What to Do If You Get Injured While Hiking: A Comprehensive Survival Guide
Hiking is an increasingly popular way to spend time outdoors and is enjoyed by millions of people every year. The fresh air, scenic vistas, and the opportunity to connect with nature all make it an appealing choice for a day’s adventure. However, while hiking can be a fun and rewarding experience, it also has the potential to present unexpected hazards. One of the biggest concerns for any hiker is what to do if they get injured while out on the trail.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key steps to take if you find yourself injured while hiking, including understanding the types of injuries that are most commonly encountered, how to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place, and what to do if you or someone you’re with does get injured. So, before you set off on your next hiking adventure, take some time to familiarize yourself with these essential tips, and ensure a safer and more enjoyable experience on the trails.
Table of Contents
- Common Types of Hiking Injuries
- Preventing Injuries While Hiking
- First Aid Basics Every Hiker Should Know
- Hiking Injury Scenarios and How to Deal with Them
- Summoning Help on the Trail
1. Common Types of Hiking Injuries
Understanding the types of injuries you may face while hiking can help you prepare for what to do if you get injured. Some of the most common hiking-related injuries include:
A. Ankle Sprains and Strains
Ankle sprains and strains are among the most common injuries that hikers experience, particularly on rocky or uneven terrain. They can vary in severity, from a mild sprain with little swelling to a more severe injury that requires medical attention.
Blisters are a common issue for hikers, particularly on longer hikes or when breaking in new shoes. Caused by friction between your foot and your shoe, blisters can be painful and annoying, but are generally not a severe injury.
C. Cuts and Scrapes
Cuts and scrapes can occur from various sources, such as brushing up against a tree branch or tripping and falling on a rocky trail. Most cuts and scrapes are minor and can be treated easily with some basic first aid.
Dehydration can be a serious issue while hiking, particularly in hot weather or at higher altitudes. Pay attention to your fluid intake and ensure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day.
E. Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion
Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are potentially life-threatening conditions caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid intake. While not an injury in the conventional sense, these conditions can be just as dangerous and should be taken seriously.
2. Preventing Injuries While Hiking
A significant part of knowing what to do if you get injured while hiking is understanding how to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. Here are some key tips for preventing common hiking injuries:
A. Choose the Right Footwear
Choose appropriate footwear for your hike. Properly fitting, supportive shoes with good traction can help minimize the risk of an ankle injury. Make sure to break in new shoes before embarking on a long hike to avoid blisters.
B. Dress Appropriately
Dress for the weather, with moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics to help regulate your body temperature and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.
C. Warm Up and Stretch
Before starting your hike, take the time to warm up and stretch your muscles to reduce the risk of muscle strains and sprains.
D. Stay Hydrated
Drink water consistently throughout your hike. Bring a reusable water bottle or hydration pack, and consider using a water purification system if you’ll be hiking in remote areas without access to drinkable water.
E. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Always be aware of your surroundings and watch your footing to minimize the risk of tripping and falling on the trail.
F. Know Your Limits
Recognize your limits and choose hikes that match your fitness level and experience. Pushing yourself too hard can increase the risk of injuries and accidents.
3. First Aid Basics Every Hiker Should Know
All hikers should have basic first-aid knowledge, especially if you’re venturing out on longer or more remote trails. Here are some essential first-aid skills to learn before hitting the trail:
A. Treating Cuts and Scrapes
Clean the wound with clean water and apply an antibiotic ointment before covering it with a bandage or gauze pad.
B. Treating Blisters
Leave blisters intact if possible, covering them with a bandage or moleskin to reduce friction. If a blister must be drained, sterilize a needle and puncture the blister at the edge, allowing fluid to drain before covering with a bandage.
C. Managing Sprains and Strains
In the case of a sprain or strain, employ the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Rest the injured body part, apply ice to minimize swelling, wrap the injury to provide compression, and elevate it above the heart if possible.
D. Recognize Signs of Dehydration and Heat Illnesses
Understand the symptoms of dehydration and heat illnesses, such as dizziness, headache, dark-colored urine, nausea, and heavy sweating. If experiencing any symptoms, stop and rest in a cool, shady spot, and drink fluids.
4. Hiking Injury Scenarios and How to Deal with Them
In addition to the common injuries discussed above, there may be other scenarios in which you need to know what to do if you get injured while hiking.
A. Broken Bones
For a suspected broken bone, immobilize the injured area using a splint and seek medical assistance immediately. Do not attempt to reset the bone yourself.
B. Insect Bites and Stings
For insect bites and stings, remove the stinger if present (using the edge of a credit card or similar object, not tweezers) and clean the area with soap and water before applying ice and taking an antihistamine or pain reliever if needed.
C. Snake Bites
If bitten by a snake, keep the affected limb immobilized below the level of the heart and avoid applying ice, cutting the wound, or trying to suck out the venom. Instead, rapidly seek professional medical help.
5. Summoning Help on the Trail
Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, you may need to seek external help:
A. Cell Phone
Carrying a fully charged cell phone can be a lifesaver in an emergency. However, be mindful that cell reception may be limited or nonexistent in remote areas.
B. Hiking with a Buddy
Hiking with a buddy can offer an extra layer of safety, as they can provide assistance or go for help if necessary.
C. Emergency Locator Beacons and Personal Locator Beacons
Investing in an emergency locator beacon or personal locator beacon can be a valuable resource, allowing rescuers to pinpoint your location in case of a severe injury or emergency.
Carrying a whistle is another tool for signaling for help. The universal distress signal is three short blasts.
Knowing what to do if you get injured while hiking is an important part of enjoying the great outdoors safely. By understanding potential injuries and how to prevent them, learning basic first-aid techniques and how to respond to specific injury scenarios, and familiarizing yourself with the best ways to summon help, you’ll be well-prepared for your next hiking adventure.
Stay safe and happy trails!