The WEC Corner
Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder, and what is it?

Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder, and what is it?

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In the past years of Promotion & Marketing of Wilderness First Aid course or Wilderness First Responder Courses; I’ve come to learn a common theme, and quite frustrating facet from the general public when it comes to their perceivably disinterest in the courses. The frustrating fact is… there are not that many people who really know what those courses are, and what the benefits are of taking such courses.

Both of these courses are from a larger program; at least from where I teach the courses from, which is the Wilderness Emergency Care Program from the National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR). The WEC Program contains 4 stock courses; Basic WIlderness First Aid, Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness First Responder, and the Wilderness EMT Upgrade. For the most part, I will talk about the all encompassing WEC Program, but I will highlight some key points of each course.

So, what is Wilderness Emergency Care?

Simple answer? It’s the emergency care provided to the ill and injured in the wilderness. Not satisfied? I don’t blame you. So let’s dive in a little deeper. Let’s dissect Wilderness Emergency Care into “Wilderness” + “Emergency Care”. 

We will start with “Emergency Care” since that will be the simple part. “Emergency Care” is the First Aid, or Medical Care provided; more rather the immediate care provided to an ill or injured victim. The care provided can be lifesaving, or it can be physically and psychologically comforting actions to alleviate pain or suffering. So keep this in mind as we will revisit this part later on. 


: a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings

: an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community

*Marriam-Webster Dictionary

Simple, yes? Solely based off the above definition, sure. However, the “wilderness” prefix in regards to the programs at hand, is often taken too literal, and too often the notion of education is severely isolated or limited to being applicable to the wilderness. Instead of being so literal towards the definition of wilderness, and its use as a descriptive prefix, let’s open up our minds to other descriptive prefixes to the courses.

To help facilitate this, let’s look at 2 of the major comparison points between “wilderness” care and urban care; urban care being represented by Basic First Aid or Emergency Medical Responder. The two major points are time and resources.


The amount of time from the onset of you starting care of a sick or injured victim, to the time they reach Advanced/Definitive Care; ie.: EMS or Hospital. 

Urban Care: with the expectation that you can call 911 or quickly arrive at a hospital on your own, you will likely only be providing the initial care and stabilization of issues for a short amount of time, about 30 minutes at the most. You hand off the victims care to an EMT/Paramedic on a 911 Ambulance, or to the Staff or Physician at a Hospital. 

“Wilderness” Care: You will expect to have to care for a victim for a longer period of time. Due to distance and/or time for the arrival of EMS/Medical Care or to a Hospital, you could be tasked with providing care and stabilization for longer than 30 minutes, maybe hours, several days or weeks. 


The amount of supplies and/or equipment you have on hand to provide care.

Urban Care: Often, resources are readily available with First Aid or Medical Kits, usually well stocked and conceivably unlimited for the short duration to handoff to definitive care.

“Wilderness” Care: due to a number of factors including time and distance to definitive care, supplies and.or equipment is limited or non-existent, and you may have to improvise with what you have on hand, or can find. 

Now let’s see what we can replace the “wilderness” prefix with, while still reflecting the points previously explained.

  • WILDERNESS First Aid
  • Camping First Aid
  • backpacking
  • Hiking First Aid
  • Horseback First Aid
  • ATV First Aid
  • Fishing First Aid
  • Hunting First Aid
  • SAR First Aid
  • Skiing/Snowboarding First Aid
  • Desert First Aid
  • Rain-Forest First Aid
  • Snowmobiling First Aid
  • Trapping First Aid
  • Logging First Aid
  • Remote First Aid

  • Disaster First Aid
  • Battlefield First Aid
  • Conflict First Aid
  • Boating/Marine First Aid
  • Mountain First Aid
  • Travel First Aid
  • Snowshoeing First Aid
  • Mountain Biking First Aid
  • Canoeing/Kayaking First Aid
  • Earthquake First Aid
  • Tornado First Aid
  • Tsunami First Aid
  • Apocalyptic First Aid
  • Keeping adding them!

As you can see, there are many alternative prefixes for the Wilderness Emergency Care Courses. Find a situation, the Wilderness Emergency Care Program can likely be applied to it. When you see/hear about a WIlderness Emergency Care Course; or Wilderness Medicine Course, think about the interchangeable prefixes.

What to take away from this?

In ending, Wilderness Emergency Care is not so much learning to provide medical care in the “wilderness”, but rather in times where access to 911 or the Healthcare System is delayed or obstructed. This could be because you’re in the back-country hours or days from civilization, in a disaster area, war or conflict zone, or traveling in a 3rd world country. You learn how to care for the ill and injured until access to definitive healthcare is obtained. It can also be applied to urban setting as it covers basic aid and then much more on tip of that.

So why not consider taking a class today? You can see when we have a WEC Course available here, or if you have a small group, you can contact us to schedule and provide a course for your group. 


Overview of WEC Program Courses

Basic Wilderness First Aid

A Basic Practical Certification course that is ideal for those who venture into the  outdoors. This 8 hour course is an introduction to a combination of basic knowledge and skills to deal with common ailments and injuries anywhere based on what you have. This course is usually completed in all day course.

Wilderness First Aid

A Practical Certification course that is ideal for outdoor enthusiast on day trips or short adventures, and leaders of small groups. This 16 hour course is an introduction to general medical concepts and basic life support skills through lecture, discussion and skills development. Learn the knowledge and skills to perform a victim assessment, deal with ailments and injuries, and basic evacuation principles.

Wilderness First Responder

An 80 hour Professional Level Certification Course that  is the ideal medical training for those who are  in remote areas; including those who are outdoor educators, guides, military, professional search and rescue teams, researchers, and those involved in disaster relief. Since there are no prerequisites for this course other than obtaining CPR/AED Certification (unless provided in the course), anyone with the interest of taking this course is welcome to do so. 

The course introduces and exposes students to medical concepts and basic life support skills, to learn essential principles and skills required to assess and manage medical problems and injuries in remote, isolated and extreme environments for days and weeks if necessary.

Wilderness EMT Upgrade

A 40 hour Professional Level Certification Course that builds on previously attained EMS or Medical* training and expertise to meet the special challenges of the remote and unconventional environment. This training is ideal training for medical personnel who would like to enhance their skills and experience for use in the rural, wilderness, and technical rescue setting. This course is ideal for medical personnel working in rural EMS, Search and Rescue, Law Enforcement, Disaster Response, on wilderness expeditions, and those who travel to or work in remote destinations with poor or non-existent healthcare systems such as 3rd world countries.

The course builds upon previous medical training & experience and challenges you to apply wilderness care principles. Students learn to provide assessment, treatment, and stabilization with minimal supplies and equipment, in less than ideal environments and situations; where improvising is often needed to substitute for standard and common supplies and equipment in established health care systems.

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