How to navigate outdoor fun through fire season

The summer of 2017 has been rough on the west coast of North America, from Canada all the way down to Southern California. With the incredible amount of fires that have been ravaging through the countryside everywhere, normally outdoorsy people have been struggling with the smoke, either by staying boarded up inside or by suffering through the dense and hazardous smoke that is pretty much everywhere.

So what can you do when there is a high smoke level and your outdoor activities have been hindered? Here are some ideas.

1. Higher elevations mean less smoke

Mountain fire’s have a significant impact on air quality
Mountain fire’s have a significant impact on air quality

To begin with, while smoke rises, it really only rises up to a point. This means that the higher elevation mountain ranges should be relatively smoke-free, sitting above the dense smoke. While you won’t want to go high enough to get yourself in trouble with altitude sickness, it is possible to escape and find some fresh air.

On top of mountains, you typically can find some hiking trails, mountain or rock climbing, and, depending on where you are, you may find some camping spots as well. This can get you out and about and give you some fresh air. As there are limited places along the west coast that are smoke-free, check out your nearby mountains and see how their air quality is.

2. Get a mask

Wearing an N95 facemask will protect you from inhaling particles in the air
Wearing an N95 facemask will protect you from inhaling particles in the air

Some locations have had an air quality rating that is up into the hazardous level. If this is where your area is, a mask is not going to do enough good to allow you to be outside. But if you are of good health without any kind of lung or respiratory issues, you can go out with a mask on in healthy and even unhealthy levels, though you may want to limit your cardio exercise since it is still tricky to take a deep enough breath in the filtered masks. As for the type of masks, you should also be aware of the different masks that are available. Ideally you should get an N95 particulate filtering mask. It will filter out 95% of the airborne particles, which means it is good to use when there is a lot of smoke in the air. You will know that the smoke is too dense to be outside if you cannot see very far away. Then there is too little oxygen to be outside at all.

3. Check out the EPA

The EPA has a website that keeps a pretty constant check of what the current air quality is all over the United States. Before you venture out to play, check out and see what your area’s current rating is. As winds shift and the weather changes, it may be possible to be out and about without issues and certain times of the day whereas it is simply dangerous to be outside later on the same day. So check it out first.

4. Skip it

Play inside sports
Play inside sports

Alright, I know this is not a popular answer. But the bottom line is that if the air is hazardous, it is better to skip your workout or outdoor fun than putting yourself at risk for developing a health issue. You will increase your risk of asthma, stroke, and even heart problems by breathing in a large amount of smoky and polluted air. The smoke, while irritating, is not going be hanging around forever. As the seasons move into colder weather and rain returns to many areas, the smoke will dissipate and you can go back outside. Don’t put yourself at an added danger now for something that can wait until later.

Instead, we would suggest getting your exercise playing indoor sports like indoor badminton, indoor tennis, swimming, and even bowling. Bonding with family over a few board games is a pretty good idea as well.

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marion-fernandez is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival