Certified outdoor leader

The qualifications and competence of the Certified Outdoor Leader have been demonstrated, assessed, and evaluated according to the WEA standards of outdoor leadership. The COL is not a casual participant on an outdoor trip, but clearly an experienced leader who is committed to personal growth and development. The goal of the WEA Certified Outdoor Leader (COL) is to recognize leaders who are proficient in the WEA 6+1 and equipped to:

  • Plan and deliver high-quality wilderness experiences;
  • Model responsible minimum impact practices; and
  • Exercise good judgment and effective decision-making across a range of program settings.

The WEA 6+1 is a focused, standard-based curriculum that covers Outdoor Living, Planning and Logistics, Education, Risk Management, Environmental Integration, and Leadership plus Judgment and Decision-making. All of the training and certification programs of the WEA are grounded in the 6+1.

The certification does not infer instructor status (i.e., a COL is not qualified to instruct official WEA courses) nor does it imply any level of competency with terrain-specific skills beyond basic backcountry travel. The COL program is a practical, frontline leadership training process, i.e., the Certified Outdoor Leader has been trained in the WEA 6+1, has demonstrated competence in outdoor leadership, and is ready to integrate that training with activity-specific skill development (rock climbing, paddlesports, mountaineering, skiing, etc.).

NOTE: This certification is not valid without current medical qualifications appropriate for the specific context and setting where the COL operates.

WEA Accreditation and the COL: The COL credential can only be provided through an Approved Organizational Member Host (Host) and under the supervision of a Certified Outdoor Educator (COE). The Board of Directors firmly believes that WEA-accredited organizational members (AOM) continue to set the benchmark for training and development en route to WEA certifications - both COL and Certified Outdoor Educator. The accredited organization’s curriculum and operations have been reviewed and officially recognized for providing students with an exceptional grounding in leadership and teaching. The accredited program remains the most comprehensive pathway to WEA certification. One of the advantages of WEA accreditation is the flexibility for curriculum delivery, assessment, and evaluation of the standards for the Certified Outdoor Leader. The accredited curriculum fully integrates the WEA 6+1 into the program and assesses them across the program. We will continue to support, promote, and emphasize accreditation as the preferred approach for quality assurance and reliability for the COL.


Documented professional field experience in backcountry leadership/assistant/training: a minimum of 21 days if through a WEA-accredited program, OR a minimum of 30 days as the lead/assistant/training if not through a WEA-accredited program.


The candidate for the COL must complete a WEA-specific field experience of five consecutive days (or more) during which the student is assessed by self, peers, and the COE on the WEA 6+1. This must include student teaching and at least one full day as Leader-Of-the-Day (LOD; solo or partnered). This field time can count toward the required experience total. The COL field assessment experience should not be the student’s first experience with outdoor leadership, but should focus on immersion with the WEA 6+1 and evaluating field performance.

The COL candidate must complete the WEA assessment and document their professional field experience. This information is documented via a professional online portfolio that includes - at a minimum - evidence of:

  • Instructor, peer, and self evaluations;
  • Professional field experience via a trip/experience log (Wilderness Experience inventory, trip log, etc.); and
  • Any other documentation required by the Host (e.g., medical/skill/LNT certifications, etc.).

NOTE: This certification is not valid without current medical qualifications appropriate for the specific context and setting where the COL operates.

For candidates NOT completing their assessment through a WEA-accredited program, an online written exam is required.


The certification is valid for an initial period of three years. During that time, the COL must maintain and update their online portfolio and hold a current professional membership with the WEA. Other requirements may apply in order to renew the certification. Reminder: The COL credential is not valid without medical training appropriate for the specific context and setting in which the COL is leading.

Progression to the next level (Certified Outdoor Educator) entails accumulating field experience and additional training in instructional design and evaluation.

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Wilderness Education Association, Inc.
151 NC Highway 9, Ste B
Black Mountain, NC 28711

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