Iâ€™ll back up what FireChica said…stretching is really important. I also recommend paying a whole lot of attention to your pack; how it fits, where you carry the weight, how easily adjustable it is. Before I got into fire, my main physical exercise was dancing…swing, salsa, and tango. Itâ€™s very good cardio, and itâ€™s a ton of fun. When I started getting ready for the pack test, I found a three-mile course that wasnâ€™t quite flat, with a mix of surfaces; dirt, gravel, asphalt. Road shoulder is bad, because the slant makes you carry yourself differently and can overload one side of your body. I started off with just two one-gallon jugs of water in my pack (about sixteen pounds) and got that done in forty-five with no problem. Gradually I built up and replaced my water jugs with weight plates. I got a bunch of two-inch foam computer packing from the computer guy where I work and padded the back of my pack (the part that was sitting against my back) and the weights really heavily, so that they absolutely WOULD NOT shift. When I got up about around thirty pounds, or to the point where the weight felt uncomfortable for me, I started stretching before walking, spending about twenty minutes stretching. I took martial arts for a while, so Iâ€™d do both â€œnormalâ€ stretches and kata. I noticed that it made a real difference how I felt afterwards if I made the effort to hold my stretches…holding a position for twenty or thirty seconds made me feel like Iâ€™d abused my muscles a lot less in the long run.
I used to do two days of walking then one of strength training; our crew has a strength test (ten push-ups, ten sit-ups, pound a railroad tie ten feet with an eight pound sledge, then pull it thirty feet while staying inside a three foot box), so I trained toward that, pulling weights with ropes, breaking rock, and doing sit-ups and push-ups. I also had a buddy who was training for the same test, so that helped a whole lot…I had to stick with it or I felt like Iâ€™d let him down. To vary the routine, Iâ€™d occasionally drop the pack and do power hikes…pick a hill and just blast up as hard as I could, absolutely not slowing down until I was at the top. Stream walking or hiking undeveloped trails through boulder fields or other rough terrain is good training for agility and functionality on broken ground, which are good skills on the line too. I realize that this a very rural sort of regimen…it might be hard to reproduce in a city. Not having ever really lived in a city…I dunno.
I was doing all that in Northern New Mexico in February and March, so it was really cold…I noticed that my calorie intake went way up, and that I was craving protein in a major way. Lots of meat, lots of iron in my diet, and milk fat made me feel good, which in my book means good nutrition. All I know is that after a week of this, I felt really good, I started to notice an improvement in my strength and stamina, and after a month my shirts stopped fitting right in the shoulders, so I guess it works.
Gear wise, I recommend getting your hands on your line pack and your boots as early in the season as you can, and getting everything adjusted to fit you really well. Get some leather butter or similar for you boots and just slather them with it before you start wearing them, or soak them in the bathtub at night and wear them dry several days running; bad boots will incapacitate you faster than youâ€™d believe possible. My crew boss says to expect at least eighty hours wear before your boots are really broken in; I think that might be slightly high, but not very. Your pack is going to be the same way; me and my crew mates spent one very long evening just sitting around somebodyâ€™s living room adjusting our packs, adjusting each otherâ€™s packs, packing our gear, doing jumping jacks, swinging tools, readjusting packs, and most of us are still modifying things. If you get with any kind of a hand crew, your boots and your pack will be with you all the time…they can make your life better or they can make your life miserable.
Go for it!
Nerd on the Fireline