Initial Thoughts for a Wildland Firefighter Pre-Season Fitness Assessment


By Rob Shaul and Kyle Bochanski

Wildland firefighters (hand crews, Hotshots, Helitack, Smoke Jumpers) must pass an annual “Pack Test” prior to the fire season.

The “Pack Test”, involves covering a distance of 3 miles in 45 minutes with a 45-pound pack over flat terrain. This test is widely considered within the service as not representing the true fitness demands encountered by wildland firefighters on the job.

Many individual Hotshot units have developed their own, unit-specific fitness assessment, which all members are subject to upon reporting for fire duty in the spring. However, there is no standardization for these assessments, and the assessments and follow-on physical training during initial reporting has resulted in numerous cases of rhabdo this season.

As a result we’ve begun work on developing a Wildland Firefighter-Specific Pre-Season Fitness Assessment.

From past assessments development for tactical athletes, we understand any assessment must address and consider several issues:

1. Easy to administer. Many Hotshot Crews have 20+ individuals, and any assessment must be easy to administer to this many individuals simultaneously.

2. Readily Available Equipment: The fitness training facilities and equipment at Wildland Firefighter units can vary greatly. As a result, any fitness assessment which deploys specialized or not readily-available equipment is doomed to failure.

3. Simple to score.

4. Reflects the fitness demands of the job. This gives the test “currency” with the firefighters who have to take it.

We’ve been unable to find any research or studies which outline the on-fire fitness demands of Wildland Firefighters. We hope to get our own researchers on a fire this summer to complete a job task assessment.

Going in, we believe Wildland Firefighting has the following, assessable fitness demands:

1) Load Carriage Ability – Wildland Firefighters are always moving loaded, with loads ranging from 45 pounds to 100+ pounds. This load carriage ability demands high level of lower body and chassis integrity strength, and mode-specific aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

2) Uphill and Downhill Hiking Aerobic Fitness and Strength – Aerobic fitness for the uphill, and eccentric strength for the down hill.

3) Upper Body Strength – Wildland Firefighters carry a pulaski, shovel or chain saw, and use these tools to build fire lines, clear brush, etc. All of this work demands upper body strength.

4) Work Capacity for Short, Intense Events – These can include hard running or sprinting to safety, and intense multi-modal efforts building fire lines or clearing areas of brush.

5) Stamina – Wildland Firefighter shifts are often 12-14 hours long. These long efforts demand mental and physical “stamina.”

Here is where our thoughts are now on the assessment:

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Equipment Required:
– 16” Benches or ledge for Step Ups
– 5x 25# Back Packs for Pull Ups
– Pull Up Bars
– 20x 60# Sandbags

Overall Assessment will take 120-180 minutes, depending upon 6 mile ruck finish times.

Details to be worked out, but idea would be one scoring method, with three ranges for “Poor”, “Good” and “Great” performance.

We’re interested in your feedback and ideas. Please email

We are actively looking for a crew to observe on a fire to conduct the job task analysis. Interested? Please email.

1. Ruby, B. C. et al. Total energy expenditure during arduous wildfire suppression. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 34, 1048–1054 (2002).

2. Domitrovich, J. W. Wildland firefighter health and safety. (2011).

3. Petersen, A. et al. Validity and relevance of the pack hike wildland firefighter work capacity test: a review. Ergonomics 53, 1276–1285 (2010).

4. Writer, A. G. Exercise physiologist to recommend tougher work capacity test for hot shots. Wildfire Today Available at: (Accessed: 25th May 2016)

5. The fitness test for Canadian firefighters – Wildfire Today. Available at: (Accessed: 25th May 2016)

6. Ruby, B. C., Leadbetter III, G. W., Armstrong, D. W. & Gaskill, S. E. Wildland firefighter load carriage: effects on transit time and physiological responses during simulated escape to safety zone. Int. J. Wildland Fire 12, 111–116 (2003).


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