Picture the scene. You and your climbing partner are both well-equipped, with plenty of warm clothes, food and a decent first aid kit between you. Without warning, your mate slips on a wet slab of rock and falls awkwardly. His legs are fine, but his wrist and arm hurt and with the blood dripping out of the wound where a sharp stone cut his head there’s no way he’ll be climbing today.
The nearest road is a couple kilometers away, and you haven’t had any mobile phone signal for hours. Think you can remember how that unfamiliar triangular bandage sitting at the bottom of your first aid kit should best be tied to support your friend’s arm? And how cold and wet will you both be getting whilst you rummage for a plaster big enough for the cut in his scalp which is still oozing blood?
There are a few excellent ready-made first aid kits on the market in the UK, but the truth is the majority of them contain items which are heavy, bulky and not as straightforward to use as they need to be. The majority of people out climbing, walking, running or biking in the UK’s upland regions won’t need the kit to carry out field surgery – you just need enough to safely deal with common minor injuries such as cuts, sprains and blisters whilst having the basics to support a more serious casualty until help arrives.
Four different sizes of crepe and triangular bandage, enough antiseptic wipes to sterilize an operating theatre, and a tub grip are likely to be too much hassle to use for smaller problems. For more serious casualties they are often irrelevant, yet they take up valuable space and weight which would often be better used carrying an extra layer or more food to keep yourself or a casualty warm and well fed if the worst happens.
with a bit of thought and planning, it is easy to pack a first aid kit which will provide you with the equipment you need to deal with most situations for a fraction of the cost, size and weight of many commercially-available kits. Many items can be used for more than one purpose, and a number of situations can be dealt with by improvising with items you would normally carry in your pack anyway. Minor injuries are fairly common in the hills. It is a rare person who has never had a blister, cut or sprain, and although not serious many minor injuries can make your day miserable. They are often easily treated though, and it’s worth considering carrying a few things to deal with often-seen problems:
Triangular bandages to support injured arms are often found in first aid kits. They do work, but are a bit of a hassle to tie and again aren’t much use for any other purpose. It’s easy enough to tie an extra base layer or jacket into a makeshift sling which will support an arm perfectly well.
Although rare, sometimes more serious incidents involving people with serious injuries or illnesses do happen. Usually these people will not be able to walk back to safety and the main priority in the UK will be to keep them as safe, warm and stable as possible until help arrives. Undoubtedly the most useful thing to have in these situations is training in first aid and basic life support.
If you have never learned these skills, or were taught them many years ago, seriously consider taking a course such as those taught by Rescue Emergency care or Wilderness Medical Training. You do not need to be an experienced doctor or nurse to carry out some of the basic procedures which will hugely improve the chances of a very sick patient before the emergency services can reach you –simple things like learning how to keep an unconscious person’s airway open can mean the difference between life and death.
If you do need help from mountain rescue or other emergency services, there are two things to consider – how will you attract attention; and what do you need to tell them? Many of us carry mobile phones on the hill, but these are never foolproof and problems with reception and battery life are often an issue in upland areas. 6 blasts on a whistle, or 6 flashes of a torch or mirror, are useful alternative ways of attracting attention. In some areas it may be quicker to send another member (or ideally two) of the group to the nearest house or farm to get help.
When you do manage to get in touch with the emergency services, they will be able to get appropriate help to you if they know a few key pieces of information:
If you don’t have any prior training, or you’re a bit rusty, it might boost your confidence to have a small laminated card with emergency instructions in your first aid kit. An emergency might not seem like the time to be filling in paperwork but in a stressful, unfamiliar situation it often helps to gather your thoughts, ensuring that you can give the emergency services all the information they need.