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Adventure Medical Kits SAM Splint Review

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The SAM Splint is a flexible splint for pre-hospital and wilderness medical situations. It is made of a thin aluminum sheet sandwiched between one blue and one orange layer of thin ethylene vinyl acetate (rubbery) closed cell foam. The SAM Splint can be bent into various configurations to serve as splints and braces. There is a small instructional paper included with each SAM Splint, when purchased in retail rolled form. The SAM Splint Company also offers brief descriptions and videos of how to use the splint on their website. A more in-depth instructional video tape is also available.

+ Dimensions:

I usually store my SAM Splints rolled into a semi-rectangular shape, of dimensions 3.5 x 4.25 x 2 in (9 x 10.8 x 5 cm). The two layers of foam together are approximately 0.15 in (4 mm) thick. The aluminum sheet begins 0.6 in (1.5 cm) in from each end of the foam. The overall (unrolled) shape is that of a long rectangle with curved corners, measuring 4.25 x 36 in (10.8 x 91 cm).

Basic Product Information

  • Manufacturer: The Seaberg Company
  • Year of Manufacture: 2000
  • URL: http://www.sammedical.com/
  • Listed weight: 4 oz (110 g)
  • Weight as delivered: 4 oz (110 g) (Average over seven splints)
  • Size: Rectangular 4.25 x 36 in (10.8 x 91 cm)

+ Details:

In my experience, SAM Splints can be cut or trimmed easily using my EMT shears (which are strong and ever-so-slightly serrated shears for cutting through jeans, seat belts, and other thick items. The shears are also usually associated with Emergency Medical Technicians, hence their name). The SAM Splints do not absorb water or sweat. They clean easily and do not discolor or become brittle while using the American Red Cross advised disinfectant solution of a 16:1 water:bleach solution. The SAM Splint aluminum pieces do not block X-rays and therefore can be left on while X-ray treatment occurs. The blue foam side is significantly thicker and provides more cushioning than the orange side.

+ A Short Comment on the Instructional Video:

While the subject of this review is not the instructional video, it is worth mentioning that I consider the instructional video to be an integral part of using the SAM Splints. Without knowledge of how to properly use a SAM Splint, they are simply floppy pieces of aluminum. I have seen horrendous uses of the SAM Splints in practice by people who are otherwise well trained, and yet have not taken the time to educate themselves in the use of the SAM Splint in particular. Many nuances of the splint, as referred to below, are not readily apparent. The video itself clearly covers all major common usages for the SAM Splint, and is a great clarification and instructional tool. Major portions of the video are also available on the manufacturer’s web site in QuickTime format.


Field Testing

I have used a number of SAM Splints over the course of three years. They are reusable, but I have demands on them which require that I have more than one. Over those three years, I have carried a SAM Splint on every trip more major than taking a walk in my backyard. I have used them to treat around ten major injuries, ranging from a dislocated ulna to a broken second tarsal. I have also used them in demonstrations and activities while teaching three American Red Cross First Responder courses.

Trip Details:

My SAM Splints have been carried and used on trips of all types, including backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, day hiking, skiing, and general outdoor and urban fun. Temperatures ranged from 100 F (38 C) to -25 F (-32 C), and conditions ranged from snowy and icy to dry sandy desert. Elevations ranged from sea level to 14,000 ft (4300 m), and terrain was mostly mountainous.

Important Usage Points:

+ Product as Advertised: Yes, in almost all aspects.
Comments: There are many advertised aspects of a SAM Splint, whether on the packaging or on the website. Some advertised aspects I found to be very accurate, others were not quite as they were claimed to be. I will comment on all the advertised aspects I know of here:

  • Lightweight: Of course, this is very subjective, but I consider it to be lightweight. When I used to carry a simple wire-grate splint with all the padding and edge protection needed to properly apply the splint, the total wire-splint package was significantly bulkier and heavier. Plus, carrying other appropriate materials to formulate a C-collar (which the SAM Splint can mimic) would be even heavier still.
  • Suitable for both adults and children: Thankfully, I have never had to use a SAM Splint on a child in the field. However, children were present in some training situations, and the splint seemed adequate at those times.
  • Easily rolled or folded for storage: Easy to roll and fold, for sure. However, folding more than about fifty times in the same way kinks the splint permanently at the fold mark. Fifty may seem like a lot, but if you are using one to teach a class, or folding one to fit in first aid kits of different sizes, the splint can wear out without any actual use in a very short time frame. I prefer to roll mine.
  • Requires no extra equipment: This is where I disagree with the advertising. I require two additional pieces of equipment: (1) Padding, and (2) Tape. First, I prefer to carry extra padding, in the form of a single or double gauze layer for the length of the splint. I have also successfully used a tee-shirt, a long and wide elastic bandage, and a towel as padding. Nowhere on the site or video does SAM mention the need for padding, and when applying the splint unpadded to the first major injury I treated (a severely sprained ankle) the wearer soon had to remove it because of added pain. We ended up taping the ankle with athletic tape instead. After that trip, I experimented with different ways to make the splint more comfortable, and never again did I apply the splint without padding. I find it to be an oversight of SAM to not mention that padding may be needed. On the upside, the SAM splint is very smooth, and does not rip through padding as wire splints tend to do. But, even if someone, somewhere, has discovered how to properly apply a SAM Splint without padding, I would be very impressed if anyone has managed to secure a splint properly without tape or similar wrap. All properly applied splints must be fixed to the limb above and below the injury, and there is simply no way to do that in many common cases without tape. Even the demonstrations in the instructional video use what appears to be Coban (a sticky sort of bandage). I always carry tape or an elastic bandage along with the SAM Splint to secure it.
  • Does not puncture: I am not sure what the manufacturer means by this, but although the foam on the outsides of a few of my SAM splints punctured and tore with moderate abuse, the aluminum splint portion did not puncture at all.
  • Easy to use: Yes! However, it seems to be also easy to use incorrectly (from observing my students). Personally, once I learned the general stiffening techniques, it was easy to correctly apply the ideas to new uses. It indeed comes with step-by-step instructions (for the retail rolled form only), though the instructions are small and easy to lose in the field.
  • Water, weather, and altitude-proof: They are indeed. Even in the very cold situations I encountered, it remained pliable. However, old crusty snow cut into the foam a little bit and left one of mine looking slightly more worn.
  • Easily cleanable: My splints have only faded, and have never seriously discolored from dirt, iodine, blood, or other substances. I clean mine, as mentioned above, with the American Red Cross recommended bleach solution, and the splints clean easily and well.
  • Radiolucency: This is very true, and useful, but in all cases I have used them the splint had to be eventually removed anyway for setting or casting. Thus, though it is kind of neat to leave it on for X-rays, removal has to happen eventually. But, this is still a great advantage for the comfort a well-applied splint will give during the X-ray process.

+ Durability: Good
Comments: On one hand, every one of my splints looks a little worse for the wear, and a single American Red Cross course usually breaks at least one splint. On the other hand, one of my splints, though being used three times and carried for nearly three years, has outlasted everything else in the first aid kit — including the sack! In my opinion, the durability of these splints is just an added bonus to their usefulness, and I would not mind too much if they ripped after the first use, as long as they worked well that first time.

+ Versatility: Excellent
Comments: Only one of the injuries I have treated using the SAM Splint has been a “textbook” injury. Every other one required me to know three or four basic folds for the splint, and then say “Hmm…ah, padding there…fold there, support there…”, find a good configuration on the fly, and then apply a lot of padding and tape. The only downside to the SAM (or any flexible) splint is that I have found it needs to be used next to or as close to skin level as possible. Whereas the good ole’ stiff board can be (and, in some cases, gains certain advantages from being) used to splint right over five or six layers of clothing, the SAM Splint is too floppy to withstand the added force from clothing slippage.

+ General Usefulness: Excellent
Comments: I cannot say enough good things about the usefulness of the SAM Splint. Thankfully, broken bones and sprains/strains do not happen every day, but the SAM Splint has added more comfort and stability to unhappy situations in the wilderness than any other piece of first-aid equipment I carry, with perhaps the small exception of a Mylar heat blanket.


Summary

The SAM Splint is a compact and flexible aluminum and foam splint which helps out in wilderness emergencies. Although it is not applicable in all situations, it is lightweight, easy to clean and maintain, and, with training and education, relatively easy to apply correctly and improvise with. I find it to be a valuable tool in my first aid kit.

+ Trips that I would bring the SAM Splint on in the future: All of them. Really.

Upsides for me:

  • Easily washable
  • Reusable
  • Applicable to many types of injuries
  • Orders of magnitude better than any other similar product I’ve found

Downsides for me:

  • Long-term durability (folding creates weak points and the aluminum edges cut through the foam)
  • Easy to use incorrectly without training or education
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