I am asked at least a half a dozen times a year “How can I become a Survival Instructor” or “Can you teach me to be a Survival Instructor.” My answer is to quote Paul McCartney; it is a “Long and Winding Road.” It is neither one course nor a one-step process. I believe that it is a multi-step process to become a Professional Wilderness Survival Instructor and it takes time.
Over two decades of working in the outdoor industry I have seen many poorly organized instructor training programmes. I have also seen some very professional instructor training programmes. A properly run survival instructor development programme would include three major areas of training:
Wilderness Survival Training
First, you need to study the art and science of Wilderness Survival. You need to develop the basic survival skills that you wish to teach in the future. Also, you need to learn related skills beyond these basic skills. You must have a good understanding of Modern Wilderness Survival, Bushcraft, and Primitive Technology Training. Even if you plan to teach only in one of these areas, a good grasp of these interrelated hybrid skills can be extremely useful.
During your training, you should study with multiple instructors and at various institutions. Different perspectives are both enlightening and educational. Working with just one instructor or school no matter how skilled limits your knowledge and experience.
Practice your skills on your own or with friends. Build your skills and knowledge by working in different areas and with a variety of gear, or lack of it. Remembering always to take the Critical Items you need to survive in the prevalent conditions.
"…only a maniac deliberately walks deep into the January forest with half a paper match and no one to bail him out."
— Niall Fink, Former Junior Instructor BWI
Beyond learning skills, dig into the books. Read source materials and reference books. Learn the underlying science of survival. Ensure that you have a firm grasp of how biology, physics, chemistry, geology, geography, and history affect human survival.
Learn plant and animal identification. Study local climate and weather patterns. Learn to see weather changes coming; predict the weather in the field, and understand what effects your region may suffer during Global Warming or Natural Disasters.
The second step on your quest to become a Survival Instructor is to develop the techniques necessary to teach others what you have learned. I have seen several very skilled individuals who simply could not effectively convey their skills to others. It is a real shame to see someone who has developed such good wilderness skills who cannot teach them to others effectively.
Basic teaching skills must be learned, developed, and practiced. This is what the military calls Method of Instruction. This basic instructional training can be a lifesaver. It gets you organized, teaches you how to prepare yourself, and keeps you on track as you deliver lectures whether in the classroom or the wilderness.
You need to learn to produce excellent lesson plans. Then deliver them with confidence, along with exacting time appreciation. You must master the use of PowerPoint and other modern presentation methods so that they help to enhance your presentations, not control what you present.
Along with teaching skills, you must develop excellent and natural public speaking skills. I highly recommend starting with a two-day course from Toastmaster. These courses are excellent. They will point you in the right direction toward more advanced training in public speaking you will require. These skills may take years to polish, so start right away.
Beyond basic instructional skills, you must also take a minimum of an Advanced Wilderness First Aid Course. Normally an 80-hour course should be taken. These skills can be a lifesaver and most employers in the industry require this level of training.
You need to develop skills in Wilderness Navigation and wilderness living. The ability to navigate and travel freely in the wilderness with confidence and safety is paramount to your client’s safety. It also means that you will have fewer misadventures and more well-planned learning experiences for yourself and your clients.
"Having an adventure shows that someone is incompetent, that something has gone wrong. An adventure is interesting enough in retrospect. Especially to the person who didn't have it."
— Vilhjalmur Stefansson (My Life with the Eskimo)
Lastly, you need to learn wilderness cooking and living skills. This includes logistics, packing, and organization skills. Camp craft and camping skills need to be second nature. If you cannot live comfortably in bad weather, you cannot teach in these same conditions.
Eventually, you will be required to look after a group of untrained or semi-trained individuals in the wilderness. To do this you will need to be able to pack quicker and in a more organized manner than those around you. Your organizational skills help to create the extra time to teach and interact with your students in the wilderness. This time helps to create a good learning environment.
Learning the Outdoor Business
The third step is to learn to run a business or at least understand how a business runs. Repeatedly I see individuals running courses far below their true costs. Students regularly phone me asking why I am charging so much for a course. What they need to understand is that a business has fixed costs to operate and provide a professional environment that fosters learning.
Because so many amateurs teach in this field, there is a misconception that proper professional survival training should be nearly free. This poor pricing means that companies rarely make any profit and soon die out. It also means a new instructor needs to compete against these amateurs as well as other more established professionals.
To compete you need to create a niche in the world of outdoor education. If you are in it for the long haul, most individuals will be required to start or run a business to create that niche. This means you will require training and or business experience.
The rule of thirds applies to how you run a survival business. One-third of your time spent in marketing, one third spent in administering the business, and one-third teaching or preparing to teach. For most of us, the first two were the hardest and caused the most grief because we failed to learn them before we put up our shingle.
The one regret I have from University is not taking more business courses. I took only the one required outdoor education business course. It was basic, covering a wide sweep of the outdoor business. It did not teach me how to write a viable business plan and other lifesaving business skills I was required to learn by making mistakes.
You need skills in accounting, planning, business law, tax, sales, and marketing. As your business grows, you need to add employee management. Develop organizational and management skills as well. You need to quickly develop excellent money and cash flow management skills. Without these, you will be overwhelmed long before you ever become established.
"If your thinking is sloppy, your business will be sloppy.
If you are disorganized, your business will be disorganized.
If you are greedy, your employees will be greedy,
giving you less and less of themselves and always asking for more."
— Michael Gerber
You will have economically poor times of the year and bad years along the way. You cannot pull out all the money to pay your expenses. Over time, you should develop a cash reserve and pay back your initial investment.
Lastly, you need enough cash and or another small income to get you going and last you through the first few years. Every business requires both capital investment and time to develop basic cash flow. DO NOT expect to make a living in the first or second year. This means that you must have either other income or a cash reserve.
BWI's Instructor Development Programme
As I stated earlier in this article, no one institution can create properly developed professional survival instructors. At the Boreal Wilderness Institute, our Instructor Development Programme points you in the right direction to become a Professional Survival Instructor. We want you to take the best training possible and we know that we can provide some of that training, but not all of it.
This means it is not a rigid set of courses that you must take only from us. It is a series of requirements, guidelines and suggestions for those with a thirst for knowledge and a genuine want to become a Professional Survival Instructor. It will take time to learn all of these skills. You will be required to read, learn, and to practice a variety of skills on your own.
Three basic certificates are required before you begin, two from BWI, and one from another reputable source. You need to take the Wilderness Survival Certificate and the Wilderness Navigation Certificate from the Boreal Wilderness Institute. We recommend that you take your survival training in winter then supplement it with a little summer training later. An Advanced Wilderness First Aid Course (80 hours) is also required
Delve deeply into the science of wilderness survival. To help we provide an extensive reading list of books that includes wilderness survival skills, general science, method of instruction, and even business books. We will also recommend other survival schools and instructors where you can broaden your survival training. Your job will be to deliver information to your clients, learn and then you will succeed.
"I enjoyed the amount of information I received for a good price."
— Survival Core Seminar Participant
Learn public speaking. We insist on a minimum of a 14-hour course and recommend as much training as you have time for. If you take more public speaking training you will become a better instructor. To help you along during the method of instruction training video is used to help cut down on your verbal baggage.
We provide a series of learning steps to develop your method of instruction and presentation skills. Teaching basic skills effectively in the wilderness under poor conditions and in the classroom is very important. Your lectures will be monitored and your strengths and weakness pointed out. This skill development will require you to teach real students once you are ready.
"When you take the Instructor Development Programme at BWI I guarantee that you will be a better Professional Instructor for taking these steps."
BWI's Instructor Development Programme may take you a year or a few years. It may lead you off onto learning avenues that you did not expect. You may end up teaching wilderness survival or perhaps other wilderness skills. It is a “Long and Winding Road”, but a road worth travelling.
- Instructor Development Resource Page
- BWI's Modern Wilderness Survival Training
- BWI’s Philosophy on Modern Survival Instruction [Video]
- BWI's Wilderness Navigation Training