Book review: Pocket First Aid and Wilderness Medicine (3rd edition)


Training with a bothy bag/group shelter in the Ochils

Pocket First Aid and Wilderness Medicine. Third Edition. 2017.

By Drs Jim Duff and Ross Anderson. Cicerone. 252 pp. Softback and eBook. £11.95 RRP. ISBN 9781852849139

Disclosure: This review is based upon a sample copy of the printed book sent to Al McGowan, at his request, by Cicerone.

This is the third update of this well-regarded and widely used volume . When I was on a scientific expedition in Svalbard, it was the 2nd edition of this I carried in my kit, as it is small, compact but packed with information. Having the protective flexible plastic cover increases the toughness of the book, as with all the modern Cicerone guides. The target audience ranges from the solo traveller in remote areas to those working in Mountain Medicine, which is a considerable breadth of potential users to cover.

The overall aim of the book is to provide a reference and reminder for the user. Many sections have useful reminders of alternative treatment pathways depending on the remit of the responders, the equipment they have and the relative remoteness of the incident. 

Three major sections are used to organize the material. Preparation, prevention and general management of the sick and injured are placed at the front. Such an approach ties in with the approach of outdoor leaders, where the focus is on what can be done before starting an activity to give the best chance of a safe and successful conclusion. This section also gives some useful additional advice on emergency shelter positions and water survival. Good advice is given on the use of a structured secondary survey to reach a diagnosis if the problem is not immediately clear and this is supported by clear casualty record forms in the back. For myself, the A6 size form in the back would be a bit small but there is nothing stopping a user enlarging the forms digitally or using the forms from Dr Anderson’s site cited in the book ( The monitoring form has some useful prompts for signs to check for if evacuation is delayed and a simple, yet more nuanced means of determining the level of consciousness. Significantly, this section covers casualty evacuation and transport and co-operation with rescue teams, which is a topic  that is seldom covered in other first-aid texts. Having the  tools to plan the exit of casualties and the other party members is of great value. 

General protocols for accidents and illness form the second section. The final main section deal with treatments for specific illnesses and injuries. The latter are particularly useful for guiding the user through more unusual conditions, especially where the cause is not obvious or previously diagnosed by professional medical services. A set of appendices with information about drugs, treatment flow charts and ready reckoners round off the book. The anatomical charts are particularly useful for revision for more advanced first-aiders and for gathering information about medical issues when you can’t quite remember which side an organ is on.

Really the only area where the book is outclassed by alternative books is in the illustrations. Two-tone colour illustrations are used throughout the book and are relatively sparse. This is balanced out by the low cost of the volume but, having seen the extensive use of colour in the latest edition of Pocket Navigation, there might be scope for future editions to use colour photographs in key instances. Personally, I find the use of good colour photographs of simulated casualties and injuries a useful training aid. The eBook could be expanded or other online resources discussed, which would make the book more usable as a training manual. The authors do make clear upfront (p. 10) that the information is presented in a highly condensed form and that time spent getting to know the book and your kit will pay off if you need to use the volume ‘in the field.’ Such an approach is common in pocket and desktop guides in medicine that aim to serve as prompts to help recall previous training and knowledge. The sample pages on the Cicerone website offer a good idea of the layout (file:///Users/user/Downloads/0913_pocket-first-aid-and-wilderness-medicine-sample.pdf)

Several providers of outdoor first aid and more advanced outdoor courses use this as a course text and the price makes it competitive with the standard first aid books issued on regular courses, while providing a much deeper and more apt resource for those working in remote and austere environments and one I will continue to use and recommend to others.

Cicerone website page for book (with sale offer on at the time of writing for print and eBook versions) and information about trade offers

Acknowledgement: Al would like to thank the library of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh for online access to the eBook version of this volume through his membership of the Faculty of Pre-Hospital Care.


I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

Posted in Book reviews, Books, Mountain Training, Outdoor first-aid
One comment on “Book review: Pocket First Aid and Wilderness Medicine (3rd edition)
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Al is a Summer Mountain Leader
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