4 Tips for Backpacking during Fire Season
In the Pacific Northwest we have five seasons instead of four, nestled right in between summer and fall is fire season. Some years fire season is short and light, other years it’s much longer and more heated, see what I did there… But just because fire season is a thing, doesn’t mean you can’t get out to hike, camp and have a good time. Below are some tips for successfully navigating fire season and how not to let it ruin your backcountry adventure.
1. Check wildfire Conditions before you leave
Probably one of the most important things you can do is really just one of the things you should be doing for any backcountry trip, it’s also one of the LNT principles: plan ahead and prepare. Do some research on your destination, is it on fire? Is there fire nearby? Is it smoked out? There are great resources available online to investigate fire activity and also the Forest Service and BLM offices are usually more than happy to answer questions.
Other helpful sites:
2. Have and share an emergency plan
Another staple for any backcountry trip in my book, is to put together an emergency plan that you can email or leave with a trusted friend or family member should something go wrong. We all know many great outdoors people that don’t need to rely on anybody for anything. The reality is, bad stuff can and does happen in the backcountry. Some useful information I like to leave behind:
- Where I plan on camping, even if it’s not certain, I’ll leave the general area or potential spots
- Where I should be on each day, again this doesn’t have to be exact
- Emergency contact numbers. You should research in your state, is the county responsible for search and rescue, or should family contact the USFS? These are good things to know if you are out past expected arrival.
- Emergency tracking info, do you have a SPOT or an inReach if so leave instructions on how to track you or message you in an emergency.
Answering these questions will not only help if you need to be found, but will also help immensely in planning and preparedness for the trip. If you have a trusted friend who’s also familiar with the back country or area you are headed, they can watch the fire maps and Inciweb site for updates and give you a heads up on any new fire activity if you can be reached. If not, it’s always helpful to have an advocate outside to contact the appropriate agency should you need to be evacuated early.
3. Don’t count on a camp fire
During fire season, it’s very common for fire restrictions or outright bans to be put in place, especially in remote areas. Plan your meals around cooking on a backpacking stove. We all love the friendly ambiance and warm glow that a camp fire provides, but it’s just not worth it. It’s certainly not worth the bill should you start off a wildfire, just ask these kids. Most of my breakfast and lunch are always no-cook “trail” meals, and there are lots of great backpacking recipes that can be done on a stove that are not “just add water”
4. Be aware of your surroundings
Keep your eyes peeled while hiking, fishing or exploring throughout the day. We were out a couple weeks ago and every day we the smoke would start rolling in during the late afternoon and evening hours. I don’t mean a little smoke, a lot of smoke, like I can’t see across the lake smoke. This caused breathing issues in our group as well as major headaches. Luckily it only lasted a few hours and would be cleared up by 2am or so, but it does give you a keen sense of understanding of how a fire or even the smoke from a nearby fire can disorient you and make you feel awful. So be aware, don’t be afraid to pack out early and keep your eyes out for new smoke and signs that a new fire could be close.