First aid for cuts, scrapes and other injuries

By Jenilee Matz, MPH Sep 26, 2023 • 6 min

Hiking and camping are some of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors. However, injuries such as cuts and scrapes can happen when you're exploring the wilderness. Learn what you can do to prepare for these mishaps and how to treat minor injuries when you're away from home.

Be prepared

It's a good idea to take special precautions to reduce your chance of getting injured when you're hiking or camping. Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Wear proper shoes and clothing for hiking, such as sturdy boots and layered clothing
  • Watch your step when walking on uneven terrain
  • Avoid going near wild animals
  • Know how to identify poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, and do not come into contact with these plants

It's important to be up to date on your tetanus vaccine before spending time outdoors. Tetanus is a rare but serious disease caused by spores of bacteria in the environment. These spores live in soil and can enter the body through cuts and scrapes, and they can lead to infection.

First aid kit checklist

Packing a proper first aid kit is also a must when you'll be spending time outside away from home. You can invest in a first aid kit that's already assembled, or build your own using this checklist as a guide:

  • Hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol or antibacterial hand wipes
  • Bandages in various sizes
  • Disposable gloves
  • Antiseptic wound cleaner
  • Antibacterial or antifungal ointments
  • Sterile dressing pads to apply to a wound to stop bleeding
  • Nonadherent sterile dressings to cover lacerations, blisters or burns
  • Gauze roll or adhesive tape to hold dressings in place
  • Rubberized bandages to wrap wound dressings or support injured joints
  • Trauma scissors (which have a blunt end) to cut adhesive tape or clothing away from a wound
  • Tweezers to remove ticks, splinters or debris from cuts
  • Digital thermometer
  • Bottled water
  • Over-the-counter pain relieversantihistamines for allergies, aloe gel for sunburns and 1% hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching from insect bites or poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac
  • A wilderness first aid booklet with instructions on how to care for injuries

First aid for cuts and scrapes

Follow these steps to properly care for a wound:

  1. Wash your hands well with soap and water to help prevent infection. When soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes. Then put on disposable gloves and try not to touch the wound directly with your fingers.
  2. Control the bleeding. If the wound has not stopped bleeding on its own, apply gentle, direct pressure with a clean bandage or cloth to stop the bleeding.
  3. Carefully clean the wound. Check the wound for dirt and other debris, and gently remove foreign objects with sterile tweezers. Once the wound has stopped bleeding, rinse it with clean or bottled water. Clean around the wound with water and soap or an antiseptic wound cleaner. Consider applying a thin layer of an antibiotic ointment to keep the wound moist and reduce the risk of scarring.
  4. Cover the wound. Gently pat the wound dry with a clean cloth. Then cover the wounded area with an adhesive bandage. Note that if you get injured and don't have a proper first aid kit with cleaning supplies, you should not cover a wound. Wounds that aren't cleaned well can trap bacteria and lead to infection. Leave unclean wounds, punctures and bites open until you can clean the injured area.

After you've cared for the wound, check it every 24 hours. Seek medical attention right away if your wound:

  • Has a foreign object, such as metal, wood or soil embedded in it.
  • Is the result of an animal bite.
  • Is the result of a puncture from a dirty object.
  • Looks infected. Symptoms of infection include pain, soreness, redness, draining or a fever. You should also get medical help if you have symptoms of sepsis, such as confusion, disorientation, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, fever, shivering, intense pain, or clammy or sweaty skin.

Before you go hiking or camping, make sure you are prepared with proper supplies, including a first aid kit, and are up to date on your tetanus shot. Cuts, scrapes and other minor injuries are common, and knowing how to care for them can help prevent infection.

Clinically reviewed and updated September 2023.

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