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Survival / May 29, 2016

Wilderness First Aid: Why You Need To Take This Course

Written by: Devon Balet

We as athletes and adventurers do countless things to set ourselves up for success. From having a training routine to having a nutritionist to making sure we have the best gear available to us. All these things we do to make sure everything goes right, but what happens when everything goes wrong?

It is Friday evening and you and your best riding buddy have just arrived at your favorite local trailhead. Cracking a beer, the two of you stuff your packs with random items such as an extra layer for warmth and a light just in case your ride goes longer. You are both excited to get out on the trail as the work week comes to a close. Looking out you notice some big dark clouds lingering in the distance, but think nothing of it.

As the two of you take off down the trail to start the ride, you hear a faint yell behind you. Looking back you don’t see your friend on the trail any longer. Turning quickly and returning up the trail, you find your friend has tumbled off the trail. Yelling repeatedly down to him, your friend does not respond and appears unconscious. What are you going to do?

One of the first things you learn in a WFA course is to evaluate the scene. Is it safe? The last thing you want is to add yourself to the list of injured.

The fact of the matter is that if you spend any amount of time outside, this scenario could quickly become reality. Chances for things to go bad quickly rise as soon as you put yourself into a wilderness setting. Help is typically not as quick to come and the probability of complications increases.

Personally, I am constantly putting myself into dangerous situations. Be that a mountain bike ride or backpacking into the wilderness, these activities inherently bring dangers. While these dangers are always present, I feel quite lucky and frankly have skated by fairly unscathed through my years of going on adventures and stepping out into the wilderness.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “But I don’t go out into the wilderness.” That does not necessarily need to mean you are hours and hours away from help. It could simply be your local trail network. Anything beyond an hour from a care facility is considered wilderness when it comes to medical care. Think about how long it would take for you to drive to the nearest hospital. Would it take an hour or more? Than you are in the wilderness.

Badly broken bones happen on the bike. Knowing how to set a bone and make a correct sling can greatly decrease the chances of complications. Photo by Seth Beckton

Your friend is unconscious. What will you do first? Photo by Seth Beckton

Take the scenario at the beginning for an example. As you yell down to your friend and they are not responding, what are you going to do next? You approach them and now you can tell that they are not breathing. Quickly this situation has become extreme and there is no time for you to call and wait for help. You are going to have to act.

But what are you going to do? Do you have the necessary training and understanding of what needs to happen first, second and third in a situation like this? Do you have the tools and materials to help your friend if they were to severely break their arm or get cut and start bleeding profusely? What if you are out on your own, and you injury yourself and the only way to get out is to fix yourself?

While my extreme example may be rare, it is still very possible. The knowledge and power you gain from getting the needed skills to help your friend in this situation are priceless. Recently I took this message to heart and enrolled myself in a Wilderness First Aid course. The experience was one that was far more eye opening than I ever imagined and here is why you should enroll in something similar.

  • Knowledge Is Power- Knowing what to do in a wide variety of medical situations is beyond valuable. Simple things like how to split a broken arm, or help a friend that is choking can be the difference between a story that is shared and laughed about later and one people want to forget.


Knowing the proper technique to move someone that is injured is of upmost importance.

  • You Are The Only Person You Should Depend On- While this may be a grave outlook, it is true. If you can’t depend on yourself, who can you depend on? Also, if you frequent the outdoors alone this is even more true. Accidents happen, no one wants them to happen, but having the needed skills in your back pocket can be life saving.

Weather plays a huge role in added dangers during a rescue. Getting your patient out of the environment is crucial. Photo by Seth Beckton

Photo by Seth Beckton

  • Theories Are Changing- Just like technology in any sporting industry, the theories and techniques are changing in the medical world. Keeping up to date is just as important as getting the knowledge to begin with.
  • Live Scenarios- Every First Aid or CPR course comes with countless live scenarios where you act out possible situations that are common on the trail and in wilderness. These live scenarios are crucial for gaining knowledge as well as helping you keep your cool when the scenario is real and the acting is over.


Real life scenarios are a must when learning first aid.

CPR techniques have continued to change over the past several years. Keeping yourself up to date ensures you are offering the best help possible.

  • Nothing Can Replace Classroom Time- Having a trained professional lead your course offers you countless first hand experiences from their teaching. Not only are you getting the knowledge they have used but also trained to teach.


  • The More People That Know The Better- Are you thinking, “Every event I go to has a medical team on sight, they have me covered right?” While that may be true there are PLENTY of situations where the help from a medical team may not be fast enough for the situation. Imagine a mountain bike race course that is lined with spectators that all have Wilderness First Aid training. Sounds like a safe environment, doesn’t it?

The skills and knowledge you gain from taking a Wilderness First Aid course is a lot like an insurance policy. You will hopefully never have to use them, but if you do, at least you have taken the time to learn the basics. It is these basics that could make the difference between life and death.

The course I took was offered through a Colorado based company called Backcountry Lifeline. With Boulder, Colorado as home, the organization aims to offer training, tools, and technology to mountain bikers. BCLL offers basic first aid courses and cpr training during Snowmass and Crested Butte Big Mountain Enduro races and is quickly expanding. To learn more about Backcountry Life Line visit their website.

about the author

Devon Balet

Born and raised in Colorado and living in the outdoors with a bike between his legs and a camera in hand, Devon discovered mountain biking after he started working at a bike shop at age 14.

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