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Tod Schimelpfenig

Tod Schimelpfenig
As a NOLS Instructor since 1973 and a WEMT, volunteer EMT on ambulance and search and rescue squads since the 70s, Tod Schimelpfenig has extensive experience with wilderness risk management. He has used this valuable experience to conduct safety reviews as well as serve as the NOLS Risk Management Director for eight years, the NOLS Rocky Mountain Director for six years, and three years on the board of directors of the Wilderness Medical Society, where he received the WMS Warren Bowman Award for lifetime contribution to the field of wilderness medicine. Tod is the founder of the Wilderness Risk Manager’s Committee, has spoken at numerous conferences on pre-hospital and wilderness medicine, including the Australian National Conference on Risk Management in Outdoor Recreation, and has taught wilderness medicine around the world. He has written numerous articles on educational program, risk management and wilderness medicine topics, and currently reviews articles for the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine. Additionally, he is the author of NOLS Wilderness Medicine and co-author of Risk Management for Outdoor Leaders, as well as multiple articles regarding wilderness medicine. Tod is currently the Curriculum Director of NOLS Wilderness Medicine.

Recent Posts

Using Wilderness Medicine Training as a Recipe for Decision-Making

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 1/14/16 2:00 PM

One of NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt’s endearing habits was challenging students to explain their choices and the principles behind their decisions and techniques. He wouldn’t settle on one best way to do something; he sought the practical and effective way.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for students of first aid and pre-hospital medicine to be taught in absolutes; practices that supposedly work all the time, practices framed as being based on solid evidence but in reality often founded on bronze, not gold standard, science.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, leadership, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Medicine

Does the Lightning Position Really Keep You Safe in a Storm?

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 8/4/15 8:00 AM


Being in a building is the safest place when lightning is near. In the backcountry, seek lower ground first, then use the lightning position. 
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Topics: Expedition Prep, risk management, education, wilderness, backcountry

Case Study: Anxiety or Cardiac Episode?

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 7/10/15 3:39 AM
Preparing to rappel. Photo by Jared Steinman.

The Setting

You're leading a team building day for a group of business people. Today's plan includes rappelling practice.

One participant, fearing the heights and exposure, is reluctant to participate. It took convincing from his co-workers to get him on the rappel over the cliff edge.

He is now 15 feet below the lip of cliff and looks awful. He's red, sweating, breathing hard, and says he is going to pass out. You engage the belay line to take control of his lowering, and try to get him to release the death grip he has on his brake line. This triggers drama: you hear swearing from below as he grabs the main line above his rappel device with both hands. Eventually he lets go and you lower him to the ground.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, Backpacking, case study, Wilderness Medicine, psychological first aid

Hydration Tips for Camping

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 6/26/15 8:00 AM

Adapted from the 2005 issue of The Leader.

Now that summer has officially arrived, we can enjoy the hot temperatures, lush wildflowers and rivers full with snowmelt. It brings to mind the need to stay hydrated.

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Topics: WMI, Backpacking, backcountry, Wilderness Medicine

Snakebites: Here's What to Do [Video]

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 6/19/15 9:23 AM

When the weather warms up, that means the reptiles are out of their winter dens and ready to enjoy some sunshine—just like you, your friends, dogs, and everyone in between.

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Topics: education, backcountry, Wilderness Medicine

Prevention and Self-Awareness: Medicine and Leadership Intertwine

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 5/26/15 2:00 AM

I once heard lightning expert Mary Ann Cooper, M.D. say that the primary risk factor in lightning danger is not the lightning itself; it's the inconvenience of risk mitigation, the unwillingness to change plans in the face of inopportune weather. I've heard altitude illness expert David Shlim, M.D. say that to prevent altitude illness, ambition and schedules must be tamed.

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Topics: leadership, wilderness medicine, WMI, backcountry

To Thaw or Not to Thaw

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 5/19/15 2:00 AM

Photo by AJ Linnell.
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Topics: Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, winter, backcountry, frostbite

Is Urine Sterile? And Other Questions About Using Pee in First Aid

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 5/1/15 12:00 AM

Photo by Max Pixel.

Rarely does a wilderness medicine class go by without someone asking about using urine as a wound irrigating solution, to cool hot people, and for who knows what else. 

Urine on a patient is not the standard of care. Medical professionals would not support this action. Many consider it ineffective, unprofessional and creepy.

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Topics: first aid, wilderness medicine, WMI, backcountry

Two People in a Sleeping Bag

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 4/24/15 1:00 AM

If you teach a class on hypothermia in the wilderness, you are bound to be asked about the value of a warm person snuggling with a cold person in a sleeping bag. Actually, "snuggling" may not be the best word, because, putting aside the giggles, it’s not easy or fun to hug a physically cold person. Snuggling is a necessary task, not a recreational experience.

I’ve been told two people in a sleeping bag to treat hypothermia is the “standard of care” in the wilderness. Actually, it’s not. The science isn’t strongly in its favor. The limited research into body-to-body warming says that it doesn’t help much, but also that it probably doesn’t harm.

Snuggling is better when used for fun rather than as a treatment for hypothermia.
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Topics: wilderness medicine, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

Handwashing, Giardia and Old Tales

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 4/14/15 1:00 AM

There was once a time when we didn’t worry about wilderness water quality. We drank anything flowing clear and cold without disinfecting, and worried only about dark, murky water in the foothills. These halcyon days ended in 1976 when a tale circulated of backpackers in Utah who became ill with “beaver fever” caused by Giardia. The story was founded in an article in a medical journal, making it hard to ignore. We argued, but resistance was futile.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, backcountry

Are You Hypothermic, Or Just Cold and Grouchy?

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 4/6/15 1:00 AM

If you read the medical literature on hypothermia, it’s common to see a threshold for hypothermia at 95°F (35°C). The best I can figure is that this norm was described by British researchers in the 1960s.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, backcountry

Backyard Experiment: Armpits and Frozen Autoinjectors

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 3/30/15 12:00 AM

I recently exchanged emails with a fellow who asked if it was acceptable to freeze the auto-injector in his first aid kit. I told him of course not, you may not have time to thaw the medication. Now curious, I intentionally froze four expired EpiPens® on a minus 22ºF night and timed how long it took to thaw the autoinjectors in my armpit. This is what I found:

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI

3 Things that Drive Me Nuts in Wilderness Medicine Education

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 3/22/15 11:00 PM

What drives me nuts in wilderness medicine education?

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, backcountry

Backcountry Decision-making

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 3/18/15 11:00 PM
WMI students engage in patient care. Photo by Brad Christensen
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Topics: outdoor, wilderness medicine, backcountry

Origins of Wilderness Medicine Programs

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 3/12/15 2:00 AM
Students learn how to utilize different kinds of litters in wilderness medicine on a NOLS course in the 1980s
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Topics: wilderness medicine