Training College Wilderness Leaders 
for the New Millennium

by Rick Curtis

This material may be distributed for nonprofit educational use as long as attributions are made to the authors and no content changes are made. Commercial use of this material is prohibited without express written permission from the authors. Copyright © 1999, all rights reserved, Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

Training College Wilderness Leaders for the New Millennium - Adobe Acrobat Version


Training college outdoor program leaders is a study in balances. In many cases, these leaders are not paid staff, which places them in the category of paraprofessionals. As paraprofessionals, they cannot be expected to have the level of training that a professional outdoor educator such as a NOLS or OB instructor would have. At the same time, these paraprofessional leaders may be required to deal with the same types of problems on the trail. A bee sting or lightning storm along the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey can be just as dangerous as in the middle of the Wind River Range. Finding the balance for what college outdoor program leaders should know and what they can realistically be required to learn is a challenge for all college programs. Each school must evaluate the types of trips it offers, skill level required, and the feasibility of a training program.

Training Priorities for College Wilderness Programs

The material that follows is the model developed by the Outdoor Action Program (OA) at Princeton University over the last twenty-five years. Outdoor Action operates a number of wilderness programs including a
6-day wilderness pre-orientation program for incoming students, as well as day and multi-day trips throughout the academic year. Leadership training priorities for such a program include the following:

Balancing Protocols and Judgment

Paul Petzoldt, the founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Wilderness Education Association (WEA) once said, “Rules are for fools.” He meant that you can’t categorize situations into a simple rule to handle each scenario. Each situation is unique so backcountry travelers need to assess the situation and make your best determination on the best response.

Even so, there are some situations where rules are appropriate and necessary (and I am sure that Paul would agree). Paddling on a whitewater river without a life jacket is far more foolish than the rule that all paddlers are required to wear life jackets. So how do we determine when to have a rule, a protocol, a guideline or a practice?

The fundamental reason for having any protocol is to provide a structure for safe practice. In cases where leaders have years of experience leading wilderness activities, it is the person’s accumulated experience and judgment that s/he relies on to determine safe practice rather than needing a book of rules. However, I deal with University students, who are volunteers, rather than permanent hired and paid staff, I have to see protocols differently than Paul Petzoldt. When there is high turnover in staff, and lower experience levels, then “the system” is always spinning towards entropy and chaos. Those who ascribe to “chaos theories” in nature will appreciate the analogy. For me, protocols provide the structure to say, “this is how we do things and we won’t accept any lesser standard than that.” So here are some of the factors that I think create the continuum of how much or how little protocol you need.

Low Experience

Medium Experience

High Experience

Low Supervision

Medium Supervision

High Supervision

Low # Field Days

Medium # Field Days

High # Field Days

Low External Support

Medium External Support

High External Support

Children as Participants


Adults as Participants

Core Concepts of Leader Training Programs

There are as many different thoughts about how to train college wilderness leaders are there are programs. Here are some of the areas that we all deal with.

Models for Training College Leaders

·       Select-then-train model - Many schools have an application process before leadership training similar to Resident Advisor selection. Students submit applications and may be interviewed. Only those selected as appropriate candidates are allowed to go through the training. This model usually results in fewer training programs each year (often only one), which can set limits on the number of trained staff you can generate each year and therefore the number of trips you can offer. An advantage is that with a small leader pool everyone may know everyone else so that there is a strong sense of camaraderie among the leadership staff. Also the program director may have personal knowledge of all student leaders, which is helpful in the selection and pairing of staff. Students with previous wilderness experience may be the primary candidates. A select-then-train approach can create a pool of leaders with a greater depth of experience and/or who require less overall training.

·       Train-then-select model - This model provides training to any student who is interested and then accepts applications from all those who have completed the training. This model can be more open-ended in the number and time of training programs offered each year and can result in a larger staffing pool. It also means that students who might not be able to participate in a once-a-year training can become leaders (for example student athletes in a particular sport season). Students can be evaluated during the training process and then appropriate staff selected when they apply for the WO. Larger staff may mean less personal knowledge of each leader by the program director. This can be offset by using committees of student leaders to help the program director with selection and pairing. There may also be less camaraderie throughout the leader pool since everyone may not know each other.

Outdoor Action uses a train and select model where all students, staff, or faculty are allowed and encouraged to participate in the Leader Training Program. Participants are evaluated at a number of places in the training process. Upon completion of the training, individuals may apply to lead a trip. Applicants are then selected to lead based on their experience and evaluations done during the leader training process. By not being selective about who goes through training, you open up the training to all interested students. We have seen an incredible number of students with no previous experience go through the OA Leader Training Program and become outstanding wilderness leaders. It also may create more opportunities for increasing the diversity of your leaders.

Outdoor Action Leader Training Program

The OA Leader Training Program is one of three aspects of the overall OA Program, which also includes a frosh wilderness orientation trip and trips during the academic year. The goal of the OA Leader Training Program is to teach and practice the requisite outdoor and trip planning skills to allow people to lead 3-season Outdoor Action backpacking trips. Some of the skills are well defined and easily grasped, such as lighting a stove. Others are much more abstract, involving simultaneous application of principles, equipment, judgment and the confidence born of experience, such as successfully dealing with accidents and injuries. The learning of each of these skills is a matter of two ingredients: instruction and practice. OA has 80-100 students participate in the Leader Training Program each year. Merely completing the requirements does not automatically allow one to lead trips. Students are evaluated at a number of points through the training process and given guidance if they need additional skill building. Also, new leaders are generally paired with students who have led before providing an additional “apprenticeship” for a new leader.

OA requires all prospective leaders, even skilled outdoorspersons like OB and NOLS graduates, to complete all aspects of the Leader Training Program. This assures us that all leaders have a certain minimum level of skill to learn OA’s procedures and practices. It also allows us to evaluate all prospective leaders. We find that the number of requirements helps to select out those who have strong interests in the program. Students who participate in any aspect of the Leader Training Program feel they benefit and the skills they learn are useful throughout their college years and beyond.

The Outdoor Action Leader Training Program consists of five different training segments. These are offered several times each semester to allow all students to work the trainings into their University schedule. The five-part training program developed by the Outdoor Action Program is outlined below and each segment is covered in detail in the sections that follow.

  1. HEART Wilderness First Aid Course & CPR (25 hours)
  2. Facilitator’s Workshop (8 hours)
  3. Leadership & Group Dynamics Workshop (8 hours)
  4. Safety Management Seminar (2 hours)
  5. Leader Training Course & Trip (5 2-hour classes and 5-day trip)

Who Provides Leader Training?

There are two basic approaches to training leaders, one is to have the training be done by professional staff and the other is a peer-to-peer training approach where experienced student leaders train new leaders. As in any situation there are balances and trade-offs. Outdoor Action utilizes both approaches depending on the particular skill are area being taught. We feel that by providing a detailed and highly structured curriculum in those areas that are taught by students, we can continue to provide a consistent and high quality training experience.

·       Peer-to-peer Training:  Having students train other students adds an entirely new aspect to your outdoor education program. The value of successful peer-to-peer education is a powerful tool for developing the Leader Trainer’s skills and for inspiring new student leaders to develop similar levels of skill, a feat that seems more possible when modeled by a peer rather than a professional.

A significant amount of the teaching of new leaders in Outdoor Action is done by students including Wilderness First Aid and the Leader Training Course. With the guidance of the OA Program Staff, and a well-formulated curriculum, backcountry and outdoor leadership skills are passed down from Leader Trainers to new Leaders. Students look to each other to learn and teach new skills, and this can instill in them a sense of responsibility and leadership.

·       Training by Professional Staff: Training of new leaders can be done entirely by professional staff or by outside professionals. This can create a staff of extremely well trained leaders. However, it loses much of the potential growth offered by peer-to-peer models.

The skill areas which are taught by the OA Program Staff are primarily “interpersonal skills” where mastery of teaching the skill takes considerable experience. The OA Program Director and Program Coordinator teach the Facilitator’s Workshop and the Leadership & Group Dynamics Workshop. OA staff also teach the Safety & Risk Management workshop in order to assure common standards in handling emergency situations and to impress on leaders the critical responsibilities that they hold.

Evaluating Skills

Skill evaluation is a critical part of the training process. Potential leaders need to be able to demonstrate that they have mastered a series of skills, not only at a level where they can perform the skill themselves, but also at a level where they can teach the skill to a novice.

The evaluation and testing that occurs throughout the leadership development process in OA has two purposes. The first is that it is valuable and very important for a leader’s personal growth to get feedback on his/her style and effectiveness as a leader. This allows a leader to see herself through the eyes of her co-leaders and participants, and can help her to re-evaluate herself as a leader. The second purpose for evaluation is for the program. With the large number of leaders that we train each year, it is important that we evaluate and test leaders-in-training and current leaders on an ongoing basis, so that we are able to maintain quality of leadership. A downfall of having a large program is that the OA Program Staff cannot be involved in all of the training, so it is important that we have effective evaluation and testing methods to be sure that all leaders have our baseline skill requirements. The Evaluation in OA begins on the Leader Training Trip with the Leader Trainers, and continues after the trip in briefs, debriefs, and further trainings and trips.

OA Evaluation Points

Ranking Leaders

Not all leaders are created or trained equally. At the end of training you will have some people who are ready to go out into the wilderness and lead a group, others who have not yet mastered the full range of technical and interpersonal skills. Another important aspect of a leader training program is placing leaders in leadership roles that are appropriate for their level of experience. This means you must be able to evaluate an individual’s current level of skill and to re-evaluate that over time.

OA utilizes a ranking structure to help us place people in the correct role and to pair leaders with different skill levels appropriately. At the end of the Leader Training Trip, participants are ranked using the following levels. Leader Trainers rank the person both in technical skills and interpersonal skills and give them an overall ranking. These rankings, along with the written evaluations allow us to place leaders in an appropriate trip role with the proper co-leader. After each trip we review trip evaluations and co-leader evaluations and determine if it is appropriate to move someone either up or down on the ranking scale. It is important to note that we do not advertise each person’s rank. We stress a Co-leadership model where all leaders are there to work together as a team to get the job done, not create a hierarchical structure.

Please check the appropriate category for your Technical skills and Interpersonal skills rankings for this trainee.



Assistant Leader


Primary Leader

Technical skills Ranking:





Interpersonal skills Ranking:





Overall Ranking:





Ongoing Leadership Training

Since OA Leaders go through the training program only once (they do have to keep CPR and first aid current), we provide several opportunities for refresher programs during the year. OA also has an extensive Leader’s Manual that serves as an excellent reference for leaders to polish their skills.

New Issues for the Millennium

Changing Role of the University

Over the past twenty years, both the operating practices and the role of the University has shifted. Through the early 60’s an important operating principal for most residential Universities was in loco parentis, which means “in place of parents,” by being a student at a residential college meant that the college administration took on a role similar to that of a parent through housing, feeding, monitoring behavior, etc. In the 70’s the notion of in loco parentis fell out of practice. Universities took a “hands-off” approach when it came to student behavior. In recent years, in part driven by increasing liability concerns and the fear of lawsuits, the pendulum of in loco parentis is swinging back. Colleges are increasingly concerned about issues like binge drinking and are taking active steps to both curb problematic behavior and to educate students on how to make responsible choices. Retention of students is another issue. “Of the freshmen who enrolled in four-year colleges in the United States in the fall of 1996, 26.4 percent did not return the following fall, down from a record high of 26.9 per cent two years earlier, according to a report on college dropout rates by ACT, Inc., which administers standardized tests.”[1]

They expect to share in decision making; many of them are a lot more savvy than their parents were as college students. Colleges go back to in loco parentis with these kids. The end of the generational cold war, however, can open a new period for colleges, one we can call cum parentibus, in which parents and their children work together on ways for young people to complete the last stage of adolescence.[2]

When a student violates alcohol rules at the University of Delaware, Radford University, and several other institutions, administrators are now calling or writing home. …Some college officials wonder whether the new federal law increases the legal risks for them. For example, if a college decided not to tell parents about a student's alcohol violations, and the student was later killed or injured in an alcohol-related incident, would the college face a greater liability if the parents sued?

"Not only do we have to consider what's in the best interest of the students, but now we have to ask ourselves whether we have a legal duty to notify parents," says Gus Kravas, vice-provost for student affairs at Washington State University, where students rioted last spring to protest strict alcohol rules.[3]

For more than a quarter of a century, higher education has trumpeted the disappearance of in loco parentis. Although it is true that the campus rebellions of the 1960s led to the lifting of many restrictions on student behavior, as well as to the elimination of many course requirements in foreign languages, mathematics, and science, the changes did not lead to a reduction in the services provided to students. Indeed, they led to precisely the opposite: Student and academic services grew at a striking pace.

From 1975 to 1986, spending on student services increased by 39 per cent in constant dollars, the largest increase in eight categories of expenditures -- including research and student aid. The second-highest rate of increase was 34 per cent for academic support, much of which -- tutoring and remediation, for example -- is also focused on students. The rate of increase tapered off after 1986, because of general cutbacks in administrative budgets.

Undoubtedly, much of this growth was triggered by competition for students. Worried about declining numbers of college-age students, administrators emphasized the quality of campus life by investing in student services. And, as the cost of college rose, students and their parents demanded more -- more financial-aid counseling, more career advising, more psychological and health care -- in exchange for their investment. As the academic achievement of students from many public high schools declined, colleges provided additional tutoring and remedial help. And as students from increasingly diverse backgrounds were admitted, even more student-services personnel were hired to deal with tensions among various groups and to provide a broader range of extracurricular activities.[4]

The legacy of in loco parentis, the once-pervasive legal theory that colleges have responsibilities and rights similar to those of a parent, persists. Courts moved away from the theory during the student-rights movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's. Some legal experts, however, think that student plaintiffs have won recent cases by appealing to a juror's sense that such a relationship should exist.

Other factors are spurring suits, the lawyers say: Universities are usually rich defendants; students are often in debt. Injured students without health insurance sometimes feel they need to sue to recoup medical expenses.

Some university lawyers say these factors have created a "feeding frenzy" of litigation on campuses….He notes another paradox. If colleges decide to regulate student behavior more tightly, the courts will have more reason to find colleges liable when accidents occur.[5]

Among those student-affairs officers, a common lament is that students seem to be going through an extended adolescence. Says Phillip E. Jones, associate vice-president for academic affairs and dean of students at the University of Iowa: "The behavior is such that it encourages the in loco parentis relationship that students two decades ago fought to change."[6]

Our society is far more complex than it was forty years ago. As a result, students coming out of high school have much less clearer paths than their parents did. Many students aren’t sure of where they are going or even what college is supposed to be for them. As a result, the maturation process in our culture has been extended into the college years. With the dissolution of families and communities, society has become more dependent upon colleges to continue the maturation process for students. Some colleges have taken up this responsibility while others have been slow to. This trend points to an important role that college outdoor programs can play in supporting the mission of the college. The potential for personal growth and development through small group wilderness experiences has been documented. College outdoor program participants can learn and grow in a variety of ways making them better students and better members of the college community. Additionally, the process of training college wilderness leaders provides some students with even more leadership development skills that also impact their lives in the classroom and dormitory.[7] [8]

One of the challenges of the millennium for college outdoor programs is to find ways that we can be seen as furthering the goals and objectives of the college. These are all valuable contributions to campus life:

Another area for development is to create better connections between the academic and the extracurricular. Most college outdoor programs are not part of the academic curriculum. Students may commit considerable time to the program and receive no academic credit for it. Colleges are increasingly viewing experiential learning models including service learning as an approach to integrate into the curriculum. Outdoor programs can also provide unique educational opportunities that connect to the student’s academic life. Cooperative programming with departments like Biology, Geology, Teacher Education, etc. can create courses that link outdoor activities and training into mainstream classroom activities.

Risk Management & Liability

There needs to be a greater awareness on the part of college wilderness leaders about the issues of liability and risk management. Protocols become increasingly important for programs. Consistency across all activities, reporting structures and follow-up responses, and conscious decisions underlying program operations.

Diversity & Inclusion

Perhaps no other single issue is as difficult to get a handle on. What do we mean by diversity? Is it having a diverse group of participants? A diverse leadership staff? A program that is seen as open and accessible to all students? How do we define diversity:

If you approach the issue of diversity/inclusion you must do so by carefully examining the core values of your program that lie underneath this goal. Diversity simply for the sake of diversity, or that “it’s something we should do” is hollow and, moreover, self-serving. It may be based on “white-man’s burden” rather than a fundamental belief that the experience that we offer is a positive experience of personal growth that can be of benefit to all communities.

Reasons for Inclusion

Roads to Inclusion

  1. Accessibility
  2. Outreach
  3. Cross-cultural Immersion


Leadership is service. Teaching students leaders that they are in a service role is important to their development as responsible members of their college community and to society at large. Being a contributing member of a community means being in service to others. One of the challenges for college outdoor programs for the new millennium is to develop community service activities that include outdoor and experiential education.

Concept of Wilderness

Beyond teaching leaders appropriate Leave No Trace practices to pas on to participants, leaders need to be educated in the history and value of conservation and wilderness preservation. Leave No Trace should be more than just technique; it should be the application of a philosophy of land stewardship and wilderness use.

Training Assessment and Development Model

In order to develop a training program it is important to follow a Training Assessment and Development Model. This model lets you develop your training program around a thorough examination of the activity.

Assess the Activity:

Brainstorm Training Possibilities:

In thinking about developing a new activity it is important to ask the following questions:

At Outdoor Action, as we answer these questions, we determine whether we have the ability to provide the necessary training to staff and to provide the necessary level of training to those who instruct staff. If we can do both of these things, then it is an activity we are willing to pursue. Otherwise, we either find an outside source of expertise to provide the activity or we don’t pursue it. This decision is based on our resources of staff and money. If we are going to go to all the effort of adding an activity to our program, we want to be able to continue to offer it.

Put simply:

If we decide that we can handle these elements then we take the different training elements and

Assemble the Training Elements into a Program:

You want to integrate your training elements into a structure that should meet the following criteria:

Other Resources

OA Leader Training Program Components

HEART Wilderness First Aid and CPR

First aid training is an essential part of any leader training program. In an effort to find an appropriate balance for our leaders, Outdoor Action has developed its own Wilderness First Aid Course. This 21-hour course is taught by a student group on campus, Health Education and Rescue Training (HEART), that is made up mostly of OA Leaders. The course has been developed over a number of years and is based on the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) curriculum. The HEART class is comparable to Wilderness First Aid Courses offered by the Wilderness Medical Associates and SOLO. All materials and techniques for the course have been examined and approved by a physician from the University Health Service. The instructors are all qualified at a higher level of training, at least the NASAR WFR or EMT. The success of the course can best be seen by the number of students who go on to take a higher-level course because they are excited about learning more first aid. This is a testament to the skill and enthusiasm of the instructors. All OA leaders are required to maintain current certification in adult CPR.

OA also offers a Wilderness First Responder Course once a year. This allows interested students to increase their level of training and also provides for future instructors for the HEART course. A brief outline of the HEART curriculum is provided below.

The course meets once a week for a five-week period. Each three-hour class is roughly divided between lectures and practical exercises. Emphasis is placed on the Patient Assessment System framework, which provides a rescuer with the organizational structure for all potential accidents. Frequently the class is divided into rescuers and victims to enact accident simulations, which provide valuable hands-on experience. Each simulation is debriefed as a group and the rescuers are required to present SOAP notes. At the end of the course, two larger accident simulations are used to teach triage principles and challenge the rescuers skills.

A university health professional provides specific training on treating anaphylactic shock. Since Anakits are carried on all trips, each student, with a health professional’s supervision, practices giving a water injection to an orange.

The HEART Wilderness First Aid course does not grant any nationally recognized certification. Students are required to pass both a written and practical exam. The 1.5-hour written exam reviews the major topics covered both in class and in the reading. The extensive practical exam requires the student to confront three wilderness injuries, demonstrate proper patient assessment, and provide effective patient care.

HEART Teaching Outline

Class 1

Class 2

Class 3

Class 4

Class 5

Class 6

Class 7

2. Facilitator’s Workshop

Teaching group dynamics and effective leadership and facilitation skills is perhaps the most challenging part of the leadership development process. Facilitating groups requires developing special sensitivities to individual participants’ interests and needs as well as the needs of the group. We use a series of activities and role plays to allow leaders-in-training to practice facilitation skills.

The Facilitator’s Workshop is an 8-hour workshop which focuses on the basics of facilitating a group experience. The workshop integrates theory with practice throughout the day to help participants develop a basic understanding of the role of the facilitator. We begin the day by facilitating the leaders-in-training through some group initiatives to give them experience participating in the activities that they will facilitate later in the day. The remainder of the day is a mixture of discussing the concepts behind facilitation and practicing facilitating activities for each other. These are the major concepts taught in the workshop:

Full Value Contract – techniques for building a group contract

Thaw-Shift-Refreeze - the basic model of how we change our behavior. Often it is a challenge or disequilibrium that initiates the Thaw and a supportive environment is usually required to help Refreeze the new behavior.

Challenge - challenge is often a fundamental part of the Thaw-Shift-Refreeze Cycle. A challenge occurs when there is a goal and an obstacle to overcome to reach the goal. The goal can be internal or external and the obstacle can be internal or external. If the participant attributes the locus (internal vs. external) of either the goal or obstacle incorrectly, it may lead to frustration. The person may need help seeing the situation more clearly.

The Edge - the point at which we make the shift to the new behavior in the Thaw-Shift-Refreeze cycle is known as the edge. We are at the edge of our know behavior moving into new and possibly unknown territory. This can be a period of great stress for the person both physically and emotionally (which can have safety implications in some activities). It may be necessary to do some debriefing and processing with the person right then and there.

Debriefing - a process that encourages both personal reflection and self-disclosure. It is accomplished in various ways and is an essential part of Transference.

Safe Environment - creating a “safe” emotional environment so that participants can fell comfortable telling the group if they are having problems.

Challenge by Choice - an essential aspect of challenge is that the individual should not be forced or coerced into it. In some situations (e.g. bad weather) there is nothing we can do. But in situations where activities are voluntary people must feel the have the right to say no and not feel a loss of self-worth. This is part of creating a Safe Environment.

Setting the Tone - recognizing that the opening stages of any group are very pliable for establishing group norms. This is the time to introduce and model appropriate types of behavior. It is also the time to correct behaviors which are inappropriate before they become established norms.

Facilitator - one of the leader’s primary goals is to facilitate effective group interaction and encourage personal growth.

Honesty - it is imperative that you are honest with the group at all times. There should be no hidden agendas.

Your Disability is your Opportunity - the notion that in some situations it is useful to try to turn a problem into a positive situation.

Success and Failure are not Absolutes - the idea that not achieving your stated goal is still success. If you aim to get from A-Z and get to M you have still traveled a great distance. If someone is having difficulty, you may need to help them see this.

Transference - the process of transferring the new knowledge learned from the trip back to daily life and incorporating it there. Debriefing is essential to successful transference.

Compensating Behavior - the notion that the initial interpretation for why someone is behaving a certain way may be incorrect. There may be another issue and the person’s behavior is an attempt to compensate for a situation they find uncomfortable.

Gender Inclusive Language - since language can have extremely subtle effects on individuals it is important to model this behavior. It will make some more comfortable and may challenge others leading to a positive Thaw-Shift-Refreeze.

Respect for Others - this is an inherent value for OA, a form of minimal impact in working with people. This means that we have to create an environment where everyone is respected. You don’t have to agree with the person, but you need to respect them.

3. Leadership and Group Dynamics Workshop

This is an 8-hour workshop that focuses on group dynamics and leadership skills. A mixed format is used which includes small group discussion, dyads, journal writing, group exercises, role-plays, lectures, debriefing, and games. The workshop is divided into the following general sessions:

The following general concepts are taught during this workshop:

Situational Leadership - the idea that there is one most effective leadership style for a person or a group based on the situation. It is based on a bell curve set on an X-Y axis of relationship and task behaviors and the maturity of the participants regarding the task.

Teachable Moment - finding an opportunity to introduce some new knowledge or experience that “fits” with what is occurring.

Leader’s Radar - sensing how individual participants and the group as a whole are doing both physically and emotionally. Using this assessment to decide appropriate leadership strategies.

Task/Relationship Roles - leadership can be broken down into specific types of behaviors. Task Behaviors are aimed at moving the group in the direction of completing a task. Relationship behaviors are aimed at fostering effective group interaction. Leaders may have strengths in one or both areas and should strive to improve their behavioral repertoire to include both. As the trip progresses, the participants may take on more of these roles as indicated by the Situational Leadership Model.

Assessment - the process of using Leader’s Radar to assess the current state of participants and the group and apply the Situational Leadership Model to determining the most effective leadership behavior for that situation.

Leaders as Role Models - leaders are carefully watched for signs of behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate.

I Language - owning your feelings rather than placing the responsibility for them on others by saying “I feel __________ when you _________.”

Accept the Person but Not the Behavior - the idea that if someone is exhibiting problematic behavior that you should focus on the behavior and still communicate your interest and caring for the person.

Refocus - in seeking reasons for why things happen, some people tend blame themselves and some tend to blame others. These are called internal attributers (assume it is something they did or didn’t do) and external attributers (assuming it is caused by something outside themselves). Neither is always true and the truth is often a combination. If someone is having difficulty, try to determine how s/he is making the attribution, and whether or not it is an appropriate assessment of the situation.

Recipes, basic ingredients, chefs and cooking styles - a metaphor for leadership in which the leaders are chefs. Each may have their own recipes but there are certain fundamental cooking skills which must be mastered by all.

Anxiety Meter - a method of checking to see how stressed people are feeling.

Space Tolerance - the idea that each leader tolerates a certain “response space” between when s/he asks for something to be done and when, if participants don’t jump in, s/he will do it herself. Leaders have different space tolerances and problems can result. Co-leaders should discuss their space tolerance before a trip and negotiate how they will deal with differences. If I have a low space tolerance, and no one steps in, I feel uncomfortable that a need is not being met and I step in. This can prevent others (leaders and participants) from taking responsibility and can lock me into one role on a trip. I may need to expand my space tolerance to create opportunities for others.

4. Safety Management Workshop

All leaders are required to attend a two-hour safety management workshop. This is considered a critical part of the leader training process. The workshop covers the Dynamics of Accidents Model developed by Alan Hale. Leaders are introduced to the model and to their role in presenting environmental briefings and educating participants about the model. The specific incident report forms used by OA are covered with an explanation of how they are used to make program changes. Finally, an analysis of some real accidents illustrates how the formula can be used to reduce accident potential and prevent accidents. In addition to the workshop, the Dynamics of Accidents Model is also discussed during the Leader Training Course and stressed during the trip.

Leader Trainers

Outdoor Action Leader Trainers are the lifeblood of the program. These are the individuals who lead the Leader Training Courses and train new leaders the necessary wilderness and leadership skills to be able to lead regular OA trips including the Frosh Trip. As a result, we look for people with solid wilderness and group leadership skills, solid first aid skills, excellent judgment and good teaching ability. We have identified the following criteria for potential Leader Trainer applicants:

Application and Selection Process

Leader Trainer applicants apply by submitting a written application to OA Staff (the Program Coordinator and the Program Director). These applications cover previous outdoor experience both within OA and outside of OA. The Leader Training Committee co-chairs screen the applications to identify candidates who meet the criteria outlined above. Candidates that meet the screening criteria are interviewed by members of the Leader Training Committee and OA Staff. Following the interviews, all applicants will be discussed at a meeting of the Leader Training Committee, which will make its suggestions for selection and pairing. The final decision for Leader Trainer selection is made by OA Staff. Individuals that are selected to become leader trainers are paired with a person who has already led a leader training trip. Individuals that are not selected are encouraged to lead other regular multi-day trips and to reapply. An OA Staff person will meet with any candidates who are not selected to give them feedback on areas for growth.

On-going Evaluation

New leader trainers will be paired with at least one other person who has led a Leader Training Trip before. As in all other OA trips, co-leadership is the model. This apprenticeship is part of the training process to teach new leader trainers how to effectively lead a leader training trip. Prior to the trip leader trainers must complete the Leader Self-Assessment and schedule time to meet and discuss personal strengths, weaknesses, and trip goals with their co-leader(s) and then together with an OA Staff person. At the end of the trip, all leaders will fill out a Leader Peer evaluation on each of his/her co-leaders and share it with them. This provides a format for sharing feedback between co-leaders. Leaders from each trip will also meet with the Program Coordinator or the Program Director to have a post-trip Debrief. Continued service as a leader trainer is based on positive peer reviews, participant evaluations, and discussions with the Program Director or the Program Coordinator.


5. The Leader Training Course

An important part of the learning process for participants is learning how to teach. This is an essential skill for them to be effective leaders. The Leader Training Course focuses both on skill mastery and on learning to teach the skill to others. It is constructed so that each participant is responsible for teaching certain skills to the rest of the group. Pre-trip material is taught by the Leader Trainers to effectively transmit the information and to model effective teaching styles. Other material is specifically assigned to participants. There is a group debriefing after each teaching session to give feedback to the person teaching and to reinforce the importance of good teaching.


The Leader Training Course (LTC) consists of five 2-hour pre-trip classes and a 5-day backpacking trip. Groups will meet 5 weeks prior to the trip in order to begin trip planning and pre-trip classes. Participants are required to attend all group meetings and prepare material for the class they will teach during the trip. Material for the classes will be taken from the Backpacker’s Field Manual, and other sources as needed. Each participant receives a copy of the Backpacker’s Field Manual. The first and last meetings before the trip itself will be run just like a regular OA backpacking trip pre-trip meeting would be run. This is designed to model how the future leaders would run their own trip.

In the weeks leading up to each break the Leader Training Committee has a 5-hour Retreat which serves as a forum to orient new Leaders to the core curriculum and to review the philosophy and goals of the Leader Training Course. The Retreat provides an opportunity to share ideas and to insure that all leaders trainers are prepared to teach the core curriculum so that we can assume a solid foundation of knowledge of all participants at the end of the trip. Some of the topics discussed are pre-trip meetings, training during the trip, simulations, giving and receiving feedback, debriefing techniques and the participant evaluation process at the end of the course.


Each participant will have one class to prepare prior to the trip. An outline of the basic skills the participant will cover must be given to the Leader Trainers before the trip leaves. During the trip each participant will teach his/her class. After any class is presented, the Leader Trainers should round it out with whatever they have learned out on the trail. Then the group should discuss and critique both the content and the presentation. This is not a test, but rather, an opportunity for helpful feedback. Possible areas for review include, clarity, confidence, creativity, and the ability to hold listeners' interest. Route planning should include setting aside about 2 hours each day for classes.

Schedule of Pre-Trip Sessions

The schedule for the pre-trip sessions is detailed in Table 2.1. The schedule for classes and activities during the week is detailed in Table 2.2.

Pre-Trip Activities




Other Tasks


Dressing for the Backcountry

‘How to Teach’ Class

Explain OA priorities/goals and how Leader Training Course will operate.

Hand out participant applications, med forms, and Personal Equipment List.

Sign out Backpacker’s Field Manuals.

Collect trip payment.

Participants will be assigned classes to teach.

Schedule remaining meetings and decide on due date for class outlines.

Discuss participant goals and leader goals, and create a Full Value Contract.


Map Reading Class

Route Planning

MSR Stove Class

Tour of Equipment Room.

Plan route as a group.


Food & Menu Planning

First Aid & Blister Kits

Knot Class – Trucker’s Hitch, Bowline, Tautline Hitch



General Leave No Trace Class

Tarp Set-up

Backpack Class - sizing, wearing, loading

Assemble group equipment.

Issue personal equipment.

Day before trip


Review of equipment and food lists - prepare shopping list and buy items.

Repack food.

Distribute group equipment.

Pack backpacks.

Table 2.1

During The Trip

First Day

The first day should be planned such that the group sets up camp after only ½ day of hiking. The Leader Trainers will serve as Leaders-of-the-Day (LD's). They should inform the group that they will lead the first day just like the first day any OA trip should be led. Before starting off, while the group is stretching, trail technique, minimal impact while hiking, and the schedule for water and sit-down breaks should be mentioned. LD’s for the next day will be chosen.

Leaders of the Day (LD's)

LD pairs or trios will lead the middle three days of the trip, with each group in charge of a day from wake up to bedtime. LD's are responsible for everything as if the trip were a regular backpacking trip. This means that they are there to teach and encourage the other participants to take responsibility for running the trip. They are selected the night before by the Leader Trainers and are told how many classes to schedule the next day, and whether or not there will be a simulation.

Classes Taught During the Trip



First Day

Taught By



Leader Trainers

Blister Care



Water Purification



Dynamics of Accidents Model



Trail Technique



Terrain Association



Campsite Selection



Leave No Trace in Camp

Any Day

Taught By



Leader Trainers




Giving and Receiving Feedback



Emergency Procedures



Lost Person Procedures



Emergency Simulations/First Aid



Compass Use






Backcountry Cooking






Group Games






Map reading review



Ten Essentials






Weather & Lightning Safety



Natural History



History of the Land

Table 2.2

Second Day - Fourth Day

LD’s are responsible for getting the group moving at whatever time necessary to comply with the planned route. The LD’s keep track of pace, rest stops, blister checks, emotional checks, lead and sweep positions, lunch stop, coordinate breaks for teaching, and supervise campsite selection and construction. This is not to say that these two people do all these things, rather, it is their responsibility to make sure that all of these things get done. LD’s will trade off leading with map and compass. LD’s are responsible for getting the group moving at whatever time necessary to comply with the planned route. It is expected that the trainees will handle all aspects of camp selection and setup for the rest of the trip. Trainees should watch each other to make sure all things are handled properly. Leader trainers should perform tasks assigned to them by trainees rather than taking initiative to do things.

Evening Activities

Evening can include a wide variety of activities. The leaders should have the group evaluate the day, how things progressed, what people learned. The group should critique the teaching presentations to provide feedback for the presenters. Leaders need to maintain a relaxed atmosphere so that this stays low key and informative, but not too personal.


Simulations are an important part of the leader training process and it is important that the leaders do a number of simulations on each day of the trip. Simulations are designed to teach participants some of the technical and group dynamic/leadership skills required in an accident or emergency situation. It is required that participants be made aware in advance that there will be simulations during the trip and be told on what day the simulation(s) will take place. This is essential both from an ethical perspective and so that constant anticipation doesn’t ruin the trip. The purpose of these simulations is to practice skills and to learn about the complex nature of emergency response. It is not a test or evaluation of individual’s skills. The idea is that a low-pressure walk-through of the Emergency Procedures will imprint them far better on the participants than a confusing, high-pressure affair. Keep in mind that an accident scenario can be a highly emotional experience. We want to give people an experience with emergency procedures but not emotionally traumatize them.


An informal debriefing should be done daily, preferably at night, to check on how the day went, how people are feeling, what they learned, etc. The last night of the trip (or at the end of the last day) both an individual and a group final debriefing should be done (see Section 9 - Leadership: Transferring the Experience). After dinner, Leader Trainers should meet in a removed spot with each participant for 10-15 minutes. Here are some of the questions you should consider asking.

Post-Trip Evaluations

Ongoing Training for Leaders

In order to maintain the level of skills of OA Leaders, we have worked to incorporate a number of ongoing training opportunities.

[1] Colleges Struggle to Keep Would-Be Dropouts Enrolled, Leo Reisberg, Chronicle of Higher Education,

[2] The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 1992, The Cold War Is Over Between the Generations, Claire L. Gaudiani

[3] Chronicle of Higher Education, December 4, 1998, When a Student Drinks Illegally, Should Colleges Call Mom and Dad? LLeo Reisberg

[4] The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 6, 1995, The Faculty's Role in Fostering Student Learning, Ursula Wagener and Marvin Lazerson

[5] The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 17, 1994, Lawsuit 'Feeding Frenzy',  Ben Gose

[6] The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 30, 1993, The Post-Baby Boomers Arrive on Campus,  Mary Crystal Cage

[7] The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 30, 1993, The Post-Baby Boomers Arrive on Campus,  Mary Crystal Cage

[8] The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 29, Today's College Students Need Both Freedom and Structure, Gary Pavela


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