For people venturing outdoors to hike, backpack, camp, hunt, or just enjoy the wilderness, snakebites are a scary possibility, and yet more people die each year from being crushed by vending machines than from snake bites.
Now, that’s not to say that snake bites rarely happen. About 37,500 are reported each year, but it’s more important to take preventive measures than to spend time worrying about death by snake.
Snakes will bite whatever body part is easiest to strike, and that’s usually a foot, ankle, hand, or arm. Wearing hiking boots and a pair of thick socks that extend above the ankle can protect those vulnerable spots as will a pair of loose, long pants.
Keep in mind that snakes are more active in warmer months. They also like to cower under rocks and in dark holes. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but don’t stick your hands in those types of places without looking first. This is something that kids, in particular, like to do, so warn them ahead of time of the dangers.
And, it’s not just hands that are a problem. Poking under rocks and in dark cubby holes with a stick can be equally dangerous if a sleeping snake is awakened. They can move surprisingly fast and if they aren’t in a good mood, who could blame them?
Wilderness snake bite help tips
In spite of these precautions, let’s assume that you are, indeed, one of the unluckiest people on the planet. You’re far from a medical facility and you’ve been bitten by a poisonous snake. What do you do? First, don’t panic. As the venom enters your blood stream, you can slow down its spread by staying calm and moving as little as possible. Learn now my “16 Second Survival Breathing” technique to help with this.
I’m not going to lie to you. The pain is going to be intense, but it’s important to not take any pain medication without a doctor’s advice.
If others are with you and have a cell phone with the Red Cross first aid app, or a similar app, it wouldn’t hurt to look up “Snake Bites”, but otherwise, follow these instructions:
1. Clean the bite wounds with water and soap and then apply a bandage to keep bacteria out. A glob of pine tree sap is a good alternative to a bandage, if that’s all you have on hand. Use a pen to draw a circle around the wound and write on the skin the time the bite occurred. This will provide a gauge for tracking the reaction to the venom as well as any possible infection.
2. Expect some swelling in the bite area, so remove rings, watches, and any tight clothing. Next, use a length of cloth or an Ace bandage to create a compression wrap starting about 4 inches above the bite wound and continuing down toward the hand or foot.
Rule of thumb: If you see swelling and the skin around the bite changes color, the snake was most likely poisonous.
3. Next, if you are move slowly and steadily toward the closest medical facility, hopefully with the assistance of other people. If you’ve brought along a cell phone, call Poison Control as soon as you have a clear signal, 1-800-222-1222.
At no point should you try to suck out the venom with your mouth, unless you really want to experience the effects of a snakebite without the actual bite. More than one person has died from ingesting snake venom in this manner. You also shouldn’t waste time looking around for the snake in an attempt to kill it and take it to the medical facility. Just do your best to remember as many details as possible of its pattern of color and size. If you do see the snake nearby, take a quick pic with your cellphone for later identification.
Supplies to carry with you:
- Soap or small bottle of waterless soap
- Small roll of Ace bandage
- Ink pen or Sharpie
- 4-5 adhesive bandages
- Snake bite kit — Be sure to read the instructions before heading out into the wilderness.