VSSL’S FALL PREPAREDNESS GUIDE
The number one priority for first aid is to ALWAYS avoid needing it! Don’t do things beyond your skill level. Of all the times I’ve ended up in the hospital, 95% of them are due to optimism - thinking I can do things I can’t! When I was getting my AWFA (Advanced Wilderness First Aid) certification I was surprised to learn that next to cuts, the most common “injury” or ailment in the outdoors is gastrointestinal. Having an upset stomach can definitely ruin a trip. Nobody likes having stomach issues at home, let alone out in the woods!
The typical culprit is unclean water. So make sure you bring drinkable water or, if necessary, make sure you can boil water. We worked with a field personnel recovery specialist to discuss different water purification methods. His motto was “big bubbles, no troubles”. The point being, if you bring water to a rolling boil, it’ll be safe to drink. And of course, you can use water purification tablets or drops.
Additionally, in a backcountry/camping environment, personal hygiene can become a reduced priority and you end up with dirty hands that can lead to issues and injuries, especially if your activity involves handling wild game or fish. Bacteria from animals can transfer to food or water and can cause major issues. So keep your hands clean!
As mentioned, cuts are the #1 wilderness first aid issue. VSSL’s First Aid kits supply all the necessary items to treat cuts and wounds. We have antiseptic wipes to clean a wound, bandages for smaller cuts or wound closure strips for larger/deeper cuts. When we were making our first aid kits, I reached out to professional contacts in the SAR, emergency medic and military first aid fields and asked what the TOP item they’d have in a kit our size would be. The unanimous answer was duct tape! So we sourced and provided a top quality roll of multipurpose tape that can help stop blood loss and cover a multitude of wound sizes. Even a small wound on an area that’s exposed can benefit from a few wraps of tape over a bandage, if the intent is to keep the adventure going!
The third most common injury relates to sprains. So be aware of your footing and wear good boots. It’s easy to get distracted, but be mindful of your foot placement. Many SAR calls have been made because someone lost their footing and rolled an ankle or blew out a knee.
For many of us, the most exciting thing about fall is that it's prime time for hunting and fishing, making the end of summer bittersweet. The days are getting cooler and shorter. And for a lot of us, that means we’re actually ramping up our time outdoors. The cooler weather makes it easier to hike, and fewer people outdoors can also open up access to otherwise crowded areas.
Being prepared right now is as important as ever, and we’re here to help you with our top tips and tricks for hunting and fishing season.
HUNTING / FISHING TIPS
It’s what we live for and also the cause of a lot of backcountry problems. It’s not necessarily because we aren’t prepared, it’s because we’re excited! Whether it’s chasing that buck over the next rise or hustling to the river's edge as the sun is coming up to catch breakfast, we’re taking our minds off of being safe.
Here’s our TOP 3 TIPS for Hunting / Fishing season:
Don’t get distracted by the target. Keep a mind to your surroundings and where you’re going. Adrenaline can push us further than we should go, which is awesome, but it’s also dangerous. Make sure you’re matching adrenaline fueled enthusiasm with wits. Always know your direction of travel and how to get back to your camp or vehicle. Use branches or rocks to form arrows pointing back to base camp, or use your VSSL trail marking tape to mark your path back.
- You’re often packing light in the hopes of bringing something back. This is actually WHY I created VSSL. When we were young we’d trap rabbits and needed pack space to bring them back. So we’d minimize all of our gear to its essential components. I’ve been doing that since I was a kid and with VSSL I get to keep doing it! But the important thing is, we’d still carry the essentials. And that’s Tip 2 - bring the essentials: Some extra clothing in case of unexpected bad weather, or you get stuck. A way to start a fire. Signalling methods. In case you need a rescue we recommend a signalling light and a whistle. And water, or a way to purify water if a water source is known and nearby.
- Look after your feet. This is one of the key pieces of advice given to soldiers during deployment. Keep your feet in top shape by ensuring they stay warm, dry and clean. If it’s cold out, start with 2 pairs of socks and remove a pair if your feet get too warm. Two thin pairs of socks give you more options than one thick pair. Don’t let your feet get blistered. If you’re getting hot spots on your feet, put a bandage or blister pad on the spot before it turns into a blister. We’re assuming you’ve broken in your boots before the season, but if you haven’t, work them out as much as you can by hand. Bend them, smash them, knead them, stomp on them - anything to soften them up a bit before you put them to work. A good pair of boots are key to happy feet!
I remember reading a story about a hiker who got lost in the woods. It was only a few weeks into fall. The days were still relatively warm, but the nights were getting pretty cold. As most stories start, he had only expected to be out a few hours, but unfortunately he got lost. Instead of staying where he was, he tried desperately to find his way out, which made things worse. A LOT worse. Later on we’d find out that on the 2nd day of searching, SAR (Search & Rescue) had gone right through where he had spent his first night. If he had stayed, he would have been rescued on his second day.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending, but an important one. They did find him a week later, but he had died of hypothermia. We’re in the “survival business” so we hear a lot of these kinds of stories, but what made this one memorable was the SAR crew reporting that he had burned his boots. He wasn’t very experienced, and in an effort to get a fire going he must have figured that using his boots as “kindling” would help get the job done, or at the very least help him signal for help.
What’s really sad about this story is how many ways it could have turned out better. And we want to give you a few tips as fall ramps up so you don’t end up burning your boots.
- Leave a trip plan. Even if you’re only heading out for a short time, let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
- Dress for the current weather and bring some extra clothes in case the weather gets worse.
- Don’t get lost. Always know how to get back from where you came. And if you do get lost, stay where you are! You’ll have left a trip plan and help is on its way.
- Have multiple ways to signal for help. Don’t rely on a cell phone. Not only could you have no service, but colder weather depletes your battery a lot faster.
The wilderness is an amazing place to be but it has to be respected, especially this time of year. The days are getting colder and weather can change in an instant. When you’re heading out on fall adventures, make sure that you’re prepared for the unplanned.