Strength and Conditioning Programs for Wildland Firefighters

How to Train for the Pack Test


So…what exactly is the Pack Test?

Well, think of it as a pleasant three mile stroll across flat ground,

…while wearing a 45 pound pack,

…and completed in under 45 minutes…or you’re fired

The pack test might seem a bit intimidating to those new to fire, and at first blush, it does seem a bit challenging. A 45lb pack is heavy. Three miles is a decent distance, and 45 minutes seems like a stiff pace.

The truth is, if you’re training hard for the fire season, the pack test will be the easiest thing you have to do during the first few weeks of the season.

That being said, you shouldn’t ignore it, and if you’re new to fire, you DEFINITELY want to go through a few dry runs just to get used to it. All hotshot crews conduct their pack tests differently. The Feather River Hotshots hike across the Lake Oroville Dam during their pack test; the Lassen Hotshots hike 12 laps around the track at Lassen Community College in Susanville, CA, and the Laguna Hotshots hike along the side of the road outside their station.

Some crews have weight vests that you will wear during the test, while others use regular backpacks that have been filled to the appropriate weight. There is a difference between a weight vest and a regular backpack. The weight vest is easier to hike in because it evenly distributes the weight between the front and back of your body. Also, the weight plates hug your torso, and that keeps all the weight sitting directly over your center of gravity. With a backpack, all the weight is behind you, which forces your body to lean forward slightly to compensate. The result is that hiking with a backpack will have a more pronounced effect on your natural walking gait than hiking with a weight vest. For someone in decent shape, these differences are negligible, but they’re worth noting nonetheless.

Many firefighters report that the most *challenging* part of it all is simply walking faster than you might normally walk. At the bare minimum, you need to walk at a 15 minute/mile pace, and most of your crew members will be walking much faster than that. If you’ve never fought fire before, or hiked with a hotshot crew, you’re probably accustomed to strolling around town at a leisurely pace. Well, you’re gonna have to pick it up for the pack test because “strolling” is something that hotshots don’t do. Take some time in the off-season and see how fast you walk around a track with a pack on. If you’re within a minute or two of 45 minutes after completing three miles, you need to quicken your pace.

Also, stretching is very important prior to taking the pack test. Make sure you stretch out your calves, and lower legs. A common complaint while taking the pack test is shin splints, so be sure to take some time to warm up and stretch it out. The pack test is a stupid place to injure yourself.

All in all, the pack test is relatively easy and if you’re following the training programs on this site, you’ll have zero problems completing it with plenty of time to spare!


  1. Rand Author October 2, 2015 (5:59 pm)

    I’ve been training for my upcoming Arduous Pack Test on 11-5-15. I started a month ago with 25 lbs. until I hit my target time. I’m now at 45 lbs. in 34/35 minute range. I train two days, take the third off. How can I more efficiently/effectively train for this? My target time is 30 minutes.

    Reply to Rand
    • woody Author May 2, 2016 (7:11 am)

      I admire you for wanting to better yourself and get to your target time, BUT remember the pack test is Pass/Fail. You do not gain extra points by doing it in 30 minutes. the guy next to you can do it in 44.59 and you can do it in 30, and it will mean no difference to the proctors. you both pass. my advice would be to keep a steady, safe pace. don’t rush it more than you have to. It would be worst to do it in 30 minutes, and risk injury/illness, than to just do it at a steady pace, and end at 40…w

      Reply to woody
  2. Amanda Author June 16, 2018 (6:27 pm)

    The test is a lot easier than you think. It was very intimidating at first. I made it in 42min, but time does not matter, even if you make it at 44:59 ! Although I highly recommend setting a quick pace at the .05 mark of the first mile to give you a 30sec buffer that will relieve any stress of cutting it too close. Too many guys took it easy on the first mile and cut in close in the end.

    Reply to Amanda
  3. Joey Author July 3, 2018 (5:41 am)

    I have my coming pack test next week my worries are my arthritis and my knee injury that cause me to move so slow and it’s bothering me. I’m 51 years old this fire season is the toughest season for me I hope I will pass.

    Reply to Joey
  4. Anthony Author April 15, 2019 (3:14 pm)

    It’s my first time taking the test and I’m short as hell so my strides are small, any advice?

    Reply to Anthony
    • NapaCaz Author March 9, 2022 (11:38 pm)

      I’m 5′ 4″ maybe 5’3″ and I pump my arms like crazy. That seems to get me into a good fast pace.

      Reply to NapaCaz
  5. Manona Author April 19, 2019 (5:18 pm)

    Anthony, I’m 5’2” and pass it, usually with a minute +\- to spare… I suggest getting out in the track and figure your cadence (steps per minute) that will get you in 60 seconds under the wire (you can find an app on your phone) and stick to it. I have guys on the team that will mess with me (one is 6’7”) each time they lap me; keep your nose down and don’t let them get you off pace… if you try to keep up you’ll burn out. Work on your quads and glutes. Don’t overstride (reach so far with your forward moving leg that the reaching knee locks before you land that foot) or you’ll end up with shin splints and knee issues. Remember it’s pass/fail and you don’t need to set records. They may finish before me during the test but on a long day I can out hike the big guys. 🙂

    Reply to Manona
  6. Frank Daroczy Author July 14, 2019 (8:39 pm)

    I’m taking my online Crew boss portion and then have to do my skills training,do I have to be/do the pack test in order to be a crew boss? Thanks

    Reply to Frank Daroczy
    • Mike Author July 15, 2019 (4:36 am)

      In order to step foot on a fire, you need a Red Card. In order to get a Red Card, you’re going to need to pass the pack test (in addition to doing S130/S190 training). And if you’re looking at serving as a crew boss, you’re going to need to pass at the arduous level (45lb pound pack, 3 miles, 45 minutes).

      Reply to Mike
  7. Dreaforce Author July 10, 2020 (7:20 am)

    I took my s190 and s130 3 years ago do I need to retake the exam if I still shave my certificate???

    Reply to Dreaforce
    • Mike Author July 10, 2020 (8:03 pm)

      Out of of curiosity, what’s the purpose? Is this for a Red Card? Is that what you’re talking about? If yes, then probably you’ll need to retake S130 and S190 again (everyone takes this every year), and then do the Pack Test somewhere. Good luck.

      Reply to Mike
  8. Stealthangel Author March 2, 2022 (7:07 pm)

    Wait wait wait – I have read this at least 5 times! How do I train for the pack test???

    Reply to Stealthangel
  9. Javan Edwards Author March 8, 2023 (6:31 pm)

    Personally, the best way I have found to train is to just do the test and work on your own personal cardio. For the 2 months or so before I took my pack test I was in a worse off position than most because had just spent 4 months recovering from surgery in my ankle. I believe I can give a unique perspective of what I experienced training for the test, and if I can do it starting from nothing in around two months then anyone can. after I was cleared by my PT and PCP to walk, run, jump, etc. I immediately began training. I focused on running/jogging every day just to build a base level of cardio again. honestly in the beginning I did not really even chart my progression because I would have to stop every minute. I instead decided to do intervals of one minute running and one minute jogging in my free time for at least 20 minutes. after a few days (with proper stretching in mind) I began running for more of the 20 minutes than I expected. at this point, I began tracking my minute/mile, and soon I decided to pull the bandaid off and walk the three miles to see just how far away I was from my goal. turns out it was much easier than anticipated. The first time I tried without weight I easily got around 40 minutes. it surprised me that something causing so much anxiety easily became just another part of my daily workout. when I got comfortable, I added weight slowly. first with a 10lb sandbag, then a 25lb sandbag, then two 25lb sandbags. in between adding weight, I would try to go hiking. working at elevation, or even just gaining elevation during a hike is an awesome way to train cardio!

    moral of the story, just try it. if you aren’t starting from couch potato like me, then you’ll surprise yourself. after that begin slowly adding weight. be in tune with your body and take notice if you begin feeling excessive pain in your shins lower back and knees. you’ll be sore, but if you can’t move the next day you’re doing something wrong. lower the pack weight until you are ready to move up. DO NOT PROCRASTINATE! as I said, your progression is based on what you feel your body can do. give yourself the time to train. passing the test and becoming a hotshot is a great goal, but all your hard work is wasted if you hurt yourself! take it from me, getting an injury before you can even start the season, sucks!
    next, make sure to track progress. give yourself short-term goals that you can realistically obtain. often times people focus on the end goal and get frustrated when they can’t obtain it in a week. there are several apps that make it very easy to track your pace. i found MapMyRun by Adidas to be very helpful.
    and that’s really it. this was a bit of a rabbit hole for me, but I hope it helps a little for those who are anxious.

    Reply to Javan Edwards

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