Wilderness Medicine: How to Choose a Course That’s Right for You

Ready to step-up your wilderness preparedness by learning about wilderness medicine but have no idea where to start? No worries, read on to learn about the different levels of certification so that you can determine what’s right for you!

The main difference between urban and wilderness First Aid and CPR is the issue of access to trained medical professionals. In an urban setting, it may be possible for an ambulance to arrive in 5 minutes. In the wilderness, calling 911 just isn’t an option and it could take hours or even days until a medical professional comes to the rescue. Getting certified in First Aid and CPR usually involves taking a 6-8 hour course. Wilderness medicine courses involve more skills training and usually range from 16 – 200 hours.

There are four main wilderness medicine training courses to choose from:

Wilderness First Aid (WFA)

  • 16-20 hours of training
  • Introduction to wilderness medicine
  • Great for weekend warriors who venture into the backcountry but remain relatively close to Emergency Medical Services (within about an 8 hour response time)
  • Sign up TODAY for the November 3-5, 2017 Shoestring Adventure’s WFA Course and Backpacking Adventure

Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA)

  • 40 hours of training
  • Focus on injury evaluation and long term patient care management and evacuation decision making
  • Great for people who travel frequently to or live in remote areas
  • Read my WAFA certification story Wilderness First Aid Spotlight: Yosefa Gilon

Wilderness First Responder (WFR)

  • 80 hours of training
  • Focus on providing emergency care and crucial evacuation decision making
  • Great for professional guides, trip leaders (all Shoestring Adventures guides are WFR certified), and search and rescue professionals
  • Read Shoestring Adventures Founder Alyx Schwarz’s WFR certification story Why Wilderness 1st: Alyx Schwarz of Shoestring Adventures

Wilderness EMT (WEMT)

  • 200 hours of training
  • Focus on handling medical emergencies and evacuations
  • Great for people who want to work on an ambulance or in a professional rescue position
  • Read Brad Smith’s WEMT certification story Wilderness First Aid Spotlight: Brad Smith


  • Wilderness Leadership Institute (WLI) facilitates a variety of technical courses, adventure courses, and leadership trainings. Shoestring Adventures is partnering with WLI for the Wilderness First Aid course in November.
  • NOLS is a nonprofit school and a wonderful resource for all things wilderness medicine and adventure. NOLS offers all courses listed above (check out this handy chart) and also coordinates expeditions around the world.
  • REI often hosts wilderness medicine courses so check out their list of upcoming Wilderness Medicine Classes and Events.
  • Shoestring Adventures Trip Leaders are all trained WFRs so the next time you go on an adventure, chat with the trip leader about their experience with wilderness medicine.
  • Keep an eye out for Wilderness First Aid Spotlights on the Journal every Wednesday leading up to the Shoestring Adventures WFA course. We’ll be featuring stories of people who have been certified in different levels of wilderness medicine.

Consider what your priorities are and determine which course is right for you.

If you’re not sure you want to devote a week or two of your time to getting trained, start off with a Wilderness First Aid course. Snag a spot in the Shoestring Adventures Wilderness First Aid Course and Backpacking Adventure happening November 3-5, 2017!

Have you earned your WFA or higher? Share your experience in the blog comments below and tag #wilderness1st to promote wilderness preparedness within your community!

More from Yosefa Gilon
Meet Shoestring Founder Alyx Schwarz
Facebook Twitter Pinterest EmailsharesThis Shoestring Warrior made a promise to herself to...
Read More
0 replies on “Wilderness Medicine: How to Choose a Course That’s Right for You”