For wildland firefighters, next-generation lunches and clothing

Next generation wildland PPE
Next generation wildland PPE
Experimental next generation wildland firefighter clothing. Photo by Ken

Researchers are field testing two upgrades for wildland firefighters — new specifications for fire resistant clothing and fireline lunches. Both of these topics are near and dear to the hearts of firefighters. If the clothing does not fit, or binds, or is too hot, or tears, it can make a 16-hour shift seem like 160 hours. And if the lunches they carry to the fireline suck, they may not get the nutrition and energy they need to combat the fire.


The Department of Homeland Security has distributed for field testing 1,000 sets of next-generation fire-resistant clothing for wildland firefighters.

Personnel from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), the U.S. Forest Service, and 11 local California fire departments that are fighting ongoing wildfires will test the new equipment. The Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate division of the DHS is conducting this wear trial in partnership with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center’s National Protection Center.

According to the DHS, the next generation of personal protective equipment will improve radiant thermal protection; reduce heat stress; improve form, fit, and function compared to existing garments; and meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1977 and 1975 standards.

The prototype garment system includes undergarments, socks, shirts, uniform pants, tactical pants, and over pants. The system has a shelf life of five years, allows for rapid donning in three minutes or less, is compatible with existing equipment, and accommodates the 5th to 95th percentile of male and female firefighters.


For the last couple of years a new specification for lunches that firefighters carry onto the fireline has been tested. Reports are that there will be different configurations for the lunches that camp slugs dedicated individuals that work at the Incident Command Post are provided, versus the high-calorie meals given to firefighters.

Past studies of sack lunches found that they contained between 1,600 and 2,000 calories, while a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) is loaded with 2,841 calories. The experimental fireline lunches used in 2011 had about 2,000 calories. We have heard that the new lunches are a little pricey, running  between $20 and $24 each.

This year the new experimental fireline lunches have been spotted on at least two fires in California, the North Pass Fire on the Mendocino National Forest, and the Shockey Fire on CAL FIRE’s Monte Vista Unit in San Diego County. The photo below is an example of one of these lunches found on a fire a few weeks ago.

Fireline lunch
Experimental fireline lunch (click to enlarge)


Thanks go out to Ken and Kelly

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

8 thoughts on “For wildland firefighters, next-generation lunches and clothing”

  1. Let me be up front and say I do work for a manufacturer of PPE clothing and textiles so I won’t acknowledge nor give my company a plug.

    Regarding the info above on Defender M, it should be noted that the military has had horrible durability issues with Defender M and they are currently looking at other fabrics because Defender M hasn’t held up well at all. Expect some big contracts to be handed out in the coming months to vendors not making Defender M. Defender M has way too much Lenzing FR, a weak fiber, to be considered a durable fabric. 100 percent Nomex is much more durable….all be it not as comfortable.

    Also regarding Defender M, the wear trial going on right now (cited in the article above) for a new generation of wild land gear does not include Defender M. Natick, Cal Fire, etc examined and tested 62 different fabrics and only 3 fabrics made the cut…Defender M was not one of those fabrics.

    I agree with all comments about xstatic…it is a good fiber.

    All this to say, definitely do your homework when considering a next generation fabric if you want next generation performance.

  2. The military is already using something that could easily crossover to wildland fire. Why is DHS involved???
    Propper USMC FROG Multicam Combat Shirt. #7417 The FROG Combat shirt is sewn to the specifications of the USMC Fire Resistant Organizational Gear (FROG). It was designed by Crye Precision and made of patented Defender M™ flame-resistant fabric with an enhanced X-Static™ DRIFIRE® knit torso which reduces core body heat and prevents bacteria growth, and provides odor control. All thread, zippers and loop components are flame resistant.

    TENCATE™ DEFENDER™ M sets the standard for flame protective military combat uniforms. It is the new flame-resistant military combat fabric of both the United States Army and United States Marine Corps. Engineered with patented technology, DEFENDER M not only provides exceptional protection from flame and heat. It is also as comfortable and durable as the most tried and proven nylon/cotton military fabrics.

    •Protection— Self-extinguishes and will not melt or drip. These FR properties are inherent in the fabric, so they will not wash or wear out. Provides protection equivalent to more expensive flame-resistant fabrics.
    •Comfortable — Lightweight, breathable Lenzing FR® absorbs perspiration faster, keeping you cooler.
    •Durability — Excellent resistance to wear, tear and fading combine to provide a long useful garment life.

    X-static® is a fiber made with layer of 99,9% pure silver, which is permanently bonded to the surface of a textile fiber. It has been used primarily as an industrial and medical product, servicing high-tech industries and the Department of Defense.
    More recently it has been thrust into consumer product markets as a result of the need for a safe, natural and effective antimicrobial solution. X-static® is antimicrobial, all natural, heat transfer, anti-static and therapeutic.

    You can dig up more specifications on google. I read an article on this stuff going back about two years ago.

  3. While I can’t comment on the quality or cost of the new lunches, not having seen them yet, I can attest that even while on the line, much of my lunch never gets eaten, and I only eat the “snacky” type stuff I can munch on during the day. Somehow, a meat and cheese sandwich and a packet of mayo that’s been in the sun in my pack all day just isn’t that appealing…And when I’m working in camp, it is WAY to much food, and most winds up in the ubiquitous pile of shared leftovers. If that waste is eliminated, it may offset some of the cost of newer or better lunches for those on the line. I’ve long felt that a crew digging line straight up the side of a mountain, and those dedicated individuals working at a desk in camp, have very different caloric requirements, and to feed them identically is inefficient at best. Hopefully this move will help resolve that.

  4. I gotta say… I loved the “new” lunch… and snacked on it ALL DAY (as was intended). It is why I sent in the photo to Bill.

    Lots of research went into this new “beta” standard for fireline lunches.

    MREs are nice… but not intended for prolonged firefighter (athletic) exertion.

    The “fireline lunch” or “shift lunch” is an appropriate meal for firefighters on the fireline… and far better than the MRE alternative (or C-Rat/K-Rat for the “older” folks on the fireline).

    I terms of cost ($$$)??… WAY TOO OVER-PRICED.

  5. Someone ought to get the hotshot crew guys to put together a MRE recipe book. I’ve seen some concoctions made up that were pretty tasty. Ah, the smell of C4 in the morning and the rattle of the P38. Guess you had to be there…….

  6. As I have too, Keith

    Can’t the fire world keep things simple?? I mean who can beat MRE’s and allllll those National Caterer Contractors that roll around to nearly every major fire….like the Ringling and Barnum and Bailey Circus

    Do we / the fire world really need 24 dollar Coyote Box lunches? MRE cases at approx 75-90 dollars a case in the civilian world under contracts such as Sopako and others …..SURELY the Feds get the REAL MRE’s at a cut rate!!

  7. I’ve actually found some of the MRE’s to be quite tasty! (in fact, better than the majority of sack lunches!!)

  8. I suppose there will be some here who will poopoo this whole idea.

    Anyway….it’s a good mix of folks DHS, US Army Natick, CalFire, 11 local FD’s, USFS and with the NFPA standards, it ought to be good.

    Currently the “wanna be BDU” that everyone is wearing now beats the old 1990’s “jean style cut that was reeeeaaally lame. But nothing beats the old style deep pockets 1977 standard issue……light, no GI cargo pockets, no bell bottom look, etc…..just a nice straight cut no frills early style Nomex.

    With CalFire and US Army Natick in the mix…welll it will be a welcome relief, hopefullly, to make a one stop, one cut, not soooo many different vendors making different weight of Nomex / aramid to just so called USFS standards.

    Without being a conspiracy monger….what do you LMA types think now??? Is the DHS all wrong about this? How about the US army who has had clothing contracts as long or longer than the USFS? Are the LMA types going to say ” What does DHS, NFPA, CalFire, 11 FD’s and the the US Army know about Nomex that the USFS doesn’t???

    How about that Liiiiiitle word “interagency” that gets touted so much??? Looks like DHS took that one by the horns, huh??? Sure the LMA’s have been wearing and setting up “contracts” that have met former NFPA standards…

    But times area changing folks Maybe this is the slow evolution of DHS/ FEMA taking over the wildland fire world….somewhat like Gov Hickenlooper did to the CSU Fire Suppression/Rx Fire program……put into the CO dept of Public Safety.

    Oh and what is wrong with the ol standby MRE’s?? 20 to 24 USD a piece?? There might be a little pocket lining going on with those food manufacturers. What FFTR’s don’t like what the GI’s have been dining on for years?

    What no Clif bars in an MRE? NO Knott’s Rasberry cookies in your former line lunch? Whaaaa What???? Is this the new school lunch program weaving its way into the firefighter world??

    WOW,,,, more costs to incur….but the the GI will continue to dine on MRE’s. Maybe USFS can put a little weight on Clifs to put those in those Coyote lunches we used to eat in the 1990’s. Those were no treat either, in some cases.

    Waaaaaaah …… oh enough of my cryin!!


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