7 Things You Can Use as an Emergency Splint in the Backcountry

Hopefully you never need this, but better safe than sorry.

Things don’t always go as planned in the backcountry and knowing how to improvise solutions when they don’t is an important part of preparing for your next backpacking trip.

If you end up with someone whose limb needs to be immobilized, you can probably dig through your pack to find the materials needed for a good splint. Here are a few ideas that are good to keep in mind:

Photo: Jason Hatfield

1. A Puffy Jacket or Base layers

Roll up small base layers like socks to hold fingers in a position of function. Larger base layers, like long sleeved shirts, puffy jackets and scarves, can work well as slings for upper body splints or as a pelvic sling. Remember to avoid becoming a part of the problem, don’t sacrifice the much-needed layers you’re using. Keep yourself warm enough to continue to help by using the patient’s layers instead.

2. Tarp or Ground Cloth 

Wrap a splint into one large, svelte package using large sheets of material, such as the tarps, ground cloths or the NOLS Thelma Fly.

3. Camping Mattresses or Sleeping Pads

To provide stability, immobilization, and padding, deflate camping mattresses and sleeping pads just enough to become maneuverable and wrap around the area that needs it. Be sure to leave extremities exposed to allow for CSMs (circulation, sensation, and movement) to be easily monitored. If it’s chilly out, loosely place socks, mittens, or hat over fingers or toes to keep them warm.

Photo: Josiah Roe

4. Sticks or Trekking Poles 

Use trekking poles or the supplies nature provides to create rigidity in a splint. If you didn’t pack trekking poles, or did but will need them to hike out, sticks and branches, when sturdy, make great tools for a rigid splint.

5. Nylon Cord or Rope

Secure an improvised splint with nylon cord or rope you brought along. Avoid creating pressure points and ensure you can easily adjust the splint by tying secure bows, not tight knots,

6. ACE Wrap

A small and easy-to-pack essential, ACE wrap is ideal for compressing and packaging a splint.

7. Snacks

Don’t make an injured patient’s experience even worse by letting them get hungry. Boost morale with tasty snacks and make your patient as comfortable as possible.

Stock up on a few of these supplies from the NOLS Store, and learn the appropriate way to put these supplies to use and the ins-and-outs of creating a svelte splint on a NOLS Wilderness Medicine course!

This article was originally written by Sarah Buer for the NOLS blog.

Cover photo: Hunter Day

Published: August 9, 2016

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