Wilderness Medicine For Kids!

By Corey Fish, MD FAAP

By Corey Fish, MD FAAP


We’ve got a couple of very cool outreach opportunities on deck here at Pacific Crest Children’s Urgent Care. The first is a pediatric medicine “grab bag” talk that I will be giving to the Multnomah Education Services District school nurses in a week or so. 

The second is a talk on wilderness medicine for pediatric patients that will be given to employees of Keen Footwear also in about a week.

Looking back through my files on pediatric wilderness medicine and the most recent research, I was reminded of several very useful bits of information when it comes to adventuring with your little one. Because the wilderness medicine talk is just for employees at Keen, I thought I'd share some of that info here.

kids urgent care wilderness blog post

Happy Campers

First, some facts…. From 1994-2004, the best estimates put the number of wilderness campers in America between 10 and 13 million and ~double that number of hikers. Kids under 17 make up about 25% of this number, which is great to see.

The unfortunate part is that accidents can and do happen in the wilderness.  During that same time period, 7-14% of search and rescue calls to US national parks were for kids. Further, in a five year period just in Washington State alone, some 40 children passed away due to accidents sustained in wilderness areas.

Over half of these accidents were drownings. One simple thing you can do to improve wilderness safety is make sure your child has a life jacket (THAT FITS) when enjoying water sports.


A second tip to help make your time outside safer and more enjoyable is to make sure and carry the ten essentials and keep adventure time with kids simple.  Generally kids aren’t as goal oriented as their adult counterparts.  If unsure, go shorter than you think.


Age-Specific Recommendations for Wilderness Travel

Age Distance
Infant (0-2 y) Distance travelled depends on adult; child carriers come in a variety of styles
Toddler (2-3 y) Most difficult age; some child carriers accommodate up to 400lb; half mile to 2 miles walking
Young Child (4-6 y) 3-5 miles on easy terrain; can carry light day pack
Older Child (7-9 y) 5-7 miles on variable terrain; can carry up to 20% of body weight in a frame pack
Preteen (10-13 y) 8-10 miles on variable terrain; watch for overuse injuries
Adolescent (14-18 y) Adult distances possible with conditioning; endurance may decrease during growth spurt


Treating Injuries Outdoors

When it comes to injury treatment in the outdoors the general philosophy is that less is more. I have often seen friends and parents tempted into carrying a highly complicated first aid kit complete with suture material, etc.

The best pearl of wisdom I have regarding this is that the first aid kit is only as good as the knowledge of how to use each and every piece of equipment in it. If you don’t know what to do with something, it’s usually better to leave it behind.

When it comes to suspected breaks or strains/sprains a splint can be helpful to help keep the injured limb still but beyond that, the best treatment for most cuts/scrapes/bites/scratches is to clean it with lots of clean water and dress it lightly. 

Further, a wilderness environment hardly provides the ideal environment for complex wound treatment or stitches so it’s best just to keep the wound clean and get somewhere for help. If more than 18-20 hours or so past, usually the wound will be left to heal on its own under the supervision of a health care provider.

Thanks for reading and please comment if you like. Have fun planning your summer adventures ya’ll.

Besides providing great urgent care to kids, our other passion is speaking and education.  If you’re looking for speakers or content and it relates to medicine generally or pediatrics specifically, please let us know!  The easiest way to reach us for these types of requests is to email us.  We love to teach and we’d be happy to help out!

Corey FishSafety2 Comments