Products Reviews

Book Review: Bushcraft First Aid by Dave Canterbury

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I would handle a traumatic situation. I interviewed Tom Kaleta of Blue Force Gear last week about the company’s Micro Trauma Kit NOW! and why he thinks it’s so important to have these tools on hand to deal with the three most common battlefield injuries: airway injuries, lungs that won’t inflate, and massive bleeding. I’ve always carried a few Band-Aids and a basic first-aid kit in my car, but the need to be prepared for injuries goes well beyond that and I more fully understand that now.

While I’m pondering all this, the publication of Dave Canterbury’s new book, written with the help of Jason A. Hunt, “Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care,” is announced. I’ve reviewed Dave’s past two books for this site and I highly recommend them, with some reservations. They are focused on resources on the East Coast, and I’m on the West Coast, so some of the edible foods and tree species he mentions, for instance, are not common here. But beyond that, highly recommended. Read the reviews here:

“Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering & Cooking in the Wild”

“Advanced Bushcraft”

The new book is just what I needed to learn how to take the crucial first steps to being able to help my family or someone I come across who is in distress. Like Tom said in the interview, being able to be a “hero” by stopping someone with a gun who is shooting up a crowd is unlikely, but stumbling across a hiker with a broken leg or a car accident victim is much more likely, and I might actually be able to help them if I had any idea what to do, and the tools to do it with.

If you can, call for first-aid from medical professionals as soon as possible. But if you can’t, follow the procedures in the book using the items you will likely have in a well-planned wilderness bag or advanced first-aid kit. As usual, Dave covers the basics very well, such as remaining calm and being prepared in the first place with the right kind of gear (which he covers). He covers basic powers of observation that you’ll need if you come across an injury scene: see if you can figure out what happened based on situational clues, and making your assessment of the victim. He covers how to safely move a victim, and how to signal for help if you are in a remote area.

Moving into the treatment chapters, Dave covers how to stop bleeding, and how to close a wound using Gorilla Tape. If you don’t have a tourniquet, you can use a piece of rope or paracord and a stick. Gunshot wounds to various body parts and knife and axe wounds are all addressed. Blisters and burns (and trenchfoot) and broken bones are covered in two separate chapters. This isn’t a medical textbook, so Dave doesn’t cover how to set a broken bone. He assumes that you will be providing treatment and then evacuating the patient to get professional medical care as quickly as possible. But I definitely feel that I now have a better understanding of how to deal with broken bones, even a broken thigh bone, by making a traction splint from a walking stick.

Further chapters deal with bleeding and shock, including internal bleeding and heart attack. Chest injuries and breathing (and choking) are covered. He addresses seizures and stroke, and headaches (if you can find willow bark or mint, that can be used to help). Like I said, Dave does a great job of covering the basics. You might not think you need to learn how to do anything to treat a headache, but what about a skull fracture? Dave doesn’t recommend treating many abdominal injuries without professional help as things like open wounds where the intestines are falling out or hernias can be too severe. But Dave does give basic advice that helps you to figure out what to do, such as signs to look for that things are becoming so severe that you need expert help.

After reading this book, you’ll know how to help with allergies or anaphylactic shock. If the issue is too severe to be helped with a basic kit, as with insulin shock (related to diabetes) he will tell you to evacuate immediately. Some of you will want more detailed information about what you CAN do if you CAN’T evacuate, or if you’re dealing with a SHTF situation and there is no 911 to call. In those cases, or if you know you have someone near you with a life-threatening chronic illness such as diabetes, you will have to earn more on your own.

One of the things I really appreciated is that Dave includes medicinal plants along with eight pages of photos. The book ends with a rather lengthy section on plant medicine, which is something I highly recommend everyone learn more about. In particular, learn what plants are in your state, your town, and even in your own backyard. Once you start really observing plants, you will discover that many plants you pass by every day have edible and medicinal uses.

Dave covers things that you might think you already know about, like frostbite or altitude sickness and animal bites (ticks, snakes, spiders). His “real life scenarios” vignettes help you think through what you might do in a real life situation. And what’s great is that many of his observations help you understand a situation more deeply, even if it is something you think you are already familiar with. For instance, did you know that a cucumber smell in the wild means that a snake might be nearby? I didn’t know that before reading this book. Still, pretty much every scenario in the book ends with knowing when to evacuate, or just evacuating at the first possibility. This is not a book for end-of-the-world scenarios where there is no help and you are the medical professional. This is a what to do until you can get to help book.

While it would be helpful to read this book through from cover to cover, an ideal way to use this book would be to keep it in your boat, your hunting cabin, your home bookshelf, in the trunk of your car, and in your bug out bag (or at least photocopies or notes of important sections), so that wherever you are you’ll be able to reference this information.

I particularly find the section on creating my own first-aid kit to be valuable. It lists bandages and dressings, ointments and medications, and tools in a checklist format that can help you be prepared for many of the scenarios in this book. And following Dave’s 10 most important ‘C’s that you need to have will help a lot too:

  1. Cutting tool
  2. Combustion device (fire tools)
  3. Container
  4. Cordage
  5. Cover (blanket)
  6. Cotton material
  7. Candling device (light)
  8. Compass
  9. Cargo tape (duct tape)
  10. Combination tool (multi-tool like a Gerber)

Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care, by wilderness experts Dave Canterbury and Jason A. Hunt, publishes June 13, 2017 by Adams Media, a division of Simon & Schuster). I highly recommend this book as a go-to first-aid resource for anyone headed out into nature. Learn more about the book or pre-order it from Simon and Schuster for $17. The book is available in Trade paperback format ($17) or as an ebook for (12). It is 256 pages long.

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Mark James

Mark James

Mark James lives with his family in Western Oregon, the area that Oregon's FEMA director said "will be toast" in the event of a Cascadian earthquake. He hopes to share information to help others protect themselves and their loved ones.

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