Getting outdoors and into the wilderness is a healthy thing to do – both mentally and physically. But accidents happen and it’s important to know how to handle them.
Safety is your responsibility. See our safety tips page for more.
Wilderness medicine courses
We strongly recommend that you get training from a professional. Take a wilderness first aid course. They will cover what to do if you’re wounded, break a bone, get burned, and more. CPR training isn’t always part of a basic first aid course. It’s worth making the extra effort to learn that as well.
There are multiple levels of training. If you spend a lot of time on the trail or in the backcountry, an 80-hour Wilderness First Responder course is a very good idea. Long-distance hikers and riders should seriously consider this level of training.
To be reasonably well prepared for backcountry emergencies, consider learning how to deal with the topics covered in the Wilderness First Responder course offered by the Wilderness Medicine Institute:
First aid kits
When assembling your first aid kit, consider your personal needs, the number and needs of your travel companions, weather, terrain, and the length of your journey. Here are some recommendations for what should go in your kit:
- Tod Schimelpfenig’s 8 ounce first aid kit; Tod is currently the Curriculum Director of Wilderness Medicine Institute.
- The World’s Best First-Aid Kit; This is a great discussion on how to consider your needs when choosing items for your kit.
Carrying cell phones into the backcountry was once controversial and now is quite commonplace. Be aware that carrying a cell phone does not guarantee your safety and is not an excuse for poor planning. Often, cell phones don’t work on the PCT.
There are many stories of people on the PCT who have been rescued because they called for help using their cell phones or satellite devices. More and more, Search and Rescue personnel are suggesting that it’s a good idea to carry a beacon.
In the backcountry, various technologies allow for satellite-based communications. Some of these are specifically designed for calling emergency services. SPOT units are quite popular but they’re not the only option. Personal Locater Beacons offer the gold standard of reliability.
Even so, it’s important to rely on your outdoor skills, not on your technology. Devices can break down. And electronics might give one a sense of security that isn’t really there, meaning a person may push themselves past their capabilities because they falsely believe that help is closer than it really is.
First aid FAQ
While not extremely common, due to the potential serious nature of tick-borne diseases (including Lyme), we recommend caution. Ticks that carry various diseases are present on the trail corridor. Most people travel the entire trail without getting a tick, however cases of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other tick-borne diseases have been reported to the PCTA. Travelers should take precautions to stop ticks, including using Permethrin, DEET and doing tick checks. Remove any attached ticks properly by pulling them straight out, preferably using tweezers. Most reports of ticks on the PCT have come from Southern California. More information about ticks and tick-borne diseases can be found on the California Department of Public Health website.