NOLS: National Outdoor Leadership School Home

Custom Wilderness Expedition Courses
Daily decisions contain life-long lessons.


Photos: Ashley Wise, Brian Fabel, Steven Brutger

We teach leadership on multi-day wilderness expeditions. Unlike many guided travel adventure programs, our expeditions focus on learning and practicing your own travel and camping skills and environmental studies as part of leadership training.


These expeditions include our most complete leadership curriculum, using the same model with which we train space station astronauts and shuttle crews.


The wilderness is a perfect venue for highlighting team and individual strengths and learning to compensate for shortcomings. Being in beautiful, remote wilderness allows you to discuss your unique challenges in a setting away from the distractions of everyday life.


Participants rotate serving as designated leaders each day, while others learn active followership to help make the optimal team. Time is prioritized for individual and group reflection about effective situational leadership.



Leadership and Teamwork
Participants are exposed to the theory and practice of expedition behavior, teamwork, and outdoor leadership. NOLS teaches situational leadership, which demands different decision-making styles depending on task urgency and the importance of group buy-in. At NOLS, expedition behavior involves commitment to the group, acceptance of others, and cooperation to achieve goals.

Risk Management
NOLS teaches wilderness users to practice responsible habits that promote the health and safety of self and others. At NOLS, the recognition and management of the inherent risks and hazards of living and traveling in remote wild areas is taught and practiced on every course. NOLS is committed to promoting a positive learning environment and physical and emotional well being for all students.

Wilderness Skills
NOLS students learn to camp and travel in wilderness areas, which demands learning a variety of skills, including camping, cooking, navigation and skills specific to the environment such as sea kayaking, whitewater boating, skiing or climbing. Our courses are wilderness expeditions, wherein lessons are immediate, lasting, and applicable to your life—no matter what you do.

Environmental Studies
Depending on course length, participants may be exposed to the climate, geology, plants, animals and ecological interactions that make their course area unique. Participants will explore Leave No Trace ethics and develop skills that protect the environment. They may also learn about land management policies and discuss how all of the above transfers to life at home.

The NOLS curriculum is rich in metaphor, facilitating the learning of skills applicable throughout a lifetime!

* Sibthorp, J.; Paisley, K.; Furman, N.; Gookin, J. (2009). Long-term impacts attributed to participation in adventure education: Preliminary findings from NOLS. Research in Outdoor Education, V.9 (in press).

In addition to leadership abilities, participants said NOLS was critical to the development of their:

  • Personal perspective on how life can be simpler
  • Desire to be in the outdoors
  • Appreciation of nature
  • Ability to take care of oneself and one’s needs

Experiential learning puts your organization's outcomes in the drivers seat.

Photo: Juan Queirolo

NOLS Leadership Research

A recent student-outcome study completed by the University of Utah investigated which skills remained useful to participants one to ten years after their courses using open-ended questions.*

With respect to leadership, participants said a NOLS education was most critical, in the following order, in development of their abilities to:

- Function effectively under difficult circumstances
- Serve in a leadership role
- Be self-confident
- Work as a team member
- Plan and organize
- Identify my strengths and weaknesses
- Get along with people
- Make informed decisions
- Manage conflicts
- Be patient
- Communicate effectively

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