School navigation

College Outdoors

Tools for Leaders

Leader Ladder

This chart represents student leadership progression.  Any student leader must begin as a participant.  From there, you can develop into a student coordinator, assistant leader, trip specialist, trip leader, and finally a trainer.


10 + 1: Outdoor Skills

Becoming a Trip Leader requires a lot of important skills, many of which will serve you well far beyond College Outdoors. Most of the skills it takes can be learned through our program, so no experience is necessary! We offer a variety of trips and clinics that help you develop these skills. The one exception to this is the driving requirement, since you must have a driver’s license. However, we will train you on all the other driving related skills, such as changing a tire or using snow chains.


Interpersonal Skills are crucial for communicating knowledge, risk management, providing effective group management, and facilitating a fun and inclusive experience.
      -  Set goals for each trip and participate in post-trip debrief sessions
      -  Mentor newer trip staff (on trips and by leading Open House sessions)
      -  Engage with participants in authentic ways
      -  Give and receive constructive feedback
      -  Use inclusive language and define jargon and acronyms
      -  Know a variety of games, initiatives, and group facilitation techniques

      Participate in training sessions on:
           - Inclusion & Equity
           - Conflict Resolution
           - Risk Management

Professional Medical Training such as Wilderness First Responder (WFR) is invaluable when you are more than an hour from a hospital. The ability to perform a solid patient assessment, and provide care for complaints ranging from anaphylactic shock to blisters, is paramount to being a guide.
      -  WFR, EMT, WEMT, or another comparable 80hr+ medical training + CPR
      -  Certifications must be current to lead trips


Policy Articulation is vital. Rules are in place to ensure safe trips. The ability to persuade participants to voluntarily obey College Outdoors’ policies rather than imposing them is an all but required tactic.
      -  Swimming, personal floatation devices, alcohol and drugs, closed-toe shoes, cliffs, lightning, search
         & rescue
      -  Use of “Near Miss” & “Incident” reports


Driving is the most dangerous part of any College Outdoors trip. As such, we take all possible steps to reduce road related risks.
      -  Excellent safe driving abilities and practices with program vehicles in all environments including:
              - City, highway, unpaved roads, and winter conditions
      -  Ability to change a flat tire
      -  Deploy flares & hazard triangles
      -  Jumpstart a dead battery
      -  Know when and how to mount snow chains
      -  Complete pre-departure vehicle checklist
      -  Maintain current fleet defense certificate 
      -  Complete a check-off run with a full-time staff member of College Outdoors


Trailer Training: complex trips demand trailers. As a result, leaders expecting to lead these trips must be able deftly maneuver in reverse in order to even leave Sequoia.
      Be able to complete the following:
      -  1 complete and continuous turn in reverse around the Corbett House Circle
      -  Do a 90 degree backing turn into the vehicle yard
      -  Complete a highway driving check-off
      -  Demonstrate safe trailer driving and backing on a trip


Navigation is essential. Leaders should be comfortable navigating using various (digital and analog) methods. There is a great series of navigation videos here, and a useful quiz to check your skills here.
      Be able to effectively operate and use a trail GPS or an app such as Gaia:
      -  Mark waypoints
      -  Enter target coordinates
      -  Create & follow breadcrumbs

      Be able to effectively use and operate map & compass:
      -  Take & follow a bearing
      -  Shoot bearing to determine location
      -  Read topographical features accurately
      -  Read location coordinates off a map in both UTMs and Latatude/Longitude


Rescue Skills change depending on the particular trip you are leading. One must be prepared to handle trip-specific risk management, as well as emergency response.
      Have the necessary skills for the trip you are leading:
      -  Avalanche awareness
      -  Swiftwater rescue
      -  Sea kayak rescues
      -  Winter rescue skills


Camp Craft
      Knot Knowledge and the ability to secure tarps and cargo on vehicles are useful, impressive, and critical for safety.
      -  Trucker hitch
      -  Bowline
      -  Use of Cam-Straps
      -  Make a Daisy Chain
      -  Coil a rope

      Stove Use for cooking meals is important for both safety and the pleasure of enjoying a delicious meal
      -  Cookpartner (front country propane stove)
      -  MSR Dragonfly (backcountry stove for cooking)
      -  MSR Reactor (backcountry stove for boiling water)

      Sanitation Practices keep your group healthy and make for a professionally run experience.
      - Keep a clean kitchen & cooler, and prevent contamination
      - Wash dishes
      - How to poop in the woods (using cat holes, groovers, or wag bags as necessary)


Environmental Education is an important component of any outdoor outing. It ties participants to the land that we visit. Leaders should take time to learn the basic geology, flora, and fauna of the area before (well, sometimes during…) each trip.
      -  Leave No Trace
      -  Orient and connect participants to the natural world using geology, area biology, etc.


Professionalism, prompt response to emails, and meticulous use of checklists is beloved at College Outdoors. It takes countless hands to get any College Outdoors trip out the door: adhere to the systems in place for efficiency, be considerate (e.g. on time) for others, and use the checklists for transparency.
      Always use/do the following:
      -  PTM Checklist
      -  Group Gear Checklist
      -  Pre-departure Checklist
      -  Golden Hour Checklist
      -  Daily Duties List
      -  Blue tape
      -  Respond to emails/voicemails/text messages promptly
      -  Write thorough Post-Trip Reports
      -  Explain and model “expedition behavior”


+1 skill that you just want to learn!


10 Tips for Climbing the Leader Ladder

The insiders guide to quickly becoming a College Outdoors trip leader.

  1. There is a lot involved in becoming a Trip Leader, so if that is your goal it useful to start working towards it sooner than later. College Outdoors leadership can be a big investment of time. You can put things in motion now and decide later, but take a moment to think critically about why you want to be a trip leader.  Understand the liability involved with this. There are also lots of ways to be involved with College Outdoors without becoming a Trip Leader.

    1. You are going to want some kind of professional development while you are in College, maybe with CO, maybe with another department.  If you decide on CO, dedicate yourself knowing it will take a significant amount of your time.
    2. We expect that when people make a commitment they follow through. If we don’t perceive that we can count on you, you aren’t likely to get placed on trips.
  1. Get cleared to drive right away and demonstrate good driving habits.  Learn how to back a trailer.
  2. Help out with New Student Trips.  If you lead an NST you will get tons of field time, on-the-job training, pre-trip training, trip and CO logistical practice.  If there is only one trip you can lead each year, it should be an NST.  It accelerates all processes of your leadership development and gets you involved in the greater CO community (alum, etc.).
  3. Do not smoke cigarettes.  Stay out of trouble. Don’t get written up (we look at conduct records).  Be a good role-model.
  4. Show up for trainings and Open House.  Help out with trainings. This not only helps you solidify skills, but demonstrates your dedication to the CO community.
  5. Get a summer of professional experience right away and check with pro-staff to make sure it is relevant beforehand. We are looking for experience leading trips for an outfitter that require planning, ownership, and responsibility. We want you to develop practical wilderness skills as well as risk management, customer service, and team building to help you become a fantastic CO leader. Some great examples: Leading multi-day backpacking trips for teens, being a raft guide, working for Kori in the office while leading day kayaking trips, being a Program Director at a summer camp, field research with a logistical responsibility component, etc. Again, ASK if your idea for a job will count. Check out our job resources webpage for inspiration.
  6. Respond to professional staff emails, texts, and voicemails right away, even if it is just to say that you need to think about it but will get back to them by such and such date.
  7. Ask professional staff and/or Roundtable what you specifically need to do to move up the leader ladder.  Choose whomever you find most approachable.  Current trip leaders are another great resource.
  8. Be open to, and seek out, feedback. Set goals for yourself on trips, and participate in post-trip debrief sessions.
  9. Vocalize where you want to be with College Outdoors. Advocate for yourself. Reach out to members of the Roundtable, that’s what they are for.


Of course, if you ever have questions, don’t hesitate to stop by our office in Templeton 244 or by the Sequoia Warehouse on South Campus.  You may also feel free to call (503) 768-7116 or email us at