Category

Outdoor Education

Adult Education Courses & Adventure Vacations

By NCOAE Headquarters September 23, 2022

Adult Courses

Taking a well-deserved adult vacation offers joyful predictability. There’s time off to do what you want, visit places that you’ve maybe never seen before, and return home with some great photos of friends and family. Then, for most of us, it’s back to a predictable grind. By mid-week, we’re back to being the same employee or boss that we were when we packed up and headed out for vacation. 

What The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) offers outdoor enthusiasts — including adults who are curious about backcountry travel — is an alternative to your typical adult vacation. We prepare, set up, and guide life changing adventure-based adult education courses for anyone looking to learn new skills — or those sharpening existing skills in the outdoors, enabling them to return to daily life with new insights into leadership and how to protect our natural resources. 

We can even help you pitch your trip as a benefit to your employer. Who knows? Adventure-based education may be the future for your organization’s workplace employee engagement. (more…)

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Avoiding Target Fixations and Incident Pits in the Backcountry

By Stephen Mullaney August 29, 2022

Risk Management

“Look where you want to go!” 

I have conveyed this message to wilderness course participants countless times, shouting, screaming, and using hand signals when necessary. Sometimes I’m yelling above the roar of a set of rapids or the sound of an adjacent waterfall. 

“Look where you want to go!”

I emphatically issue the same advice while watching climbers rappelling down a cliff, or verbally guiding a student on a mountain bike through a sketchy section of trail. In each case, the point of my shouting is to get the students to stop looking at the obstacle. 

“Look where you want to go” really translates as “Stop looking at the obstacle! Don’t fixate on the hazard!”

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Wilderness First Responder approaching the scene of a backcountry incident, or a student on a wilderness course attempting to navigate a perceived hazard or obstacle, looking too closely at a hazard you want to avoid can be very dangerous.

At first glance — no pun intended — you might think it wise to actually look closely at the hazard you want to avoid. No argument there. You absolutely need to identify obstacles, especially in the backcountry and other places considered Wilderness. In fact, identifying an obstacle is a key factor in remaining safe. 

But here’s the thing: (more…)

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When it Comes to Wilderness, Is it an Adventure or Experience?

By Stephen Mullaney August 3, 2022

Outdoor Education

Years ago, I was working in wilderness-based setting with a group of gang members who were attempting to break away from the often-violent lifestyle in which they found themselves. During a break our programming, I asked a loaded question.

“Anybody want to tell me about their tattoos and what they mean?”

The 30 or so gang members, hailing from a variety of organizations — MS-13, Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings — stared up at me. Hard. One participant in the back shouted, “Nobody gives a shit about our tattoos!”

When I burst out laughing, I was met with even harder stares, I realized an explanation was in order. I told the participants that everyone wants to know about their tattoos. They’re just too afraid to broach the subject.

I said that if we were to put a person covered in tattoos from head to toe on a scale, and then somehow remove all that ink on their skin and weighed them again, the weight change would probably be undeterminable.

If, however, that same tattooed gang member walked into a job interview, the weight of those tattoos — what they represented — would be a thousand pounds. So again, I asked them to tell me the stories and histories behind their tattoos. What followed was an enlightening experience. The curtain was pulled back and these folks opened up and shared the significance behind their body art. 

My point is this: Words and images have weight. 

Words and Images Have Weight

I tell you this because a leading outdoor industry retailer — REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) — recently announced an adjustment to their marketing, based on patterns they say are cropping up in our culture today. REI’s announcement that the company is rebranding its tour business from REI Adventures to REI Experiences caught many people I know off guard, myself included. 

It’s an effort, they say, to increase their participant base to three million clients a year. The company’s officers and administrators fear the word “Adventure” is getting in the way of its effort to grow the business.

So, what is it we think when a brand that builds a $3.7-billion-a-year business around catering to adventurers decides to change the word to experiences instead? Is adventure too heavy of a word? Is the term adventure dangerous? Are we — both consumers and outdoor community members — becoming soft?

What comes next? Will the (more…)

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The Role of the Wilderness First Responder During Water Rescues

By Kate Javes July 22, 2022

Wilderness Medicine Training

It may surprise you to learn that drownings — along with heart attacks and falls — are among the leading causes of death for those who venture into the wilderness for recreation or education in the United States.

Statistics show that there are nearly 4,000 fatal drownings each year in the United States, with a little more than 8,000 nonfatal drownings. These figures include boating-related drownings. In fact, the threat of drowning is so prevalent that the first edition of the NCOAE Wilderness Medicine Field Guide devotes an entire section to Environmental Submersion and Drowning Injury.

Of course, it’s during the spring and summer that most outdoor explorers are on the water, including those participating in backcountry expeditions. Lakes, rivers and streams provide much-needed relief in the backcountry on a hot August afternoon and are sought-after destinations for many outdoor enthusiasts.

For those training to become Wilderness First Responders (WFR) and those participating in Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training, a major consideration is assisting with medical emergencies that occur on or near the water.  (more…)

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Outdoor Industry Jobs Require Personal Experience and Certifications

By Stephen Mullaney July 11, 2022

Outdoor Educator Training

Professional development — learning that allows you to earn or maintain professional credentials — is key to career planning, especially when it comes to considering a career in the outdoor adventure and education industry. Much more than participating in a bunch of classes, our sector of the outdoor industry looks favorably on applicants with wilderness medicine training and certification, skills training and certification, and hands-on guiding and expedition leadership experience.

Truth is, we here at NCOAE found that operating an adventure education company during a health pandemic was challenging. And staffing our AEE-accredited organization with highly experienced instructors became increasingly difficult but not impossible.

Like other industries, we suffered a staffing shortage, and yes, some of our existing staff left to pursue other pathways. But what we’ve noticed lately is a lack of experience from some people who thought working in the outdoors would — quite literally — be a walk in the park.

Many of these would-be outdoor educators and guides decided that sitting on a couch while looking at photos and films of wilderness expeditions was a suitable alternative for actually going out and experiencing the outdoors.

This potential pool of applicants backed out and went the way of the “Instagram Adventurer” or the “Armchair Explorer.” And in talking with our colleagues across our sector of the outdoor industry, we’re not alone in seeing this trend. Nearly all outdoor adventure and education organizations are taking pause and evaluating the future of trainings, staff recruitment, and what it means to be qualified to head out into “wild places.”

Regardless of what other organizations choose to do about their staffing challenges, NCOAE will not budge on what is required of our field instructor and outdoor educator candidates. Hands-on experience coupled with recognized industry certifications still matter and always will.

If you’re interested in a seasonal or full-time job in outdoor education, here are my recommendations on how to proceed. (more…)

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Applying the Principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ to Daily Life in an Urban Setting

By NCOAE Headquarters June 27, 2022

Uncategorized

What is Leave No Trace?

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Back in the early 1940s, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, said, “Try and leave the world a little better than you found it.” Over time, this morphed into, “Always leave your campground cleaner than you found it.”

Fifty years later, in the early 1990s, that Leave No Trace concept was immortalized through an educational curriculum developed by the United States Forest Services in partnership with NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School). The outcome was an agreed framework for instilling awareness on the part of wilderness travelers to interact with nature in a manner that reduces human impact.

What is The Importance of Leave No Trace?

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Today, that program — run by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colorado — impacts more than 15 million people in the United States and dozens of other countries with conservation initiatives, education, training, and research.

Baden-Powell’s simple sentiment more-or-less condenses the seven principles behind today’s Leave No Trace (LNT) program. The well-known LNT’s principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others

You can read more about LNT in the wilderness here. But what about the majority of the time when most of us are not roughing it in the backcountry? Can we incorporate these seven principles into our daily lives? Can we bring such environmental awareness into an urban or front-country setting? We like to think so!

How can you practice the Leave No Trace principles in your everyday life?

Some of us here at NCOAE headquarters in Wilmington, N.C., discussed the possibilities of applying backcountry Leave No Trace principles in everyday living, and here’s what we came up with.

7 Ways to ‘Leave No Trace’ in Everyday Life

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Before you head out — whether it’s for a wilderness expedition or an afternoon at a local park or on local trails — thoroughly research the weather; plan meals carefully; check local regulations for closures or burn bands. And choose to bring along re-usable products as much as possible.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: When spending time in the front country or heading out for a leisurely walk in a local park or rec area, stay on existing trails and pathways. This helps avoid damage to the local environment and wildlife. When commuting, consider using public transportation or carpool whenever possible. Or ride your bike on designated paths and roads.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Have a system in place for your waste whether it’s at home or on a trip. Recycle appropriate items as much as possible. Swap one-use products with reusable products when you can. And donate clothing, furniture, and other household items instead of throwing them away.

4. Leave What You Find: Sure, it’s tempting to touch or pick up insects, or examine shells, rocks, shellfish and historical structures. But here’s an alternative: Take a photo instead. You don’t disturb the flora and fauna, and you have something to show your family and friends.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: Since it’s not likely you’ll be building a lot of campfires in your everyday life at home, become more aware of your energy use. Turn off lights when you leave a room. Open windows instead of hitting the A/C wall unit. Turn off the hose while soaping up your car. And when you do light up your backyard fire pit, be sure to check local fire restrictions, keep fires small, don’t burn trash, and make sure the fire is completely out when done.

6. Respect Wildlife: Raccoons and squirrels are cute. No doubt about that. But don’t approach wild animals, even when they’re in the front country, and never feed them. Also, don’t leave food or belongings where animals could get it, keep trashcan lids on tight at all times, and control your pets. You want to help city critters? Learn about what vegetation they consume and plant those edibles that help them thrive.

7. Be Considerate of Others: Avoid blocking walkways and paths, obey rules and closures, minimize your noise, certainly don’t litter, and pick up the trash you see on the ground. These daily habitat habits don’t require a lot of thought or effort, but they do go a long way toward making our own personal environment a lot more livable.

To discover other stories about Leave No Trace and to further your understanding, check out similar blogs here.

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There’s a Reason Why Outdoor Ed is Not Club Med

By NCOAE Headquarters June 16, 2022

Outdoor Education

Zac Adair, our co-founder and executive director, recently asked one of our course
participants why they signed up for a particular outdoor adventure. “It was a photo that
appeared on your website of a guy on top of a mountaintop with the blue skies above the
glaciers in the background.”

Picture yourself here. It’s a common tactic in all great marketing campaigns. If after
seeing an advertisement, you can picture yourself wearing a specific shirt, driving a
particular truck, or vacationing on a cruise ship that’s making its way to the Bahamas,
then the team of marketers responsible for those ads has done their job.

Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education — where we’re focused
on designing and guiding outdoor and adventure education experiences that promote
personal growth, professional development, and stewardship in our community and the
natural environment — we employ the same tactics. Take one look at our website and
you’ll see photographs and videos featuring real NCOAE students participating in the
very courses and trainings that we offer around the globe.

So, it’s little wonder that these videos and photos prompt our website visitors to picture
themselves on one of our backcountry adventures. But here’s the thing that may escape
such a casual or initial thought. That picture of a (more…)

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Cape Fear Academy Students Immerse Themselves in Ecuador’s Culture

By NCOAE Headquarters June 3, 2022

International Expeditions

Late last year, the staff at Cape Fear Academy in Wilmington, North Carolina, asked for our help in creating a unique and meaningful 10-day, outdoor and adventure-based out-of-country expedition for a handful of its high school students.

In particular, Cape Fear’s educational leaders were looking for a diverse destination that would enable their students to immerse themselves deeply in a new culture — an adventure that would extend far beyond selfies, social media, suntan oil, and sand — and which would reinforce the school’s own values and curriculum. Known for designing and leading custom outdoor education programs for private and independent schools, we were happy to help!

The original Cape Fear Academy was established in 1868 as an independent school for boys. After closing in 1916, the school was reestablished 52 years later in 1968 with the commitment of “forging capable young adults with skills, confidence and resilience to take risks, solve problems and overcome challenges.”

So, it was with that focus in mind that the school asked us here at The National Center for Outdoor and Adventure Education (NCOAE) to custom design an expedition for nine of the school’s students, along with a chaperone from the school and three NCOAE field instructors. Their destination? Ecuador.

Our staff prepared an itinerary that incorporated the school’s objectives of instilling confidence, facing challenges, taking on informed risks, and solving problems. After all, those missives mirror the (more…)

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Returning to School? We Want to Help you Safely Opt Out(side)

By Stephen Mullaney February 20, 2021

Outdoor Education

In recent weeks, we’ve all been hearing more and more from parents, educators, and even the nation’s top disease experts on the impending opening of schools across the nation.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has suggested that school districts developing their plans for campus reopening should find ways to offer as many outdoor activities as possible. Fauci said that could include everything from outdoor classes, to recess, and lunchtime.

Plans for just when and how schools will reopen are being formulated and fine-tuned, and the consensus seems to be that being outside is the safest place to be during the instructional day. As states start to mandate returns to school, safety and quality of education are at the forefront of design.

Obviously, you’ll get no argument about that from those of us here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). And we have some suggestions. But first, here are the questions we are hearing most often from you.

Why move outdoors?

Doctor Fauci already told us that spending time outdoors is safer during times of infectious diseases, and we’re puzzled why some schools forget that being outside is often best for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Studies have shown that, in districts with high numbers of second language students, learning outdoors is (more…)

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A Photograph Is Seldom Worth Even One Outdoor Education Experience

By Stephen Mullaney July 22, 2017

Outdoor Education

Here’s an exchange that recently occurred between a tourist and myself:

“What kind of camera do you use?”

“What?”

“What kind of camera do you use to show people what you’ve done?”

“I don’t,” I replied as I stepped onto the beach, board tucked under my arm, ready to paddle out to the surfline.

The woman appeared a bit confused by my answer, possibly perplexed that I wasn’t carrying a GoPro or waterproof camera on my morning adventure.

I recall as a kid we used to watch documentaries in school and read articles about cultures where the inhabitants refused to be photographed for fear it would steal their souls. We were amazed — and a little amused — that a primitive tribe or ancient community could believe that a small box that lets in light could actually snatch a soul.

NCOAE student on a recent Education Without Walls course in Alaska

NCOAE student on a recent Education Without Walls course in Alaska

Nobody’s stealing souls, we said. We all just seek memories. Something to show others where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished, uncovered or learned. And, while flipping through magazines, that’s what we saw. Other people’s adventures.

But today, things are becoming a little more like the tribes fearing the loss of their souls.

Whether in the surf, on the trail or gazing at the pristine surroundings from atop a mountain, we’re constantly surrounded by people actively (more…)

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Teaching Adventure Education Within the Constraints of Walls

By Stephen Mullaney October 12, 2016

Outdoor Education

When the busy season for summer-based outdoor education programming winds down, many in the outdoor education community may have found themselves returning to other avocations and means to make a living. For those of us who remain in the field of education — albeit in a more traditional setting — we continue what we know to be “best practices” as teachers.

Outdoor Education Office

“Classroom” is not a word we’re at all excited about. The hum of the fluorescent lights is like something out of a horror movie. And the designs of the windows seem to be lifted from a prison architect’s plan book.

Students make it outdoors only for recess, and that depends entirely on how much the teacher enjoys the outdoors. Otherwise, teachers and students alike are stocked away inside most of the day. At some schools, the physical education teacher doesn’t even take students outdoors.

All of this is a difficult reality for those of you who just spent three months each summer with students exploring wilderness and outdoor environs.

Experiential education, place-based learning, project-based learning, and adventure education — the list goes on and on. Schools use these terms to sell themselves. Read the descriptions published by public schools, charter schools and independent schools across the country and you’ll (more…)

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Wilderness Problem Solving Often Requires Response to a Question

By Office Admin July 29, 2016

Wilderness Cooking

It’s the end of a long day trekking through the backcountry. Tents are being set up, water is being collected and brought to the campsite and everyone is tired and hungry.

A conversation ensues:

Student: The stove won’t light.
Instructor: Okay.
Student:  Should we fix it?
Instructor: Do you need it to cook dinner?
Student: Yes….we should fix it.

At this point the expedition, the cooks begin to “field strip” the stove. They remove all the parts, grease the gaskets, clean off the dirt and grime, then check the pump and screens and look for impurities in the fuel. After cleaning up all the parts, they reassemble the stove, pump it, light it up, lean down and listen closely.

BCCooking_1small

Aha! There it is. The jet sound that is the sign of a happy working stove! Smiles are exchanged among the fledgling backcountry cooks because they know they prevented a potential disappointing dinner experience.

Every new generation of leaders needs to acquire the skills necessary for problem solving and they need to practice those skills. They must develop a (more…)

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The Solo Wilderness Experience: Going it alone is Not a Bad Thing

By Office Admin March 25, 2016

Outdoor Education

When I see people walk out of the woods or trek down a mountainside or yank a kayak out of a river, I can’t help but sidle up to them and fire a dozen questions their direction. In fact, that’s how I recently ended up chatting with a hiker named Daniel inside a Wilmington, N.C., grocery store.

NCOAE Solo Backpacker

Daniel was standing at the deli counter, looking a little bit weathered, with a well-worn backpack, boots and a relaxed stance.

Me: “You through hiking”

Daniel: “Nope.”

Me: “You going camping?”

Daniel: “Nope.”

Then turning to me, he said he was on a trek from Asheville, N.C., to the coast, mostly on roads and sometimes the interstate. Seeing that I was still paying attention, he continued. “I just got back from over a year in Afghanistan. I’m walking to meet friends and visit family — but mostly I’m spending some much needed time alone.”

I get that. I tell him that’s fantastic.

Daniel gives me a puzzled look and tells me I’m the first person to tell him he’s doing something positive. Everyone else, he says, is telling him he’s wasting his time, living dangerously and achieving nothing.

I wished him well on his journey and we parted. But my limited interaction with Daniel reminds me of the importance of (more…)

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Outdoor Education Provides Education for Life

By Office Admin February 11, 2016

Adventure Education

Editor’s Note: This year, the NCOAE blog is going to cover a variety of topics, written by a variety of our staff members. Topics will include best practices in Adventure Education (both in and out of wilderness settings), land use, history of course areas, flora and fauna, cooking, and why us “dirtbags” may be the best hope for the future of education. These topics will be explored through staff profiles, student work, submissions from our readers, and even video. Some topics will be more serious than others. When December rolls around, we hope that we have made you think, cheer, laugh and yearn to take your own adventures to the next level.

Outdoor Education Provides Education for Life
By Stephen Mullaney, NCOAE Staff Development Director

How often have you heard Outdoor and Adventure Education described as just running through the woods, climbing rocks and sleeping under the stars? This misconception is often accompanied by complaints that such outings offer no rules, no tests, no accountability and no “real” learning.

Take a minute to consider your own outdoor adventure story. Think back on the setting, the surrounding environment, the landscape and how that supports the story. Review what those participating went through and how they came out in the end. When you first heard someone else’s story, did you have a desire to be part of the event — even at its roughest, most trying times?

StoveSetUp_1small

If I had to guess, the story probably took place in a memorable setting. The characters had to face serious obstacles, endure mishaps both humorous and terrifying — and the participants learned how to be resourceful. There were probably times of doubt, reflection and enlightenment. Yet, in the end there was success, changed perspectives, newfound strengths, resilience and an ability to (more…)

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Have any further questions about our courses, what you’ll learn, or what else to expect? Contact us, we’re here to help!