7 Common Backcountry Supplies for an Improvised Splint

Posted by: Sarah Buer on 7/18/16 12:49 PM

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

Clothing layers

Photo from Pexels.

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

Trekking poles

Photo by Iagoarchangel.

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

Sleeping pads

Photo from 4camping.

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

NOLS Thelma Fly

Photo from the NOLS Store.

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


Photo by Becca Parkinson.

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.

ACE Wrap

Practice splint with Ace wrap

Photo by Jared Steinman.

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



Photo by Katherine Boehrer.

A hungry patient does not equal a happy patient. Boost morale with tasty snacks and make your patient as comfortable as possible.

Learn the appropriate way to splint an injured extremity using these supplies on a NOLS Wilderness Medicine course.

Sarah is a Wyoming native, recent Wilderness First Responder graduate, and marketing coordinator for NOLS Wilderness Medicine. When she’s offline she enjoys running, singing and playing guitar, and playing in the mountains