Certifications: What to Consider

SPI, WFA, SRT, BASAR, SCUBA…These are just a few of the myriad certifications marketed to people who work and recreate outdoors. Certifications can feel like a blackhole, slowly sucking in all of your time and money, but not all certifications are created equally. Here are some certifications that are worth pursuing, whether you’re pursuing a career in the outdoor industry or you just spend all your free time in the wilderness.

Everyone–Wilderness First Responder
You’re several miles from the nearest trailhead and you come across another hiker who’s struggling to breathe. It’s clear that they need help–do you know what to do? When you’re hours from a hospital and someone is injured, there’s nothing scarier than not knowing how to help. And, if you spend a lot of time outdoors, the odds are good that you’ll find yourself in a situation like this. Wilderness medicine was designed to teach people how to identify and treat a variety of injuries–from the mundane to the life-threatening. If you’re short on time, the Wilderness First Aid is a good introductory course, but consider investing in the eighty-hour Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, which is required for most jobs in the outdoor industry. Depending on your location you can find a course in your area with SOLO, Wilderness Medical Associates or NOLS Wilderness Medical Institute.

Winter Sports–Avalanche Courses
This is a good certification for anyone who recreates in the backcountry during the winter–skiers, splitboaders, ice climbers, and snow machine riders. Travel in the backcountry opens up a lot of terrain, but when you leave inbounds, you face the risk of avalanches. Although avalanche safety gear like the AvaLung and avalanche airbags have gone a long way toward mitigating some of the risks, they’re not replacements for good training. The basic course (Avy 1) gives students an overview of how to make safe decisions in avalanche terrain. During the three-day course , you’ll learn to read snow layers, judge slope angles, and understand snowfall history. Most courses in the States are run through the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE).
Climbers–Single Pitch Certification
Getting your Single Pitch Instructor certification with the American Mountain Guide Association will set you up well for guiding. It’s designed to test your ability to teach novices on single pitch routes and it’s required by most guide companies. A certain level of climbing proficiency is required for these courses, so make sure your experience matches their prerequisites. It’s also a great step if you want to move into alpine guiding internationally, since the AMGA’s curriculum can lead you through the process of becoming an IFMGA guide (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association).

Paddlers–Whitewater Rescue Technician
If you want to work in or around moving water, consider taking a Whitewater Rescue Technician (WRT) course. The course is specifically designed to teach river guides and kayakers specialized techniques for performing rescues in moving water with limited gear. If you work around moving water in a different capacity–firefighter or technical rescuer–the Swiftwater Rescue Technician course is a better match. Rescue 3 International offers both of these courses domestically and in locations across the world, so no matter where you work, you should be able to find a course nearby.