The Ups and Downs of Wind

What does it mean to be up wind or down wind? Wind comes at us from all sides so it can be a bit confusing.

MB on trail

Your position in an up or down wind situation is relative to something else, for example  lets say its a fox.

So you’re on the trail, notice where you feel the wind is coming from, say it’s felt on your face as you walk forward. If the fox is behind you, you are up wind of him and he is down wind from you. The wind passes you first carrying your scent and any sounds you make, slight as they be, to the alert ears and keen nose of our little red friend. As you walk ahead and further away from the fox, the information about you decreases. This fox knows you are there and you will most likely never even know about it.

Fox den by simply Appalachian
Fox Den    Photo by Simply Appalachian

Now let’s look at it the other way. The wind stays on your face, but now the fox is ahead of you, you are now down wind of the fox and he is up wind of you. If he is out of sight you have little or no sense that he is there because your senses are not as sharp as his are. And with the wind blowing your scent behind you and away from the fox he is not getting the information that you are approaching and both of you might have a surprise encounter, or you catch a glimpse of his tail disappearing in some underbrush, or if you’re lucky capture a photo if he locks into his tracks and you’re fast and ready with a camera.

Being up wind and down wind is important to be aware of as you hike, particularly in transition zones between forests and fields, climbing up onto clearings and along the edges of creeks, ponds, and swamps; the borders between these different habitats are often frequented by wildlife. Paying attention to air movement tunes you more closely to the location and can help you avoid a sudden meeting with a more powerful four-legged than a fox.

Mairi Budreau

Kamloops Backcountry Hikes