A group of backpackers skirts a high lake in the Wind River Mountains, WY.
Before we get started with this month-by-month regimen, let’s review a few helpful hints:
First and foremost, if you want to be in charge of a group in the backcountry, you better have the hard skills to back you up.
Hard skills are starting a fire, pitching a tarp, packing a backpack, etc.
Don’t forget, employers will want to see that you have good soft skills too.
Soft skills are communication, leadership, conflict resolution, facilitation, etc. These skills are much more difficult to develop outside of interpersonal interaction, so be mindful of how you’re interacting and communicating with people (co-workers especially) over the next few months.
This article will focus on hard skills development.
The best and fastest possible way to develop hard skills is to hit the trail with a friend who has more experience than you. Second best is hitting the trail with anyone at all. Third best is being out there on your own.
Always document when and where you went so you can provide your employer a documented representation of your experience.
Get at least two weekend backpacking trips done. Get one trip of 3+ nights, four nights would be best. Begin searching for a Wilderness First Responder course. Enroll yourself immediately. Now get back on the trail and hike and backpack more!
Use some of these common outdoor job search engines to get an idea of what kind of jobs are out there.
If you’re truly passionate about landing a job then you’re going to have to roll your sleeves up and become your own job search engine. It’s highly effective and you should get started early.
Hopefully you’ve found or (preferably) completed your WFR course by now. Every employer is going to expect trip leaders to be certified WFRs (pronounced woofers).
Look at NOLS WMI (Mountain West) or SOLO (East Coast) for WFR course offerings.
Plan a few more overnights.
Purchase a Whisperlite stove. Use the stove to cook every meal you can.
Don’t forget, your new Whisperlite will need a Fuel Bottle. You’ll want to pick up a service kit while you’re shopping.
The new Whisperlite International provides the ability to burn many different fuels, it may be a better option for some of you!
Become a Whisperlite wizard, 90% of backpacking programs you lead will be using the Whisperlite. You better know how to use it and cook on it. The reason this stove is so popular is because it’s durable, highly proven, easily field maintainable, and highly versatile for institutional backpacking.
Plus, if you use the stove properly and take care of it, they last virtually forever. Cascade Designs‘ customer service is among the best in the industry. They take care of their customers.
Get out hiking overnights on the weekends as much as possible.
Plan two trips of 4+ nights.
Start refining your techniques and gear. Get rid of unnecessary junk you’ve been carrying. It’s not necessary to go ultralight but take a professional attitude toward what you’re packing and why you’re packing it.
See my backpacking gear lists if you need suggestions or send me an email and I’d be glad to help you refine your gear and techniques.
Keep in mind that your (or mine) backpacking gear for a solo trip will be different from your gear in an institutional setting. Be prepared to make compromises when your employer tells you to carry the four-pound med kit.
Figure out how to cope with backpacking in the rain. If you’re wet and soggy and grumpy, chances are your participants will be too. You better be ready to mentally deal with the adversities you’ll encounter out there so that you can put them aside and help your clients.
Decide what gear setup works best for you (I.E. tarp vs tent, poncho vs rain jacket, etc.)
Start to learn what backpacking foods are appropriate and what’s a waste of space in your pack. Find the balance for yourself between carrying a pack full of fresh (and heavy) fruits and vegetables versus eating only snickers and ramen noodles. Everyone has a preference, the only way to find yours is to experiment.
Plan one week long trip (7 nights in the field) in this time and make sure you learn how to plan backpacking meals like a professional. No more Mountain House freeze dried meals, they make their money on people who haven’t learned to pack their own meals.
Continue taking as many 1-4 night trips as possible.
Don’t forget to document all of these, where you went, how far you went, how many nights in the field.
Become a purveyor of online forums.
Backpackinglight.com (Paid service.)
Whiteblaze.net (Read, post with caution.)
Hammockforums.net (Hammock camping focused.)
Begin searching online resources for jobs. Winter is the time to apply, so hopefully you started following this outline in the spring (it should now be prime time for job hunting).
Read my list of the four best places to search for an outdoor job because you’re getting down to the wire. It’s time to get serious if you haven’t already followed the link from Months 1-2.
Apply vigorously, apply for every job that appeals, and don’t skip any because you think you’re not prepared. Let the interviewer determine that. Don’t forget you might just land an outdoor job that’s not even posted!
Follow my guide to nailing a phone interview so you don’t miss your chance at that perfect backpacking job!
I’ve landed jobs before that I thought for sure I wouldn’t get. Stay optimistic, but most importantly, just send out a shit load of applications. Someone will want you.
Finish refining your techniques and gear.
Ask for help on Whiteblaze.net. Or leave a comment here to get help with your gear setup if you’ve got lingering questions. You could also get in touch directly for help.
Try to get experience using different shelters, if you’ve been backpacking with a solo tent, do a few overnights with a tarp. Employers want to see that you’re comfortable with multiple types of shelter.
Finish your interviews and accept that new job!
Other articles that will help in your job hunt:
Outdoor Job Search Ideas (Be Your Own Search Engine)
Four Best Places to Search for an Outdoor Job
Three Outdoor Living Skills You Must Have
5 Pieces of Backpacking Gear You Can’t Live Without
Outdoor Education Industry: Trends and Opportunities
Seeking Change: Entering the Outdoor Education Industry
How to Phone Interview for an Outdoor Job