Have you ever wondered how you might cope if you had to deal with an emergency outdoors? Here we look at what you might safely do even if you have no training in outdoor first aid

HM Coastguard attending to a call out on Crib Goch April 2017

1. Assess the scene and consider sticking on a pair of gloves

The first thing to realise is that you are probably the most important person in this situation. You are presumably uninjured and in a position to help. With this in mind don’t make yourself a casualty by just getting stuck in. Additionally if there’s any blood involved do think about the dangers of cross-infection. Maybe taking the time at this stage to stick on a pair of gloves will be all it takes to take in the scene and to consider any possible hazards – road vehicles, falling rock, hazardous terrain etc

2. Shout quickly for help

It’s likely that a shout for help will make things easier for you – so long as the help that arrives knows more than you!

3. Roll any and all unconscious casualties onto their side

Presuming you have no first aid skills here we’ll keep this dead basic. If there is any casualty that is unconscious making no noises – turn them onto their side now. By rolling them onto their side and giving them a stable open draining airway you will give them every opportunity to breathe.

4. Now check for and deal with anyone that is bleeding heavily

In the outdoors people wear waterproof clothing which can obscure heavy blood loss. In addition to that it might be raining, or the ground may be porous and so any blood may just seep into the soil. So be thorough looking for blood loss. Feel for pooling of blood in the waterproofs and if necessary unzip them and look carefully. If there is any blood loss apply direct pressure to the wound with whatever you have to hand. Elevating the wound above the heart will help casualties who’s bleeding is not severe.


2 day ITC Outdoor First Aid Courses coming up
Revalidate NGB Awards – MIA, ML, SPA, BCU, BASI, HF holidays leaders & more

5. Broken bones?

Keep the casualty still – and assure them that you’ll take good care to see that help gets to them as soon as possible.

6. Treat all casualties for hypothermia

It doesn’t really matter what time of year it is, if anyone is outside long enough they will get cold at some point. So, especially on any day but a really hot summer’s day think about how to insulate and protect your casualty from the environment. Maybe sit or lie them on an empty pack to protect them from the ground. Are they wearing a hat and gloves, or at least are their head and hands protected from the elements? Are there any more layers that they could be wearing?

7. Call or text 999

If you’re reading this now then do these two steps now (literally could be a life-saver)

i. Download the OS Locate app to your phone. This app will quickly give you your grid reference even without any signal.

ii. Register your mobile phone with the emergency services before an emergency happens. (Important: You will need to register again if you change your mobile phone number).

With a six figure grid reference to hand (including the two letter map code) contact the emergency services. If you are at any location where a vehicle can’t get to you, you will need a mountain rescue team, or lowland rescue team to rescue the casualty. You can do this by calling 999 and asking for the police. When you speak to the call handler tell them what has happened and give them your grid reference. When they ask for your phone number give them yours AND any other phone numbers for people with you. (This will maximise the chances of someone being able to get back to you).

Texting 999

If an emergency happens you should only use SMS text message to contact the emergency services if you have no other option.  This is because it will take longer than other methods such as calling 999. (You must register with the service beforehand).

Create an SMS message containing the details below:

Which service do you require? Need Ambulance, Coastguard, Fire Rescue, or Mountain Rescue/Police
What? Briefly, what is the problem?
Where? Exactly where is it?
Give the name of road and town / six figure grid reference
Plus more information like: house number; or nearby landmarks or main roads

For example your SMS text message might read:

‘ambulance. man having a heart attack. outside post office. school lane baslow’ or

‘police mountain rescue. man broken ankle. Froggatt edge SK251761’

If you include this information the emergency services will not have to ask as many questions and will be able to respond quicker.

Be as accurate as possible when giving the location. The better your information is, the faster the emergency services will be able to respond.

The emergency service will reply to you asking either for more information or telling you that help is on the way.

Do not assume that your message has been received until you get a message back from the emergency service, an SMS ‘Delivery Report’ does not mean your message has been received.

It can take around 2 minutes for you to get a reply to your emergency message. If you have not received a reply within 3 minutes then send another message straight away.

8. Stay calm and talk nicely

In all liklihood you will never have to so much as put a bandage on someone. But every time you deal with someone who has had accident you will always need to talk nicely to them. Even an unconscious casualty may be able to hear you. And remember, stay calm.


These advanced 4 day expedition first aid courses are aimed at training outdoor professionals and travellers who operate overseas in wilderness environments that are far from help.

More articles on Outdoor First Aid

Will Legon (of Will4Adventure.com) works professionally in the outdoors leading groups walking and instructing single pitch rock climbing. Since 2009 Will has been delivering first aid training specialising in outdoor first aid courses. He is an ITC (Immediate Temporary Care) trainer, offering a range of courses accredited by Ofqual and the SQA. In a former life, Will was a maths teacher and an infantry officer in the Territorial Army.

Further training for the outdoors

Will4Adventure are specialists in outdoor first aid running regular courses every month.