Roughing-It Survival Tips

Hurt yourself while you’re out hiking or camping? Buck Tilton, author of dozens of survival guides and co-founder of the Wilderness Medicine Institute of National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming, explains what to do when there’s nary a first-aid kit in sight.

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Mishap: You’ve Spotted a Tick on Your Body

Makeshift fix: Try to remove the tick right away. If the parasite hasn’t embedded into your skin, it cannot pass Lyme disease to you, and you can simply brush it off. However if it has lodged into your skin, it will be much trickier to remove without tweezers. Whatever you do, don’t handle the tick with your bare hands or attempt to squeeze the tick out—you will end up squirting the poison that’s inside the tick into your bloodstream. Instead, get a thin twig, and use a pocketknife to split the branch halfway down the center. Position these improvised tweezers at a 90-degree angle to the insect and grab the tick near its mouth (which is where the tick has attached itself to your skin), never by the swollen belly, where the infected fluid is stored. Gently pull the tick straight out of your skin without twisting it. Clean with soap and water as soon as possible.

Mishap: You’ve Got a Painful Blister

Makeshift fix: Rinse off the area with an antiseptic or even plain water. If the blister is still intact, it will be less painful if you pop it. Here’s how: Puncture the bubble with the tip of a pocketknife that you’ve cleaned. Then gently massage the fluid out. Put a bandage over it. If you don’t have a bandage, you can use tape, paper, or anything slippery—whether it’s lip balm or a candy bar wrapper to reduce the amount of friction. (Fold it a few times and put it inside your sock over the blister.) As soon as possible, clean properly and re-bandage.

Mishap: You’re Bleeding

Makeshift fix: Assuming you don’t have an antiseptic, rinse the wound with clean water. If you also don’t have a bandage, wrap the lesion securely in the cleanest thing you have, even if it’s a sock, to prevent exposing the area to dirt and bacteria. Then when you get to a more sanitary environment, you can clean it properly with pressure irrigation and cover it with a bandage.

Mishap: You’ve Twisted Your Ankle or Knee

Makeshift fix: First, take off your shoes and socks, and inspect the joint to make sure no bones are broken. Next, try to cool the swelling—the first 20 minutes are critical in determining how debilitated you’re going to be. A noninsulated bottle of cold water or ice works great, or even wetting a bandana with water (lukewarm is OK) and placing it over the injury is better than nothing. For 20 minutes, stay off the leg and let it cool down. When it’s time to get back to civilization or camp, lace your shoes up tightly to provide support for that foot, and start walking, trying not to put too much weight on that leg.