hiking tip #5 – wilderness first aid

The best first aid tip I ever received was, “be prepared & prevent accidents with good choices”. And it should be just that simple.

If you’re an avid hiker it’s a good idea to take a Wilderness First Aid course. So far my experience has been that they are all really fun, have great instructors, and there’s always something new to learn. Usually a two day course, and worth it! The two companies that offer the most extensive courses are AERIE and WMI NOLS.

When hiking with your dog, there are additional considerations when it comes to first aid. If some of the information below seems like ‘a lot’, then truly you should enroll in a wilderness first aid course. This is minimal!

tip #5

  1. Know who you are hiking with, and let them know you. Any health considerations or medications you carry should be shared, if it is something that could come up on a hike (low blood sugar, high blood sugar, seizure, severe allergies, etc). If you or a friend carries an EPI pen please share the location in the pack where it will be carried. Surprisingly, this is not uncommon. 90% of all of our clients carried one on hikes, peanut and stinging insects were the two most common reasons.
  2. If you are hiking alone with your dog always leave a note at home, or text a friend and let them know where you will be hiking that day, and approximate time of return
  3. Check the weather before leaving
  4. Have a pack that is prepared for your hike, for you and your dog
  5. Enough water for the day – preventing dehydration is a great first aid tip!
  6. Know your dogs health inside and out. When hiking with your dog mobility is the key.
  7. Before you ever leave the house, check your dogs paw pads. How are they? Are there any weather splits, slices, cuts? If so, tend to those for a couple of days, at least, before you hit the trail. PAW HEALTH translates to a safe and enjoyable hiking adventure. If you are not paying attention to your dogs paw health, it could get you into a situation in the back country that could put both of you at risk. Mobility!
  8. Check your shoes, are the right for your feet? Blister free is the key!
  9. Carry a small first aid kit in your pack, even if you are going for a short 1 hour hike.
  10. Make sure the surface of the trail is compatible with your dogs paws. Sharp razor edge scree is not dog friendly, nor is 106 degree sand trails. Know what they will be walking on.
  11. If anyone or any dog gets injured, no matter how minor, ALL DOGS go on leash. There should not be dogs milling about when tending to yourself, another hiker or dog. This is good management.
  12. If a dog is injured and truly in pain and thrashing, please use your dogs leash and create a half hitch around the dogs muzzle to prevent any bites. The worst injuries I have seen when out hiking are caused by lack of management. Dogs running or chasing a mountain biker and getting kicked, dogs running after a skier and getting a ski pole in the face, dogs chasing wildlife and getting the snot beat out of them or worse yet never returning. Train and have a plan before you go, almost all big accidents like these are avoidable.
  13. If there is an injury to person or dog, please think in terms of – stabilize and get out. Do not try to do a surgical procedure, chop down trees to make a splint, stitch a wound (especially on a dog!), etc. There is no stay and play when an injury occurs, even if you’re 10 minutes from the peak or your personal goal. Be responsible and do the right thing for you and your dog.
  14. If your dog is injured to the point of limited mobility, and too big for you to carry, DO NOT leave them tied up on the trail and go get help, DO NOT do this. You are making them bait for all animals in the area. Use your cell phone, blow on your whistle, send a friend for help.
  15. The most common injuries to hikers and dogs tend to be blisters, small cuts, stinging insects, sun burn, and frost nipped paws, tips of ears, nose and fingers.

Items for basic first aid kit

  • kit should be in something small and water tight, zip lock bags are great
  • small scissors
  • bandana (multi use)
  • two large band-aids
  • 4 x the amount of Benadryl you would ever need for you and your dog. Check with your veterinary and your doctor for the correct dosing for you and your dog. Any insect sting, allergic reaction, or snake bite, get Benadryl on board and keep everyone breathing.
  • Covex, Vet Wrap, PowerFlex, Pro Wrap – this is better than duct tape in the back country. Carry a full roll. You can find this at any ranch/home store in the equine section. (multi use)
  • whistle – essential to call attention to your location
  • brightly colored rain poncho (multi use and super light weight)
  • mole skin for blister


note – I am a huge fan of prevention and good choices. In over thirty years hiking around the world, half of those with my dogs, we have never had a serious injury. Bee stings and blisters, and cold fingers have been the worst of it, and I would like to keep it that way!


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim says:

    One of the best first aid items I’ve found many uses for are mini cotex pads…meant for light menstrual cycles, but are a wonderful sterile and absorbent pad for wounds. Cut to size and are better than band-aids…apply with vetwrap or, in a pinch, duct tape.

    I also carry at least one dog bootie (the lightweight musher kind) in my medical kit…lightweight to carry and perfect for keeping a cut pad or a torn toenail clean for the hike out.

  2. Nikki says:

    I would add one of those reflective sheets (silver looking most of the time, sometimes called emergency bivy) in case of shock/hypothermia. Small and compressible, relatively cheap to give away to any hiker that didn’t bring a coat and needs a layer to get back to the car.

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