NOLS Research exists to develop and share knowledge that contributes to wilderness education

Research Program Goals

  1. Contribute to the knowledge base for and understanding of wilderness and leadership education, wilderness medicine, and wilderness risk management.
  2. Identify what curricular design and delivery methods are most effective in achieving NOLS learning goals and objectives.
  3. Explore what skills learned at NOLS have lasting impact and utility to students, organizations, and society.
  4. Develop methods to mitigate human, ecological, and social impacts on wilderness.
A view of a Pacific Northwest mountain lake that is surrounded by mountains.



Current Research

Our current work falls into four general areas:

  1. Wilderness education outcomes and transfer to daily life
  2. Wilderness medicine practices and pedagogy
  3. Backcountry nutrition and exercise physiology
  4. A citizen science program that contributes to knowledge of the ecology of our wilderness classrooms

Much of our wilderness education outcomes research occurs in collaboration with the University of Utah’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Program.

Petroglyphs spotted in southeastern Utah during a semester course.




  • Jostad, J., Sibthorp, J., Butner, J., Rochelle, S. & Gookin, J. 2017. Using Dynamical Systems Theory in Outdoor Adventure Education Research. Research in Outdoor Education 15, 93–113.
  • Gress, S. & Hall, T. (2017). Diversity in the outdoors: National Outdoor Leadership School students’ attitudes about wilderness. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(2):114-134.
  • Richmond, D., Sibthorp, J., Gookin, J., Annarella, S. & Ferri, S. (2017). Complementing classroom learning through outdoor adventure education: out-of-school-time experiences that make a difference. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 2017.
  • Schimelpfenig, T., Johnson, D.E., Lipman, G.D., McEvoy, D.H. & Bennett, B.L. (2017). Evidence-based review of wilderness first aid practices. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 9(2) 217-239.
  • Collins, R., Sibthorp, J & Gookin, J. (2016). Developing ill-structured problem-solving skills through wilderness education. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(2), 179-195.
  • Schumann, S & Sibthorp, J. (2016). Improving the accuracy of outdoor educators' teaching self-efficacy beliefs through metacognitive monitoring. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(2), 196-210.
  • Jostad, J., Sibthorp, J., Pohja, M., & Gookin, J. (2015). The adolescent social group in outdoor adventure education: Making social connections that matter. Research in Outdoor Education, 13, 16-37.
  • Richmond, D., Sibthorp, J. Pohja, M., & Gookin, J. (2015). Social dynamics in outdoor adventure groups: Factors determining peer status. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 8(1) 41-56.
  • Ocobock, C. (2015). The Allocation and Interaction Model: A new model for predicting total energy expenditure of highly active humans in natural environments. American Journal of Human Biology, 28(3), 372-380.
  • Totten, J.E., Brock, D.M., Schimelpfenig, T.D., Hopkin, J.L., & Colven, R.M. (2015). Prolonged exposure dermatitis: reporting high incidence of an undiagnosed facial dermatosis on a winter wilderness expedition. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 26, 525-530.
  • Beasley, H., Ng, P., McIntosh, S.E., Wheeler, A. & Smith, W.R. (2015). The impact of freeze-thaw cycles on epinephrine. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 26, 94–97.
  • Goldenberg, M. & Soule, K. (2015). A four-year follow-up of means-ends outcomes from outdoor adventure programs. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 15:4, 284-295.
  • Sibthorp, J., Collins, R., Rathunde, K., Paisley, K., Schumann, S., Pohja, M., Gookin, J., & Baynes, S. (2015). Fostering experiential self-regulation in college age students through outdoor adventure education. Journal of Experiential Education, 38(1), 26-40.
  • Pohja, M., Ocobock, C., & Gookin, J. (2014). Energy expenditure in the backcountry. Research in Outdoor Education, 12, 99-115.

See a complete list of publications here. For copies of publications, please email

Research Proposal Guidelines

NOLS conducts research in partnership with university scientists (professors and students), land management agencies, and other wilderness organizations. With more than 3,000 students studying leadership and wilderness skills on NOLS wilderness expeditions each year, there are many opportunities to explore what and how students learn, how the natural world affects our learning, and how we affect the natural world. We value and seek partnerships with researchers who consistently apply rigorous scientific research standards to relevant questions and understand the importance of minimizing intrusion into NOLS programs.



  1. Detail educational institutions, agencies, organizations, and other researchers (including advisors/committee members) involved in the study.
  2. Include an introduction that addresses the following: a) a compelling study rationale establishing a need for the study; b) clear research questions that are answerable through the study; c) a literature review that shows a high degree of initial understanding and supports the need for this study.
  3. Include a clear and succinct methods section that both justifies the research methodology and allows another researcher to replicate the data collection and analysis. The methods section should address threats to validity.
  4. Detail the timeline on which the project would progress.
  5. Demonstrate funding for researcher salary and logistical needs from sources other than NOLS. Detail what resources and support are requested from NOLS.
  6. Possess professional appearance and exemplary technical accuracy.
  7. Include an expectation of a written summary of the findings in plain English for non-academics who are practitioners in the field.



The NOLS research proposal review process has four stages.

  1. Pre-proposal. This includes initial conversations between the researcher and our research manager, who can be reached at The researcher describes their interests and intended research question(s) and goals. We offer input about the goals and the logistics of accomplishing them.
  2. Initial proposal received. After the pre-proposal conversations, the researcher submits a formal written proposal via email. Proposals for summer research are typically submitted the preceding November or December. We will confirm receipt of the proposal and reply with questions or areas that need clarification before the proposal can be submitted to the NOLS Research Committee.
  3. Final proposal submitted to Research Committee. Once your proposal meets the specifications of the research manager, we will send it on to the Research Committee. This includes both an internal NOLS review of the costs and benefits to NOLS and a peer review of the science. Research Committee decisions are usually rendered within two months of submission of your final proposal.
  4. Research Committee decision rendered. Once the committee has decided upon the proposal, the research manager will notify you of the decision: APPROVAL, DENIAL or REQUEST FOR FURTHER INFORMATION. NOLS may ask for changes to be made to a proposal based on our research needs and experience or on feedback we receive from our research advisory panel. Agreements detailing what NOLS will provide during the course of a research project will be made upon review and acceptance of a proposal.