Wildland Firefighting Nutrition

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It’s common knowledge that wildland firefighters must be in top physical condition to perform their duties. The firefighter pack test, a physical fitness test, requires firefighters to complete a 3-mile hike with 45-lbs on their back in 45 minutes.

But this strength doesn’t just come from weight lifting and running. A wildland firefighter’s diet can also impact his or her physical fitness. Keep these tips in mind when considering nutrition for a wildland firefighter.

What to Eat

Wildland firefighting is physically challenging, meaning firefighters burn a lot of calories while fighting wildfires. According to Wildfire X, wildland firefighters generally need at least 6,000 calories per day to balance their caloric intake and energy output. Here’s an overview of what’s most important to their diet:


While in the field, it’s important to keep carbohydrate-rich foods on hand. These foods help produce glucose in the blood, which provides fuel to your brain. If your blood glucose levels are low, your body can make glucose from muscle proteins, but this weakens the body, making carbohydrate intake important for maintaining strength. While working, firefighters should eat approximately 40 grams of carbohydrates each hour.

Carbohydrate-rich foods include:

  • Whole-grain products
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Fruit
  • Milk
  • Energy bars

While some of these items may not seem practical out in the field, there are plenty of light-weightand ready-to-eat options packed with these ingredients, such as various energy bars.


Fats provide a large amount of energy in a small package. As a general rule, however, fats should not make up more than 20 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake, and less than one-third of that should be made up of saturated and trans fats. Substituting butter for olive oil, for instance, can help you better balance your diet with healthier fats. In the field, you can get a healthy dose of fats from products like almonds and hazelnuts.


Protein helps maintain muscle mass. For athletes and firefighters, the general guideline is to eat 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Almonds, beans, peanut butter, and meat are good sources of protein.


Drinking plenty of fluids is vital to staying hydrated. This is particularly important for firefighters who are in hot environments and constantly sweating.

What to Have in Your Pack

How do you get all these carbohydrates, fats, and protein in your diet when you’re out in the field? Clearly there are criteria for your pack food. For instance, it should be light-weight, ready to eat, and packed with nutrients. Examples of what to keep in your wildlandpack include:

  • Granola bars
  • Crackers
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Protein bars
  • Beef jerky

It’s also a good practice to keep sports drinks like Gatorade along with you. Not only do they provide nutrients themselves, but the ingredients in them are designed to help you stay hydrated, so they can prove to be a better alternative to simply water.

Tips for Wildland Firefighters

To keep yourself in peak shape, consider these additional tips:

  • Weigh yourself frequently. It’s best to weigh yourself every two weeks in the morning before breakfast but after urination. If you find that you’re losing weight, it could mean you’re dropping muscle mass, which isn’t ideal for a wildland firefighter. If you find that you’re dropping pounds, add more foods or larger portions to your diet.
  • Keep an eye on your urine. As odd as it sounds, checking the color of your urine is an important step to staying hydrated. It should be fairly clear in color. If it’s dark, you need to drink more water.
  • When fire season is over, be sure to either reduce your caloric intake or keep up with your physical exercise to maintain a healthy calorie-to-energy-use ratio. You’ll want to return next season just as physically fit as you were when you left.

Wildland firefighters require a lot more food than the typical person since their jobs are so active. Eating a healthy diet balanced with energy-rich foods will keep firefighters alert, strong, and in peak physical condition.

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