How to Treat a Wound in a Survival Situation

A scrape, cut, or puncture wound can happen without warning, and if you do not have access to emergency medical care or equipment – what do you do?

How would you treat these types of wounds if you were far away from a hospital and with little gear?

This article will discuss the importance of treating these wounds and the steps you can take to make sure you do everything you can given the situation.

Basic First-aid Steps for Treating all Types of Cuts, Gash, or Stab Wounds when in the Backcountry

  • 1. Stop the bleeding
  • 2. Assess the damage
  • 3. Clean the wound
  • 4. Monitor, Keep clean & dry
pressure of cut

1. Stop the bleeding

The first thing to do is apply direct pressure. If it’s a small cut, you can just squeeze the cut with your hand. Suppose it’s a larger cut push down firmly with the palm of your hand. If you have a clean cloth, you can use it on top of the wound to help soak up the blood. You can stop the bleeding by squeezing proximal (closest to the heart) to the wound can temporarily stifle bleeding.

You must be able to distinguish between a bleeding vein and an artery when attempting to stop blood loss.

Arteries spurt. Veins don’t.

Meaning arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to tissues. Blood is returned to the heart via veins, which re-oxygenate it.

Arteries pump. Veins dump.

A tourniquet is always last resort, as this will cut off the blood flow to the rest of the limb, making direct pressure always preferable unless there is severe damage to the limb or a major loss of blood.

If you think you may have a broken bone, then do not apply too much pressure. You don’t want to force anything and inadvertently move the bone out of position.

Sharp cuts generally bleed more than dull ones, at least at first. ( Dull cuts pull more on the blood vessels, causing them to spasm and close.) This has nothing to do with the severity of the wound. Cuts on the face and hands tend to bleed more (blood supply is greater).

cut on the hand
Be sure to clean even the smallest cut

2. Assess the damage

If you’re bleeding and the blood is squirting out, you’ve sliced an artery. Oozing usually indicates a vein. Arteries are more difficult to stop bleeding and are more likely to provide blood to tissues that really need it.

After squeezing for 10 or 15 minutes, small arteries on the fingertips typically stop bleeding. Veins take less time and are generally less threatening than arteries.

bandage the cut
Use a bandage or bandaid for the cut or scrape

3. Clean the wound

The better the laceration is cleaned, the less likely it is to get infected. Use tap water or the freshest water you have if this isn’t adequate. If your tap isn’t working, make a tiny hole in the bottom of a full plastic container that can be used for added pressure. If water is scarce, peroxide can be used as well as alcohol; however, bear in mind that it will hurt.

If the cut is just on the first few layers of skin, carefully remove the debris and wash it. If the dirt is ground in, you may need to open it a bit in order to be able to scrub and clean thoroughly.

If the cut is deep, close it.

If the cut is deep or wide, use a piece of tape to close the gape. Duct tape works well for deeper wounds. You can try super glue for more surface cuts. (If the wound is too wide and cannot be closed, clean it and cover it with a clean cloth.)

Follow these steps if you have a deeper wound and are looking to seal the cut:

  • Clean and dry the wound. If you have glue on hand, apply it to the outside of the cut (not inside the actual injury).
  • Place a strip of tape to one side of the cut up and over to the other.
  • Cover the cut with a clean or whatever you have on hand to keep dirt out of it.

Loosen the bandage if the area distal (furthest from the heart) to the cut starts turning blue or any dark color. The discoloration might indicate a lack of blood flow to the area which requires serious medical attention. See a doctor as soon as possible so see if it is possible to save the tissue.

Watch out for infection

4. Monitor for Infection and Keep it clean and dry

If you have any around, use an antibiotic ointment, cover it with Band-Aids, cloth, and tape, or wrap anything you have to keep it dry. You don’t want any type of water to get in the wound as it may contain bacteria that could lead to infection.

Monitor the affected area to see if there are is any swelling, redness, puss, headache or an increase in the tenderness of the area. If any of these symptoms are experienced seek medical attention.

How to Treat Small Scrapes?

Minor scratches or abrasions that resemble paper cuts should be

  • treated,
  • cleaned,
  • and; bandaged.

If you have any super glue, use it to keep the cut closed.

Using antiseptic ointment will help prevent infection. Clean the wound with water and soap and cover the wound with a bandage until it heals.

Change the bandage two times a day and wash your hands after touching the area around the wound. This will help make sure the area remains free from bacteria.

How to treat a stab wound

How to Treat Stab Wounds?

Puncture wounds are usually deep and can be caused by any number of sharp objects. If you are stabbed in the chest or abdomen, try to estimate the depth of the puncture by the length of the stick or knife.

It’s more crucial than ever to get expert assistance as soon as possible owing to the danger of serious infection if you think it may have punctured the chest or abdominal cavity.

If the swelling begins almost immediately, you may have hit an artery. Apply pressure to the region. If you can, wash, apply and disinfectant, cover the wound, and try and keep it clean and dry.

If the wound is deep, keep pressure on the wound so that it can reduce the bleeding. Remove any debris, clean it as best you can, fill the gaping wound with clean rags, and cover it with tape.

It may be hard to tell the severity of the injury from the surface if the wound is deep. Seek immediate medical attention if possible as you risk serious complications if left untreated.

When should you use a pressure bandage?

Knowing how to make a pressure dressing can be one of those life and death skills that you never think about until it’s too late.

A pressure dressing is used as a compress for a wound to stop it from bleeding, also called a dressing compression bandage, a pressure wrap, or a pressure bandage. 

A pressure bandage is often put over a wound together with an absorbent layer.

Not knowing how to make a pressure dressing is dangerous because:

  • If the dressing is too loose you will continue to bleed out
  • If the bandage is too tightly wrapped around an extremity the dressing will act as a tourniquet and cut off blood flow to your tissue.

Knowing how to make a pressure dressing is even more important if you are in a survival emergency scenario and can not get any professional medical help.

Pressure bandages are used to stop bleeding and promote blood coagulation while without restricting normal blood flow. They assist by:

  • Reduce swelling
  • Protect against dirt, bacteria and infection


Remember if you have a serious stab wound or cut, get to a hospital immediately for professional help if you can.

If you cant do your best to keep your wound clean, dry and stop the bleeding. If you do those few things, you will make it out alive.


[1] Cuts and scrapes: First aid.

[2] When to close a wound.

[4] Bleeding Cuts and Wounds.

Photo by cottonbro/Pexels

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