A thousand ways to die

Submitted by Thorsten on 5th July 2018

When I get new gear or learn a new set of skills, I am keen to try that out quickly and put my knowledge into practice. However, there is one notable exception, and that is first aid and emergencies. I sincerely hope I will never have to apply my skills in those areas for real. Unfortunately, hoping you’ll never need to know about it is not an excellent approach to the topic of personal safety. For any kind of adventure, you should put in the time and effort to train for emergencies and to prepare your gear.

Usually, the average person doesn’t have a great idea of how to best approach outdoors first aid on their own. I certainly didn’t. Luckily, experts are teaching such things, so I started looking for courses. The first thing I realised about outdoors first aid is that it is very different from what you learn when you do a first aid course with your company or for your driver’s license. The environment you operate in will be very different. Most notably professional help will not be just 15 minutes away, as it would on the streets or in your office. Sometimes it may take hours for help to arrive, or they may not even be able to get to you at all for a day. Helping an unconscious person is trivial in the office. It will be a bit more tricky when they are dangling on a rope on a mountainside in 20 mph winds.

So it is good to look for classes tailored to your planned adventuring activities or to get as close to that as possible. To give you a couple of ideas, the ÖAV Academy (German) offers dedicated first aid courses for climbing, winter activities, or seniors in addition to their general outdoors first aid course, as well as specialised courses on avalanche and crevasse training. If you are going for actual expeditions, you may want to search for courses in expedition medicine, which go far beyond of what a basic first aid course would cover. Those classes usually include lessons on medication and advanced wound treatment, which would typically be performed by rescue professionals. However, once you’re stuck in the middle of Greenland in a whiteout, and professionals can’t reach you for a week, you want to know about those things yourself instead. In addition to classes dealing with helping an injured person, there are also tons of courses out there dealing with emergency management and group dynamics, which is especially helpful to know if you are leading an inexperienced group.

Now, unfortunately, most of us have day jobs and limited money, so you can’t just do all these exciting courses. Knowing what is really important for you is the next step in preparation. How can you tell? Well, in some cases it is immediately apparent. But I like to back up my decisions with data, so I am a fan of doing a risk assessment. A risk assessment is just a list of things that can go wrong. A thousand ways to die, if you want. Of course, you shouldn’t only include fatal risks. You classify scenarios by their severity and their likelihood to occur and then write down measures to mitigate the risk. Based on those measures, you can then see which skills you need to learn, and which equipment you need to get. Pretty simple really. A risk assessment is not only useful for first aid but also really useful in making a general kit list. Will lost mittens be an inconvenience or will it mean you have to abandon the expedition? In the latter case, you better take a spare. The good news is that you can find tons of prepared spreadsheets for risk assessments online, you don’t have to do everything on your own.

Once you’ve listed all the bad things that may happen to you, and have acquired the respective skills and equipment to mitigate those risks, you can still hope you never need to apply your knowledge. But at least you will undoubtedly feel more comfortable going out there, knowing you are well prepared for emergencies.

Check what’s part of my first aid kit in my first aid kit list.

A thousand ways to die


Keen hiker and ÖAV trekking and hiking guide, in love with Nansen. Owner of the most walk-averse rescue dog ever. Ice cream lover, kit junkie, runner and mad software genius.