Hi, I'm fairly new at backpacking and am wondering if people recommend taking a specific course in backpacking or wilderness first aid, and if so, how much training people think is reasonably necessary. I'm interested in doing trips of a week or less, and between regular first aid courses and wilderness first aid courses there are too many choices with huge price ranges. Any suggestions? Thanks a lot.
Although expensive, Wilderness First Responder course are worth it. Be sure that they also teach emergency protocol (how to properly go get help or evacuate the injured). You also would get more benifit from the wilderness course if you were to take a free or low cost basic first aid course beforehand (or read a book on first aid), if you have no previous first aid knowledge.
Discount course may not offer certification or adequate "hands on" practice. If you choose a cheaper non-certified course, be sure to get an outline of the course to see that all areas are covered adequately.
I agree with Wandering-Daisy that a "Wilderness First Responder" class is the best bet, especially if you're going to be hiking in more remote areas. I think the class is better simply because in the 80-100 hours or so of the class, you spend alot of time practicing your skills. The knowledge base is more or less the same between the various levels of training, though the WFR does give a little more background information that helps you understand why the body responds to trauma and illness the way that it does. But the practice time is where the WFR really stands out. It takes years of practice to really grasp the subtleties of emergency medicine, so the benefit with practice is developing "muscle memory" so that you can respond more quickly without having to stop and think through a situation.
The definition of "wilderness medicine" is being more than 1 hour from definitive medical care. What this means is that you will need to know how to manage your patient for more than an hour, up to days depending on how far out you are. You can figure out on your own how to splint a break and stop bleeding, but it really helps to understand how the body responds, for example, to internal bleeding, and how you can use pulse and breathing rate to figure out if someone is simply bruised, or if they are bleeding inside.
If you have absolutely no medical background, I recommend starting with a basic course and working your way up to a longer course. It takes several times of seeing the material to really etch it into memory. I can tell from experience, it still takes alot more than a class to really become second nature, but the class is a great way to get started. I started out in basic First Aid many (many) years ago, took several "wilderness first aid" classes (I used to climb quite a bit), took time off from first aid, then did a WFR, EMT-I and EMT-II. Now I use my EMT skills at my job, where I'm the first person to lay eyes on the patients who walk into the ER. You'd be surprised how many really really sick people walk into the ER when they should have called 911.
YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.
Loc: East Texas Piney Woods
You can try looking for a Wilderness First Aid course offered by American Red Cross. I recently took this 2 day class as it was offered by a local Boy Scout troop in DFW area (Garland). This is one of their services to the community.
You might also want to consider the BSA first aid merit badge. You can buy the book and perhaps even take a class if it is offered by a local troop. I teach this class for our troop along with an assistant scoutmaster who is a doctor and my wife (registered nurse). We are blessed to have several doctors in our troop (one is an ER doc). I often have requests from parents to take the class and have even offered it to our sponsoring organization. For us, this is usually a 4-6 week class taught on a Sunday afternoon for 2-2.5 hours each session (just so you can plan accordingly).
The main consideration between "normal" first aid and "wilderness" first aid is response time and equipment. You have to learn to improvise and also develop "situational awareness".
You can go onto Amazon and search for Mountaineering First Aid and you will see the book we used in our WFA class.
If you want more info, send me a private message (PM).
If you're unable to get the Wilderness 1st Responder course the National Ski Patrol offers the Outdoor Emergency Care course which is essentially an EMT Basic course with special attention to ALL SEASON outdoor care. It's about the same number of classroom hours as the Wilderness 1st Responder course.
I had it when I patrolled as a Nordic Patroller for 10 years in the 70's & '80's and am re-taking it now for alpine patrolling this winter. Very hefty manual. Take the course and you'll have a lot of peace of mind, as will your travelling companions.
Eric P.S. You don't have to be a candidate patroller to take the course.
Edited by 300winmag (08/02/0807:00 PM)
"There are no comfortable backpacks. Some are just less uncomfortable than others."
Definitely agree with the above posts. The WFR course is great, I'd recommend going with Wilderness Medical Associates or the National Outdoor Leadership School if you can travel or can find a class near you, their reputations are top notch. However, if you're strapped for time or for cash, you may consider taking a basic First Responder class. It doesn't teach wildernes medicine specifically, but injury and illness are the same everywhere, only your mindset changes. You can probably find one of those courses very close to home, check with your local fire department, EMS service or Emergency Management Agency. Look for a course that offers a certification, ideally one through the above institutes or through the National Registry of EMTs; Good Samaritan laws aside, having that piece of paper is some good peace of mind.
Another vote for WFR training. I got mine four years ago and recertified this past fall - one of the best things I've done, and I definitely recommend NOLS/Wilderness Medicine Institute. I had consistently great instructors in Flagstaff, AZ (where I did my initial training) and outside of Bishop, CA (where I did the recert).
One of the best things about the training is the practical scenarios (most done outside, even when it's 3° F and snowy, as it was one day in Flagstaff). Our last big scenario for the full course was literally in a snowstorm, off trail, on Humphreys Peak - obviously unplanned on the weather, but fortuitous and such a great and illuminating experience.
It's pricey and takes 9-10 days for the initial training - so if that's not for you, then Wilderness First Aid classes are at least a step in the right direction (but in no way comparable to the WFR course).