Im going to put this here because this post will involve elements of all 3 lines of gear as well as clothing and boots. If mods think there's a more appropriate place feel free to move it.
Several folks mentioned in a thread I started about FR pants awhile back that they would be interested in a post about wildland equipment and gear, I was traveling quite a bit at the time including a fire assignment doing prescribed burning in Florida when all this COVID bullshit went down. Our program got canceled and rather than fly home, four of us decided to exfil by car so we rented a 4WD Nissan, piled all of our shit in it and drove from FL to MN to ID and OR dropping people off along the way. AND...now were all quarantined and "teleworking" so I finally have time to do this.
*Im techtarded and dont know how to post pictures so I will include as many links and try to give good descriptions of things discussed as I can. I will also try to mention when things are issued items, unless otherwise mentioned assume that these are personally purchased items that I have chosen to buy knowing that if they are damaged/stolen etc they will not be replaced by .gov
A little background for reference, this summer will be my 13th fire season. I am currently an Engine Captain for the BLM and I work and live in Salmon, ID. The past seven seasons I have worked on the BLM engines here starting as a seasonal Senior FF and gradually getting promoted to Capt. Prior to that I spent 5 seasons working on a Type2IA handcrew mostly as a sawyer or squadboss. I have fought fire or done RX fire in FL,GA,NC,OH,KY,TN,CO,UT,MT,ID,CA,OR,and AK. The diversity of these environments has done a lot to shape my gear choices and if I know where I'm going to be sent I still modify things a bit to tailor to expected conditions, but not too much because I learned a long time ago that just because your resource order says your headed to state "A" doesn't mean you wont end up in potentially "B-Z" before you get back. Flexibility and multiple use define not only successful firefighters but successful gear as well.
Let's start with a basic operational 1st line, meaning the stuff I'm wearing and whats in my pockets (not pack, we'll get there).
Probably the single most important, personal, and frequently discussed/argued about piece of gear in fire. Your feet are your moneymakers and if you cant hike, you cant work and are therefore, useless. I got good advice when I started and invested in the gold standard of fire boots from the get-go, the Whites Smokejumper's. These are a logger style 10" leather handmade boot with a highish heel that lets you dig into dirt and slope.
https://whitesboots.com/firefi...riginal-smokejumper/ ~$500 (I paid about 400 in 2008)
They were awesome, they were custom built using a tracing of my feet and like 6 diameter measurements from across my foot up to my calf. Break-in was a process but well worth it. I dont do any water dunking or shaving cream BS when I break in boots, just grease the shit out of them with Obenauf's https://www.obenaufs.com/ wear them for a couple days laced tight and then load up a pack and go hike them. Once the Whites were broke in they felt great and I never had any problems with them over the course of 8 years and a few rebuilds until I went on a handcrew assignment in Alaska where despite everything burning just fine, we were essentially hiking in (on?) water for 2 straight weeks, you couldn't get away from it long enough for them to ever start to dry and by the time I got back the toe box had collapsed to where it rubbed blisters right at the nail bed on both feet on my outermost toes. I also lost the majority of the skin off the bottom of both feet about a week after I got back, learning occurred, just a little late.
Remember, these boots had been awesome up to this point for years of hard work and untold hundreds of miles. Alaska fire work is hard on boots, the guys that normally work up there wear different stuff because of it. I sent them back for rebuild and bought the next pair I'll discuss because I needed boots fast and they are known for minimal break in. The Whites came back poor fitting unlike ever before, come to find out, the company had been recently acquired by an Asian investment group and (my opinion) quality suffered, I kept them as a backup and wore the new ones the rest of the season. For what its worth, word on the line these days is they are back to building great boots again and I have heard it enough that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them again.
I got these on a pro-deal for about $300
Lowa Tibet GTX Hi were the boots I ordered after AK, they are a lighter weight alpinist hiking boot that are fairly popular because they meet the NFPA specs enough to pass the red face test, have a lower heel, and fit more like an athletic boot/shoe than loggers. I ordered the HI (10") version because I'm use to tall boots and appreciate all the ankle support I can get. These do have some insulation which makes them hotter. I don't like them in the summer because of this, in the winter burning piles in snow they are great because they are warmer and waterproof. When you have 300 acres of piles a day to hand ignite in 2ft of snow, for days at a time they are pretty nice.
I also know some folks in helitack that spend a lot of their time on runways at helibase that swear they get less knee and back pain from this style of boot than they do from the hard soled logger boots which makes sense because they fit more like an athletic shoe. I personally like the fit of logger boots and experience less fatigue with them than I do from my Lowas so I now use them for pile burning or wet assignments (AK) only.
Nick's Hotshot, very similar to the Whites but a little heavier, these boots have been around a very long time and based on my last experience with Whites I decided to try them. They took longer to break in fully than Whites but once they broke in they were about as comfortable. The reason I moved on was that mine suffered a catastrophic failure of separation of the heel and lower of the boot. Luckily this happened on a cutting project and not a fire because I was left with a very unfashionable "wildland flip flop" for the rest of the day and the hike out. Upon closer inspection I noted that the leather was attached to the soles in this area by staples or U shaped nails rather than or in addition to stitching. I believe this is why they failed and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I know plenty of people that are still rocking Nicks for years and swear by them, I think I may have just had an unlucky pair but regardless, I lost faith in them.
https://www.jkboots.com/products/fire-inlander-brown ~$550 with my options
These are the boots I am currently wearing and I am completely in love with them. Best handmade logger boot money can buy in my somewhat humble but also experienced opinion. The customer experience with this Father/Son business was exceptional, communication was prompt and professional and they actually called ME three times over the next year just to ask how the boots were performing, I don't see that level of customer service ANYWHERE anymore. Awesome people aside, these are the most comfortable boots I have ever put my feet in and they were broken in in days not weeks. They got all my measurements perfect, they look better and they have held up longer with less damage than any boot I have had while being easily the most comfortable even after lots of wear. If they continue to be this awesome they have a customer for life, they are spendy for sure but well worth it. I'm sure there is a price they could rise to where I would be out but I sure hope I never see that because I don't want to think about going back.
Before I move on from boots, it's worthwhile noting that I have lived in all these boots year round, not just at work. I also wear them day to day off the clock doing work around the house, hunting, at the range, etc. Once your feet get used to custom made boots its hard to be satisfied with anything else. I still wear and love my Lucchese and Twisted X cowboy boots, and Teva sandals but if theres any hiking to be done it's always been in my fire boots, whichever ones that was at the time.
I mostly use and generally prefer Smartwool socks. They are expensive so I try to buy them on sale like I do everything. I have also used and would recommend Darn Tough and even the Cabelas Merino wool socks do ok, they just don't last as long. The important part here is WOOL. Cotton has no place in footwear. The best boots in the world will still cripple you if you wear shit socks and work in these conditions. I pack 12-14 pairs in my red bag (I'll cover that later), and one pair in my line gear.
I like boxer-briefs in the softest not-nylon/spandex stuff I can find. Boxer briefs because I get reduced chafing on my inner thigh compared to boxers that tend to ride up and stay there when you are high stepping a lot going up steep slopes and over logs, etc. There are companies out there making them out of Merino, I haven't tried them yet but they are probably the best option available, they probably also cost about $50/pair. I currently like RBX boxer briefs, I dont know what they are made from but its not melty looking, very soft, moisture wicking and comfortable. I bought a 3-pack on a whim when a local store was going out of business. Went home, tried them on, did a lighter test to see if they melted easy, then got back in the truck and bought 15 more and glad I did. Obviously this will vary a lot for people, you do you, just make sure you don't heat shrink your junk in nylon. Ladies, I'm not qualified to have an opinion here.
Our standard daily uniform is a cotton t-shirt with crew logo embroidered in addition to nomex pants and boots (and a belt goddammit(sorry, millennial based rant)). So, nature of the beast when we respond to an IA (Initial Attack) fire its what we already have on so that tends to be the undershirt for your nomex fire shirt by default. I'm usually ok with that for one maybe two shifts (remember, our shifts can be 16+ hours of pure work) and then I start getting "pack-rash" bad. Pack rash is basically irritation of the hair and skin follicles brought on by heat, sweat, friction from pack straps and dirt/soot that looks and feels like an acne breakout on your shoulders in the shape of your pack straps. It sucks, its painful, and to a point its inevitable to an extent but I'm trying to change that. I did invest in a couple REI merino base layer t-shirts.
Im going to try them this year and see how it goes, it should be an improvement over cotton, at least I wont smell as bad after 5-6 days. The only other solution I know is to change undershirts every two days, that results in a lot of bulk in a red bag, I will bulk out my pack for socks but not t-shirts or underwear, so I'm hoping this merino t-shirt is a game changer. Anything melty/synthetic is a no go so wool and cotton are pretty much it. If anyone has other ideas on this I am wildly interested.
WILDLAND FIRE PANTS
Pants we wear are subject to a bunch of .gov regulations which summarized say that they cannot be capable of sustained burning once the heat source is removed and are non-melting. The general issued pants are dark green basic cargo pants made of a material known as Nomex, same as flight suit Nomex. The main problem with these, even though they are about as comfortable as pajamas is that the cargo pockets are too low so anything in them smacks your knee cap every time you take a step. Also, they tear relatively easy and have no resistance to thorns whatsoever.
Pants are the gear item that spawned my last thread where folks requested this one...
I have and we issue the basic "greens" or nomex described above. They are comfortable and they serve their purpose ok. But being a gear nerd and always looking for a better mousetrap I have purchased several others in the search for the perfect wildland pants. The saga is ongoing.
The best pants I have found are CrewBoss PPE's Elite Advance Brush Pants
I have them in green and tan, there doesn't seem to be a longevity difference between the two. The "advance" is the material used and it is a blend of Nomex and Kevlar. This combines the fire resistant properties of Nomex with the puncture and tear resistance of Kevlar and incorporates a rip stop pattern to reduce tears. They have been through several versions of this pant and I actually submitted design recommendations to their R&D dept, don't know how far up the chain they got but some of them seemed to be implemented on the next version and they sent me a free T-shirt so called it a win.
They are great pants, they fit well, they are better in thorns, but they are heavy and HOT. Not a big deal, everything in my world is heavy and hot except my wife, she's just hot.
After talking about fire pants with a Smokejumper friend of mine who I noticed was wearing Multicam pants which caught my attention ( sue me, I like multicam, I think its the coolest looking camo pattern since tiger stripe) he explained to me that he was all about these pants because of how comfortable they were and how big the pockets are. So I bought a pair, they are not Nomex but they are FR, the first thing I did was put the lighter to them. They are the most comfortable, BREATHABLE, moisture wicking, non movement restricting pants I have ever worn with massive amounts of pocket space and pocket placement that doesn't bang shit off your knees constantly. I was totally sold and bought an additional pair. Fast forward two seasons and both pairs had blown out the crotch at inopportune times. Im not shy per se, but walking around with a 10" gap in the crotch of your pants tends to attract unwanted attention not to mention it lets a lot more heat in to sensitive areas.
These were the pants I started the previous thread about, what I want is something identicalish to these pants that is more durable, I got some great suggestions in that thread and am in the process of pursuing some of them as opportunity and funds become available (Crye and Massif are expensive), one solution might be a new generation GSA issued pant, I haven't been able to get my hands on a pair in my size but I have my inside man (cache guy, ALWAYS be friends with the cache manager) working on it.
This one has become a little bit of an obsession for me, not sure why but I'm down the rabbit hole with a lot of $ invested in this one. The basic issued greens are fine, and the Crewboss PPE Advance pants are great, I'm just chasing perfection that may not exist. Suggestions welcome.
WILDLAND FIRE SHIRTS
Im not even sure who made my current "yellow" as we call them, its a yellow shirt made of nomex with two chest pockets, pretty basic, I believe its from Crewboss PPE but I cant swear to that because the tag has faded so bad I cant read it, I remember that I bought two at the same time and wore one as a primary for about 10 years and only wore the other one as a backup when the first one would stand up on its own because it was so fuckin crusty. THAT WAS DUMB, everyone should wash their PPE as frequently as possible, we are finding lots of cases now where people developed cancers related to dirty PPE and long term exposure. WASH YOUR SHIT. Yea no one wants to look like a rookie in a neon bright yellow shirt but if you actually work and see a lot of fire its not going to stay that way regardless of whether you wash it frequently. It took me awhile to learn that, hopefully I don't pay for it down the road. A wildland shirt that I don't own but am interested is from a company called Coaxsher.
What interests me is that they have incorporated venting solutions into their design to reduce internal temperatures. We as a community have seen a rise of heat related illness and injury in the last 5 years up to and definitely including Rhabdo cases. I personally think consumption of energy drinks is largely to blame, but proper hydration practices should make that a non-factor 2:1, water:gatorade is the standard on my crew. I dont personally do the energy drink thing, I drink strong black coffee by the gallon, but redbull/monster/bangs seem to be the thing with the younger guys and girls we are getting now. Regardless, you have to hydrate effective to your caffeine, etc consumption and consume a decent diet when you can because as you all well know, MRE's is NOT IT. So if a company has developed a shirt that helps cool core body temperature, I'm in. What concerns me is they used metal zippers to accomplish the venting. Metal heats up and holds heat for quite awhile, a valid concern. Im trying to find more people that have tried this shirt to see what their experience has been before I buy in, until then, there's nothing wrong with my basic nomex shirt (my old backup, the 10 year one was essentially permanently black and shredded from years of falling with a chainsaw on my shoulder and the dogs digging into my shoulder/neck) do as I say, not as I did.
Bullard rules this category. https://www.supplycache.com/co...ildland-fire-helmets
We used to have Red, Cap-style helmets/hardhats. We switched to white because of an MTDC study showing the heat reduction accomplished by white hard hats. My supervisor, a nice guy, hasn't been on the line in a long time, went into our crew cache while everyone was out on fires, noted that all the helmets on the shelf were full brim and ordered all full brim helmets because it seemed to him like that was our preference. The full brims were on the shelf because we had issued exclusively cap-style helmets, now we are stuck with full brims and they suck. Hiking with a chainsaw or a load of rolled hose on a tool handle on your shoulder, the rear brim always gets bumped and it shoves it forward over your eyes. Falling trees, every time you look up (which should be A LOT) it does the same thing. I like the guy, but I'm still bitter about that one. If its up to you, buy the Cap-style white helmet. Most likely it wont be.
*A side not on chinstraps, most people don't use them much so the normal black velcro ones are fine. If you are going to work with helicopters a lot, I do, do yourself a favor and find one of the old style elastic chinstraps that you can just pull down over the brim and snap in place and vice versa, you will be less annoyed.
In general I don't like working with gloves on. This means digging fireline, hoselays, etc. I like to keep my hands tough and callused as much as possible. However, there are times when your are stupid not to be wearing them such as running chainsaws, using drip torches/fusees, etc. the gloves we like and issue are https://www.galeton.com/gloves...7EAAYASAAEgIMovD_BwE
I haven't found anything better and I have tried quite a few, the GSA issued gloves are bullshit, don't last a shift, and the first thing anyone whose been around does is turn them inside out because they built them with the seams on the INSIDE. These are much better, last longer, and the seems are sown so that they don't contribute to friction against your hand. We buy them by the case because, like magazines, they are a disposable item.
On a general IA/shift here's a rundown of whats in my pockets. Obviously this changes a lot depending on the assignment but in my normal position of Engine Boss/ Incident Commander.
Shirt, left chest pocket- compass, nicotine source ( used to be Copenhagen, now ZYN)
Shirt, right chest pocket- disposable ear plugs, one black sharpie, one blue pen
Pants left front pocket- cash, additional pen, .gov issued Iphone
Pants right front pocket- ZT-0301 knife, nothing else
Pants rear right pocket- wallet ( I take this out when on scene and put it in my line pack because sweat is hard on leather wallets, it increases flexibility of pants, and I don't want to lose it.
Left rear pocket- nothing
Left cargo pocket-IAP (Incidient Action Plan) basically a written briefing for the operational period, maps, weather forecast, resource assignment summary, and communications FREQ chart, aircraft tail numbers, etc. Man-purse ( a nifty little firefighter designed wallet that can hold in my case, IRPG (incident response pocket guide), red card, helicopter passenger briefing card, helicopter LZ construction specs, UTV operator card, extra pen, local frequency chart.
Right Cargo Pocket- gloves, extra set of ear plugs
In the past I used a leather belt with FF belt buckle and Blackhawk riggers belt but I have settled on this for now, Cobra buckles intrigue me, but I have no real reason to switch and this works great as a daily carry gunbelt as well, even with Govt 1911 OWB and 2X mags or S&W M&P 2.0 OWB w/ 2x mags.
I think that covers the first line pretty well, Im gonna take a break, next up will be second line which starts to become a little less less personal. I hope this interests and benefits someone out there.