What are the 3 Ps of First Aid?

By Suzanne Wiley

First aid is the care one administers as soon as an injury or illness occurs. In more serious cases, first aid is what we do to keep a person alive until medical professionals arrive or we can get the victim to an emergency room. Sometimes first aid is simply washing a wound and covering it with a band-aid. Other times, first aid could be applying direct pressure to an arterial hemorrhaging which needs to be treated by a professional as soon as possible or the victim has a high chance of death. The principle of first aid is based on what is called the “3 Ps.”

The 3 Ps of first aid are:

  • Preserve life
  • Prevent further injury
  • Promote recovery

Preserve Life

The first step of first aid is to save a life—not only the life of the injured but your life and the lives of bystanders. Before committing to help a victim, assess the situation by checking for imminent and outlying dangers and risks—are there downed power lines? Fire or rushing flood waters? You’re of little help if you become injured yourself. Whether you’re able to administer first aid or not, ensure 911 has been called and first responders are on the way.

3Ps of first aid meme
The first step of first aid is to save a life.

If a dangerous condition is not obstructing your ability to reach and assist a victim, assess their situation and condition immediately. Anyone planning to administer first aid needs to remain calm, have a plan, be deliberate and act quickly.

To assess a victim’s condition, first check for breathing. A great acronym to help you remember appropriate steps is CAB—Circulation, Airway and Breathing. Preserving life may require CPR.

If the person is unconscious but breathing, turn them onto their side and cover them with a blanket.

During severe injury or illness, it is imperative the victim receives medical attention as quickly as possible.

Prevent Further Injury

The second step of the 3Ps takes place during first aid treatment—Stop the bleeding first; dress the wound, including preventing infection and covering or wrapping the injury; and, if necessary, treat the victim for shock.

Promote Recovery

After you have stabilized the victim, promote recovery by giving them pain reliever, cool a minor burn, apply ice, have them rest and change wound dressing as necessary.

Basic Wilderness First Aid

Hiker putting up first aid supplies
First aid is considered to be in the wilderness class when you are at least 60 minutes away from a doctor.

Wilderness first aid is truly in its own category of prevention and emergency care. First aid is considered to be in the wilderness class when you are at least 60 minutes away from a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office. There are separate classes and training available specific to wilderness first aid, as it requires more attention to certain elements than a basic first aid class.

The most common outdoor injuries are sprains and strains, followed by scrapes, cuts, blisters and burns. Other injuries you should prepare for when spending a lot of time camping, hiking, backpacking and hunting are bites and stings, hypothermia/frostbite, broken bones, spinal damage and brain injuries.

How to Treat a Sprain

Here we go with another acronym:


R: Rest

Don’t use the injured appendage or limb

I: Ice

Ice the area for 20 minutes on, then 20 minutes off for a few hours

C: Compression

Tightly wrap an ace bandage around the injury, but do not cut off the circulation

E: Elevation

Keep the injured part above the heart if possible

To reduce strains and sprains, stretch before walking or hiking and use trekking poles designed to help absorb impact and aid in stabilizing. Even though a sprain or torn tendon is incredibly painful, you should be able to apply pressure and walk, maybe even only with support. If the limb or appendage is unusable, meaning you can’t walk on it or it causes too much pain, make a splint using a firm item and tape to stabilize the limb until you can get to medical care.

How to Stop Bleeding

If the person has fallen, keep them laying down. Using a clean trauma pad or other on-hand absorbent material, apply direct pressure to the wound for 20 minutes. If something is lodged in it, do not attempt to remove it. If possible, elevate the injury above their head. Depending on severity, once you have stopped the bleeding if no further medical attention is required, clean the wound with soap and water, pat dry, apply antibiotic ointment and dress the wound.

For more severe bleeding, keep the pad on the wound, then wrap it with gauze once the bleeding stops. If they bleed through the trauma pad, do not remove it, simply place another bandage over the top of the previous dressing. If the injured person is safe to transport, get them to a hospital as soon as you can. If not, call 911 for an ambulance.

How to Treat Blisters

It is usually more comfortable to pop a blister, cover it and move on than it is to leave it bubbling. To safely pop a blister, wash the area with soap and water and wipe with an alcohol prep pad. Sterilize the point of a needle with fire or alcohol. Poke a small hole at the top edge of the blister and slowly push it to drain. After the blister has drained completely, you can apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage to the injury.

Using Moleskin

contents of a hiker's first aid kit
A basic first aid kit for hikers should include moleskin.

Moleskin is a soft cotton material with an adhesive back that reduces friction. You can use moleskin to prevent blisters as well as treat blisters you’re not ready or willing to pop. Cut the moleskin slightly larger than the blister. Fold it in half and cut half a circle along the fold to make a hole in the middle of your moleskin. Then cut the edges so all of them are rounded. Rough edges make the moleskin less sticky. Place the blister through the hole.

Always Be Prepared

To get started building your own personal first aid kit, turn to the Boy Scouts.

A Boy Scout’s minimal personal first aid kit is meant to include everything to treat wounds, burns, knee and ankle injury, blisters, dehydration and shock. According to Boys’ Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, it should include six bandages, two 3×3 gauze pads, tape, moleskin, soap and hand sanitizer, antibiotic ointment, scissors, disposable gloves, CPR breathing barrier, a pencil and paper.

Of course, preparation and knowledge are key. Every outdoor outing will be different. Preparing for your trip will help you pack your first aid kit accordingly. Before heading out, know the trails, look up the local weather, know your own limitations as well as those in your group, and research potential hazards, vegetation and wildlife. Your personal first aid kit should be adaptable to your individual situation with extra room for other items, i.e. pain reliever, bug repellant, an EPI pen or other allergy medications.

The 12 Survivors Ultra-Light Mini First Aid Kit includes basic medical supplies ideal for all outdoor enthusiasts with easily-accessible zippered mesh pockets to quickly identify what you need to grab in a hurry. There is also plenty of room to add extra supplies. The roll-up kit is constructed of durable honeycomb ripstop nylon and only weighs 11.3 ounces.

No matter how long you spend researching online and watching YouTube, it will never replace proper training led by a first aid-certified professional trainer. The American Heart Association reports 70% of Americans do not know CPR; this could be the difference between life or death. A first aid class will teach you how to use the supplies in your first aid kit, as well as safe and effective techniques to stop bleeding, splint an arm or leg and other life-saving skills.

In your opinion what is the most important item in a first aid kit? Tell us in the comment section.

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