An important part of preparing for emergencies in the backcountry is knowing how to improvise solutions when things go wrong.
When you have a patient with a limb you need to immobilize, you can probably find the materials to make a good splint with a few simple items from your pack!
A Puffy Jacket or Base layers
Use your puffy jacket or the base layers you packed for a pelvic sling or for padding in an improvised splint. Small base layers like socks work great rolled up to hold fingers in a position of function. Larger base layers, like long sleeved shirts and scarves, can work well as slings for upper body splints. Remember not to sacrifice the much-needed layers you’re using to avoid becoming a part of the problem—use the patient’s layers instead!
Sticks or Trekking Poles
Create rigidity with trekking poles or the supplies nature provides: sticks and branches, when sturdy, make great tools for a rigid splint.
Camping Mattresses or Sleeping Pads
When deflated just enough to become maneuverable, camping mattresses and sleeping pads are great for providing stability, immobilization, and padding. Be sure to leave extremities exposed to allow for CSMs (circulation, sensation, and movement) to be easily monitored. Loosely place socks, mittens, or hat over fingers or toes if it’s chilly out!
Tarp or Ground Cloth
Large sheets of material, such as the NOLS Thelma Fly, tarps or ground cloths, work great to wrap a splint into one large, svelte package.
Nylon Cord or Rope
Secure an improvised splint with nylon cord or rope you brought along. Remember to tie secure bows, not tight knots, so that the splint is easily adjustable and doesn’t create pressure points for your patient.
A small and easy-to-pack essential, ACE wrap is ideal for compressing and packaging a splint.
A hungry patient does not equal a happy patient. 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!