Is hiking in moderate air quality safe? Air quality is something that’s often overlooked and not given much thought to, but it’s something that can have a big impact on your health – especially if you suffer from asthma or another respiratory condition.
Air quality varies depending on your location and time of year, so it’s important to do some research before heading out. I’ll provide an overview of air quality, what it is, and what you can do to stay safe while hiking in areas with moderate air quality levels.
Air Quality Index Explained
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for six pollutants that are considered harmful to human health:
- ground-level ozone
- particulate matter
- carbon monoxide
- sulfur dioxide
- nitrogen dioxide
The EPA monitors these pollutants and issues Air Quality Indexes (AQIs) to let the public know when levels are elevated. An AQI of 100 is considered “good” air quality – meaning that levels of these pollutants are low and pose no health risks.
AQIs can range from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI, the greater the health risk. An AQI of 150 is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” – meaning that people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, should be careful when exposed to prolonged periods of time.
Here’s a breakdown of the six AQI levels to be aware of:
|AQI Level||AQI Index||Color Code|
|Good||0 to 50||Green|
|Moderate||51 to 100||Yellow|
|Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups||101 to 150||Orange|
|Unhealthy||151 to 200||Red|
|Very Unhealthy||201 to 300||Purple|
|Hazardous||301 to 500||Maroon|
And just to give you an idea, the average AQI in the United States ranges from 51 to 21, with an average of around 40. Utah has the worst air pollution level of 51, and Hawaii has the best at 21.
So, What Is Moderate Air Quality?
With that being said, what exactly is moderate air quality? The term “moderate” can be a bit misleading, as it doesn’t necessarily mean good air quality.
As you can see above, Moderate air quality is defined as an AQI of 51 to 100. This means that levels of the six pollutants mentioned above are elevated but not yet at a level that is considered unhealthy for the general population.
However, prolonged exposure to moderate air quality levels can still be harmful – especially for those with respiratory conditions. It’s important to take precautions if you plan on spending a significant amount of time outdoors in areas with moderate air quality.
Is Hiking In Moderate Air Quality Safe?
The answer to this question is a bit complicated. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as it depends on a variety of factors – such as your health, the actual AQI level, and how long you’ll be outdoors.
If you’re healthy and have no respiratory conditions, moderate air quality levels shouldn’t pose significant health risks. However, it’s still important to limit your exposure and take breaks indoors if possible.
On the other hand, moderate air quality levels can be problematic if you suffer from asthma or another respiratory condition. It’s important to consult with your doctor before heading outdoors – they’ll be able to provide specific advice based on your health and the AQI level.
In general, it’s best to avoid hiking in areas with moderate air quality levels if possible.
Tips for Hiking in Moderate Air Quality
If you do find yourself hiking in moderate air quality, there are a few things you can do to stay safe:
- Wear a mask: This will help filter out some of the pollutants in the air and protect your lungs.
- Take breaks: Spend some time indoors or in an area with good air quality every few hours to give your lungs a break.
- Drink plenty of water: This will help keep your respiratory system hydrated.
- Be aware of your symptoms: If you start to experience any respiratory problems, such as difficulty breathing, stop hiking and seek medical attention if necessary.
Hiking in moderate air quality is not ideal, but there are ways to make it safer.
Should You Hike In Unhealthy Air Quality?
Let’s look a step further. Should you hike in unhealthy air quality?
The simple answer is no. Unhealthy air quality is defined as an AQI of 151 to 200 – meaning that levels of the six pollutants mentioned above are significantly elevated and can pose serious health risks.
Prolonged exposure to unhealthy air quality levels can cause a variety of problems, such as difficulty breathing, coughing, and aggravation of respiratory conditions. It can also cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
To give you a quick reference to go off of, Bangladesh is considered to have the worst air pollution in the world at 77.10. What are the risks? Well, for starters, a recent study said the life expectancy in Bangladesh has decreased by seven years because of air pollution.
So, in short – no, you should not hike in unhealthy air quality.
As you can see, the term “moderate” can be slightly misleading. If the AQI levels are nearing 100, it’s best to avoid hiking altogether.
If you’re in an area where AQI levels are always elevated, this doesn’t mean you can never hike again – you’ll just need to be aware of the air quality in your area and plan accordingly.
If the AQI levels are good, then go ahead and enjoy your hike! But if they’re reaching unhealthy levels, staying indoors is best.
When air quality is moderate, it’s still important to take precautions – especially if you have a respiratory condition.
Wearing a mask, taking breaks, and staying hydrated can help make hiking in moderate air quality safer.