Wilderness First Aid Class: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

As a 2015 AT hopeful, I, like many others, am trying to save money where I can. I won’t be working for at least half a year, so each big purchase goes through the “Do I need this? Can I go cheaper?” thought process. Or, in the case of morning coffees or dinners out, there’s usually some buyer’s remorse.

This past October, when I decided to reserve a $215 spot at SOLO’s Wilderness First Aid (WFA) class, I wasn’t sure whether it was a good investment. (It’s worth noting for the sake of transparency that the cost of this class included one night’s stay and four generous meals.) My verdict after participating in the two-day course? I think it was well worth the time and money. Here’s a brief summary of the course, a few of my key takeaways, and why I think it’s worth considering as part of your (or a loved one’s) pre-trip preparations.

Course Summary

Over the course of two full days, we went through the following subject matter:

  • Body substance (blood, vomit, urine, etc.) isolation
  • Patient assessment
  • Body lifting and moving techniques
  • Shock
  • Sprains, strains, and fractures
  • Spinal chord injury management
  • Cold-related injuries (hypothermia and frostbite)
  • Heat-related injuries (dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke)
  • North American animal bites and stings
  • Lightning
  • Bivouac and survival skills (How to stay put and get help)
  • Trauma: wound management and bandaging
  • Chest pain
  • Allergic reaction

Several times each day, we headed outside to practice various types of scenarios. The course price and curriculum didn’t include CPR certification, but attendees were offered that as an additional training on the first night. I think that’s a common option, at least with SOLO’s classes.

Key Takeaways and Thoughts

  •  The class offers a baseline knowledge and materials, but if you want to gain competency then I think it’s necessary to study up on the materials afterward. I spoke with several participants during and after the class, and we all agreed that further practice was needed.
  • There was no final test. Everyone who paid and participated was certified. Generally speaking, I think that this makes sense. Had I not passed the class, for example, I might not feel as empowered to help someone next year on the AT. Also, there are higher levels of certification (e.g., Wilderness First Responder) that can be required for relevant jobs.
  • If you’re willing to help a stranger who’s hurt on the trail, then pack rubber gloves. Here’s why: Imagine for a second that you’re dehydrated and a little out of it while out on a hike. As a result, you fall, twist your ankle, and scrape your leg. A few minutes later, I arrive. I’ve got a huge smile on my face and look like a nice guy, but I’m also sweaty, I have a huge filthy beard, and I haven’t showered in a few days. Would you take me more seriously as someone who knows first aid and can help you out if I (a) inspect you for more serious injury with my bare hands, (b) stuff my hand in a dry sack and use that as a barrier, or (c) pull a fresh, clean pair of rubber gloves from my pack. The gloves don’t only protect you as a rescuer from potentially harmful bodily fluids. They can also put an injured stranger at ease.
  • If you’re injured in multiple places, then your brain may focus on one particular issue and completely bypass other things that might be wrong. Someone administering first aid in a wilderness setting needs to systematically rule out life threatening issues, even if someone is yelling, “No, no! It’s just my ankle. It hurts so much!!”

Why You Should Consider Taking Wilderness First Aid

  • It will be the best gift that you can get a perfect stranger. No one wants to see someone get injured. If it happens, though, and you’re first on scene, then you would probably want to be able to help.
  • You will absolutely learn some easy-to-remember ways to help out in wilderness first aid situations. For example, I didn’t know that it’s necessary to put an injured person on an insulated pad in the summer. Even when it’s hot out, the ground can steal away your body warmth. That’s an easy one to remember. Also, I now know that it’s better to straighten out someone’s back than to leave them as is, even when there’s a risk of spinal injury.
  • You’ll learn to make better decisions should you ever come across a real-life scenario. We spent a lot of time going over the types of decisions that you’d have to make in the woods. How many people should keep hiking to find more help? Should you stay put or try to evacuate the patient? It’s helpful to role play these types of issues when you’re not actually facing them. The first aid situations that you might come across while out in the wilderness present an entirely new set of considerations.
  • You’ll meet likeminded individuals. A few classmates and I are planning a winter hike of Mount Jackson in New Hampshire next weekend!

I hope this article has been helpful. If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them!

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