Emergency Management in the New Zealand Back-Country.


Can you self-rescue with the equipment you're carrying on your trip, knowing that even if it's a short day trip, help could be 24hrs away? Gideon Geerling shares is wisdom on this topic.

Back-country Injury and rescue times

Travelling with friends or clients in the backcountry always opens the possibility of injury where instant supports are not available, and the need to shelter in place is necessary. Most of the time, people are great, if somewhat too good* at catering for the injured but often underestimate the possible duration of time it can take for a rescue to happen. 

Rescue Mindset

It is not always healthy to have a fear mindset when considering management of an emergency; instead, a *pragmatic and consequential awareness and experience (yours or others) is needed to set up the resources and necessary headspace to effect a self or group rescue safely.


helicopter in the mountains


Any field emergency falls to a simple equation: 

Injury + Environment + Time + Resource = Consequence.

Firstly, what are the injuries and which of the following needs to happen? 'Stay & Play, Load & Go, Rest & Walk-Out?' How does the injury need to be managed to maintain life and the patient's stability?

Secondly, what environmental &/or objective hazards do you have, and how will it influence the management and stability of the patient and group? 

Thirdly what is the time duration for this little additional adventure you're dealing with, and do you have the needed equipment and environment to shelter where you are until higher help can arrive and help you out? 


These days there is a potentially unhealthy mentality that when one pulls their PLB or satellite communicator, that 'Thunderbirds are Go!' and instant rescue is on its way. However, this is not so. 


Many wheels are moving to assist you and your injured party, all of which are doing their best to get to you as soon as possible. However, things out of your control can change the time frame for a rescue. From an hour to possibly the next day. These time frame changes depend on more circumstances than what is happening in front of you. 


Please take this last point to heart; you will possibly need to shelter in place overnight. Are you, your patient and your group capable of doing so?**

Please remember: A PLB and space blanket is not an adequate self-rescue system in New Zealand**



Here are a few things to consider when planning for your back-country adventures away from the rest of the world. 


Systems - How do your clothing, shelter and first aid systems interact and assist you in managing injury and exposure for you &/or your group. Is there crossover and redundancy? Could your systems look after the patient/s and the group for what could be a longer time than anyone would want? Have you tried and tested your systems? 

Bothy Survival Shelter

Weather - Know your environment and climate as best you can. Understanding the consequences of the terrain and weather changes. To help with your changing risk management, being prepared mentally helps juggle an unplanned incident's uncertainties.

**Remember, one of the most significant self/patient management problems is heat loss from environmental exposure.


Heat loss is a 3-fold problem; Conductive, Radiant & Convective. Have a shelter system that caters for this well. A piece of closed-cell foam, Bothy bag (packable survival shelter) and a warm jacket is the minimum to self-manage this. 


heat loss, image from Gideon Geerling

Bivvy Sacks are great… in theory, but consider two questions: Have you ever tried to get an injured person onto one, and what do the rest of your team have to use now?



Consider the Injury + Environment + Time + Resource = Consequence.

Pulling a PLB may still mean 24hrs until a rescue party can help, so test your systems and be prepared to manage yourself, your patient and your team while waiting in the backcountry.

About the Author: 

Gideon Geerling is a general outdoor and mountain bad-ass. He also loves to share his knowledge and passion for the outdoors.

He is an active member of the NZ Mountain Guides and Outdoor Instructors Associations respectively. Gideon is a NZMGA Alpine Trekking Guide and NZOIA Alpine 2, Bush 2 and Rock 1 Instructor.

Insta: @g.geerling


NOLS Wilderness First responder – Hypothermia Management

Land SAR Training NZ – Outdoor First Aid / Risk Management

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