Wilderness Survival Guide: Wilderness Survival First Aid and Health

Basic Survival
Food & Water
First Aid & Health

British Columbia Outdoor Wilderness Guide

Basic Survival | Travel | Food & Water | First Aid & Health | Survival Training

Wilderness Survival: First Aid & Health

Shock | Breathing | Bleeding | Fractures | Dislocation | Sprains | Concussions | Heat Exhaustion | Sun Stroke | Cramps | Burns | Snow Blindness | Frostbite | Blisters | Headaches | Snakebites | Bee Stings | Hypothermia | Hyperthermia

When journeying into the wilderness it is important to carry a complete first aid kit and book. It is also wise to take a first aid course. A good diet, cleanliness and appropriate clothing will lower the risk of harmful situations.

Disease, infection and often, insect bites can be avoided when maintaining a proper diet. It is important to bathe daily but if this is not possible be sure to wash your hands frequently. Soap can be made using ashes and animal fat or by boiling the inner bark of a pine tree. Construct a toothbrush by mashing the end of a green twig. When setting out for your journey remember to pack a wide range of clothing and extra footwear.


If an accident occurs in the wilderness it will be your responsibility to deal with the situation. The specific sequence of actions when dealing with this situation is:

1. Remain calm, providing your patient with quiet, efficient first aid treatment.
2. Keep the patient warm and lying down. Do not move this injured person until you have discovered the extent of the injuries.
3. Start mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration immediately if the injured person is not breathing.
4. Stop any bleeding.
5. Give your patient reassurance. Watch carefully for signs of shock.
6. Check for cuts, fractures, breaks and injuries to the head, neck or spine.
7. Do not allow people to crowd the injured person.
8. Do not remove clothing unless it is imperative.
9. Decide if your patient can be moved to a proper medical facility. If this is not possible, prepare a suitable living area in which shelter, heat and food are provided.


Shock is a depression of all of the body processes and may follow any injury regardless of how minor. Factors such as hemorrhage, cold and pain will intensify shock. When experiencing shock the patient will feel weak and may faint. The skin becomes cold and clammy and the pulse, weak and rapid. Shock can be more serious than the injury itself.

Use the following method to prevent and control shock:

1. When treating injuries:
i. restore breathing
ii. stop bleeding
iii. treat breaks and fractures
2. If there are no head or chest injuries place the patient on his/her back with the head and chest lower than the legs. This will help the blood circulate to the brain, heart, lungs and other major organs.
3. If severe head and chest injuries are present elevate the upper body. If chest injuries are present, elevate the injured side to assist in the functioning of the uninjured lung.
4. If the injured person becomes unconscious, place him/her in a face down position to prevent choking on blood, vomit or the tongue.
5. Keep your patient warm and under shelter.


If breathing has stopped, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Place the patient on his/her back and follow these steps:

1. To open the airway lift the patient's neck and tilt the head back.
2. Keeping the neck elevated, pinch the nostrils to prevent air leakage.
3. Place your mouth completely around the victim's mouth and blow, watching for chest expansion.
4. After removing your mouth, listen for air leaving the patient's lungs and watch for the chest to fall. Check for an airway blockage if the chest does not rise.

Repeat these steps approximately 12 to 15 times per minute. If treating a child, cover the nose and mouth with you mouth. Use smaller puffs of air and repeat this method 20 to 25 times per minute.


To control bleeding, elevate the wounded area above the heart and apply pressure using either gauze, clean cloth, dried seaweed or sphagnum moss. Use pressure at the pulse point between the injured area and the heart if bleeding fails to stop. If bleeding still persists, use a tourniquet between the injury and the heart. This method should only be used in extreme situations. After bleeding has been controlled, wash the wounded area with disinfectant and apply a dressing and bandages.


A fracture is classified as either a simple (closed) or compound (open). Signs that a fracture is present include:

1. Pain at the affected area.
2. The area may or may not be deformed.
3. The victim is unable to place weight on the area without experiencing pain.
4. A grating sensation or sound may be present during any motion of the injured area.

Treatment is as follows:

1. If in doubt, treat the injury as a fracture.
2. Splint the joints above and below the fracture.
3. If the fracture may penetrate the skin, it could be necessary to apply traction to straighten the deformity.
4. Be sure to pad your splints.
. Check the splint ties frequently to be sure they do not hinder circulation.
6. Cover all open wound with a clean dressing before splinting.


Dislocation happens when the ligaments near a joint tear, allowing the movement of the bone from its socket. It is unwise to treat a dislocation unless you are a trained professional as permanent damage may occur. The affected extremity should be supported using a sling or other device and pain controlled with aspirin or other suitable drugs.


Treat sprains by applying cold to the area for the first 24 hours then once the swelling has subsided, let the sprain sit for a day. Apply heat the following day to aid in the healing process. The sprain should be splinted and rendered immobile until the pain has completely disappeared.


Concussions or other head injuries are often accompanied by a leakage of watery blood from the nose or ears. Other symptoms may include convulsions, an unresponsiveness of the pupils or headache and vomiting. Keep the injured party warm, dispense a pain killer regularly and allow time for the body to rest and repair.


Heat exhaustion is not uncommon when water is not sufficient. The body becomes dehydrated and salt-depleted, resulting in nausea, faintness, a weak, rapid pulse and/or cold and clammy skin. Treatment includes plenty of rest, liquid and salt tablets.


Sunstroke may occur when the body is exposed to excessive sun. The body becomes overheated and provides too much blood to the circulatory system resulting in a flushed, hot face, rapid pulse, headache and/or dizziness. Treat sunstroke by resting in a cool area and applying and consuming cold liquid. Prevent sunstroke by wearing proper headgear.


Muscle cramps occur when the muscle accumulates excessive lactid acid or a loss of salt through perspiration. Treatment includes resting, deep breathing and stretching. Restore the salt balance immediately.


Burns are most commonly followed by shock. Administer a pain reliever immediately, apply gauze covered in Vaseline to the affected area and bandage. The patient should consume more water than usual.


Symptoms of snowblindness include scratchy or burning eyes, excessive tearing, sensitivity to light, headache, halos around light and temporary loss of vision. Bandage the victim's eyes and use cold compresses and a painkiller to control the pain. Vision will generally be restored after 18 hours without the help of a doctor. Always wear snow goggles or sunglasses in snowy areas to prevent snowblindness.


Frostbite occurs when the tissue of an area, most commonly the toes, fingers or face, is frozen either from direct exposure to the elements or high wind. First degree frostbite turns the area cold, white and numb. When heated the area becomes red and can be compared to a first degree burn. A blister will form after warming with second degree frostbite. Dark skin, gangrene, and a loss of some skin and tissues is common in third degree. Fourth degree frostbite causes irreparable damage. The affected area will remain cold and lifeless and generally a part of the area is lost. With adequate clothing frostbite can easily be avoided. Superficial frostbite may be treated by cupping one's hands and blowing on the affected area, warming from another warm hand or, with fingers, placing them in your armpits. For more severe cases, medical aid should be sought.


Blisters are the painful, and common, result of ill-fitting footwear. At the first sign of discomfort, remove boots and socks and place a piece of adhesive tape over the affected area. If it is absolutely necessary, open a blister by first washing the area thoroughly then inserting a sterilized needle into the side of the blister. Apply disinfectant and a bandage.


Headaches are often experienced in the mountains due to inadequate eye protection, tension in the neck, constipation or "water intoxication", a swelling of the brain tissue which happens when the hiker has sweated excessively over a period of days and consumed large quantities of water without taking salt tablets. Aspirin may be used to alleviate the pain but one should find the source of headache to prevent further discomfort.


Snake bites are not overly common in British Columbia. One species of venomous snake, a rattlesnake is found in the dry belt of the southern interior. If you come across a snake slowly ease back. A snake bite rarely causes death; victims may be left untreated for up to eight hours.

After an attack occurs:

1. Keep the person calm, reassuring them that bites can be effectively treated in an emergency room. Restrict movement, and keep the affected area just below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
2. Remove any rings or constricting items because the affected area may swell. Create a loose splint to help restrict movement of the area.
3. If the area of the bite begins to swell and change color, the snake was probably poisonous.
4. Monitor the person's vital signs -- temperature, pulse, rate of breathing, blood pressure. If there are signs of shock (such as paleness), lay the victim flat, raise the feet about a foot, and cover the victim with a blanket.
5. Get medical help immediately.


Bee stings are common and harmless unless you are allergic. Remove the stinger then apply disinfectant and clod water to reduce the swelling.

A change of diet, dirty cooking utensils or the consumption of tainted water may result in diarrhea which in turn will cause a loss of nutrients and precious body fluids. Take extra care in cleanliness and boil water for an additional three to five minutes to avoid diarrhea.


When the temperature of your body falls to a level at which your vital organs can no longer function you are experiencing hypothermia or exposure sickness. Hypothermia will develop rapidly and is caused by cold, wet and/or windy weather that chills the body at a speed faster than it can produce heat. A lack of energy-producing food and proper clothing will heighten the speed at which hypothermia will affect you. Always remember to bring extra clothing. It is important to hike at the speed of the slowest member of your party. Take frequent breaks and keep a close watch for members experiencing signs of fatigue. Exposure sickness generally occurs in temperatures of less than 10 C (50 F).

Symptoms are easily recognizable:

1. Feeling cold and constantly exercising to keep warm.
2. Uncontrollable shivering and numbness.
3. Violent shivers. Your mind becomes slow and starts to wander.
4. Violent shivering ceases and muscles begin to stiffen and become un-coordinated. Exposed skin becomes blue and thoughts are foggy. Victim usually lacks the capability of realizing how serious the situation is.
5. Pulse and respiration slows.
6. Victim will not respond and becomes unconscious.
7. The section of the brain controlling the heart and lungs ceases functioning.

Treatment must be quick and efficient:

1. Move the victim to a sheltered area, out of the elements.
2. Remove wet clothing and replace with dry clothes and if possible, a sleeping bag.
3. Wrap warm rocks and place them near the patient.
4. Do not let the victim fall unconscious.
5. Give the victim a warm, non-alcoholic drink.
6. Allow another person in the sleeping bag to share body heat.
7. Exhale warm air near the vicinity of the patients mouth and nose.


Hyperthermia is a result of the body being overheated due to increased air temperature, solar or reflected radiation, poorly ventilated clothing, a low fitness level or excess bulk.

Symptoms include:

1. Heat cramps may occur and should be treated by moving the victim to a shady area and supplying water and salt tablets.
2. Heat exhaustion is a mild form of hyperthermia and includes symptoms such as headache, dizziness, fainting, clammy skin, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting. Treatment is the same as heat cramps.
3. Heat stroke is the most serious degree of hyperthermia. The victim will have little or no perspiration, a hot and flushed face, full pulse, and become either apathetic or aggressive. Cool the victim as quickly as possible paying extra attention to the head, neck and chest. If the bodies temperature continues to rise, unconsciousness, delirium, convulsions and ultimately death may occur.

To avoid hyperthermia, avoid strenuous activity on hot days, wear loose clothing and a hat, drink plenty of fluids and take salt tablets.

Before venturing into the wilderness check weather forecasts and hazards.

Basic Survival | Travel | Food & Water
First Aid & Health
Outdoor & Survival Training

Guides, Adventures, Charters & Tours
Browse a selection of professional tourism operators who offer wilderness experiences in BC.
More info...

Follow Us On Facebook

List of BC Adventure

Site Info
Advertise With Us
About Us
Contact Us
Free Vacation Guides
BC Vacation Guides
Coastal Vacations
Thompson Okanagan
Fishing Vacations
Guest Ranch Guide
Romantic Getaways
Wilderness Vacations
Winter Vacations
The Rockies Guide

Wilderness Survival Guide: Wilderness Survival First Aid and Health