Nothing can replace experience, especially on an outdoor guide's resume. If you're applying to a backpacking leader position, you had better have a decent list of personal trips to prove that you have the fundamental skills necessary to be a backpacking guide. The same applies to any other type of outdoor leadership role from canoeing to rock climbing. Get out there and practice your outdoor skills!
It's a industry standard that outdoor guides and trip leaders have wilderness medicine qualifications. Your local chapter of the American Red Cross will offer Wilderness First Aid. This will usually suffice at first but true professionals in the field keep a minimum certification of Wilderness First Responder. Here's a list of wilderness medicine qualifications you might consider, from least in-depth to most difficult.
- Wilderness First Aid (WFA)
- Wilderness First Responder (WFR)
- Wilderness EMT (WEMT)
- Wilderness Paramedic (WEMT-P)
Certifications are becoming your friends, aren't they? On top of wilderness medicine certs, you're going to need activity specific certifications. For example if you plan to be a rock wall / high ropes leader at a summer camp, then it's almost guaranteed that you'll need a certification from ACCT. There is Swift Water Rescue certification for anyone who plans to be a river guide, but often employers will provide the certification for qualified employees so check before you pay for it on your own. Technical and high angle rescue are great certifications to get if you want to be a climbing guide / instructor. There are a myriad more certifications that you might run into while exploring the outdoor leadership field, leave a comment with any others you've had experience with.
Where to Look for Jobs
Finding outdoor jobs and leadership positions is actually pretty simple. Landing the job is another matter. Here are a few links that will help you find an outdoor position. Until you can land a year-round position (which are hard to find as an outdoor guide) you might want to consider working at camps and guide schools for the summer and spending your winters working ski resorts. Doesn't sound too bad, does it?
American Camp Association
Indiana Univeristy Outdoor Jobs Resource
Outdoor Guide Degrees
If you're like me then you have a notion so deeply ingrained in you by society that you can't shake: you have to get a degree to be successful in the modern world. Maybe it's true, maybe not. Regardless, the outdoor education and guide service industry has grown large enough to have actual degrees offered by universities and colleges around the world. You can get a Bachelor's in "How to be a cool wilderness guy". That's pretty cool if you ask me. Central Wyoming College has an entire section of outdoor education degrees here. Central Wyoming's programs are set up to be half in the classroom and half NOLS courses. You have to take NOLS courses to pass college??? Yes. There are several other major universities and colleges offering outdoor education and leadership programs.
NOLS & Outward Bound
If you've thought about being a trip leader or outdoor educator then you must already know about both of these. Right? They're the holy grail schools of wilderness education. They offer recreational endeavors, as well as courses training people who want to be outdoor educators and leaders. NOLS has several and they call it "Teaching the Teachers". They have hefty price tags but to outdoor employers, nothing says qualified like a NOLS semester. Especially when combined with person experience, and a outdoor education degree.
I hope you all find this useful, leave comments with questions or input. If you're a professional in the field tell us what helped you and what you'd suggest for the newest outdoor educators and leaders. Good luck all!