Wilderness First Aid : A Minimalist View

Wilderness First Aid is a basic certification for the assessing, treating and stabilizing of a person’s injuries in the backcountry.  But how does the (sometimes) gear and equipment focused backcountry medicine co-exist with a more minimalist view? Here is my own take.



In anticipation of assisting as  a guide, I earned both my Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and CPR certifications.   The CPR class was aimed towards an urban environment but was easy enough to apply to a wilderness setting.

The WFA class, as the name implies, is meant for the backcountry enthusiast to provide for assessment  and treatment of medical issues in the backcountry.  The class covered injuries and situations ranging from blisters to hypothermia to head trauma. Pretty extensive.

The class was over the course of a weekend.  The class itself comprised both classroom instruction and hands on practicals with scenarios simulating real life situations.

As with all medical instruction, process was stressed (and rightfully so; with a process in place consistent care is provided along with the ability to convey accurate info to the appropriate personnel).

The class itself, and the situations, did reflect the majority of the people who took the class: People who lead day-use activities into the more accessible parts of the backcountry and may not go far.    A large portion of the class took place outdoors in weather that threatened to turn all weekend. I was bit surprised at the people in sandals, t-shirts and jeans and had no warmer clothing to change into for the outdoor portion of the class.

When I naively stated to a few people how carrying all this lightweight firs-aid gear would soon add up to 40 lbs, I was given a few different reactions….

The first reaction was invariably that 40 lbs is not heavy. 😉  Another one was “I’ll just carry the gear.”  

The personal challenge for me in this class was applying the new knowledge and skills for the further reaches of the backcountry. Where carrying extensive gear and supplies to cover all situations is not necessarily the best option.

I enjoy going further into the backcountry and believe that knowledge, not gear, is more important in the outdoors.  Because of this inclination, the best part of the class for me was how to take the knowledge given and improvise with normal gear.    Hiking poles and pads provide splints. A bandana helps make a sling. And the every handy duct tape does wonders for well, almost everything. 🙂

The class did show some equipment that I am now considering bringing for both myself and items to add when guiding.

Rather than buy a very expensive kit that has too much or too little depending, I’ll just make my own.

So what am I going to  take?  Think I’ll keep my normal first aid kit pretty minimal.

  • Ibuprofen
  • Gauze pads
  • Band-aids
  • Semi-permeable bandages (new for me…they do wonders!)

And of course make use of the normal items I carry such as Purel, duct tape, bandanas, clothing, poles, a foam pad and so on.

When I am assisting on a trip, I will be more cognizant it is not just me that I am taking care of and have more responsibilities.

I am not 100% sure of what I am going to take, but have some ideas from these sites:

  1. Sectionhiker.com DIY Ultralight First Aid Kit
  2. Traditional Mountaineering First Aid Kit
  3. Hikingdude.com Outdoor First Aid Kit

The tentative list is looking to be along these lines

  • The basic solo kit mentioned earlier
  • Naproxen for those with Ibuprofen allergies
  • Antihistamine
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Irrigation syringe
  • Nitrile gloves
  • …and more knowledge thanks to the class

I feel that the additional medicine and items carried, along with acquired knowledge and experience, should cover a mix of situations until a person can be given more comprehensive care.


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