Growing up in scouts I had my fair share of first aid training.  I even got to see some pretty gnarly injuries in the backcountry. Once I was indirectly struck by lightning at a boy scout camporee oh and one time I sliced my hand damn near in half oh and once I got hypothermia and…ok, I can be a bit accident prone.  However, all of that taught me even more about first aid, the first responders who treat you and sometimes EMTs were a long way out.  I have always taken it upon myself to keep my first aid training up to date and as I entered adulthood and began venturing out with my friends I realized that most of these people had no clue when it came to first aid outside of CPR.

I recently took a Wilderness First Aid course with NOLS and wanted to share 7 reasons why you should too.  I feel this course should be just about mandatory for anyone putting themselves in wilderness situations.

1 – Wilderness first aid is quite different than regular first aid.

In a wilderness first aid class, they cover things like emergency evacuation plans, how to call in a radio report, spinal injuries, head injuries, shock, wilderness wound management, infection management, burns, musculoskeletal injuries, dislocations, heat illness, cold injuries, lightning, altitude illness, and allergic reactions.  Not really your typical first aid course.  The curriculum is designed to enable you to administer early care and determine when your patient needs to be evacuated.2 – If you are an hour away from help.

I don’t care if the trail you are on is concrete.  Will it take you at least an hour to walk back to your car and drive to a hospital? Wilderness. A lot of people’s eyes open wide when they realize that even the casual hiker is in “wilderness situations” almost every weekend.  This means if you hike, mountain bike, climb, and ski/snowboard outside of a gym or resort you are in a wilderness situation.  You need to know what can go wrong and how to address it.  One of the main things they cover in the class is determining if a person needs to be evacuated and I can tell you this is a very good skill to have in any wilderness situation.  Especially when you have a buddy who doesn’t think its “that bad” and wants to go on.  Having that knowledge could easily save his or her life. 3 – You are in the wilderness with people you care about…a lot.

Think about this.  You don’t go backpacking with a random group of people you have never met, at least not often.    You are with your spouse, best friend, co-workers, parents, siblings, or at least a good buddy.  You care about these people and if and when they get hurt you ARE going to panic.  Trust me on this.  Everyone thinks they will be calm cool and collective until there’s blood shooting out of your girlfriend’s leg and she is screaming bloody murder.  You do not rise to the occasion you fall to your level of training. Be prepared to help the ones you care about and ensure they make it back home.4 – They use live scenarios to teach you.

You walk up to a scene and have to use the tools they trained you with to figure out what is happening and how your patient may be injured.  Live training like this has been proven to build skillsets better than any other form of learning.  Sure, you can read a wilderness first aid book but you don’t get that hands-on experience until you are actually helping someone and that is not the place to learn for the first time.

5 – It is a serious confidence booster.

It allows you venture farther into the wilderness with a better idea of what might happen and how you can and will respond.  The real-world scenarios they put you through give you a great baseline to ensure you and whoever is with you should make it out ok.  This means more fun and longer adventures to cooler places.6 – Training opens your eyes to the possibilities.

You learn to prepare better and plan more thoroughly for trips into the backcountry.  You start to think about items to bring and scenarios that may occur that you never really thought of before.  You get more organized and do things like learn if anyone has preexisting conditions or takes medication, on your trips.  You start paying way more attention to the weather and how it may lead to different injuries.  Finally, you learn how to stay calmer in bad situations even non-medical ones.7 – Why not?

The real question is, why not because this is only one weekend of your time and $200-300.  If price or time is an obstacle for you think about it as an investment or insurance.  You don’t drive your car without insurance, and you don’t go romping around with medical coverage, right?  Well, this is like wilderness medical coverage and at that price, it is a steal.  Personally, I plan to get my Wilderness First Responder which is much more of a time and money investment but they are skills that are 1000% worth having if you need them.  Besides, there is no written test!  -MU


You can learn more about Wilderness First Aid Courses as well as other Wilderness Medical Courses at

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