re traveling in the United States and Canada. You can use a water filter to get rid of protozoan cysts (such as Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia lamblia) and bacteria (such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Shigella).

Water purifiers go a step further by also combating viruses (such as hepatitis A, rotavirus, and norovirus) by the addition of chemicals such as chlorine or iodine, or UV light. If you’re traveling in less-developed areas of the world, consider using a water purifier rather than relying on a water filter alone.

Pre-filtering is another important thing to consider. If you’re gathering water that is cloudy or silty, UV light purifiers and ceramic-style filters will not work as effectively, and the water may

require multiple treatments. Boiling water remains the most low cost and effective means of making water potable. At elevations under 10,000′, bringing water to a rolling boil (boiling about one minute) is all that’s required. In elevations above 10,000′, add one minute of boil time for every 1,000′ of elevation, not to exceed twenty minutes.

So at 14,000′, you would boil for four to five minutes. Boiling the water and using a UV light or iodine will eliminate all potential contaminants, but this is overkill for much of the United States and Canada; you can generally get by with one or the other without issue unless you’re in a chemically contaminated area such as an industrial or agricultural runoff zone.

Straw filters (plastic pipe filters meant for one person to use) provide a lightweight, quick way to get water into your system, but only in small quantities. While this is fine when you’re on

the move, it’s not good for a base camp or when you’re camping over multiple days. Also, when it’s cold, straw filters can shatter if dropped or freeze up all together if not properly cared for.

The key to remaining hydrated is to begin your trip fully hydrated. On your way to your destination, you should be drinking water every fifteen minutes or so until you get there. You should have already devised your water plan for the trip beforehand, so if you’re going to carry in 2 quarts of water (about 4 pounds) and rely on nature to provide the rest, have the appropriate gear to get water fast (such as a straw) and in large amounts (such as a gravity filter) for when you’re in camp.

What would you do if suddenly you faced a dire emergency in the wild? frontierbushcraft.com photo
What would you do if suddenly you faced a dire emergency in the wild? frontierbushcraft.com photo

Multiple containers such as stainless steel bush pots make boiling several servings of water at one time a cinch. But don’t wait until you’re dehydrated and thirsty to begin boiling; it’s already too late and you’re likely not going to catch up and rehydrate properly unless you spend a full day in one location boiling water in larger amounts (10 cups at a time).

It’s not the boiling that’s difficult, but the cooling—it takes water longer to cool than it does to bring it to a boil—so consider placing the boiled container in a cooling puddle at the side of your water source. This will help speed the cooling process and aid in getting water into your body faster.

Remember that over-hydration is also dangerous as it can lead to hyponatremia. With this condition, the body holds onto too much water. This dilutes the amount of sodium in the blood and causes levels to be low. Symptoms include nausea, headache, confusion, and fatigue.

So if you’re taking the time to rehydrate, but hit a point at which you begin forcing water into your system and start feeling tired and nauseous, ease off. Limit your fluid intake and rest. Hospitalization may be needed in advanced cases.

Tips and Tricks

••Plants that provide mucilage (slimy texture) such as violets and mullein will aid in soothing a sunburn when applied topically.

••A cup can be placed over an object impaling an eye to serve as a protective covering for the eye and a brace for the impaled object.

••Space blankets with reflective side up can provide good shade from the sun.

••Cotton is not the best wear for cold-weather environments, but to take advantage of evaporative cooling in the summer, there is nothing better than a cotton T-shirt.

Dave Canterbury is the co-owner and supervising instructor at The Pathfinder School, which USA TODAY named one of the Top 12 Survival Schools in the United States. He has been published in Self Reliance Illustrated, New Pioneer, American Frontiersman, and Trapper’s World. Dave is the New York Times bestselling author of Bushcraft 101, Advanced Bushcraft, and The Bushcraft Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild.

Jason A. Hunt is the Lead Instructor and Operations Manager at The Pathfinder School. He is the owner of Campcraft Outdoors, a rugged soft goods manufacturer, and is a Firefighter/ WEMT with degrees in recreation, theology and outdoor ministry leadership. Jason has been published in Survivor’s Edge, Self Reliance Illustrated, and Prepare Magazine.

Excerpted from Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care by Dave Canterbury and Jason A. Hunt. Used by permission of the publisher, Adams Media, a division of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.

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