We are excited to welcome Ross Francis, an expert in the medicine field, specifically trauma and emergency medicine. He’s been kind enough to share some of his knowledge with us and we will hopefully be sharing more of his knowledge in the future!
Backcountry medicine has always been a challenge. Not from the fact that the medicine and/or skills needed are much different than those used in other settings, but for the simple fact that carrying medical supplies is limited to what one can put in their pack. As far as the specifics of what/how much to carry, planning is key.
Knowledge of one’s environment is one of the first steps in planning. What poisonous/dangerous plants and animals are in the area, along with remedies for them (for example, most poisonous plants conveniently live near others that can act as remedies)? What topographical and weather challenges does the area hold (high altitudes, constant rainfall, dry conditions, no fresh water, etc.)? The list can be exhaustive however the more pre-planning one does the less likely they will be surprised when problems arise.
In my opinion the most overlooked factor, that really trumps all else, is mindset. The ability to carry a positive attitude and have the will to survive in any given situation or environment, during good and hard times. Mindset cannot be overstated and often enough I’ve experienced that the mindset of a person affected their survival more-so than any specific piece of equipment, knowledge or skills.
Speaking about equipment, as all those who carry a pack know, “Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.” Minimalist ideologies can easily be applied here. Rather than carrying large, bulky dressings and bandages, rolled gauze (H&H, S-rolled, Z-folded, Kerlix, etc.) is a great alternative. It can be used as both a dressing and bandage and has other secondary/tertiary uses as well (a way to filter sediment-full water before sterilizing, kindling to start fires, etc.). Being that it is lightweight and easily packed down one can carry quite a bit without giving up space for other essentials. I’m big on a basic “boo boo kit” as well. Simple things like bandaids and moleskin (for blisters), aloe and Calamine lotions, pain medications such as Acetaminophen, anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, antihistamines such as Diphenhydramine and Epi-Pens (given by prescription only, however one does not need to have any specific allergies, just ask your doctor!) . Another key piece of equipment is a tourniquet. With so many on the market its far easier to choose one that’s right for you, rather than relying on a belt, cravat and stick, etc. The key features I regard as paramount for any tourniquet are that they be lightweight, easy to use (preferably one-handed) and of course able to actually stop large bleeding wounds on the extremities. I recommend a bare minimum of two tourniquets.
Aside from mindset, when it comes to medicine training is extremely important. There are a multitude of outdoor-related wilderness first aid courses out there as well as books, online resources, etc. Get quality training and practice with the equipment you’ll use before heading out. Again, preparation and pre-planning will simplify everything.
Ross Francis is the chief instructor with Dark Angel Medical, LLC., teaching basic trauma courses throughout the U.S. He served 7 years as a U.S. Navy Corpsman in varying capacities and spent a number of years working on overseas medical and security contracts in hostile/remote environments. Ross holds National and California State Paramedic licenses and is an instructor for Tactical Combat Casualty Care and Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support. You can follow him on Instagram @shootermedic19