Monday, October 21, 2013

Wilderness First Aid

This weekend I took a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course offered through UGA's Outdoor Recreation Program. This was my third time taking WFA since certification expires ever two years.  But each time I get something new out of the experience.

I first took WFA because it was required for trip leaders for my hiking club, but its worthwhile for everyone that spends extended time in the backcountry.  

WFA teaches lay people (non-medical) to respond to injuries or illnesses that occur where help is one to several hours away.  Of course a 16 hour class can only cover basic medical techniques.  But really the most important things we learn are the decision making process and leadership skills, and how to identify life threatening injuries, stabilize the patient, and get help or get the person to safety.  The training involves a mix of lecture, discussion, and (my favorite) role-playing scenarios to practice our skills.  You'd have been surprised how serious we took the scenarios-- there was fake vomit, wounds made with magic marker, and some excellent acting (not mine!).

Another thing we learn is what questions to ask the patient, how to take vitals, and how to document the information that can be critical for the medical professionals- really helpful to know. 

There is also an emphasis on prevention- similar to what is covered under plan ahead and prepare of Leave No Trace Trainer courses.  We talked about things like ways to assess the skill levels of the group and knowing pre-existing conditions and allergies.

One piece of advice: take this class your hiking partner or coleader.  Both so you can have someone to review with, and to talk over some of the serious stuff.  It can be emotionally charged to role play what it would be like if someone were to be seriously injured on a hike.  I also found myself reviewing all the incidences and mishaps I've encountered over the years on the trail.  Nevertheless, it feels empowering to learn and review safety skills, even though I really hope I never have to use them.

For more information:

Find a WFA program in your area on the American Red Cross webpage.

What to find out what's covered in the course?  Download the pdf of the Reference Guide here.


  1. Congratulations on once again achieving your WFA certification! I'm hoping to have the money to go for my Wilderness First Responder certification this upcoming year myself. I work in outdoor education which makes a WFR more useful but the WFA certification is a good idea for anyone who spends a lot of time in the woods.

  2. Would really enjoying hearing about the WFR if you take it. I'd like to do that eventually too- but is definitely a lot more expensive.