Survival First Aid Skills You Need To Know

When handling a situation in the wilderness that requires first aid, there are certain key skills that you will need in order to effectively help the injured party. These survival first aid skills you need to know may be somewhat different to those faced in an urban situation!

There is no substitute for going on a relevant first aid course, and keeping that knowledge up to date by going on regular refresher courses. In my country, in order to keep your qualification current, you have to attend a first aid course every 2 years.

With our topic being survival first aid, if you are reading this post you are probably a person who is outdoors on a regular basis. This being said, the type of first aid course you select to attend must be one that is geared for wilderness first aid. In a wilderness or survival first aid situation, you may not have access to immediate medical care, paramedics or equipment.

This means that the course you go on needs to impart skills that are appropriate for the wilderness. The course should include the skills mentioned below, but also ideas on improvising equipment form the things you can find around you and ideas on how to self-rescue!

One of the best places to get this kind of education is doing a first aid course with a fire department, mountain rescue association or another organisation that specializes in wilderness first aid.

When I was operating as a safari guide in a big 5 game area, the first aid course we attended was geared to that environment and included dealing with possible wild animal attacks, and ways to carry patient out of dangerous situations.

Some of the key survival first aid skills you need to know and should be part of your training include the following.

General Cuts And Scrapes

General cuts and scrapes are generally not considered of much consequence in our day to day lifestyles. When you are out and about in the wilderness, however, these minor injuries will need more attention in order to prevent them becoming more serious and hampering your survival.

They key to treating these type of injuries in the wilderness is to keep them clean. Alcohol swabs work well to clean such wounds and they can then be protected with a plaster or bandage, depending on the severity. The wound should also be cleaned and disinfected more often to limit the risk of infection.

Last update was on: June 4, 2020 3:59 am

Severe Bleeding

Blood loss can be a major inhibiting factor in a survival situation. Blood loss can cause a person to become weak and unable to travel, and severe bleeding can even cause death. Due to the fact that you may be some distance from medical support, you need to have the knowledge on how to stop bleeding as one of the survival first aid skills you need to know!

As part of learning this skill, you need to understand the principles behind stopping a bad bleed so that you can apply your knowledge to improvise items you may have on you or that you can find, to stop the flow.  

Broken Bones

Broken bones are a difficult situation to deal with at the best of times and therefore even more difficult when in the wilderness.

The treatment will depend which limb has the broken bone and how bad the break is. A broken finger, or hand may not be as serious as a broken ankle or leg, which may hinder the injured person’s ability to walk and possibly prevent them moving altogether.

These types of injuries will require specialized skills and knowledge in wilderness situations in order to ensure safety and survival.

There are ways of bandaging and improvising support for broken or fractured bones which can minimize pain and movement of the limb and still promote mobility.

Other skills that are necessary to learn are how to improvise splints to immobilise bad breaks and to make tools to keep you moving such as crutches.


Sprains, particularly of the ankle, are a frequent injury in the wilderness especially when hiking in rugged terrain. There are bandaging techniques that can offer the affected joint support and a certain amount of pain relief, while still keeping you mobile.  

Neck Injuries

Neck injuries are dangerous, potentially crippling and sometimes fatal if not treated correctly. This is an important concern if the patient has to be moved to rescue them from the environment or move them out of danger from wild animals.

Moving a person with a neck injury can make the situation worse very quickly, causing paralysis or death.

Learning how to immobilse a patient to protect the integrity of the spinal cord is an important survival first aid skill you need to know.

As part of this knowledge, you need to have the skill of situational awareness and how to evaluate the best measure for getting help to the injured person. Do you leave them and go for help, do you stay and wait for rescue? These types of scenarios are important to cover in a wilderness first aid course.

Head Injuries

Head injuries can range from mild to severe. Knowing how to determine the severity of the head injury and taking appropriate measures can help in preventing the injury and the situation from getting worse.

Do you know what to do if a person sustains a concussion and how best to treat it? Likewise how do you treat a person with a head injury who is confused, delirious, and in some cases trying to fight off your attempts to offer treatment?


Shock is often called the silent killer when it comes to injuries. Learning how to identify the symptoms of the onset of shock and taking measures early on is definitely one of the survival first aid skills you need to know.

A patient going in to shock may show the following symptoms.

  • Cool, clammy skin, pale or ashen skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting

As a basic treatment in the field, you can lay the person down, if possible. Do not elevate the head. Elevate the person’s feet about 12 inches unless you suspect head, neck, or back injuries, or you suspect broken hip or leg bones. Turn the person on side if he or she is vomiting or bleeding from the mouth.

Shock can be a symptom of serious underlying injuries and it is important to seek professional medical help as soon as possible.

Last update was on: June 4, 2020 3:59 am


Dehydration can sneak up on you in the wilderness and can be a killer! Wherever possible it is best to prevent dehydration from occurring in the first place by drinking often. Drink a liter every time you stop to refill your water supply. This will keep you hydrated. Drink no matter the weather. Staying hydrated in cold weather is just as important as in hot weather. Being dehydrated in cold weather will make you cold faster!

It is advisable to carry oral rehydration sachets in your wilderness first aid kit to help replace fluids, salts and minerals in a person suffering from dehydration.

If you only have water available, get the person to sit downin the shade and rest. Take small but frequent sips of water to rehydrate. Get the person to eat a salty snack if available to replace lost salts.

Dealing With The Danger Of Wild Animals

This topic is often not covered in urban based first aid courses, but is a topic that should be part of a wilderness first aid course.

Where I live, when you venture outdoors away from civilization, there are any number of dangerous animals you can encounter, from snakes to lions! Knowing how to handle a situation where someone is injured by an animal which still could be in the vicinity is definitely one of the survival first aid skills you need to know.

Snakebites in particular could be a regular occurrence and you need to know how to treat this injury without causing further damage. There are many fallacies and “old wives tales” on how to treat snake bites that simply do not work and have the potential to only make the situation worse.

One such treatment that comes to mind is the situation that you see in old cowboy movies where the snakebite is cut open with a knife and the venom sucked out. This practice is dangerous and ineffectual and should not be attempted.

Last update was on: June 4, 2020 3:59 am


As with any encounter in the wilderness, knowledge is key to improving your ability and chances of getting home safely. In the case of first aid, there is no substitute for a good wilderness first aid course that will equip you with the skills to help you or a friend survive!

Frank is an allround outdoorsman who has experience in homesteading, bushcraft and African wildlife, particularly snakes which he has a passion for. Frank has worked as a safari guide in well-known big 5 game reserves in South Africa and enjoys photography and knifemaking as hobbies.

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