Category Archives: NOLS

How to Get Outdoor Pro Deals

Wouldn’t it be sick to have access to brands like GoPro, K2, Patagonia, Outdoor Research, and Kelty for a steady 60% off?

That’s called a pro-deal, my friends. A lot of you reading my blog are outdoor pros or looking to become instructors, guides, naturalists and so on. Guess what!?! You can snag easy pro deals up to 60% off these brands. Wish someone had told me this when I was a county park ranger….

How to Register for Outdoor Pro Deals

There is an easy way to do this and a hard way to do this…. let’s start with easy:

Sign up for hundreds of outdoor pro deals in one registration with

Get some sick outdoor pro deals with Experticity.

Get some sick outdoor pro deals with Experticity.

This one used to be known as Promotive but I guess they’ve recently overhauled themselves. Maybe it was a merger, I’m not really hip on the happenings behind the scene. It doesn’t really matter, just go get your sick gear for dope discounts.

You can register on your own and hope for acceptance or, if your employer is cool, they’re already registered. It’s better to connect with an employer because brands usually offer deeper discounts through employers.

If your employer has an Experticity hub, simply make an account, search for your employer, link your profile to them (you may have to provide proof of employment) and BAM! Discounts.

If you’ve ever been on a NOLS course, you’re already eligible! All NOLS alum can connect with the NOLS hub on Experticity and get stick gear deals.

Get creative, ask friends, ask old employers, it’s not difficult to find a way to legitimately qualify for these badass outdoor gear deals.

Individual Brands

Many outdoor gear brands offer pro deals on a case-by-case basis. Don’t see a brand on Experticity that you want a deal with? Try checking out that company’s corporate website. Often you’ll find pro deal programs through the brand its self.

Here’s an easy example:

Patagonia’s pro deal corner of their site can be found here.

How do you become a Patagonia pro deal member? Here’s a direct quote from Patagonia’s pro deal FAQ:

The Patagonia Pro Program is a membership program for qualified pros and influencers specific to our brand. Membership is by application only and all members need to reapply/requalify annually to continue membership and access. Membership is not guaranteed and can be revoked at any time. If you are interested in applying, please visit our Apply for Membershipsection and follow the instructions.

Patagonia offers an individual pro deal!

Patagonia offers an individual pro deal!

So even if you can’t get ahold of the deals through Experticity – just go hook yourself up by convincing the brands that you’ll be a great ambassador for their gear in one way or another. Just get creative and be honest.

Here’s Mountain Hardwear’s Pro Deal page.

Maybe you need some Columbia gear on the cheap – here’s the pro deal page. Columbia has always been one of my favorite brands and snagging the gear a bit cheaper would be sick!

Outlet Stores

This one is often overlooked.

This is how I picked up a great  new pair of skiing pants, a jacket, and brand new pair of Mountain Hardwear gloves for well under $100.

Check your local shopping centers for outdoor gear outlet stores. The savvy gear shopper can snag sick gear on the cheap here.

My all time favorite? (No surprise here) The Columbia Outlet Store in Kimball Junction, Utah.


Hey, why pay full price when all these brands want you to rep their gear on the cheap!?

If you’re an outdoor pro, educator, guide, instructor, or anything else (media, blogger, etc) which qualifies you through these great outdoor pro deal programs – take advantage of them yesterday!

Cheers, friends and happy trails!


Exploring Outdoor Education as a Career

Hi Casey,
I’m a junior in high school living in the suburbs of Philly. I’ve done a lot of hiking and tent camping, some skiing and trail riding and a little rock climbing, backpacking, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Not a ton of outdoor experience but I would love more. I found your article on whether it was necessary to have an Outdoor Education degree. I’m interested in an outdoor career and was wondering if you could answer some questions for me or direct me to someone or someplace who could
Is a love for the outdoors enough for an outdoor career or is there more to this type of work?
The question I get asked most when sharing what I want to do with my life is Is there any money in that. I’m not planning on owning a Lamborghini but is this a financially stable path? Could I raise a family with this type of work?
Is it wise or even worth it to get a degree or minor in adventure/outdoor education? For example I am currently considering and English major and adventure ed minor would that be a good plan?
Besides guiding, instructing, outfitting, and camps are there other jobs under this umbrella and if so what are they?
Any other information you would like to share would be greatly appreciated!


Let me start by saying thank you to Bethany who sent me this! I should also apologize to her for the original email being lost somehow.

Alas, now I have an opportunity to answer this great question, so here it goes. I’m posting it here so the rest of you can benefit from some of the answers. Hopefully it will be helpful to everyone.


Question 1:

Is a love for the outdoors enough for an outdoor career or is there more to this type of work?


Since you mentioned rock climbing, skiing, hiking, backpacking, and paddle sports in your question I assume that your question is about becoming an instructor or guide. This field of work is known as adventure education, outdoor education, experiential education, or environmental education depending on exactly what outdoor pursuits you are involved with and what outcomes your program intends for its participants.

Let me mention, at the same time, that it is completely feasible to do something like environemntal sciences or conservation sciences and also have an “outdoor career”. These more academic based fields of study have potentially higher payrates but will require a lot more education up front and, potentially, a lot more lab-based work and number crunching.

There are a couple ways one could approach this:

No Degree (Experiential):

It’s possible to jump straight into leading summer camp activities without any degree or any real experience in the field. It might also be possible to start some environmental education with nothing more than some FFA experience from high school or an environemntal studies class.

Furthermore, it’s probably feasible to suggest that there are possible opportunities out there for leading adventure sports without any degree. If you’re a highly expereinced paddler, for instance, you could go through Nantahala Outdoor Center’s (NOC) river guide program. If I remember right, it’s a week or two long, costs a couple hundred bucks, and virtually guarantees you a summer of river guiding.

Doing it this way is completely possible but you’ll run into road blocks when you begin trying to move up into administrative and directorial positions in outdoor and adventure education. Many positions require at least a Bachelor’s degree in order to move past field based positions (and higher in the pay scale). Fortunately many positions also allow for a clause which permits “equivalent experience”.

If you envision yourself in a directorial position for an outdoor program or want to move past minor supervisory roles, it may be necessary to obtain a related graduate degree.


The alternative approach would be to go get your schooling. Green Mountain College, Central Wyoming College, and Prescott College are some of the many schools now offering outdoor education or adventure education under grad or graduate level programs.

When I went through school there were only 4 schools offering outdoor education specific degrees (that I could find). Now there are many! Almost every state has at least one school offering an outdoor education degree.

Prescott is the only school I am aware of offering Master’s level courses in outdoor and adventure education.

At the same time, however, it is very common and almost as effective, to get a degree in a related field such as tourism, eco tourism, parks and recreation, etc.

These more common outdoor oriented programs are usually easier to find close to home and allow you to get in state tuition for a graduate degree which will be effective in leveraging higher paid positions in the outdoor career world.

My two cents:

My suggestion?

I’d advise people to get their WFR certification. It’s ~$800 but will make you an invaluable candidate in job applications.

If you have good experience in a particular outdoor skill (called an outdoor pursuit) it’s pretty likely you’ll be able to get a job as an assistant instructor or guide once you have that WFR certification. Just make sure you document your climbing trips, paddling trips, and backpacking trips. It’s essential to include them in your resume.

If you lack experience, then get a job as a summer camp counselor. Often you can be an assistant or lead facilitator of a certain activity in which you have some experience. For instance, my first summer in the field I became a lead rock wall and dynamic high ropes facilitator. I had almost no prior experience.

If you want (or your parents are bugging you to get) a degree and you’re not 100% sure that you want to commit to a nich field such as adventure education (that degree is not super transerfable) then I’d suggest something more robust such as tourism or parks and recreation for your graduate degree.

A degree like that is much more versatile and will allow you to secure jobs ranging from backpacking guide ($) all the way to park director for the National Forst Service ($$$$).

Whichever path you choose, you will need lots of documented experience in your chosen outdoor pursuit if you want to become a guide. Get after it!

Question 2:

Is this field of work financially stable? Could I raise a family with this type of work?


Intially I would not expect your jobs to be stable. Personally? I have to move from coast to coast about every 5-6 months in order to keep employed. Almost all guiding work is seasonal.

It is possible to find positions which roll into year-round employment.

If a stable and steady income is a necessity (or priority) for you then you’ll need to take that into account.

Shooting for a supervisory or administrative role of some kind would probably be the best and most stable source of significant income while remaining active in the field. Many larger outdoor organizations (such as NOLS, AMC, and the ATC among many) employ marketers, directors, logistical coordinators, rations managers, customer service reps, etc.

You could also consider a career with a large outdoor retailer such as REI (though I can’t imagine seeing myself cooped up in an REI my whole life).

Once you’re in with NOLS as an instructor they more or less give you a calendar and let you declare what stretches of the year you want to work. I personally know several NOLS instructors who lead one or two trips a year for a few weeks to a month and then work relatively “normal” jobs the rest of the year. They just work their schedule around it.

In skiing, for example, most resorts now operate year round. They offer biking and hiking in the summer and skiing in the winters. Here at Deer Valley where I work, many instructors stay for the summer and work children’s summer camps or something similar. Alternately many younger instructors will ski the winter in the northern hemisphere and then flip to South America or New Zealand / Australia and teach skiing there during our summer.

Some outdoor pursuits work better together than others. For example, it may be difficult to stay in one place if your goal is to lead skiing and canyoneering. They generally don’t happen in the same places.

Now that I’ve word vommited all over the last few paragraphs I’ll remind you that superviosry positions (directors, assistant directors, wilderness programs supervisors, etc) tend to have a higher chance of year round employment or full time benefits. You’re going to trade the higher pay for more time in the office, however.

One thing that I constantly thank myself for is staying out of debt. I went to school on a scholarship, worked since I was 16, worked all through school, and have never once carried a debt. In this field, where pay tends to be low, sporadic, and seasonal, having debt hanging over your head is almost impossible to manage.

The off seasons when there’s no work (April – June and October – December) are almost impossible to make it through when you’ve got debt payments looming. Do everything you can to stay clear of debt! It’ll give you the flexibility to survive as you initially navigate this odd field of work.

Whether or not you can raise a family, I think, depends very heavily on what type of lifestyle you envision. In the field, actually guiding, you’ll be hard pressed to make more than $30,000 a year, even with good experience and education.

In a supervisory role, you could easily get into the $50,000 a year range and I’ve seen salaries approaching $100,000 for directors of large environemental education organizations.

You’re going to have to be realistic about how soon you intend to start a family and what income you will need when you do so.

It is 100% completely possible to support a familty with this work. You’re just going to have to plan ahead. Don’t start a family on your first season’s wage as a river guide. It won’t work.


Question 3:

Is it wise to get an outdoor education degree?


Let me answer Bethany’s specific question first. English degrees don’t tend to have huge salary ranges nor does outdoor education. Outdoor education as a minor would be great but, personally, I’d pair it with something like recreation management or environemntal science. That would be a killer one-two punch for jobs from Park Ranger to backpacking guide, all the way out to conservation sciences and research.

Of course, if English is a huge passion then go for it! In my opinion, however, there are better majors to take if you’re looking for a “fall back plan”. Something like finance or business is absurdly useful and marketable to a massive range of employers and it gives you a fallback that can achieve huge salaries compared to outdoor education in the case that you ever need it.

If your plan is outdoor oriented, I’d really recommend a more outdoor focused major/minor combination.

Now, on to the more general… if your plan involves guiding or teaching outdoor or adventure education then a degree in the field is definitely worth your time when it comes to getting a job. I covered a lot earlier so I won’t go into detail but keep this in mind:

Outdoor and adventure education does not pay huge. You’ll be lucky to hit $35,000 within your first 5 years (that’s crazy low compared to most professions).

If you asked me, “should I pay $60,000 in student loans to get a bachelor’s in outdoor education?”

I’d tell you, “hell no!”

Keep your educational expenses stupid low or you’ll stuggle getting started when you leave shool. That kinda applies across the board though, so tell your friends I said so.

Get in state tuition, work through college, get scholarships, but whatever you do please don’t take out loans!

What did I do?

I got an academic full ride in state and took all my transferable general education credits and then transferred into an undergraduate program in Wyoming with NOLS at Central Wyoming College. It only took me two semesters to finish my focused degree since all my general eds were taken care of and the school I attended was absurdly cheap. I also worked every night to make some money.

I don’t regret any part of that educational approach a sit kept my expenses low and allowed my to very effectively enter the market. I have now moved into supervisory roles and am considering returning to school for a graduate program.

That approach worked great for me.


Question 4:

What jobs fall under this general umbrella of outdoor and adventure education?

Outdoor Education encompasses both Adventure Education and Environmental Education.

Adventure Education covers most guiding positions. Backpacking guide, rock climbing guide, river guide, wilderness therapy, ski instructor, etc.

Environmental Education covers most natural history and inertpretive positions. Naturalists, nature interpreters, historical interpreters, conservation education, park rangers, etc. These positions would be found with the DNR, BLM, nature centers, non profits, etc.

There are jobs galore in these fields! You can find office positions ranging from accounting and marketing for outdoor organziations. To jobs focused more on criminal justice like some park ranger positions. To environmental and conservation education such as LNT master educators and interpretive naturalists at nature centers. To behavioral and correctional type positions such as wilderness therapy which may require pertinent training and education.

SCUBA diving, sky diving, youth trips, international travel, historical tours, sea kayaking, mountaineering, base camp chefs, wilderness medical staff for expeditions….

I could probably spew out potential positions for hours.

Final words:

Working in outdoor education needs to be a passion. You’ll never make it if you’re not truly passionate. The pay is low, the jobs are difficult to get started in, and moving seasonally is a very real possibility.

However, if it’s something you truly want to pursue you will never work a single day in your life.

I wake up every day and put on my ski boots and click in to my skis for a ride up the mountain. It’s my office. It’s  


Welcome to my office.


 one of the greatest jobs in the world. They pay me to play, they pay me to do things I’d be happily doing anyways.

Can you make enough money to support a family reliably? Yes.

Can you find stable employment in this field? Yes.

You’re going to have to work for it, though. You’re going to have to plan a bit up front and figure out where the job market is.

There are some states, and many many areas in most states, where outdoor education simply isn’t a vialble career. It’s not like being  a banker, where every city has five banks you could apply at.

Get in touch if you need helping narrowing down a degree choice or a location to start working.

When I first started in the field I had to (and still do) just go where the jobs are. Which means moving every 5 months as you begin this career.

Get used to living out of your car and having some the longest road trips and greatest jobs of your life.

Four Best Places to Search For an Outdoor Job

The internet is an amazing tool for job searching! Let me share with you some of the most abundant sources of outdoor education and adventure education job pools on the net. Here are my top four favorite places to look for jobs.

Don’t miss out. Read about the most over looked outdoor job search method that I’ve found successful.

#1. NOLS Listserve

By far my favorite and most used tool. Once a day you’ll get an email containing very recent and pertinent job postings. Employers are seeking NOLS grads, that’s why they post to the NOLS list serve, so you’ve already got a good start. Wilderness trip leader positions are very easy to find here.

If you’re a NOLS alum, be sure to sign up for the NOLS “Job-Announce Digest” through the Alumni section of the NOLS website.

(This is my favorite job hunting resource and has landed me many jobs.)

#2. American Camp Association “Jobs at Camp

This is a great place to start looking if you want to get started in outdoor education. I got my very first outdoor education job through ACA (as a counselor). Every winter, hundreds of summer camps around the US begin searching for staff members.

Expect to find a lot of counselor type jobs here, but you might get lucky and find a good supervisory position or trip leader position.

#3. Cool Works

If you’ve done any searching the net for “outdoor jobs” then you know about Cool Works. This site compiles outdoor jobs in a very broad spectrum. Everything from ranch hand jobs to ski resort work is here.

Luckily they have a good organizational system. You can sort jobs by season, type (camp jobs, guide jobs, etc.), state, or national park.

I personally find that a lot of the jobs listed here have irritating application processes. Nothing irks me more than having to fill out a form on an employers website with all the same information I went through the work of compiling into my resume.

#4. Networking

It can never be said enough, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The web is great, but networking can’t be overlooked.

Always ask supervisors and coworkers where they’ve worked before. Did they like it? How did they get in? Could they help you get in touch with human resources?

As the season comes to a close, ask those around you where they’re going to be working. Find out if they know of any openings.

Other outdoor professionals can be invaluable assets in helping to find your next job. Plus, they can get you directly in touch with the hiring manager of your next job, virtually guaranteeing you an interview.

What are your tips for job hunting? Leave a comment and let us know.

Three Outdoor Living Skills You Must Have

As an outdoor educator, trip leader, or weekend warrior, it is universally imperative that you master these three OLS (Outdoor Living Skills). Here’s what they are, why you need them, and how to learn them:

#1. Shelter


Learn how to set up any type of shelter. Here a team pitches a double wall tent.

Learn how to effectively pitch and use any institutional shelter in adverse conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, tarps, tents (all pitch types), bivys, and camping hammocks.

I showed up to my first job as a backpacking trip leader having only ever used a camping hammock and a solo single wall tent. Needless to say, I had much to learn.

Employers want job applicants with lots of diverse experience. Do a short weekend hike with every type of shelter you can get your hands on. Then try pitching them all in a downpour. You’ll learn a lot every time.

(I am now a huge advocate of tarp and hammock backpacking.)

#2. Food


Author Casey Fiedler makes his famous whole wheat, oatmeal pancakes on NOLS expedition.

No, I ‘m not talking about foraging for wild edibles (though it’s a valuable Environmental Education skill that will impress your employer).

I’m talking about learning how to cook everything imaginable on a single burner Whisperlite stove in a cast iron skillet.

Until I took my NOLS Outdoor Educator Course, I overlooked the value of good backcountry cooking skills. I was (and am) an ultralight solo hiker primarily. However, I failed to understand that ultralight solo skills and cooking does not transfer over to institutional backpacking very well.

For many reasons (cost effectiveness, skill level, etc.) most backpacking programs use heavy, sturdy, and “traditional” backpacking gear. This means carrying water weight in your food (I hate that), carrying a heavier pot/pan set than might really be necessary, and carrying bulky and heavy shelters (easier to set up and harder to destroy for new backpackers) among other things.

Since you’re going to be stuck with this more traditional set up while leading programs, you might as well join them (at least meet half way). No, I’m not advocating carrying heavier items. I am, however, telling you that you’ll have more fun, teach better, and be more marketable as an outdoor educator if you learn great backcountry cooking. Because not everything is dehydrated in freezer bags, and you’ll be expected to teach this skill.

Start with the NOLS Cookery 6th Edition.

#3. Wilderness Medicine

This may be the most important skill of all.

Wilderness First Responder certification has become an industry standard for any programs which run overnight wilderness trips or visit remote locations.”

~Darran Wells, M.A. (Darran talks more about the industry here)

You can learn how to pitch new shelters, and you can improve your cooking skill on the job. Learning how to stop an arterial bleed probably shouldn’t be learned experientially, however.


Author Casey Fiedler prepares to lead his WFR team on a SAR scenario.

If I had to identify one single certification more valuable than any other as an industry standard for any outdoor education job it would be Wilderness First Responder (WFR is always preferred over WFA and WEMT is often overkill). Good luck getting any leadership job in outdoor education without this certification.

Take a WMI course, or SOLO course. Be careful certifying yourself through a startup company (or the Red Cross) as their curriculum may not be as well established as industry leaders like WMI and SOLO. I can personally testify that the American Red Cross’ Wilderness First Aid course leaves much to be desired and is not accepted by most employers.

For the recreational outdoor enthusiast well… you just might save a life with the knowledge you gain for this course. It could even be your own life.

Let me know what Outdoor Living Skills you think deserve to be in the top three. Leave a comment below.

Outdoor Education Industry: Trends and Opportunities

The following is a question and answer type interview with Darran Wells, M.A. Assistant Professor Outdoor Education and Leadership, Central Wyoming College and long time NOLS instructor.

Q: What brought you in to the outdoor education industry? When did your passion turn into a career?


Darran Wells, Assistant Professor of Outdoor Education and Leadership.

I became interested in the outdoors through mountain biking and distance running with my father while I was in high school. We also took annual trips to Colorado to ski in the winter. The first time I went up to the mountains in the Summer, I knew that was where I wanted to be.

It wasn’t until after college, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer living in central Africa, that I learned about NOLS and started thinking about a career as an outdoor professional. Some other PCV’s I met in Africa told me about the NOLS branch in Kenya. The more I looked into NOLS after my Peace Corps tour, the more I was sure I wanted to work there.

Q: What opportunities are in the job market today for outdoor educators that may not have previously existed or been as prevalent? Which areas of the industry are growing the most and shrinking the most?

Stats show that more traditional outdoor activities like hunting and fishing have been shrinking a bit over the last decade. There are a number of emerging outdoor activities that are seeing a lot of growth—Stand up Paddleboarding, Adventure and Obstacle racing, Kite surfing and kite skiing, snow biking, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, etc.

Outdoor organizations and programs which are nimble and well funded have been able to adapt these new activities as they have grown in popularity.

There continues to be a lot of growth in programs which can be run close to large urban centers. These usually involve artificial environments like climbing walls and human-made whitewater parks or ice parks.

Jobs in academia, either as faculty or recreation staff, have been steadily growing over the last decade as colleges and universities recognize the value of experiential and co-curricular education.

Q: Which categories of jobs (counselor, naturalist, guide, etc.) might be the most profitable places to begin searching for someone wishing to turn their outdoor passion into a career?

The harsh reality is that no outdoor jobs really pay as well as we might like. It is truly a lifestyle choice to work in the outdoors. As you might guess, the best paying jobs in the industry involve running large organizations that make outdoor equipment or provide education or recreation opportunities. But those higher-paying jobs usually to not get to spend as much time in the field.

The best paying jobs which do involve time in the field usually cater to higher end clients, like up-scale adventure tourism or resort guiding. There is also potential for good money in outdoor film-making.

Q: If you could prescribe a recipe for going from “zero-to-hero” to aspiring outdoor educators, what would that process entail for someone looking to move up the ladder in the industry?

It seems hard for me to get this point across to some aspiring outdoor professionals, but I’ll try again here…the most important thing you can do for your career is identify what you LOVE to do. Whether it’s teaching, guiding, or

something else, if you don’t love it, you won’t last. So many young people with or without college degrees just bounce from job to job to job throughout their 20’s. That is fine, but it means that it will take you longer to reach your niche, that place where you are really self-actualized and happy with your work. If you can spend some serious reflection time trying to identify that thing you love to do while you are younger, you will have more time to become the master of your field.

What gets people from zero to hero is their love of the work they are doing. If you are passionate about it, you will gravitate toward the best mentors in your field and you will eventually become a master yourself. If the passion for your work isn’t there, you might as well be on Wall Street making real money because you are going to need it to be happy.

The recipe goes like this: 1) Find that thing you love to do; 2) Identify the person or organization who is currently doing that thing the best in the world; 3) Go to them and offer to start at the bottom of the ladder. Don’t take no for an answer. If they require a degree or certification, go get it. 4) Have fun while working your ass off as you move through the organization.

If running a business is part of your passion, then you may be better off leaving and starting your own at some point. But don’t own your own business just because you think that is what success is. You will never be happy running an outdoor business unless you like the everyday work of running a business more than you like actually being outdoors.

Q: In your opinion, which certifications are the most valuable for an outdoor education job applicant? Which certifications might not be worth an aspiring outdoor educator’s time and money?

Wilderness First Responder certification has become an industry standard for any programs which run overnight wilderness trips or visit remote locations.

Today, there are so many certifications out there for the various outdoor activities you might participate in that it is nearly impossible to sort them all out. Certifying bodies include: ACA for boating, AMGA for climbing, AIARE for avalanche education, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute and SOLO for wilderness medicine training, PADI for diving, etc. etc. Which of these certifications you choose to pursue depends on what skills you are interested in. My best advice here is to simply avoid the start-ups. If you are looking for a certification, you want a proven organization that will be there in the long-run to stand behind your training. If they aren’t more than a couple of years old, they may not last and your certification card won’t have quite the same luster.

Q: How do I know if Central Wyoming College’s Outdoor Education and Leadership degree (or other institutional degrees) is a good option for me as a career building block?

In general, employers like to see 2 things on your resume: Formal education and experience in the field for which you are applying. That formal education may mean a college degree or some specific skills certifications or both. Degree programs which also provide an internship opportunity and expedition experience will set you up best for the job market.

If you want to work in academia, you need to be thinking about graduate school. I got my BA and worked at NOLS for 7 years before going to graduate school. But grad school wasn’t part of my plan until I’d been working in the field for 5 years and started thinking about a family and settling down.

If you aren’t sure if a college degree is highly valued at the place you would like to work, give them a call and ask. How many of their employees, on average, have an Associates degree or higher? What did they study?

Q: Will a NOLS course or Outward Bound course make me more valuable to employers? How do I decide which course to enroll in?

The simple answer is yes. If you are looking for a position that involves leading people in the wilderness, employers will be very happy to see NOLS or OB experience on your resume. That is a known quantity for them and they like to know you have been trained to take care of yourself and others in the outdoors.

As for which course to enroll in…that will vary a bit depending on the skills or environments you are hoping to work in. Obviously, if you want to eventually get a job sea kayaking in Baja, take the NOLS course which offers you some experience sea kayaking in Baja.

In general, the Outdoor Educator Semester courses that NOLS offers are the best choice for aspiring outdoor educators. Very comprehensive and usually attract a great group of very motivated folks who are also interested in outdoor careers.

Q: What is the best way to increase personal marketability for job seekers?

Remember that you have 2 things to market: your formal education and your experience. If you don’t have both of those, you may not be qualified yet for the dream job. You may need to go back to school, get specific skills training, or get some experience with an entry-level position at a second-choice organization.

Have a great resume which documents both your professional and outdoor recreation experience and send it far and wide. Use social networks to let people know what you are looking for. Linked In seems to be popular for career networking these days. Ask people to recommend you on Linked In. Post your resume on internet job boards and listserves wherever you can. And email all of your friends and past contacts letting them know what you are looking for.  Conferences and umbrella organizations like AORE and AEE are great ways to make connections as well. Go to these conferences and bring copies of your resume!

The squeaky wheel really does get the grease here. Don’t be too afraid of “bothering” potential employers. Keep pestering them until they realize how qualified and serious you are about working for them.

You can read more about Darran Wells and Central Wyoming College’s Outdoor Education and Leadership degree program here.


NOLS Outdoor Educator Course

NOLS Outdoor Educator Course

My NOLS family on our last day in the backcountry. Little did we all know the stomach ache awaiting us upon reintroduction to front-country food. You’ll notice that I am still wearing my climbing helmet (far left), there was no more room in my pack when we left camp so it went on my head!

Here’s a little information for those of you who might be thinking about signing up for a NOLS OEC.

What can you expect from your NOLS OEC?

  • A reliable, professional, well managed expedition
  • High quality educator focused curriculum
  • Friendly, professional instructors ready to answer every question
  • A whirlwind in-town experience (less than 24 hours from the first meeting to boarding the bus)
  • Establish new and lasting professional connections
  • Access to a huge database of knowledge (written and verbal)
  • Heavy, large, sometimes antiquated group gear. As a UL backpacker, this bothered me at first but I soon came to understand NOLS’s reasoning.

What’s the biggest drawback?

In my opinion, it’s the hefty price tag that is the Achilles heel of any NOLS course. Expect to shell out $200 per day or better for your NOLS course.

Should I take a NOLS course?

This is going to depend heavily on what you want to get out of it. Here’s a list of reasons why (and why not) to sign yourself up.

  • Pro: NOLS carries some serious weight on an outdoor resume and most courses offer industry standard certifications
  • Pro: NOLS can teach you the safest and most up-to-date backcountry techniques for any skill they offer
  • Pro: The friends and connections you make in a NOLS course just might land you your next job. After all, it’s about who you know.
  • Con: NOLS’s price tags are inhibitive for those seeking a casual guided adventure. Plus, you’ll be expected to carry your own weight (literally).
  • Con:  You may earn yourself the “NOLSie” or “Granola Cruncher” title.
  • Con: It can sometimes be difficult to find a course offering all the skills or certifications you want, and none you don’t. I don’t want to pay for a course offering a WFR cert when I already have one, that’s a waste of my time and money.