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Snake Bite!

You're about 5 miles up a steep narrow river canyon, off trail, with a buddy (or by yourself). No phone signal for miles. You get bit by a rattlesnake. What do you do?

15 Replies

Relax, stop moving (Sit or lay down), raise bite above heart if able, apply pressure (No tourniquet). Contact emergency services and await instructions.


Moving around causes blood to pump and sends it faster through the body. Same deal with the adrenaline increase from panicking but not sure we can really control freaking out since you just got bitten by a snake so hard to say as I never gotten bitten.

Missed answering but I guess if solo and no signal, you may want to invest in an emergency beacon device prior for a just in case like this, but at that point you need to move to get to either other people or signal.


My understanding...

Rattlesnake bites are rare but they do happen,  generally when you surprise the snake but stepping close to it or on it.  Pay attention where you step particularly over rocks and where you sit down. Snakes like to protect themselves under overhanging rocks and will defend an intrusion.

In general get the victim to transportation as quickly as possible and seek medical treatment. Getting anti-venom within 6 hrs is best.  There is no other effective treatment.  If you have a satellite messenger or cell phone service,  call for help immediately and get instruction specific to your situation.  Treat for shock, removing rings/ jewellery and loosening clothing.  Do not use ice, snake bit kits, incisions, tourniquets or sucking the poison...none of that works and can cause more damage.

If you cannot immediately summon help, the victim will likely have some time while they are still well enough to move so getting back to a car as soon as possible may be the best option.  If the victim cannot travel get them to a place they can more easily be extracted and go seek help as quickly as possible.  Depending where you are, SAR will most likely helicopter the person out so look for an open area that is accessible from the air.  In your scenario it is likely that going back down the canyon is best but it will depend on the local terrain.

Anti-venom is species specific so if there is opportunity, take a picture or video of the snake and/or take note of its makings but do not track down or otherwise engage the snake.  A second strike is likely and it will quite possibly release more venom than the first.  Two bites or two people with bites is far worse than one.

There maybe things I have missed so do your own research. 


Identification of the snake is crucial to later treatment, so kill it and bring it in for identification if you can do so safely.  (This isn't all that hard).

Stop and lie down.  Keep the wound level with the heart, not above (according to my source).  There is about a twenty percent probability that no venom was infected.  Watch for symptoms (Obvious).

Good time for  PLB and transport by others if symptoms occur.  Last resort , move out with s little exertion as possible.  Les than one percent of snake bites in the US are lethal.

I understand the traditional treatment by Native Americans was to simply rest and take it easy, right on spot, until the situation improves...

Prevention is very simple.  Don't go sticking your hand in the bushes, move carefully, and pay attention to the weather.  Snakes are inactive when it is either too hot or too cold.

Good topic.  Lots can be said.....

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@hikermor +1 on everything else but I really don't agree that you should attempt to kill the snake both for safety and preservation reasons...

A video or photo or noting its color and markings (write them down) should be enough to identify the snake.  In many places there are only one or two possibilities.  I have no personal experience but just about every credible source I have found says killing the snake is unnecessary for identification purposes.  Just about everyone carries a smart phone with a video camera these days.  Even then pursuing an agitated and defensive snake to get a picture should err on the side of caution.

Attempting to kill snakes is apparently a very common way to get bitten in the first place.  Generally there is no good reason to kill non venomous snakes and very little reason to kill venomous ones outside of an immediate domestic or work impactful context.  

If the venomous snake is  in your yard, house or place of work and you have children or pets that it is a threat to, that may be good reason to consider killing the snake.  Even in that case, unless you are a skilled snake wrangler and/or have the appropriate tools to allow you to keep a safe distance it is probably best to call animal control and let them deal with it appropriately.  Most people are ignorant about snakes and have no idea whether a snake is venomous or not. Snakes generally are very valuable for controlling rodent population.  Some snakes control snake populations.  Some snakes may be threatened or endangered.

It is unlikely you will have appropriate tools when backpacking and most people are not experienced snake wranglers...inexperienced people are probably more likely to get bitten again or for there to be a second person with a snake bite worse than the first.  It is also possible to get a bite from a dead snake.


@OldGuyot Remember, too, that snake has a lifetime's experience evading things much quicker than us humans. And now, it's either 1) well on its way to a safe place or 2) in a defensive posture and watching closely. Either way, it's not going to be easy to get close to.


OG, you make some excellent points (like always) and I tend to agree with you on most, but the advice to kill the snake comes from Medicine for Mountaineering, 4th d., p.333"Preferably the snake should be killed and bought to the medical center along with the person who was bitten..."H also stats that patterns on the snake can be so tricky that it is best to examine the snake directly.  You can get in trouble by  attempting to take a picture as well.  I agree with you that indiscriminate killing of snakes is a bad idea for many reasons..

Hiking and living in Arizona, I have had many encounters with snakes, both poisonous and non.  In nearly all cases, Mr. Snake goes in direction A, while I go in direction B - no harm, no foul.

There can be exceptions. years ago, I was in the field, working at a national monument in Arizona and living in an isolated trailer with my wife and two year old daughter.  I encountered a snake immediately outside my trailer.  Concerned about the welfare of my child, I decided the snake had to go-NPS regulations be damned!  Unsuccessful at first with a 357 cal shot cartridge, I grabbed a shovel, an archaeologist's best tool, and bisected Mr.Snake.  i did not fondle the head....

There have been a few other occasions similar to that one, and I can say that a long handle, round pointed shovel is the tool of choice.  For a hiker, trekking poles(fully extended!) should serve as well.  Trekking poles serve better as probes when in snake country. peacefully alerting you to the presence of a snake.

Overall, snakes are a relatively minor problem.  Doing SAR around Tucson, AZ, certainly snake country, we had numerous  operations involving fall victims, and surprisingly, drownings.  In the more than 450 operations in which i worked, not a single snake bite!  We did have one fall victim who clambered up a steep slope, came face to face with a rattler, and tumbled, tweaking his ankle.

Nowadays, I spend a lot of time on the northern Channel islands, which are rattlesnake free, although we know from paleontological examples that they were on the islands long ago.  It has taken me a long time to get used to clambering through thick brush without a care for snakes. 

But when on the mainland, be alert and reasonably careful.....

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I think the advice to kill the snake may be outdated and/or the result of its intended audience... people who are traveling. Outside of North America, there is a much larger variety of snakes and there are different varieties of antivenin as a result. Also, I believe at one time there were several varieties of antivenin available in the States. I certainly remember hearing that advice as a child growing up in Florida. But now, with apparently only one antivenin available for pit vipers and it being so easy to distinguish between a coral snake and... anything else... I really don't see the point.

My first backpacking trip was at the age of 18 and on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, which is also apparently venomous snake free. It took some getting used to! And, not long afterwards I was rafting and camping in Hell's Canyon, which is... not free of venomous snakes, to say nothing of scorpions.


@DaveBaldwin - you're correct. A dead snake can still envenomate for several hours after death. In North America, almost all venomous snakes are pit vipers (coral snakes are not) and treatment uses the same anti-venom. If you can get a picture of the snake (safely) then do so. But general consensus is to not kill the snake as the dangers of doing so greatly outweigh any benefit to the attending ER physicians.

For anyone on Facebook, I'd strongly recommend joining the group National Snakebite Support. It's staffed by volunteer physicians who have expertise in snake bites and is a wealth of information. 

One note is that they are incredibly strict - if anyone posts about an active bite, then the only people allowed to reply are the doctors and the person who posted. Otherwise, questions are allowed and that group (along with Snake Identification) have done a lot to ease my anxiety about snakes on trail.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

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