7 Tips for Wildfire Safety | Hiking & Backpacking
As wildfires rage across the west, we felt this was an appropriate time to check in about safety for hikers. First and foremost, fire and air quality danger are extreme right now (as of Sunday September 13, 2020), and the best option for those living in affected areas is to stay home, stay inside, and stay alert. First responders are stretched impossibly thin, and it is up to us not to add to their burden, should a new fire break out and backcountry rescue become necessary.
lead photo courtesy of Joanne Francis/Unsplash
September 16 Update: Wildfire and Air Quality Maps Now Available for Free on gaiagps.com
In response to the wildfires ravaging the country, all active wildfire and air quality maps are now available for free on gaiagps.com. These maps allow you to track wildfires using heat-detected satellite data and information reported from people on-site at the fires. You can also view current and upcoming estimated levels of pollutants with Air Quality maps.
The now free maps on gaiagps.com include the Wildfire (satellite), Wildfire (current), Air Quality (current), and Air Quality (tomorrow). All four Wildfire and Air Quality maps will be made available in iOS and Android as soon as we’re able to make a new app update available. Read the full blog post here
The GAIA GPS “Wildfires (Current)” map layer is a great resource to see the realtime size and location of fires. See more about GAIA GPS Wildfire and Air Quality Map Layers.
7 Tips for Wildfire Safety Hiking
Outside the scope of this current, unprecedented crisis, we give the following generalized safety tips for hiking during wildfire season.
1a. First & Foremost, Check Closures and Restrictions!
This is DEFINITELY not the time to sneak in or be where you shouldn’t be. Check official agencies, parks, local new services to see which areas are restricted or are at risk of being closed. And make sure you also check predictions for what future conditions will be like during your hike. Increasing and shifting winds can rapidly change things in 24 hours or less.
1b. Check Air Quality
As of Sunday September 13, 2020 many areas out West have abysmal air quality and the safest option is to stay put and reduce your level of activity. See sample GAIA GPS “Air Quality (Current)” layer below. A subscription to GAIA GPS will get you both Air Quality and Wildfire Layers
The GAIA GPS “Air Quality (Current)” map layer is a great resource to see the realtime air quality data.
- Know where current fires are at all times, and plan accordingly. Do not hike near uncontained active fires. Information about current fires can always be found online. Contact local land management or firefighting resources if you have specific questions. Download Gaia’s new heat-mapped wildfire overlay and plug it into your GPS.
- Have a plan B, fast evac., for your trip route. Know the terrain you will be hiking in. Create evacuation routes in case you are cut off from your entry trailhead.
- Carry a satellite communication device, like our favorite, the Garmin inReach Mini, in case you become stranded or surrounded. Or to keep in touch with the folks following your trip for the latest info on fire risk and air quality issues.
- Carry an N95 mask into the backcountry for smoke filtration. Cloth face masks popularized by the COVID19 crisis do not have sufficient filters should you find yourself surrounded by particulate-dense, unhealthy air.
- Refrain from starting campfires. And be extra careful with cooking in camp, using only safe and approved camp stoves that you are familiar with operating. Or even go stoveless.
- BE conservative in your decision making. If you aren’t confident or you don’t feel safe, turn around. The mental burden of worrying about the threat of fire is in and of itself enough to ruin a trip. It is never worthwhile to endanger yourself or your partners. And as we noted earlier, first responders are stretched impossibly thin, and it is up to us not to add to their burden with a new fire or a backcountry rescue.
These are unprecedented and challenging times, and we wish you safe and happy trails as soon as it becomes appropriate to get back out there.
– The Adventure Alan Staff
As you know, from our GAIA GPS the Best Hiking GPS and How to Use It we believe that GAIA GPS is the best navigation tool for backpacking and hiking. But now it’s an even more powerful tool providing both realtime location of fires, and realtime air quality maps.
GAIA GPS with GAIA GPS “Wildfires (Current)” map layer, and “Wildfires (Current)’ map layer. There are also “Tomorrow” (forecast) maps for both Wildfires and Air Quality.