Hiking in Smoky Conditions? It Can Be Safe, but Should You?

“Wildfire season” can be scary to hear; it happens every year, like hurricane season and tornado season. The western part of the country is currently struggling with a lot of fires. (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/) Here in Southern California, we had a fire jump over a freeway the other day. We watch for evacuations, check air reports and hope to get through to the other side in one piece.

For many, fires, thankfully, just put a damper on their weekend plans. California’s national forests have all been closed because of fires. But most will reopen soon. That is excellent news for people who want to get back to hiking, camping and other outdoor pursuits. However, Sequoia national park has now closed and is under a mandatory evacuation.

We have seen a lot of tips about how to hike safely in smoky conditions and during fire season. They say to check the air quality and fire map before you go. Experts say to wear an N95 mask to protect your lungs from any smoke you might come in contact with. They tell you to watch landmarks in the distance: if the visibility changes, you should leave. They suggest having an escape plan to get off the trail if you run into large amounts of smoke and know back up paths. They even write that you should wear cotton instead of polyester in case you run into heat because it’s less likely to melt, and you should know how to build a fire shelter.

All of these tips tell us the same thing: now is not the best time to be hiking in a wildfire area. Perhaps, if you are an incredibly skilled hiker with years of experience, knowing this information can make it safe. But, our team reads these tips and stops right on step number one. We’ll check the air quality and fire map and move on with our day if there’s any chance it will be hard to breathe, or we might run into danger! For us, getting out into nature is supposed to be about finding a fun way to get some exercise and see beautiful things. It’s not a life-threatening endurance sport. If you plan on going out into a wildfire area, we suggest you read all the links above and contact local hiking groups to find out more information. And don’t go out for solo hikes.

If the weather is cool and you’ve been looking forward to an activity and are disappointed, we do have some suggestions for productive, active things you can do indoors. If you live in an area where wildfires are common, you probably have air filters or tricks to keeping the air in your home cleaner than outside. Staying inside could be key to breathing easy right now.

To get some good exercise in, why not clean or declutter your house while listening to some of your favorite music or a podcast? You’ll get your steps in and a cleaner home. Or, as it’s finally cooling off and you’ve set some time aside, this weekend might be a great time to do some batch cooking! Cooking large amounts of delicious, healthy foods can be a great way to invest in your future. When you have meals frozen and ready to go, you are far more likely to make great choices. All of us are tired sometimes and reach for the freezer. If you do some batch cooking now, you’ll have nutritious meals waiting for you instead of something processed that you’ll regret later.

While there can be ways to hike more safely during wildfire season, we suggest waiting until it’s past if you’re in an area where you’re impacted. Not only will you be safer, but your lungs will be happier, and the views will be more beautiful!

Banner image: The Calwood Fire of 2020 in Boulder, CO. Credit: Malachi Brooks via Unsplash
September 17, 2021
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