As a former Outward Bound Instructor and wildland firefighter (and now as a father of three and a K-12 schoolteacher), I’ve been a certified Wilderness First Responder (WFR) for 16 years. I’ve taken the full 80-hour scenario-based course twice and the 3-day re-cert at least six times. As you can see, an enormous part of the 80-hour curriculum consists of practical scenarios with plenty of moulage. (That’s me with the moustache and tension pneumothorax caused by a stick in the lung.) So what’s the relation to traveling?
“Wilderness medicine” is the treatment of patients in remote settings, whether the Indian Peak Wilderness in my Colorado back yard, or a village in Nicaragua’s Segovia Mountains. For WFR purposes, “wilderness” is defined as one hour or more from definitive medical care, making many of the places we travel extremely qualified for this definition. Knowing how to deal with the medical emergencies of yourself, your traveling partner, or your hosts is, needless to say, a good thing. I have the added incentive of being responsible for groups of participants in these areas, so knowing how to mix oral rehydration salts or splint a leg with a canoe paddle are good steps toward being prepared.
Topics taught in WFR include wound management and infection, realigning fractures and dislocations, information on all environmental emergencies, plus advice on drug therapies. “Emphasis is placed on prevention and decision-making, not the memorization of lists.” The class if offered throughout the year by several organizations around the country, including the Wilderness Medicine Institute and SOLO. If you’re traveling to the backcountry, whether at home or abroad, I highly recommend a little extra knowledge—and some fake blood to keep things fun.