Looking Back, Looking Ahead: The NOLS Logo

By Molly Herber

Dec 13, 2016

Various NOLS logos
Photo by Kirk Rasmussen.

On the very first NOLS course, students walked into the mountains wearing the same outfit. A single patch decorated every shirt: the stars and shield logo that represented the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Today, we don’t make students wear the same outfit, though sometimes the wind pants or bright red medical kit fanny packs make it seem like we have an unofficial uniform. Plenty of different logos have decorated the gear of NOLS grads through the years.

Here’s a little walk through the evolution of the NOLS logo to what it is today.

Patches and Logos of NOLS

This is one of our oldest patches, and we brought it back in 2015 for our 50th anniversary celebration!

NOLS Shield Logo
Photo by Brad Christensen.
NOLS hat
Photo by Brad Christensen.
Students hiking in the 1970s
Students wearing original NOLS gear with the the shield patch. Photo from NOLS archives.

Some logos were loud and colorful…

Archival NOLS logo
Photo by Brad Christensen.

...some were simpler...

Multicolor archival NOLS logo
Photo by Brad Christensen.

...and sometimes we got a little creative.

NOLS Wilderness Medicine introduced their classic ice axe and rod of Asclepius design when they started as the Wilderness Medicine Institute in Pitkin, Colorado in 1990, and maintained the logo when they joined NOLS in 1999.

WMI archival patch with logo
Photo by Brad Christensen.
WMI logo during a scenario
Photo by Luis Camargo.

With our new logo, we’ve done things a little differently.

The Look


The new logo shows a two-peaked summit in front of a sunset and highlights our new signature color.

It shows our belief that you get real life skills and knowledge through determination and overcoming adversity in the wilderness. It also speaks to our legacy as the leader in wilderness education.

NOLS Wilderness Medicine Badge

NOLS Wilderness Medicine Badge

In the past, you’d usually see the NOLS Wilderness Medicine logo appearing independently on your wilderness medicine course materials and other outlets, or side-by-side with the NOLS logo.

Now, you’ll see a badge that you earn when you graduate from a NOLS Wilderness Medicine course, adopting our new signature color and joining the school’s diverse offerings under the NOLS logo.

Students, alumni, employees, friends, and family from across the school all come together into one “NOLS” family, with the new NOLS logo serving as the umbrella bringing us all together. You can look forward to receiving your new badge when you certify in wilderness first aid, as a wilderness first responder, or WEMT.

Take a look at the logo in action:

NOLS logo on a water bottle
Photo by Kirk Rasmussen

For some folks, this logo may simply be a new sticker in a new color. But for us, it announces who we are and what we value: challenge, grit, and preparing for whatever life throws your way.

If someone asks you what “NOLS” means, you can tell them about the course you took, or explain why you carry first aid supplies even when you're in a city. We hope you'll wear the logo proudly as you head into whatever wild awaits you.

Take a first look at select items with the new logo at the NOLS Store.

Find your wild

Written By

Molly Herber

Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber

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distant figures on a rope team climb a steep snowy slope while mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest
Photo by Jes Scott

NOLS was born in a time of tumult in the United States. In 1965 the Vietnam War was expanding, the Selma March paved the way for the Voting Rights Act, the Watts riots raged, and Malcolm X was assassinated. NOLS was not an accident. It was a response to a void that existed.

Fifty two years later in another time of considerable division, now is a good time to reflect on our values, our purpose and our place in the world.

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