Wilderness First Aid

What is wilderness first aid?

Wilderness first aid, or “WFA”, is a generic term that commonly refers to any training course that focuses on prevention, assessment, and treatment for an ill or injured person in a remote environment where definitive care by a physician and/or rapid transport is not readily available. This is defined as being an hour or more away from advanced care.  WFA courses are intended for anyone planning a remote high adventure, from lay responders to medical professionals.

Why is WFA important?

WFA prepares participants to identify and address medical issues that can arise in the backcountry.

Generally, WFA courses contain substantial medical information and teach skills to respond to medical emergencies in the wild. It is important to remember that many providers offer “wilderness first aid” courses, but the courses vary in content, duration, accreditation, and other factors. 

A BSA-led task force developed a WFA training curriculum specifically for Scouts and Scouters to help them provide assessment and treatment miles from advanced care.  More information on the curriculum is below.  

Treatment skills are important, but so is educating Scouts and adult leaders to recognize illnesses early and minimize the potential for injury. The skills learned in a BSA-approved WFA course can save lives.

WFA is not just for the backcountry.  It is just as relevant in urban areas during hurricanes, floods, fires, or mass casualty events when emergency services might be strained.  WFA knowledge can be lifesaving.

“When an emergency occurs in the wild, the goal must be to provide the greatest good for the greatest number in the shortest time, and do no harm in the process.”

Who needs WFA?

Youth (14 years old and up) and adult Scout leaders are encouraged to take a 16-hour WFA course based on the specific curriculum developed by the BSA, which includes a management dimension that most course fail to address. Participants will likely find it the most valuable program they’ll ever take. 

WFA Certification

BSA has identified the following providers as meeting the BSA’s requirements for WFA training: (1) American Red Cross, (2) Emergency Care & Safety Institute, and (3) providers accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA) under the ACA’s standard “HW.2.2/ST.3.2  First Aid & Emergency Care Personnel”. WFA courses offered by any other provider does not meet the BSA’s requirements.   The ACA does not review courses for BSA units.   

If WFA is required for your adventure (see BSA facilities’ requirements below), then you must obtain a certificate from one of the providers listed above. In addition, a current CPR/AED certificate is also needed.    If you have specific questions on equivalencies, reach out to the entity running the program requiring WFA.   

High Adventure Base WFA Requirements

All four of the BSA high-adventure bases (HAB) require at least one person per trek (two per trek at Philmont Scout Ranch) to be current in WFA through one of the BSA’s approved providers. Of course, having more participants trained in WFA skills is highly recommended for any high adventure or backcountry experience.

Many other councils that offer high-adventure programs are encouraged to require WFA training as part of their requirements. Check directly with the local council providing the high-adventure program for details. In addition, participants in unit-centered high-adventure programs would greatly benefit from WFA skills in the event of an emergency.

Course modules

The 2017 BSA WFA curriculum allows for additional scenario practice time which helps participants utilize their new skills in a controlled setting. Comments from previous participants found that the scenarios are helpful in providing immediate feedback, particularly to those with no medical background.

To download the BSA Wilderness First Aid Curriculum, click here. 

Core modules

  • Patient assessment—initial and focused
  • Chest injuries
  • Shock
  • Head (brain) and spinal injuries
  • Bone and joint injuries
  • Wounds and wound infection
  • Allergies and anaphylaxis
  • Scenarios

Elective modules

  • Abdominal problems
  • Hypothermia
  • Heat
  • Lightning
  • Altitude illnesses
  • Submersion
  • Wilderness first-aid kits

BSA WFA Instructor Resources 

Whether you are teaching the WFA blended or traditional 16-hour course, we have developed some instructor resources that may help you with your class. Although developed with the blended WFA in-person skills check course in mind, we included information that would be helpful for any WFA instructor. New instructors or seasoned veterans will find some important tips and techniques to help them make an impact with their students.

To download the BSA Wilderness First Aid Instructor Manual, click here

BSA WFA Scenarios

Simple Scenarios

Complex Scenarios

  • Altitude Illness
    • Victim 1 (Kevin) and Victim 2 (Tim) – Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
      Victim 1 (Kevin) – High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE); develops on the third day of a three-day trek
  • Deep Wound with Severe Bleeding
    • Victim 1 – Youth With Deep, Contaminated Wound; Severe Bleeding From Right Lower Leg
  • Diabetic Illness, Respiratory Distress, Poison Ivy, and Seizure
    • Victim 1 (Tom) – Youth with Low Blood Sugar and History of Diabetes
      Victim 2 (Andrew) – Youth with Respiratory Distress
      Victim 3 (Joe) – Adult with Skin Rash (Poison Ivy Rash)
      Victim 4 (Phil) – Youth with Seizure
  • Hypothermia
    • Victim 1 – Adult With Hypothermia and Hypertension
      Victim 2 – Adult With Hypothermia
  • Multiple Injuries on a Sailboat
    • Victim 1 (Paul) – Choking (Youth)
      Victim 2 (Sean) – Traumatic Brain Injury with Suspected Skull Fracture (Youth)
      Victim 3 (Michael) – Cervical Spine Injury (Youth)
  • Orthopedic Injuries
    • Victim 1 – Youth With Possible Sprain in Left Ankle
      Victim 2 – Youth With Possible Fracture in Right Hip, Minor Head Injury, Superficial Cuts and Scrapes