What to Know Before You Go: Common Pre-Course Questions


Feb 22, 2016

Before you go, a NOLS course can seem like a mystery. Below, you’ll find the answers to some of the common questions we get about our courses—we hope they help you out!

What does anyone get out of running around in the woods for a month or more?

Learning and exploring at NOLS Northeast Photo by Hannah Darrin.


So many things! Some you can see, like the ability to cook a meal on your own or set up a tent. Some you can’t, like gaining experience being in a leadership role and the self-confidence that comes from overcoming the challenges that are a part of any wilderness experience.

What do you do all day? 

Learning new skills Photo by Becca Parkinson.

Daily activities vary by course. Usually, you’ll be learning some type of wilderness travel and the necessary skills and risk management that go with it, such as learning to assess rapids on a river-based course, or learning to navigate off-trail on a backpacking course.

Combined with these outdoor skills and risk management, every NOLS course includes classes and hands-on practice with environmental studies and leadership. For your day-to-day activities, that might look like a sit-down class on goal-setting strategies, or stopping along the trail to identify animal tracks you see in the mud.

What do you eat when you’re in the backcountry?

A Delicious Backcountry Cookie Photo by Tracy Baynes.

Learning to cook is a key part of living comfortably in the wilderness, and we take it seriously. All students learn to cook full meals on camp stoves.

Instructors spend time showing students how to operate their stoves and how to combine foods to make nutritious meals, then let them take the lead.

The typical NOLS ration includes dry bulk goods, like rice, pasta, beans, and trail mix, as well as fats and proteins in the form of cheeses and summer sausage. We'll even include ingredients and show you how to make your own backcountry desserts!

There are options to accommodate dietary restrictions and needs, though we cannot accommodate every dietary preference.

How do you organize who sleeps in which tent?

Tent Living on a NOLS Course Photo by Lucy Rogers.

At NOLS we typically organize tents by gender, particularly at the beginning of an expedition. Tent groups will usually start off single-gender. Later in the course, tent groups may become mixed-gender, based on each group's preferences and instructor discretion.

Adventure courses, expeditions designed for 14- and 15-year-olds, have single-gender tent groups for the entire course. Some other courses, like our Baja Women’s Sea Kayaking, are entirely single-gender.

NOLS welcomes students who are gender-expansive. Our application includes an option to self identify by gender so that our Admission Office can follow up with those students and provide additional resources.

If you have questions about the support NOLS offers to gender-expansive students, please contact our Admission Office.

What is Wifi access like during a course? 

Getting Away from Technology at NOLS Photo by Craig Muderlak.


Most NOLS facilities have internet connections and cell phone service that students can use before and after their expeditions, or between sections of courses that return to a NOLS campus during their expedition. 

Some of our facilities, however, are in remote locations, and at those campuses we reserve these communication lines for staff to ensure they are open for our daily operations and in the event of an emergency.

While in the wilderness, students are not permitted to carry cell phones, even just to use as cameras, or their own satellite phones or trackers. We limit the use of personal technology because we believe in the value of time spent away from the constant connectivity of daily life. All instructors carry communication technology they can use in the event of an emergency.

Will students shower before coming home?

Swimming in the Gila Photo by Jared Steinman.


Yes! We like to send only clean, nice-smelling students back on the airplanes and buses, so at the end of their course all students will have the opportunity to shower and clean up at the NOLS facilities.

For courses with multiple sections, like a semester course, students may have a night or two in the middle of their course to shower and do laundry as well.

Can I get in touch with other NOLS alumni or parents now?

Happy alumni Photo courtesy of Shelli Johnson.

We love to connect prospective students with our alumni. Though it's not always possible to make this happen, you can certainly contact our Admission Office to ask if we know of any NOLS alumni who are graduates from the course you're interested in.

Have more questions? Keep paging through the NOLS Blog or contact the Admission Office with your specific questions.

Editor's note: Post updated April 2019 

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NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.

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