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Hiking first aid: what to bring, do and know to stay safe on the trail

Man and woman walking applying first aid to ankle.There are different degrees of walking. There’s the kind of “walking” you do through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, NYC’s Central Park, or Hollywood’s Runyon Canyon. You’re outdoors, surrounded by trees and foliage and physically active, but it’s not really rough. You still have cellular coverage and you can get an iced coffee in twenty minutes if you need to. You don’t need first aid for those walks. You don’t need any special skills other than the ability to walk through the landscape.

But there is real walking. Walking more than five miles. Multi-day walking tours. Overnight walking. backpacking. Walking in a place where the trail may not be very well maintained, where you encounter an aggressive animal, where you have to keep your wits about you. For this kind of hiking, which most people imagine when they think of “hiking,” it’s a good idea to be prepared with first aid: with physical medical supplies and skills and knowledge that will help you enjoy the great outdoors without to remain helpless. Because the real allure of hiking is to venture into the wilderness where the finer points and comforts of the modern world no longer apply. We all want a little adventure, but we also want to come back in one piece.

So let’s delve into first aid for walking. I won’t tell you to “bring water” or “snacks” because, well, you’re an intelligent adult who doesn’t need to be told the absolute basics.

first aid when walking

Tweezers

Tweezers are a godsend, but you need both a needle point and a wide point. Needle tip tweezers are great for removing ticks – just get as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out – while wide tips are good for removing splinters and thorns.

These fit the description.

Adhesive bandages in all sizes

Adhesive bandages (or plasters) of various sizes are essential for covering cuts and wounds. Butterfly bandages are also nice for binding wounds that would otherwise have to be stitched up.

Betadine

Betadine is an iodine-based antiseptic that cleanses wounds and kills germs. A small bottle is handy to have on hand so you can spray your cuts and wounds.

Disinfecting wipes

Clean wounds, sterilize skin and hands and tools. These are just handy to have around.

medical scissors

If you need to cut a bandage or a fabric/garment, these are indispensable.

This is a good pair.

Surgical Tape

You never know what to put on your skin.

This is a good one.

gauze

Used to stop bleeding, protect wounds, improve healing and all those good things that help you overcome bad luck on the trail.

multi-tool

Gives you just about everything you need to handle the events you can’t quite foresee.

Here’s one.

good knife

A good sturdy knife is always a wise choice on the trail, even if you’re just using it to chop a stick to pass the time. you will never mourn have a knife. This one has a fire starter attached.

Voodoo floss bands

Voodoo floss bands can be used to compress injured limbs such as ankles, wrists, or knees. They provide stability and stop swelling. They are normally used for training, but can also be very useful on the trail.

Link to buy them.

magnesium oil

In my experience, topical magnesium chloride oil is great for reducing joint pain and inhibiting inflammation. Very useful in no time. Great for cramps.

Make your own by filling a spray bottle with magnesium chloride flakes and adding water, or buy it.

electrolytes

Staying hydrated takes more than just water. You also need electrolytes, especially when you’re out walking. LMNT is a great powdered electrolyte supplement to keep on hand. Simply add to water, shake and drink to stay hydrated. Snake Juice is another option.

Mustard packets

Cramps are debilitating on walks. They can even be deadly. One of the best remedies for cramps is pickle juice, which works, but not for its electrolyte replenishment. It actually doesn’t really affect hydration or electrolyte status, and drinking it resolves muscle cramps faster than the gut can absorb it. TRP ion channels in the oropharyngeal region (tongue/mouth/throat) respond to something in the pickle juice — probably the vinegar — and short-circuit the muscle’s excitation, immediately blocking the spasm.

Other TRP ion channel activators can be found in cayenne pepper, ginger and cinnamon, and researchers have created a mixture of extracts from all three plants that are effective against muscle cramps. It’s called Hot Shot.

Basic yellow mustard also works. To really kick it up a notch, you can add cayenne pepper and ginger to the mustard. The combination of mustard and spicy/ginger can be an instant remedy for muscle cramps.

Skills and best practices

Have a map.

Most places I find no longer provide paper maps of the walking area. If not, you can buy maps of the area or take a photo of the map at the trailhead with your phone before you start so you always have something to refer to.

Take a compass (or have a compass on your phone) and know how to read a map.

A compass and a map go very well together. If you need it, this is a comprehensive explanation of how to use the two together to orient yourself.

Charge your phone.

Enter the walk with a fully charged phone. Keep it charged by holding the phone in airplane mode.

Walk down correctly.

Don’t walk downhill with your pelvis tucked up and all the weight on the balls of your feet, knees, and quads. Instead, keep the weight on your entire foot/heel. Breaking at the hips slightly to take the bulk of the load on your glutes, hamstrings, and hips.

Walk uphill correctly.

Take shorter strides and once again accept the strain on your glutes and hamstrings. The rear chain is much stronger than the quads and lasts longer with no cramps.

Most hikers don’t always need to carry a large first aid kit. Are you going for a few kilometers? You don’t need a lot of everything. Are you going for a few hours? Take some band-aids and betadine. Hiking for half a day? Throw in tweezers and mustard sachets. Stay overnight? Add some more from the list. This is not a definitive list of things you should always with you as soon as you leave the city limits. It represents as complete a list as I could muster for serious hiking.

And remember: these are all “just in case” things. For most of your hikes, even the long, intense ones, you won’t be diving into gear at all. It’s just good to be prepared.

Primal Kitchen Ketchup

About the author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the… New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet† His latest book is Keto for life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including: The original blueprintwhich in 2009 had boosted the growth of the primal/paleo movement. After spending three decades researching and educating people about why food is the most important component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that makes Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30. -friendly kitchen staples.

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