Outdoor Action Leadership Training Course Guidelines


This material is the Leader Training Course Chapter from the Outdoor Action Program Leader's Manual written by Rick Curtis, Director, Outdoor Action Program. This material may be freely distributed for nonprofit educational use. However, if included in publications, written or electronic, attributions must be made to the author. Commercial use of this material is prohibited without express written permission from the author. Copyright © 1995 Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

Table Of Contents

OA Leader Training Course Guidelines


The Leader Training Course (LTC) is a fundamental part of the OA Program. It serves two purposes; to train new leaders and it stands on its own as a wilderness educational experience. This dual purpose is reflected in the complex nature of leading such a trip. First there is a strong focus on skill training for the participants so that they will have solid skills for when they lead their own trips. In addition, this may be the first OA trip for participants, so they need to go through an experience similar to what their future participants will go through. Just as on a regular OA trip, it is important to share the leadership responsibility with the participants. As they learn more about how to function in the wilderness environment, more responsibility is shifted to them by the leaders.


The goal of the LTC is to teach the requisite outdoor and trip planning skills to allow interested persons to lead Outdoor Action 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, and the confidence born of experience, such as successfully dealing with accidents and injuries. The learning of either type of skill is a matter of two ingredients: instruction and practice. On the LTC, instruction is given in all aspects of trip leadership: background information as well as hard skills. Instruction is given not only by the leader trainers, but also the participants, each of whom will research and teach a class to the whole group. The course is designed as an opportunity to learn and practice the leadership tasks performed on a regular OA 3-season backpacking trip. In order to facilitate learning, a small group is required; the LTC will consist of eight participants and two or three leader trainers. The Basic Leader Training Course covers the basic skills necessary to lead 3-season backpacking trips. A Bike Touring Leader Training Course is also offered to teach the skills necessary to lead multi-day bike touring trips (See OA Bike Leaders Manual). The LTC is divided into three sections-Pre-trip, Trip, and Post-trip.


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 is constructed so that each participant will be responsible for teaching certain skills to the rest of the group. Skills to be taught will be divided up between those which need to be taught before the trip and those which will be taught during the trip. All pre-trip material will be taught by the Leader Trainers to effectively transmit the information and to model effective teaching styles. The other material will be specifically assigned to participants. Pre-trip, participants will be required to develop a list with a short explanation of the basic concepts behind their topic area and present it to the Leader Trainers. There will be a group debriefing after each teaching session (including those done by the Leader Trainers) to give feedback to the person teaching and to reinforce the importance of good teaching. Teaching is a skill which will also be evaluated on the Evaluation Form. During the trip, participants will teach specific aspects of their subject taken from general topic outlines (see below). In some cases, some parts of the topic will be taught by the leader trainers.


Leader Trainers will meet with the Program Director to discuss goals and strategies for the course including, the philosophy of the Leader Training Program, pre-trip meetings, training during the trip, simulations and walkout policies, and the participant evaluation process at the end of the course.

Groups will meet 5 weeks prior to the trip in order to begin the course all pre-trip planning. 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 OA Leader's Manual, the NOLS Wilderness Guide, other sources as needed. 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.


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. Participants are to be assigned a class from the topics in Table 2.

Pre-Trip Activities

Meeting                  Classes                   Other Tasks

First                    Dressing for the          Explain OA
                         Backcountry               priorities/goals and
                                                   how Leader Training
                                                   Course will operate.
                                                   Hand out participant
                                                   applications, Leader's
                                                   Manuals, and Personal
                                                   Equipment List. Sign
                                                   out NOLS Wilderness
                                                   Guides. Collect trip
                                                   payment. Participants
                                                   will select their
                                                   classes. Schedule
                                                   remaining meetings and
                                                   decide on due date for
                                                   class outlines. Read OA
                                                   Policies and Leader
                                                   training Chapter in
                                                   Leader's Manual for
                                                   next meeting.

Second                   Route Planning Teaching   Tour of Equipment Room.
                         a Skill MSR Stove Class   Plan route as a group
                         Knot Class - round turn   (need maps & route plan
                         with two half hitches     form).

Third                    Food & Menu Planning      Check food room for
                         First Aid & Blister Kits  stocks. Tarp set up.
                         Optimus Stove Class.
                         Knot Class - Trucker's

Fourth                   General Minimal Impact    Assemble group
                         Class Peak 1 Stove Class  equipment.
                         Knot Class - Bowline

Day before trip          Backpack Class - sizing,  Group Games. Practice
                         wearing, loading          tent set up. Review of
                                                   equipment and food
                                                   lists - prepare
                                                   shopping list and buy
                                                   items. Repack food.
                                                   Distribute group
                                                   equipment. Issue
                                                   personal 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) (see below). 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 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. (See simulations below).

During the Trip

Day                      Person                    Classes

First Day                Leader Trainers           Blister Care, Water
                                                   Purification, Dynamics
                                                   of Accidents Model

                         Leader Trainers           Trail Technique

                         Leader Trainers           Terrain Association

                         Leader Trainers           Campsite Selection

                         Participant               Minimal Impact in Camp

Day                      Person                    Classes

Any Day                  Participant               Nutrition

                         Participant               Group Games

                         Participant               Layering

                         Participant               Map Reading

                         Participant               Compass Use

                         Participant               Eleven Essentials

                         Participant               Hypothermia/Hyperthermia

                         Participant               Weather & Lightening

                         Leader Trainers           Debriefing

                         Leader Trainers           Emergency Procedures

                         Leader Trainers           Lost Person Procedures

                         Leader Trainers           Knot Practice

                         Leader Trainers           Simulations

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. Leaders 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 (see Debriefing below). People should critique the teaching presentations to give feedback to the presenters. Leaders need to maintain a relaxed atmosphere so that this stays low key and informative. Also sharing previous trip experiences can be a useful experience for everyone.


Simulations are an important part of the leader training process and it is important that you do several simulations on 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 several 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. Also, since some may not have first aid, the key is focusing on their overall response, not specific treatments. Keep in mind that an accident scenario can be a highly emotional experience. We want to give people an experience with emergency procedures not emotionally traumatize them.

  1. Teach Emergency Procedures & Lost Person - These should be taught before any simulations so that people know what to do. The first simulation should be a walk-through of the OA Emergency Procedures and Lost Person with Leader Trainers explaining the procedures as they go. This is based on proper teaching principles; there is no point in asking the group to do an exercise if they don't have previous training in it. The best scenario is to do one walk-through accident simulation and later do a combined lost person/accident simulation. (See Section 10 - Safety & Emergency Procedures).
  2. It is best to do simulations at the end of a day's hiking near your planned campsite. This way, camp can be wholeheartedly set up as part of the simulation and a debrief of the simulation can occur over dinner.
  3. A Leader Trainer should be the victim. When the group becomes aware that there is a problem, the other Leader Trainer should indicate that it is a simulation and that the group needs to deal with it. The other Leader Trainer is an observer only, not a resource for the group in the rescue and will step in only if it appears that an Accident Potential is developing. Leader Trainers need to know when to call the simulation off; darkness, cold, etc. are just some things which should end the exercise. The observer ends the simulation at an appropriate point, typically when the party going for help starts down the trail. At that point, the Leader Trainers inspect the gear taken by the group hiking out, the first aid measures performed, the camp setup arrangements, and the group cleans up.
  4. The LD's are to supervise when the simulation happens. It is not their responsibility to attend to the victim (unless they have the most appropriate first aid skills), but rather, organize the rescue operation and make sure that all members of the group are being used effectively. If no one on the trip has first aid training, the Leader Trainer observer can act solely as a first aider, performing first aid on the "victim" and stating medical requirements, but nothing else.
  5. The simulation should be debriefed as soon as possible, with each person telling what they did and saw, what went well, what didn't, and to see how people felt about the exercise. The group should analyze the incident based on the Dynamics of Accidents Model and make recommendations for how it might have been prevented. Keep in mind that simulations can sometimes be emotionally charged events for people. This may be due to their anxiety about their ability to deal with a real accident or recollections from other traumatic events. Beware of people who seem to be under tension and make sure to process things either in a group setting or one-on-one.
  6. Leader Trainers are not to implement actions during the simulation which could place them or other members of the group at risk. This includes such things as the victim actually becoming hypothermic or dehydrated, getting sleeping bags wet as part of a hypothermia simulation, etc. OA does not want to present a macho, survivalist attitude to its trainees or simulations could become true emergencies.

Policies for Walkouts

The purpose of a walkout is to give the trainees the experience of what it will be like to be completely in charge of a trip. It is essential, therefore, that the following policies be complied with.

  1. Walkouts are not an automatic part of a Leader Training Trip. The leader trainers need to evaluate the strength of the group and decide if such an exercise is appropriate.
  2. Walkouts are never to be done unannounced or with "notes" left by leader trainers who have departed. If the leader trainers feel the trainees are ready for a last day walkout, they will brief the trainees on procedures the night before. Leader trainers must emphasize that walkouts only occur on Leader Training Trips. They are not appropriate and not permitted on regular trips.
  3. Walkouts must always be considered carefully. If there is bad weather or if there is a person with an illness or injury, a walkout should not be done. If the accident potential is increased, leader trainers must remain with the trip. This is required if any of the participants have a known, serious bee sting allergy. If the trainers wish, they can tell the group that they are "ghost" participants (not really present) and will say nothing, and help with nothing unless an emergency arises. Ghosts can carry group gear if it is set aside for them by the participants, but there is no communication to the ghosts at any time.
  4. Walkouts should only be done on the last day of the trip when there is short mileage back to the van. Under no circumstances should leader trainers walk out the night before the last day.
  5. A specific rendezvous time at the van should be set up with the participants. If the group is more than 1 hour late, the leader trainers should begin basic search procedures.
  6. It is recommended that the leader trainers get an early start out of camp and start back to the van before the participants break camp.
  7. Equipment distribution - There should be two sets of maps available if a walkout is being considered. Both parties should have basic first aid supplies.


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.


  1. When the group returns all gear should be cleaned and returned to the equipment room. Any damaged gear should be labeled and put on the work table. The ER should be left spotless!


  1. Participants will fill out a self-evaluation form to critique themselves on their own performance and what they have learned, as well as the areas in which they feel they need additional work.
  2. Both leaders will get together with each participant after the trip and give that person a verbal evaluation on their performance, strengths, and weaknesses.
  3. Both leaders will cooperatively submit a written evaluation of each participant with information on overall performance, strengths, weaknesses, and recommendations regarding that person's leader qualifications.
  4. Leader Trainers will administer the Post Trip Skills test to all participants. This is designed to make sure that specific skills have been mastered by the participants.

Topic Outlines

These outlines are designed to aid in the learning process for those training to be leaders and to serve as an extensive trip preparation outline for leaders leading trips. For the Leader Training Course, some of these topics will be covered before the trip, and some will be covered during the trip.

Pre-Trip Outlines

Route Planning

  1. Area Regulations
  2. Prospective Camping Sites
  3. Distance Travelled per Day
  4. Weather

Group Equipment

  1. Cooking/cleaning
  2. Shelter
  3. Travel Equipment
  4. Hygiene
  5. Repairs
  6. First Aid & Emergency - handled by First Aid person
  7. Food - handled by Food persons
  8. Miscellaneous

Personal Equipment

  1. Decision Factors for Personal Equipment
  2. Clothing
  3. Footgear
  4. Personal Items
  5. Packing a Pack


  1. Basic knots needed for tarp setup and in-camp use

During the Trip Outline

Trail Techniques

  1. Lead & Sweep persons
  2. Group Hiking
  3. Hiking Techniques - Energy Conservation
  4. Non-hiking Time
  5. Minimal Impact on the Trail - done by Minimal Impact person

Map & Compass

  1. Map Reading
  2. Compass - Parts
  3. Using Map & Compass
  4. Orienteering Techniques

Minimal Impact Travel & Camping

  1. Pre-trip Planning
  2. Backcountry Travel
  3. Camping
  4. Fires
  5. Personal & Group Sanitation

Food & Nutrition

  1. Nutritional Requirements
  2. Food Groups
  3. Food Types
  4. Menu Planning
  5. Cooking Equipment - plan in cooperation with Group Equipment person

First Aid Equipment & Procedures

  1. Contents of OA First Aid Kit
  2. Wilderness Injuries & Treatment

    The following subjects will be covered by the leader trainers.

  3. Preventive Measures


  1. Air Masses
  2. Fronts
  3. Rain and Snow
  4. Storms & Lightning
  5. Forecasting

Group Games

  1. Initiative Tests and Games Designed to Facilitate Group Interaction and Cooperation
  2. Initiate discussions on group dynamics

Copyright © 1995 Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.