The farther from the beaten path you venture, the more prepared you should be for a medical emergency. Always carry a first-aid kit designed for the type of trek and the number of people in your group.
A variety of first-aid kits are available for day hikes, family camping trips or backpacking treks. Kits should be tailored to your trekking terrain, weather, the ages of hikers and your group's special medical needs.
It is important to know how to use everything in your first-aid kit beforehand. You won't have time in the middle of an emergency to read an instruction manual.
Before you go, learn about any possible hazards at your destination, such as poisonous plants, snakes and insects. Ask local officials or park rangers if you need any special gear or clothing. Locate the road and public phone closest to your campsite or trail, so you know where to summon help if it is needed.
Some organizations offer wilderness first-aid courses targeted to outdoors enthusiasts. Be sure to practice what you learn and share it with others in your party.
Good first-aid kits are available in a wide range of prices, and specialty kits are available for mountain bikers, canoeists and others.
The following items should be considered when outfitting a basic first-aid kit:
- 1 elastic-roll bandage
- Aspirin or ibuprofen
- Adhesive tape
- Alcohol swabs
- Antiseptic ointment
- Adhesive bandages, assorted sizes
- Bulb irrigating syringe
- Butterfly bandages
- Chemical heat and cold packs
- Dry-wash pads or wipes
- Diarrhea medicine
- Gauze pads
- Hydrocortisone cream (soothes allergic skin)
- Insect repellent
- Mirror, small and unbreakable
- Moleskin, 1 or 2 packets
- Cotton swab, sterile, packaged in pairs
- Safety pins
- Scissors (Swiss Army Pen Knife has scissors, small blade and nail file)
- Triangular bandage
Inspect the contents before every trip and make sure the tools are clean and supplies in good condition. Replace expired medicines and add items you wished you had brought on the last trip. Make sure the container is durable and waterproof, and stow it in an accessible compartment of your backpack.Terms of your use of this information.
- Pack your water bottle deep inside your backpack so it will not freeze. Make sure the lid is screwed on tight and pack it upside-down. Water freezes from the top, so if it is stored upside down, the mouth of the bottle remains free of ice. Water bottle insulators also help to keep water from freezing. If possible, fill your bottles with hot water.
- Eat often and carry plenty of food. You can burn up to 8,000 calories per day when winter camping.
- Drink plenty of hot soup and beverages during your winter camping trip. You need to replace water lost both through physical exertion and also from the dry, cold air drawing moisture from your face and skin. Try instant cocoa, decaffeinated coffee or tea, fruit-flavored drinks and instant breakfast drinks. Caffeinated drinks are not recommended. They contain diuretics that cause you to lose fluids.
- As you gain altitude, food takes longer to cook. Plan meals that do not require a lot of boiling.
- Consider taking an extra stove and plenty of stove fuel, up to one-half cup per person per day. It takes a lot of fuel to melt snow for drinking water.
- If you have room to carry them, take two sleeping bag pads, a self-inflating one and a lightweight closed-cell foam pad, for additional insulation when camping in cold climates.
- Before you get into your sleeping bag at night, fill your water bottle with hot water for use as a hot-water bottle.
- Take a metal tube that is a bit wider than your tent pole with you. If a tent pole breaks, slide the tube over the broken area to act as a splint and secure the tube to the poles with duct tape. Store your duct tape around your ski pole or water bottle.
- If you stop to take a water or snack break, store the outer shell of your mittens or gloves in your pack or attach them to your jacket with a clip. Sticking them under your arm makes it easier to have them blow away with a gust of wind. If you lose a mitten, use a spare sock as a substitute.
- Winter is not the time to go solo, always camp with others. Leave your itinerary with a friend or family member and check in with them on your return.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia among your camping group: uncontrolled shivering, poor motor coordination, mental confusion and mumbling. If someone exhibits these symptoms, get him or her into dry clothes or a sleeping bag. Have him or her huddle close to a warm, dry person and give him or her a warm beverage.
- Check for signs of frostbite and pay attention to cold feet. Protected skin, as well as exposed skin, are all susceptible to freezing and toes are the most vulnerable. The first sign of frostbite is white patches on the skin surface. If the skin does not return to its normal color after applying gentle pressure, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- Pack a colorful bandana in your pack. In the rare event you need to signal rescue workers, you can attach the bandana to your ski pole and use it as a flag.
- If you are backcountry skiing in hilly terrain, climbing skins help you ascend hills with less effort. Skins are slightly narrower than the width of a ski. They attach to a ski by straps or an adhesive backing. The skins have synthetic hairs or scales that flow from front to back so they grip snow and keep you from sliding backwards on hills.
If you would like any additional information about winter camping, or have questions about any of the procedures or terminology used here, please call our Outdoor Hotline at 800-226-7552, any day between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. EST.
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