Outdoor Adventure Guide

What You Need To Know To Become An Outdoor Adventure Guide

Outdoor adventure guides not only love nature and thrive in the wilderness, but they’re passionate about bringing unique outdoor experiences to people’s lives. You know this is your calling if you’re excited about the thought of spending a full day (and possibly night(s)) in the outdoors, enjoy working with people of different personalities, and can easily handle stressful situations.

Atlas Obscura defines an outdoor adventure guide as someone who leads “technical activities such as climbing trips, and broader wilderness expeditions where the journey and destination are the goals.”

In other words, the goal of the adventure is to provide guests with a fantastic experience. Other guides may focus on survival or bushcraft skills and use the title, “wilderness guide.” We’ll use “outdoor adventure guide” and “wilderness guide” interchangeably because the two overlap in many areas of guiding.

What are the qualities of an outdoor adventure guide?

While qualifications and experience vary between tour operators, we’ve compiled a list of qualities that typically make it in every job application form.

Customer Service

Any customer-facing job requires customer service competencies. These skills include:

  • Working with different personalities
  • Handling stressful situations 
  • Strong communication skills
  • Working in a team
  • Public speaking
  • Fun and engaging personality
  • Personable and considerate
  • Problem-solving

Hard Skills and Physical Abilities

In addition to the soft skills we listed above, wilderness guides must have the knowledge and mechanical skills necessary to maintain their equipment.

They also need working knowledge of the terrain, environment, and local area. As you lead your group, you need to be able to teach your guests about the region you’re exploring. For example, the flora, fauna, and geology. Wilderness guides end up being experts in natural and human history. This provides a significantly better experience for customers.

The third important aspect is being adept at outdoor sports. This will vary depending on the adventure activity you’re most passionate about. You need to be able to hike long distances while carrying a heavy backpack if you want to lead hikes or backpacking excursions, for instance. Also, these activities require different certifications and licenses which you’ll need to obtain either before applying for a position or upon acceptance.

What qualifications/certifications do you need to be an outdoor adventure guide?

The qualifications or certifications you need will largely depend on the company and the kind of activities you want to lead. In the United States, there are no federally required certifications for outdoor guiding. Here are some that most jobs require or prefer:

First Aid/CPR/AED Certification

To recognize and care for a variety of first aid, breathing. and cardiac emergencies. Some certifying organizations include:

American Heart Association – Heartsaver® First Aid CPR AED Course Options

Red Cross – CPR, First Aid, and AED Certification

The Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Certification

This teaches you to be able to conduct a thorough physical exam, obtain a patient history, assess vital signs, provide emergency care in the wilderness, and make crucial evacuation decisions. Some certifying organizations include:

National Outdoor Leadership School – Wilderness First Responder Certification

Wilderness Medical Associates – Wilderness First Responder Course

Wilderness First Aid (WFA) Certification

“You’ll learn the Patient Assessment System, how to provide effective first aid treatments for injuries and illnesses common in the outdoors, and how to make appropriate evacuation decisions.” Some certifying organizations include:

National Outdoor Leadership School – Wilderness First Aid Certification

Wilderness Medical Associates – Wilderness First Aid Course

Swift Water Rescue Training

Knowing the essentials of river safety and rescue during white water rafting. Some certifying organizations include:

American Canoe Association Saftey and Rescue Courses

Sierra Rescue Swift Water Courses

Swiftwater Safety Institute Safety and Rescue Courses

In addition to the above certifications, some tour guiding businesses require a valid driver’s license and a clean driving record. 

Industry-Specific and Outdoor Education 

Depending on the industry, you’ll need a valid industry license. For example, a fishing license as a fishing guide. For rock, ice, and alpine climbing, The American Mountain Guides Association offers training courses, exams, and certifications to certify you as a guide. To learn about paddle sports certifications, you can visit The American Canoe Association for their programs.

For general outdoor education, the National Outdoor Leadership School and Outward Bound offer courses in wilderness environments. There are even academic degrees you can obtain in Outdoor Recreation or Education.

What experience do you need to become an outdoor adventure guide?

As with typical job postings, hiring managers are looking for guides who have experience. The majority of outdoor guide postings will ask for either personal or professional outdoor guiding experience.

If you don’t have professional experience already, the best place to start is to develop your personal competencies outdoors. Track your outdoor adventures (either personal trips, trips you guided, or trips you were a participant) by keeping a list of:

  • Location
  • Duration
  • Miles traveled
  • Did you lead? Did you follow?
  • Any obstacles you overcame
  • Gear you used

Outfitters wants someone who can meet the physical demands of the outdoor activity they want to lead. To be able to do that, you need the experience and proof you can handle that. 

Organizations for Outdoor Adventure Guiding Information/Training

Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO)

Teaches wilderness/extended care emergency medical courses, from basic to very advanced.

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Wilderness Medical Associations International

Dedicated to the development of remote and practical medicine around the globe.

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Outward Bound

Where students develop new technical skills as well as a sense of teamwork, self-confidence and a desire to make a difference are designed and delivered by a community of the industry’s most skilled and dedicated educators and Instructors.

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National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)

A nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help students step forward boldly as a leader.

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American Hiking Guides Association (AHGA)

Training and certifications for hiking guides and backpacking guides in the US.

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American Alpine Institute

Dedicated to helping climbers raise their skills, protect the environments in which they climb, develop good judgment, and safely gain access to the great mountains of the world.

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International Wilderness Leadership School (IWLS)

An outdoor school that specializes in providing the highest quality guide training, outdoor leadership training, wilderness education, and technical instruction.

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Adventure Travel Trade Association

Helps adventure travel businesses access business training resources on online courses led by subject matter experts and provide their own adventure travel guide training.

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Where to find an outdoor adventure guide job

You can visit any job search engine to find a wilderness guide job but here are some that cater specifically to the outdoors:

Association for Experiential Education

NOLS Job Network (have to be a NOLS alum)

Backdoor Jobs

Outdoor Ed Jobs

North American Association for Environmental Education Job Board

Cool Works Education Jobs

Occupation Wild