By Aspen Ambulance Chief of Emergency Medical Services and Critical Care Paramedic, Gabriel Muething, P-CC, F-PC
As a critical care paramedic and leader of Aspen Ambulance, I’ve seen my fair share of injuries, both in the ambulance and in the field. And beyond that, as a dad to twin boys raised in the mountains, my wife and I have certainly made our fair share of trips to the emergency room. As a family, one of our more harrowing experiences happened hiking up Castle Peak in Montezuma Basin by Ashcroft. We encountered a climber who had fallen and sustained a head injury and multiple lacerations. My wife and I and our boys who – were 10 at the time, worked as a team to stop the bleeding and assist the climber to a place where he could be met by Mountain Rescue. Now 18, our sons always carry first aid kits.
The Roaring Fork Valley provides plenty of ways to play, and sometimes, our adventures result in accidents. In my time as a paramedic, there is one item I like to tell everyone they should carry in their first aid kit: prevention. It might seem obvious, but it’s worth considering before we head for the trail, bike park, backcountry ski slope, nearest 14-er, or river float. Many injuries we encounter in the ambulance or in the hospital can be avoided by simple prevention strategies.
Simple Prevention Strategies to Avoid Outdoor Recreation Injuries
- Wear your helmet. Skiing, biking, climbing, or kayaking, a helmet affords truly lifesaving protection. Please don’t leave home without yours! Worried about looking uncool on the cruiser bike or out on the trail? Don’t be. “Helmet hair” is the sign of a true local.
- And your sunglasses. As the saying goes, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” In addition to the benefits of protecting your eyes from the intensity of the sun at high altitudes, sunglasses are also your first line of defense from a tree branch or fishing hook. Make sure to wear yours whether you’re out hiking or biking.
The Benefits of Learning First Aid
Basic first aid for mountain activities is a key ingredient to outdoor fun. It can mean the difference between a good day and a really bad one, or having to call the ambulance or not. There are quite a few options for learning first aid, including online and in-person courses. If you can take an in-person class, I recommend it. It allows you to actually use the items in your kit in a non-stressful training environment. But if time doesn’t allow, the online version is a good option as well.
Additionally, everyone should take a CPR course, and this includes even the younger adventurers in your household. We regularly teach courses to those as young as 12 years old. The new methods of CPR are safer for you and could potentially be lifesaving for someone else.
First Aid Kit Essentials
Whether you buy yours pre-stocked or assemble one yourself, a first aid kit weighs only a few ounces and is a simple assurance against blisters, cuts, and other common minor injuries that might otherwise spoil a day in the mountains. You might want to put together a couple of them, one specific to each of your favorite outdoor activities. I generally keep one in the car for access to and from the trailhead. I have another I can easily stuff into a daypack. And then I have another larger, more comprehensive kit I bring on extended raft trips and multi-day adventures. Beyond having the supplies to prevent a hotspot from becoming a blister or slapping some antibiotic ointment and a band-aid on a scraped knee, your kit could save a stranger’s life.
What are your health goals? Your team of professionals at Aspen Valley Hospital are excited to share their healthcare tips, tricks and local knowhow to fuel your healthy journey in the Roaring Fork Valley.
It’s important to know what’s in your kit and how to use it. Most items in a first aid kit will last for a few years without needing replacement. That said, I recommend inspecting the contents of the kit every season to ensure water, dust, dirt, or snow haven’t damaged any items. I personally use the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series for day hikes and camping trips. The kits come with a compact medical guide to help you address wounds or injuries you may not have much experience with. Once you have a kit, you only have to restock the items you use. For dog owners, they also have an Adventure Dog Series with dog-specific first aid items and a pet medicine guide. If you are going out on the water you can pop these kits into your dry bag.
Here are some First Aid Kit Essentials that won’t weigh you down:
- Tweezers: Nothing ruins a day faster than a pesky splinter or cactus spine stuck in a finger or foot. Tweezers allow a safe method to remove the offending splinter with ease.
- After-Bite Wipes: Bug bites are itchy and annoying. Take away the itch with after-bite wipes. I especially recommend this if you’re overnighting in a tent with kids; getting your child to sleep is much easier if they’re not scratching bug bites.
- Burn Care: What better than a night around a campfire with s’mores? Unfortunately, burns are all too common. Who hasn’t dodged a flaming marshmallow at one time or another? Treat burns by removing the source of the burn and then wrapping it in a clean, dry gauze dressing. You can also use a burn gel and treat pain with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen.
- Moleskin: Blisters are common when hiking in the mountains. The up and down nature of hiking trails can cause blisters to develop in even the most comfortable shoes. Moleskin is cheap and easy to apply. Cut the moleskin in a shape a little larger than the blister and gently press it on. Pro tip: Don’t wait for a blister to develop before applying; as soon as you notice a hot spot, stop hiking and stick on some moleskin. Your feet will thank you.
- Duct Tape: What life-saving list would be complete without duct tape? Wrap a few feet of duct tape around your water bottle to make it easy to carry – no need to throw in the entire roll! Duct tape works well to hold gauze bandages in place, splint a broken finger, fix a broken backpack, or keep blisters at bay. Resist the urge to use on unruly toddlers!
- Personal Medications: If you have been prescribed an inhaler or EpiPen, make sure to carry it with you. Also make sure others in your party know where it is in your first aid kit or on your person. If they haven’t had to use them in a while, many individuals forget their medications at home. Hiking in the forest or even skiing the resorts, away from help, is not the time to forget your EpiPen or inhaler.
- Hydration: Without a doubt, I can tell you that everyone playing in the mountains is dehydrated. Altitude and dry air contribute to constant dehydration and children are not immune. Hydration packs are a great way to allow kids to carry their own water and as a constant reminder to keep drinking. Sugar-free flavored drink mixes are also a good incentive. Try to stay away from soft drinks and sports drinks, as they tend to have excessive sugar. Hydration is elemental to staying healthy and active in the mountains.
Keep in mind how many people are in your group, what kinds of activities you will be doing and how long you plan to be away when you are stocking your kit.