Sprained ankles. Broken ribs. Facial lacerations. All of these injuries can occur quickly and unexpectedly while enjoying the outdoors. If the injury is severe enough or civilization is too far away, it can prove fatal for the person who is hurt. Understanding how to identify and treat everything from small cuts to compound fractures can be a powerful tool for the outdoorsman.
In the fourth book of his Bushcraft series, Dave Canterbury tackles the daunting subject of providing emergency care in a wilderness setting. His co-writer, Jason A. Hunt, PhD, is a volunteer firefighter and first responder as well as the author of Pathfinder Wilderness First Aid, the supplemental reading for the Pathfinder’s first aid course.
Editor's Note: Dave Canterbury’s personal controversies have already been discussed by this publication as well as numerous other sources, so at this time we felt there is little need to re-tread that ground in this review. Suffice to say we will be evaluating this book on the merits of the information it conveys.
Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care seeks to take on a difficult subject and present it to the public in an accessible manner. Unfortunately, the book struggles with this goal due to its heavy use of medical acronyms and its disjointed method of presentation.
The first two chapters cover important general knowledge for survival such as mindset, necessary gear, fire building and shelter. This material is relatively simplistic, but a good review for those of us who are familiar with these concepts. We don’t imagine anyone who’d buy this book would be wholly unaware of these concepts, but it’s a nice foundation nonetheless.
In the third chapter, Canterbury and Hunt dive straight into emergency medicine, with trauma care instructions pulled straight from the EMT handbook. The information is undoubtedly valuable, but the average citizen may find the material difficult to follow — a jarring transition from the previous two chapters.
Acronyms such as SAMPLE (signs/symptoms, allergies, medication, pertinent past medical history, last oral intake, and events leading to the incident) history are foreign to those of us who have not dedicated large portions of study time to the medical treatment of our fellow humans. The emergency medicine portions of the guide would have benefitted greatly from distilling the knowledge to provide readers with enough simplified information to save lives in a dangerous situation.
Another problem that stood out with the book was its inappropriate use of the term “bushcraft” in the title. Understandably, Canterbury presumably wanted to continue his popular Bushcraft series of books, including The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild, which was reviewed previously by this publication and found to be similarly problematic. However, much of this book relies heavily on first-world medicine (i.e. “If a hernia becomes strangulated… it requires immediate surgery”), making much of the book substantially less useful to those stranded far away from society.
Coupling this with the intricate first aid kit recommendations that range from a CPR mask to a wound irrigation syringe, it is difficult to take the title at face value. The expectation of in-depth advice on how to treat injuries using improvised tools from one’s surroundings is quickly crushed.
The guide does spend time on plant medicine, but it does so nearly as an afterthought and in a manner that is quite confusing. For example, the photographic guide to therapeutic plants is found in the center of the book, while the actual chapter on plant medicine is at the very end. This makes identifying useful plants both difficult and frustrating, requiring the reader to flip back and forth between the middle and end of the book to piece the information together. Canterbury’s format withers in comparison to John “Lofty” Wiseman’s SAS Survival Handbook, which offers a more user-friendly layout.
Despite its glaring issues, Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care does contain some very useful medical information and advice.
Tips and tricks such as fashioning of bandages from Gorilla Tape are very helpful for wound care in the wild, and the spider bite guide is an invaluable resource to those of us who live in regions infested with poisonous arachnids. Even though it is brief, Chapter 16 (Plant Medicine for the Woodsman) offers insight on making poultices, infusions, and tinctures for treatments in remote environments.
While these are glimmers of potential, the desire to include an immense amount of information in one book became the writers’ greatest downfall. Attempts to cover every body system results in short, odd chapters such as Chapter 11 (Urinary and Reproductive System Issues). Meanwhile, a higher level of depth could have been put into portions such as Chapter 13 (Environmental Hazards). Creating an in-depth wilderness medical manual that covers a wide array of illnesses and injuries is an impressive endeavor, but in doing so the authors left the reader with a book that skims over too many important subjects. In the immortal words of Robert Browning, “Less is more.”
Knowing how to construct and use a tourniquet, splint a broken leg, and recognize anaphylactic shock are all crucial abilities that can potentially save a life in the great outdoors. However, these skills are always best taught in a hands-on instructional environment.
A vital consideration left out by the authors is that one must remember to never try and treat an injured or sick person outside of their capabilities as a medical responder. In some cases, attempting to care for someone without proper training can increase the chance of further injury or death. If someone truly is interested in learning basic medical skills, our first suggestion is that they attend a basic first aid class, or even an EMT course. Most importantly, Canterbury’s guide is primarily supplemental to preexisting training, making it more useful as an occasional reference than a thorough textbook.
Book & Authors: Bushcraft First Aid: A Field Guide to Wilderness Emergency Care by Dave Canterbury and Jason A. Hunt, PhD
Publisher: Adams Media
Genre: Outdoor skills reference book
Cameron Carden is a Navy veteran, experienced backpacker, and avid survivalist. During his time as a Hospital Corpsman he provided on-site medical care for the Marine Corps Scout Sniper school in Hawaii, and honed his survival skills by graduating SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape). Cameron also enjoys shooting sports, collecting custom knives, and evaluating new outdoor gear.