When you are in civilisation, minor injuries and illnesses are fairly easily dealt with and may not affect you much. When you are out hiking in the bush, they can become major inconveniences, impacting on your enjoyment and ability to finish the trip. Being prepared can make all the difference.
Knowledge of first aid procedures could save your life or the lives of those around you. Do a first aid course with an accredited training provider.
Carry a first aid kit. At a minimum you should carry the following:
- Non-stick dressings
- Gel filled blister pads
- Compression bandage (for snake or spider bite)
- Triangular bandage
- Disposable gloves
- Fine pointed tweezers
- Saline solution
- Antiseptic swabs
- Painkillers (eg, paracetamol)
Carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to summon help in case of a serious life-threatening accident.
Medication and existing conditions
A medical condition or phobia should not discourage you from bushwalking. What is important is that you are properly prepared for any situation that may arise, and only undertake trips that are compatible with your condition.
Check with the leader that the hike is suitable for you, for example, along cliff tops would be difficult for a person with a fear of heights. The leader may be able to modify the trip to avoid your problem.
Take any necessary medications to deal with the condition. Asthma sufferers should take an inhaler like Ventolin. People with serious allergies should take an Epipen. Angina sufferers should carry their spray or tablets. Diabetes sufferers need to have something for hypoglycaemia.
Tell the leader of any non-obvious conditions that may arise. For example, if you are allergic to bee stings, make sure the leader knows this and what to do if you do get stung.
Trips and falls
Wear rubber-soled walking boots or joggers with a deep tread to get a good grip on rock or in muddy conditions. This will help prevent trips and falls. A pair of trekking poles may assist with balance. Trekking poles also take pressure off knee joints. A pair is preferable to a single pole.
Wounds and scratches
Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants or gaiters to prevent scratches while hiking in dense scrub. Prevent infection by washing wounds and scratches with water to remove bacteria. Cover the wound with a bandaid or dressing.
Bad blisters can cripple you, and make walking out extremely painful. Prevent blisters by making sure your footwear and socks are appropriate.
Stop at the first sign of rubbing (a hotspot) and deal with the problem immediately. All leaders would prefer to wait a few minutes while you deal with your feet than to have to help you hobble out with bad blisters.
Gel-filled blister pads like Compeed ® are remarkably effective in cushioning the skin and preventing further damage. They come in several sizes, so make sure you have some big enough to cover the hotspot completely. Bigger is better than too small.
Make sure to apply them according to the instructions, especially that your foot is dry. If you already have a burst blister, make sure to clean the wound thoroughly before applying the blister pad, and apply antiseptic if you have any. They can be left on for several days.
Never drink untreated water on a bushwalk. Treatment methods include water purification tablets, filtration systems, LifeStraw® filter or UV light from a battery powered SteriPEN®. A camping supplier can advise on the best option for your proposed use and budget. Alternatively, bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute to remove all bacteria. However, boiling water with blue green algae in it is unwise, as the process bursts the cysts and releases more toxin into the water. Some water filter brands such as Sawyer and Rapid Pure also claim to filter green algae. Consult suppliers and product reviews before making a decision. For more information on green algae see the ACT Government factsheet.
It is easy to forget basic hygiene rules on a hiking or camping trip when there is no running water. Unwashed hands can result in transmission of Covid-19, gastroenteritis, hepatitis or other unpleasant diseases. Ensure you wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before preparing or eating food. Alternatively, use a sanitising wipe or lotion.
Do not go to the toilet within 100 metres of a creek or river. Dig a 20 cm deep hole with a small shovel or trowel obtainable from camping suppliers, and bury all faeces. Bury or burn toilet paper. Wash your hands before handling food.
For more information, see the lotsafreshair website.
On car camps you can use a camping shower, which is a black plastic bag filled with water and heated in the sun. Be careful using them, as the water can reach almost boiling on hot days. On an overnight pack walk many walkers use cleansing baby wipes to remove dirt and bacteria. Make sure to take them out with you, as they are not biodegradable.
Bring more sanitary items than you think you will need and take them home with you to dispose in the garbage after a trip. Pack resealable plastic zip lock bags for this purpose. Never dispose of sanitary items in the bush.
For more information, see (Not so*) Secret Women’s Business by lotsafreshair.