Should I Take an Outdoor Preparedness Class?
Ever had one of those moments where you’re walking through the woods and you lose sight of the trail and think to yourself, “Umm, do I even know how to use my compass!?” Or maybe you’ve been invited on a weekend backpacking trip, but you're hesitant to accept because of all the what-ifs that could happen out there in the wilderness.
If these situations sound familiar, consider signing up for an outdoor preparedness course. From navigation basics to backcountry first aid, outdoor preparedness classes are a great way to learn new skills, brush up on ones you haven’t used in a while, and even meet like-minded folks looking to feel more confident out there in the elements. Depending on the activity and your goals, there are plenty of options to choose from. Find the option that sounds most like what you’re looking for below to learn more about classes to check out.
“I want to feel confident taking my family backpacking.”
Loading up packs, lacing up boots, and hitting the trail with the whole family can end up being the highlight of your summer. But if you’ve never led a crew of excited kiddos into the woods for a night or two, you may have some questions. How much weight can my kids carry? How do I handle an emergency situation? What should I do if we accidentally veer off route?
To prepare for taking kids into the backcountry, look for classes like Backpacking 101, Wilderness Survival or First Aid, or Navigation Basics. Consider classes that you can take solo (such as wilderness survival) to boost your own confidence or classes that you could take as a family (such as Backpacking 101), so everyone knows what to expect.
Where to find classes: Check out your local outdoor store (REI offers a variety of classes all over America) or a local outdoor education organization such as the Mazamas for skill-building and first aid courses. NOLS, including NOLS Wilderness Medicine, is another great organization to check out. (They even offer classes and immersive courses for kids as young as 14!) You can also look for an online course from a reputable outdoor organization or guide service. Be sure to read course descriptions as well as participant reviews to make sure the class covers your needs.
“I want to do some solo trips into the backcountry!”
You’ve done a handful of multi-day trips led by others, but the idea of a solo trip? Still a bit intimidating. You’ve got lots of questions like: How do I choose a route? What all should I pack? What if I become lost?
To take charge of your own backpacking trip, look for classes that are aimed at Prep and Safety, Wilderness Survival, and/or Navigation. If you’re new to wilderness navigation, look for a Map and Compass Navigation class so you can begin planning routes and making sense of your position once you’re on the trail. If you use a specific navigation device such as a Garmin or Suunto®, make sure that the navigation class you decide on touches on the tool you use.
Where to find classes: If you’re located in the Northwest, The Mountaineers offer comprehensive navigation and GPS classes as well as wilderness skills courses. You can also have a look at events at your local REI or other outdoor stores. For trekking and backpacking training trips and programs, check out the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) to locate programs, courses, and guide services near you.
“I want to start mountaineering.”
Whether you’re a seasoned backcountry skier or new to snow activities altogether, mountaineering can be a challenging and rewarding adventure. Depending on where you are in your journey, you might have questions like: What training do I need? What gear should I get (and how do I use it)? How do I stay safe?
To prepare for your first mountaineering trip plan to take an Intro to Mountaineering class. Alpine Climbing and/or Avalanche Safety are other great options. Since there’s a lot to learn when it comes to mountaineering, taking an intensive course where you learn everything from route finding and navigation to roped travel and ice axe skills is highly recommended. (If you’re not entirely sure if mountaineering is right for you, feel it out by signing up for an Alpine Scrambling class as an introduction to the backcountry.)
Where to find classes: The Mountaineers and Mazamas, located in the Pacific Northwest offer a wide variety of courses including backcountry skills and avalanche safety. If you are located elsewhere, check out the American Mountain Guides Association for information on AMGA-certified guides, guide services, and programs near you. For avalanche safety, the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), is the national organization that certifies avalanche educators, and they are the best resource for sourcing accredited avalanche safety courses nationwide.
Fun fact: The Seattle Mountaineers were the first group to formalize and publish the 10 Essentials back in 1974!
“I want to be more knowledgeable about the flora and fauna in my area.”
A weekend camping trip, day hike, or even just a stroll through the neighborhood can bring up lots of questions about the world around us. Is that a bear track or just a dog? Is that berry edible? I wonder what trees grow around here? When is the best time to see wildflowers or find a cluster of chanterelles?
To get to know the wildlife in your area, consider joining a guided hike, birdwatching class, or mushroom foraging course. If you’re the crafty type, there are even art classes that introduce local plants and teach how to use them in basket weaving or as natural dyes.
Where to find classes: Have a look at your local parks service or your local chapter of the Audubon Society for classes and day trips to learn more about the plant and animal life in your area. Even local restaurants or cooking schools sometimes offer classes in mushroom foraging or local edibles. Art schools and colleges (as well as local artists) are other great resources to check out.
Whether you’re looking for an outdoor preparedness course aimed at skill-building and safety or education and art, classes are a great way to help boost confidence, learn new things, or find your new obsession. The best part? They’ll prepare you for more time outdoors, which we definitely support.