Wildland Fire Gear Checklist

February 09, 2018

Wildfires are a very different beast than your traditional structural fire, therefore they require a different training structure and preparation methods, as well as a different set of gear.

According to the National Park Service’s National Interagency Fire Center, a wildland fire “is a general term describing any non-structure fire that occurs in vegetation and natural fuels.” This includes both prescribed – intentionally planned – and wildfires which are unplanned fires, often caused by lightning.

Wildland firefighting is a fast-growing segment of firefighting, growing larger and more intense with each passing season. With the increase in risk to houses, wildfires are often front-and-center on the nightly news broadcast and at the forefront of the public’s mind, especially for those who live in at-risk areas.

With this increased exposure, federal and state resources are now being actively directed toward preventing and fighting these devastating fires, which is a great benefit to the brave firefighters risking life and limb to fight them.

Fighting a structural, urban-setting fire and a wildland fire entail drastically different circumstances and challenges. For men and women who are used to structural firefighting, setting out on a wildland mission can be stressful and overwhelming with its new set of challenges and dangers.

One of the biggest differences between the two types of firefighting is the gear that’s worn and used. Generally, structural firefighters wear heavy, bulky gear and don’t have to worry about packing extra gear for prolonged time in the field, where as wildland firefighters must be prepared for days and possibly weeks at a time away from home and in the field.

So let’s take a look at the gear you’ll need for a wildland firefighting mission, including firefighting-specific gear, personal items, safety items, overnight items, and nourishment.

Firefighting-specific gear

Your employer generally provides this gear for the express purpose of fighting the fire. However, if you have preferences that aren’t met or want an extra of something, you may want to invest and bring your own piece of gear.

Personal comfort items

Your comfort is your responsibility, so you must pack the items that you think will make you the most comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, possibly for up to two weeks at a time. However, you also want to be mindful that you will be the one lugging around all of the gear you take, so you don’t want to pack too heavy either.

Pack only the essentials for your comfort. For example, if you like to read in your down time, consider packing an e-reader as opposed to several books. That way you have all of the reading material you need without the extra bulk and weight.

How do you know how much to pack? That depends on the length of time you’ll be in the field. Most veteran wildland firefighters have three types of backpacks: daily, overnight, and extended stay.

Plan ahead and create a checklist with the amount of personal items you’ll need based on each possible amount of time. Experience will be your friend – the more expeditions you go on, the better idea you’ll have of exactly what you need, including:

  • Extra socks and underwear
  • Bathroom toiletries
  • Bug repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Utility knife or multi-tool
  • Identification
  • Emergency contact info
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Blowup pillow
  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Cell phone charger
  • Waterproof laundry sack
  • Cash (at least $50 is recommended)
  • Ear plugs


Medical and safety gear

Fighting wildland fires can be extremely dangerous, so you need to pack items that will help to keep you safe on the job. You may not use these items each and every time you go out, or even very often at all, but it’s vital that you have them on hand for when the time does arise and you need them.

  • Individual first aid kit
  • Clear safety glasses/goggles
  • Parachute cord
  • Headlamp
  • Over-counter-meds – for things like allergies and headaches
  • Prescription medications

Nourishment and food supplies

Obviously this is not a 9 – 5 job so set break periods and meal times will be hard to come by. You may not have the time to stop for an extended period, so you’ll need nourishment on the go and quickly. It’s important to keep your body fueled so that you have the energy you need to sustain you throughout these long days and nights. Good, quick options with plenty of vitamins, nutrients and energy boosting ingredients include:

  • Granola bars
  • Protein bars
  • Jerky
  • Pop-top canned items that can be eaten without being heated (think canned corn, potatoes, or even canned ravioli)
  • Energy supplements

Remember, as tempting as it may be to snack on candy, chips and pretzels, you want to avoid those kind of items because they spike your blood sugar and inevitably lead to a crash – not what you want when you’re fighting a blazing fire.

When you’re back at base camp or bunking down for the night, you’ll also want items like a can opener, camping stove, and instant coffee.

Miscellaneous items

Other items you’ll want to consider include a compass, GPS, camera, alarm clock, and timepiece. However, you may want to consider an option that has all of those items built in, i.e. a cell phone or all-in-one wristwatch. That way you don’t have to worry about carrying around several different items, but can instead carry one item with everything you need built in.

As a wildland firefighter, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way, but you also can’t afford to pack suitcases and luggage as if you’re going on a Caribbean getaway. Think about the duration of your expedition and what circumstances you’ll likely face, then use this checklist to determine what items you must have and what items you can leave at home this time.

Do you have something that’s a must-take on all of your wildland firefighting trips? We’d love to hear what it is, so leave a comment below.

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