NOLS Wilderness First Aid

My son and I spent two days at an Audubon Site in Massachusetts learning how to handle all kinds of backcountry health emergencies. This course was sponsored by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and REI. I was very impressed with the level of knowledge of our NOLS instructor and the depth of this program’s research into wilderness medicine.

Wilderness Medicine

NOLS Wilderness Medicine, founded as the Wilderness Medicine Institute, was instrumental in promoting and elevating the quality of wilderness medicine in the field’s early days. It has enabled our wilderness medicine curriculum to be constantly tested and improved in the outdoors and has led us to improved practices. 

NOLS History

Course Details

Whether spending time in the backcountry is your passion or your profession, you should never have to ask, “What do I do now?” REI is partnering with NOLS to offer a comprehensive 16 hour, two day course that will teach you the wilderness medicine skills you need to recreate with confidence in the backcountry. In just two days, you will learn the knowledge, skills and ability to make sound decisions in emergency situations. From the Patient Assessment System through traumatic, medical, and environmental emergencies, you’ll experience a wide variety of topics designed to prepare you to act if an accident occurs. This course is ideal for trip leaders, camp staff, outdoor enthusiasts and individuals in remote locations. The course includes a 1-hour break midday. Participants younger than 16 must contact NOLS ( for approval prior to registration. No prerequisites. Successful completion results in a Wilderness First Aid certification.

NOLS Education Courses

Stay and Play or Load and Go

The course supported our learning in how to make one of the most important decisions that we may have to make when we are out on a hiking trip, paddling down the Allagash river, or camping somewhere further than an hour away from EMTs or Hospital care. That decision is to keep the person in the wilderness or evacuate them. No one wants to leave their trip, but if an emergency comes up, we were taught, it is time to drink a “can of calm” (the idea of staying calm in an emergency!) and use the NOLS Patient Assessment System to determine if the patient should stay and play or load and go.


The long-standing idea of ABC—that is Airway, Breathing and Circulation—is still one of the most important things to consider when assessing someone who is suffering in the back country. This awareness is heightened by a solid grounding in how you do that assessment, what decisions do you make, and when should you evacuate. This is what a NOLS course in Wilderness First Aid did for us. So the take away here is that outdoor fun is enhanced with good education and a grounding in wilderness medicine! Thank you NOLS!

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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