Why Become a Wilderness First Responder?

NCOAE Headquarters

December 21, 2021

For those outdoor education organizations — or for those enthusiasts who live for a well-planned wilderness experience — the inclusion of a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) on the trail brings an additional layer of risk mitigation to any backcountry experience.

As for the question posed in the headline above, one of the primary reasons for becoming a Wilderness First Responder by earning your WFR certification, is the demand for highly trained and prepared educators and guides.

When you’re prepared to deal with medical emergencies in remote wilderness areas (locations where emergency response personnel may be difficult to reach or significantly delayed in arriving), you can not only breathe a sigh of relief; you can rest assured that you have someone in the group with the critical thinking skills and medical knowledge to help assess the situation and then properly manage the team if things go wrong.

What Does WFR Certification Entail?

Here’s what you should learn during a Wilderness First Responder course:

  • Basic first aid skills, including bleeding control and wound care, splinting, and CPR.
  • How to assess a patient and pinpoint any issues that compromise optimal health.
  • The basic anatomy and pathophysiology of common medical problems. and injuries including shock, internal bleeding, dehydration, and infection.
  • How to differentiate between true emergencies and more routine medical complaints.
  • What to expect and how to proceed when you have to stay with your patient for hours or days before help arrives or an evacuation can occur.
  • Evacuation guidelines and techniques.

Who Normally Takes a WFR Course?

Many professional outdoor industry businesses — including The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) — require some or all of their employees to register and complete a course that results in a valid WFR certificate. Among these staff members are:

  • Outdoor education trip leaders and field guides
  • Ski patrollers
  • Summer camp leaders
  • Professional guides (mountaineering, rafting, climbing, hiking, etc.)

Some employers, again including NCOAE, offer incentives to newly certified WFRs, including increased pay, bonuses, or prestige guiding and outdoor education leadership opportunities. In addition, a WFR certification on a resume always makes you look better to a potential employer.

Do You Have to Be a Professional Trip Guide?

The short answer is no. While leading groups on wilderness expeditions may be ideal occupation for many of us, the fact that you might just love camping, mountaineering, or thru-hiking shouldn’t dissuade you from seeking certification as a Wilderness First Responder.

If you often find yourself and your family and friends in environments where professional medical care may be hard to come by, basic knowledge in how to address what ails a fellow human being will come in handy. For instance, knowing what you should have in your pack and first aid kit is of imperative importance.

As is knowing how you can use what you have on hand most effectively. Because even a day hike can leave you hours from emergency medical services. The smart thing to do is prepare yourself. Bring knowledge and hands-on medical training for backcountry emergencies along with you.

What if I’m already an EMT, Paramedic, Doctor, or Nurse?

Wilderness First Responder training and certification will help you expand the excellent knowledge you already possess and apply it to a new set of circumstances. Because the thought process is a little different in the backcountry than in a hospital, medical clinic, or ambulance.

When you’re in wilderness, you have a limited supply of equipment and resources. Wilderness First Responder training and certification will help you prepare yourself and your first aid kit. As an added bonus, this valuable education is also a great way to get some continuing education hours if your objective is to immerse yourself in the outdoor education industry.

Ready for training that results in a Wilderness First Responder certification? Visit our Wilderness First Responder training page for upcoming dates and locations.

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