Skills at NOLS

On every course, you’ll learn NOLS core curriculum, which extensively covers leadership and teamwork, foundational outdoor skills, environmental studies, and risk management. Exposure and mastery of more specific outdoor skills will depend on the course, ranging from sailing to mountaineering.

Our hands on, learn-by-doing approach means NOLS graduates get the skills they need to be competent, responsible wilderness travelers long after their course is over. What NOLS teaches cannot be learned in a classroom or on a city street; the wilderness provides the ideal setting to practice outdoor skills and develop leadership.

Core Curriculum


  • Expedition behavior (pitch in, be positive, serve group goals, respect others, work as a team)
  • Competence
  • Communication
  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Tolerance for adversity and uncertainty (maintain a good work ethic, step up to challenge, have physical and mental endurance)
  • Self-awareness
  • Vision & Action

Outdoor skills

  • Equipment care and selection
  • Ration planning
  • Preparing nutritious meals using a camp stove and a fire
  • Staying warm and dry
  • Route-finding, navigation, map reading, compass use
  • Campsite selection
  • Sanitation and waste disposal

Environmental studies

  • Leave No Trace camping and resource protection
  • Natural history
  • Pertinent regional environmental issues
  • Function, organization and local concerns of land management agencies
  • Sustainability of ecological, social, and economic systems
  • Wilderness ethics and practices for everyday life

Risk management

  • Health and comfort maintenance
  • Wilderness injury prevention and treatment
  • Judgment: use past experience and knowledge to judge new situations
  • Group decision-making
  • Identify and mitigate subjective and objective risks
  • Emergency procedures

Technical Skills






Lightweight Backpacking




Rock Climbing


Sea Kayaking



Wilderness Medicine