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NOLS WFR Course


Original Post
David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 68

I have a few questions which aren't really answered about this:

  1. Is this useful for people who aren't necessarily going to do wilderness rescue professionally? Or is it overkill?
  2. Does this fulfill the requirements for a normal First Responder certification? Or are they completely separate things?
  3. Are these courses geared toward people who already have some medical background, or is it reasonable to think one could start from zero, go through the course, and pass the test? I don't plan on doing that, just trying to get an idea of how difficult the assessment actually is.
Marshall Winter · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 0

1.  I am a recreational climber (not a guide, search and rescue member etc.) and I find it super useful. I find the skills that I learned provide peace of mind should a serious situation arise in the alpine or backcountry. 

2. It does not fulfill requirements to become an EMT or paramedic. NOLS offers a Wilderness EMT course for people who are pursuing ski patrol or looking to become a front county first responder. 

3. Definitly geared towards people without medical backgrounds. I started my course without any medical knowledge beyond basic first aid and found the course and assessment totally reasonable.

climbing coastie · · Wasilla, AK · Joined Feb 2011 · Points: 90

I didn’t take my WFR through NOLS but 100% agree with the above comment. 

mediocre · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 0

In regards to number 2 stated above, I believe you are eligible to sit for the national registry for EMT-B

Josh Hutch · · State of Jefferson · Joined Dec 2008 · Points: 90

mediocre wrote:

In regards to number 2 stated above, I believe you are eligible to sit for the national registry for EMT-B

I don't believe that is true. You need to take an actual Emergency Medical Technician Basic class not just a FR or WFR. https://www.nremt.org/rwd/public/document/emt

#1 yes absolutely 100%, specially to your partners.

As to you your #2 question. Yes a WFR cert counts as a First Responder certification.

#3 If you have some knowledge on how the body works and it your not a complete dumbass you'll be fine. 

Just me being curious... why take it through NOLS? 

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 68

Josh Hutch wrote:

Just me being curious... why take it through NOLS? 

Convenient location for me, discount with REI. TBH I didn't look into other options that much. I'm open to other suggestions.

Josh Hutch · · State of Jefferson · Joined Dec 2008 · Points: 90

David Kerkeslager wrote:

Convenient location for me, discount with REI. TBH I didn't look into other options that much. I'm open to other suggestions.

I have never taken any of NOLS medical classes but have heard good things about them except that they are $$$. If it were me, I would go talk to the American Red Cross and ask them if there are any local community courses that are put on through out the year. Also, many community colleges put the course on. Both would be cheaper than NOLS. 

mediocre · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 0

Josh Hutch wrote:

I don't believe that is true. You need to take an actual Emergency Medical Technician Basic class not just a FR or WFR. https://www.nremt.org/rwd/public/document/emt

#1 yes absolutely 100%, specially to your partners.

As to you your #2 question. Yes a WFR cert counts as a First Responder certification.

#3 If you have some knowledge on how the body works and it your not a complete dumbass you'll be fine. 

Just me being curious... why take it through NOLS? 

True dat. For some reason I thought we were talking WEMT, I was way off

Skye Swoboda-Colberg · · Laramie, Wyoming · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 115

The NOLS WFR course saved my life. I took the course assuming I would inevitably respond to an accident during the year of dirt bagging I had planned for the following summer. Midway through the year, I found myself in a remote area with a broken femur. The WFR training provided me with a set of tools to respond to the situation and speed up the rescue. If shit hits the fan and someones life is on the line, a WFR course is worth every $$$ penny.

The goal of their training is to ensure that you can respond professionally and automatically to any situation within the scope of your practice and save lives. The primary benefit of taking the course over reading their book on wilderness medicine is the hands on training you receive. We worked approx 20-30 scenarios over the course of 10 days in addition to in class learning. The assessment is for real, nothing more and nothing less.

Jeremy B. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2013 · Points: 0

Both Marshall and Sky's comments are on target!  I'd answer your questions as:

  1. Yes, quite useful as already mentioned.  I'd consider it stuff that everyone should know, but I'm old-fashioned that way.
  2. Sort of.  The course would meet the DOT's first responder requirements, and is likely also sufficient for joining your local SAR group.  It's still a bit short of EMT, and some states don't even recognize a First Responder level of training.  (TL;DR version: it's complicated and depends on who's asking.)
  3. No prior experience expected or needed, but do study hard and practice; as with most things you'll get out what you put in.
David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 68

I looked around a bit, and the NOLS course is actually cheaper per-day than some local alternatives. The other WFR courses I found were in the $600-$650 range (as compared to $750) but the NOLS course is 8.5 days of class (they advertise 9 days, but the second half of the last day is assessment) while the other WFR courses are 3-5 days. The Red Cross offers WAFA (not WFR) courses from what I can tell online and they require a CPR cert as a prerequisite (which is included in the NOLS WFR course). My CPR cert is long expired and I don't remember much so I don't think it would make sense for me to try to do a recert class.

Given this I'm really leaning toward the NOLS class.

EDIT: Also I can't even find a time/place where the Red Cross offers the WAFA course. 99% of the courses offered when I searched were CPR/AED courses.

climbing coastie · · Wasilla, AK · Joined Feb 2011 · Points: 90

WFR is an 80hr course. Not sure how places can offer it in 3-5 days. That right there would steer me away from those places. Mine was 9 days. Four 10+ hour days then a day off followed by another four 10+ hour days. 

Dont plan on doing anything besides eating, sleeping, and breathing WFR during the course! 


I got my WFR to help myself be an outdoor professional and work with my local SAR team, but I’ve only used the knowledge when I’m out with friends. 

Franck Vee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 30

climbing coastie wrote:

WFR is an 80hr course. Not sure how places can offer it in 3-5 days. 

Yup - David you may have been comparing different courses actually. Most places would offer a shorter version (60 or 40 hours, not sure which, I took the full 90 one back in the days).

I do support the above - I took the 90 hours one over a bit less than 2 weeks (with Yamnuska in Alberta). I also took numerous time occupational first aid at various points in time ( the 3 days versions, I think they were 20 hours). for work.

I thought that WFR had a number of great tweeks & adaptations compared to occupational (which almost invariably assumed your job was mostly to stabilize things until someone cracks out a smartphone & gets an ambulance, or worst-case package someone for evac on a stretcher). They are pretty practical people in my experience and they will answer the tricky questions of the style "yeah, but what if I don't have access to that". So if you do remote hikes, alpine stuff and can't always just crack out a smartphone that's a great one to take.  It has perhaps a couple things that I didn't find all that useful, or well very extreme cases (like pregnancy delivery in remote setting?). Obviously that was a crash-course version of it, e.g. the basics of what to do but they did cover it. I think I would tend to stay closer to trailhead with my girl if we get to that point in life but....

Brandon.Phillips · · Portola, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 55

Good advice on here, but plenty of misinformation on #2. WFR will not meet the requirements of an urban 1st responder, and will not allow you to get an EMT (without additional EMT training). 


It is however,  a great class for both the outdoor pro and recreational climber.

Brandon.Phillips · · Portola, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 55

And stay away from the red cross wilderness medicine classes - they are garbage.

Collin Holt · · Golden, CO · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 40

Wilderness medical training center does a hybrid course now that is 5 days of field work, coupled with an online style learning for the classroom (must be completed with exams prior to field course start)... I am currently in it and it is pretty tough. 


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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