Wilderness First Aid with the National Outdoor Leadership School

by Dirk
04/02/2013 11:57:22 A.M.

Safety is always a big concern of mine when traveling in the outdoors, but until recently I’ve felt that a general medical kit was all I needed to be safety conscious. Not anymore.

A few weeks ago I started applying to some adventure travel jobs and all of them had one thing in common. They each required a basic first aid and CPR certification, neither of which I possessed. After some research, I decided on doing a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course with NOLS, and - without exaggeration - it changed my life.

What do you do if someone has a laceration that won’t stop bleeding? What is the procedure if you find someone unconscious on the trail? Do you have the confidence to address difficult situations on the trail? Before this course, I would have answered “no” to all of these, but now I feel as though I could play at least some role in helping someone get the support they need. The WFA course is a 16-hour, two-day course, meant to brush up on the basics of remote first aid. This course covers many real world of topics, scenarios, and procedures that could be encountered when participating in an outdoor activity.

Some topics that were covered were identification/treatment of spinal injuries, head injuries, open wounds, cold injuries, hot injuries, shock, skeletal injuries, and much more. The instructors were overly qualified with career experience in wilderness medicine and response – they provided the class with more than enough knowledge and practice scenarios. In fact, the class was divided about 50/50 between lectures and hands on training, which was exactly what I was looking for. Theory is nothing without the proper techniques to apply what you’ve learned.

Outside of the classroom, the instructors created ridiculous (but relevant) scenarios where we'd find a victim 'in the middle of nowhere' in obvious pain. Each time, the scenario got more involved - with the victim showing more contradicting symptoms, combativeness, and injury complications. As a student, it was your job to follow the proper procedures to assess what happened, communicate with the victim and perform proper steps to discover any injury other than the chief complaint.

It was only after taking this very basic Wilderness First Aid class that I realized how little I actually knew about treating patients in remote settings. It really opened my eyes to how ineffective I would have been if I ever stumbled upon someone who needed help.

If you spend a lot of time outside and want an opportunity to learn more about first aid, take a course with a wilderness first aid institute. I am happy with the training that I received, and would recommend it to anyone new to hiking. These courses give students the basic knowledge and confidence to make important decisions.  This class inspired me to potentially get a Wilderness First Responder certification or maybe even a Wilderness EMT certification. You DON’T need any previous medical training for any of these, and classes range from two-day, 10-day, and 30-days in length (depending on what qualifications you are seeking).