Injuries and illnesses that may be a quick fix in the city become much more complicated in the wilderness. If you currently spend a lot of time outside, or are considering getting outside more in the future, it’s worth taking a wilderness first aid class.
Originally this post was title “should you take a wilderness first aid class?” but honestly I couldn’t think of a single reason why the answer would be “no”.
So instead, in this post I’m going to help you choose which wilderness medicine course is right for you.
What is a wilderness first aid class?
In a wilderness first aid class, students learn about standard and emergency first aid in the wild. Students are meant to learn how to respond to an emergency in the field and when to evacuate someone.
I’ve used some wilderness medical professional jargon here: “in the field” is the term medical professionals use when they’re out in the wilderness. “Evacuate” means getting someone out of the field and into the care of an Emergency Response Team.
What you learn in a wilderness first aid class is applicable to the majority of environments you will find yourself in. During the course you’ll run medical scenarios as if you were in the wilderness.
For example, scenarios might involve paddling accidents, mountain biking crashes, climbing falls, illness while hiking and much more. I’ve done all my training through The Wilderness Medical Associates (also known as WildMed).
They have several levels of courses depending on the extent of training you require. WildMed is an industry leader on wilderness medicine and the most universally recognized course provider.
What are the different types of wilderness first aid classes?
The main difference between wilderness medicine courses is how long the course is. They all teach the basics, but with a longer course you’ll learn about more types of illnesses and injuries, practice more scenarios and recieve a higher level of certification.
Read This Next: How to build your own Wilderness First Aid Kit
Wilderness First Aid (WFA)
This course is good for outdoor enthusiasts doing short trips. You learn basic first aid skills and how to decide if something is an emergency or not. This course is short and tends to be done over a weekend.
This course is right for you if you:
- Like to spend the occasional weekend hiking and paddling in the nearby national park
- Like to go on a full day hike or two when you’re out traveling or with friends and family
- Won’t be responsible for anyone else’s safety
- Won’t be in remote areas where help could take over two hours to reach you
Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA)
This level is often a minimum requirement for people working as guides in Canada, United States and similar countries. It is a 40-hour course that goes into more detail about treatments and procedures related to wilderness injury and illness.
This is the course I most often recommend to people. This course is right for you if you:
- Like to go on week long hiking or paddling trips in remote areas (like national and provincial parks with minimal infrastructure and services)
- Will be responsible for other people’s safety (like your friends or your kids)
- Want to have greater confidence in the outdoors
- Are considering getting into wilderness guiding
Wilderness First Responder (WFR)
This course is extremely thorough and requires a minimum of 80-hours of class. It is especially helpful for those leading trips in very remote environments due to its emphasis on prolonged treatment (managing major injuries or illnesses when an evacuation could take a lot of time).
For most people, the training in WAFA is sufficient, however if you’re looking for employment in outdoor adventure or doing highly skilled trips, this course is great. (This is the level of training I have).
This course is right for you if you:
- Do long trips or expeditions in remote places where help may take several hours (or even days) to reach you
- Are directly responsible for the safety of other people
- Will be entering a career in wilderness guiding
This course targets medical professionals looking to incorporate elements of wilderness medicine into their practice It is especially popular among EMS, and search and rescue. This course is right for you if:
- You are a medical professional looking to develop wilderness medicine skills
Read This Next: Wilderness Medicine: high-risk vs low-risk evacuations
Beyond Wilderness Medicine – Mountains, Rivers, Sea and More
Specific recreational activities involve different risks. For example, most of my guiding takes place on rivers, so it was necessary for me to get the Whitewater Rescue Technician qualification.
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This course taught me rescue techniques specific to running rapids by canoes and kayaks, like freeing pinned boats, swimming in rapids and rescuing people trapped in rapids.
In addition, before engaging in high risk outdoor recreation, it helps to improve your skills to prevent emergencies in the first place. I got my Moving Water 1 and 2 qualification from Paddle Canada, which helped further develop my paddling competencies.
Hundreds of qualifications and courses are available for whatever activities you engage in, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be trained to handle whatever situations might pop up.
Paddling, medicine, open water, alpine, rock climbing and dozens of other activities all have courses and qualifications you can get to improve your skills and be prepared.
Disclaimer: I am not an instructor for wilderness medicine courses. This post is not a substitute for proper training.