Kurdistan Secret Compass expedition leader Hetty


follow these tips to get started

We often get asked how to get in to the adventure travel industry and how to become an expedition leader. Here’s some general advice on standard and widely recognised courses and training opportunities in the UK, plus other courses designed to enhance the existing leadership skills of current expedition staff.

While courses are a fantastic way to develop your expedition leadership credentials, experience is also incredibly important. When it’s time to then look for work, the end of this post includes suggestions as to where to find it.

Mountain leader scheme

The first step for most is to get a Mountain Leader Award. This is available at many respected providers throughout the UK; certified individuals can also deliver it. The award builds on existing mountain walking experience with a minimum requirement of having spent 20 ‘quality mountain days’ first. This, generally residential, six-day training course introduces:

  • Mountain Training
  • Group management
  • Navigation
  • Equipment
  • Weather forecasting
  • Liability and legal requirements
  • Emergency procedures

Following the course, once you’ve gained a two-day first-aid qualification and clocked up 40 mountain days (preferably leading or accompanying groups though this is not obligatory), you can apply for the Mountain Leader assessment, which takes a further five days and is booked and paid for as a separate entity. Places to consider this course include:

  • Plas y Brenin
  • Glenmore lodge
  • Tollymore
Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor
Secret Compass team gather around on Ethiopian adventure

Further National Governing Body awards

Once you have attained your ML, you can go on to develop your key skills by undertaking other award schemes. Common examples are:

  • Winter ML (WML) – specifically looks at winter skills necessary in the UK hills
  • International ML (IML) – required for working as a mountain leader in parts of Europe such as the Alps
  • Swiftwater or whitewater rescue technician course. Useful for conducting river crossings or for expeditions that may involve activities such as pack-rafting
  • Mountain Bike Leader award.

First aid courses

The above all require a two-day (16 hour) first-aid course as a minimum which covers the basics of first aid, resuscitation and regulation within the outdoor environment. There are many other courses available that deliver more advanced or specific level of training for the wilderness environment, from the Rescue Emergency Care system (Levels 1-4), Wilderness First Aid, or Far from Help courses, to the more advanced Medicine in Remote Area (MIRA), or Wilderness Emergency Technician Course.

Places to consider these courses include:

Off-site safety management

The Offsite Safety Course is a must for those involved in planned visits in the UK or overseas. Spread over two days, it offers an in-depth look at the safety management issues involved in planning, managing and evaluating local visits, field trips, residentials and exchanges. While focused at educational establishments, the principles underlying the course are relevant for adventurous activities.

Diversify your skill set

Consider other skills and experiences which you can bring to your professional CV. Many expedition leaders will cover a range of environments and activities to some extent, alongside more specialist knowledge of their chosen focus. These experiences can be gained through extra courses, personal travel and sports or working as an assistant guide in new environments. Secret Compass even has incredibly experienced and qualified expedition leaders join teams as customers to broaden their experience base. If you’re just starting out in the industry, you may even find a new activity to love which you’d never tried before, such as packrafting – with this in mind our Adventure Academy trips aim to offer diverse and interesting activities in beautiful or remote environments.

Ethiopia expedition member using a GPS radio
Madagascar team planning with a map

Finding work in adventure

A great place to then look for work as an expedition leader is either with individual adventure companies (World Challenge, Outlook Expeditions, Far Frontiers, British Exploring Society, Intrepid, Secret Compass etc) or on the brilliant Explorers Connect (EC) website. This Bristol and London-based organisation (with global reach online) is a great place to find adventure jobs, training, professionals, opportunities and adventure-related weekends and social events.