How to treat a cut, scrape or abrasion

Wilderness First Aid

Cuts and scrapes are bound to happen when hiking, camping or backpacking. Most of the time they do not require a trip to doctor, at least at the start. To prevent needing to go to the doctor later, a basic knowledge of proper first aid for cuts and scrapes is must-have knowledge for anyone who loves spending time outdoors.

Cuts and Abrasions: First Aid

1)  Clean yourself up first! Wash your hands with soap and water and if you have disposable protective gloves in your first aid kit, put them on. You want to avoid contact with your skin.

2)  Control and stop the bleeding. Minor cuts and abrasions will generally clot by themselves, however if bleeding persists, apply gentle pressure with a sterile bandage or clean rag and elevate the wound.

3)  Clean the wound. Once you have the bleeding under control it’s time to clean it using soap and water. Avoid getting or leaving soap in the wound as that may lead to irritation, and make sure to clean large swath around the injured area. We can’t emphasis how important this is enough, making sure the wound is clean dramatically reduces the risk for infection or tetanus. 

4)  Apply a topical antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin or Polysporin. Again, this will help prevent infection.

5)  Cover the wound with a bandage. This helps keep it clean and prevents harmful bacteria from making their way into the wound. If the wound is a very minor scrape or scratch you can leave uncovered, but you want to make sure to clean it periodically.

6)  If your injury is not severe enough to warrant heading home, make sure to change the bandage at minimum once a day or whenever it gets dirty or wet. Once the injury has healed enough to ensure infection is not likely you can leave uncovered. Letting it breathe in the open air will speed the healing.

7)  Do you need stitches? You can generally tell by sight if you need stitches, however, here are a few guidelines that are good to know.

     You need stitches if:

  • The cut is more than ¼ inch deep and/or ¾ inches long with jagged edges or a gaping opening.
  • If you can see fat or muscle.
  • If the cut is over a joint and opens when you move the joint.
  • Pretty much all deep cuts on hands or fingers.
  • If the cut continues to bleed after 15 minutes of elevated pressure.

8)  As the cut or abrasion heals make sure to watch for any signs of infection.

9)  How’s your tetanus booster? If you have not had a tetanus shot within the past five years it is likely a really good idea to get one.