Improvisation–Making a Splint On the Appalachian Trail

First of all I want to thank everybody for the terrific feedback on Friday’s post.  There are enough ideas to keep us going for a long time here at SHTFblog.  I’ll announce the winner of the drawing Wednesday morning, so make sure to check in then to find out who the lucky winner is.


Awhile back I posted a story about how I broke my leg in the 100 Mile Wilderness here in Maine five or six years ago.  In the story I mention the splint, but in the interest of space I didn’t elaborate on it.  After reading some of your feedback I thought I’d write a quick post about it because it hits on a few different things:  medical emergency, it was a real life situation, improvising on the spot, etc.

Let me first put you in the frame of mind I found myself in that day…

We’d hiked through rain and thunderstorms and crossed a river, so we couldn’t have been any wetter if we’d tried.  My rain pants had proven to be absolutely useless and I’d ditched them earlier that morning and was wearing a pair of shorts and my hiking boots and my rain coat on top with my pack over it.


The actual splint I used that day...

We were hiking up Gulf Hagas mountain and I was planning on spending the night at the lean to, but it was still about five or six miles from where we were.  I was hiking fast to stay warm when I suddenly tripped on a wet root and fell, breaking my ankle on the way down.  There was absolutely no question in my mind about what had happened.  I’d never broken a bone before, but I could feel it break and actually heard it snap like a dry branch breaking.  Oh yeah, and it hurt.  A lot.

I lay on the ground until I got the pain under control, then I had June start bringing me some sticks.  I had everything else in my pack.  Here’s what I used:

  • 2 Sticks about the thickness of my index finger 
  • Twine
  • A small yellow camp towel
  • Foam sleeping mat
  • Two bungee cords



An idea of what it looked like while I was wearing it...

First, I wrapped the towel around my leg.  Then I broke two sticks off so they reached from the bottom of my boot to my knee then I placed them on either side of my ankle and wrapped some twine around them to hold them in place.  Finally, I had June cut my sleeping mat so that it would reach from just below my knee to down over my boot.  The purpose of the splint was to keep the ankle in place as much as possible by holding my foot stable, which it did quite nicely. 

I left the boot on as added protection, although later I had to loosen the laces up when my foot started to go numb because the swelling was cutting off the blood supply.

Later on an EMT checked it and said it was one of the best self-aid field splints he’d ever seen, so it was nice to get that kind of feedback about an emergency splint I cobbled together with what I had on hand.

Now, if I were in the field and didn’t have anything with me and suffered this kind of injury I could have used the following to make my splint:

  • Bark cut from a tree
  • Moss or grass to pack around the fracture before putting the bark on it
  • Shoe laces or some other cordage to hold the bark in place

As long as you had your knife with you it would be relatively easy to make this kind of splint.

What else could you think of use in a situation like that?  Just imagine it… you’re laying in the woods 40 miles from anywhere and you’ve got to splint a broken leg.  What would you use?

-Jarhead Survivor