How Dangerous are Rattlesnakes?


The sun is out and so are the snakes – but just how worried should you be about rattlesnake bites?


North America is home to several species of venomous snakes. Thankfully, none of these are very deadly. The most common venomous snakes are known as pit vipers. These fascinating creatures include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. They have a unique feature known as heat-sensing pits located between their eyes and nostrils. Coral snakes (elapids) are slightly more poisonous, but bites are so rare they are not a considerable concern. In this blog post, we will explore how to identify pit vipers, discuss the characteristics of specific venomous species, and debunk common myths associated with bites and treatments.


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Students practice a litter carry during a WFR course.

What is a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Course?

The goal of a WFR is to make sure you have the knowledge to take helpful action, no matter what situation you find yourself in.


So, what is a WFR course?

Students practice CPR during woofer

Students practice CPR during woofer


A Wilderness First Responder course (WFR) is much more than just a course about first aid, CPR, or even emergencies. This course teaches you how to think critically, allowing you to apply your knowledge to unique situations that go far beyond typical backcountry-based trips.

What defines an emergency setting as “wilderness”?

Patient Evaluation practice


Students practice CPR during woofer

One of the core components of a Wilderness Medicine Course is learning how to problem solve in a ‘wilderness setting’. Wilderness is defined as delayed access to care (you call for help but they can’t get to you right away), you have limited resources (perhaps what is on your back or what is in your boat), and a hostile environment (limited protection from, heat, cold, wind, rain, etc.). While this obviously applies to backcountry objectives, it also applies to front-country emergencies such as mudslides, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires – all of which can leave someone stranded in the wilderness even in their own home.


What do you learn in a WFR?

Students performing handson skills during a wfr


  • Wild Med’s Six Wilderness Protocols (see below)
  • A clear understanding of serious vs not serious issues
  • What situations can be managed on your own, and when to call for help
  • Identifying high-risk vs low-risk injuries, and what to do for each
  • Clear and simple steps for patient assessment
  • Prevention of the most common backcountry emergencies
  • Risk management and decision-making during outdoor trips
  • How to communicate clearly in an emergency to get the help you need


What can I do as a WFR?

WFR student performing abdominal exam


Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA) created six protocols for WFR’s in remote settings. They are designed to give WFR participants an enhanced set of tools that are practical in real-life situations. Many of them can aid in turning an emergency into a manageable situation while in remote areas.


These protocols include:

  • Reducing certain dislocations in the field.
  • Performing a thorough spine assessment
  • Properly cleaning and caring for wounds
  • Starting and stopping CPR in a wilderness context
  • Identifying anaphylaxis and delivering epinephrine
  • Delivering epinephrine for severe asthma attacks


What skills do I learn in a WFR course?

WFR students splinting a leg


These additional skills are useful anywhere – be it at home or offshore sailing. Learning more about these situations and problems will come in handy and could save a life.


  • Performing CPR for the Adult, Child, and infant at the professional rescuer level
  • Managing any type of airway compromise, such as choking
  • Controlling life-threatening bleeding
  • Identifying a concussion
  • Moving a patient who may have injured their spine
  • Determining if someone has a spine injury and how to proceed
  • Splinting basic for high-risk injuries
  • Responding to heat-based challenges
  • Thermoregulation and cold-based injuries
  • Considering altitude illness

How long does a WFR take?

WFR students demonstrate skills to instructor


A WFR course can range from 10-5 days. Courses shorter than 7 days are in a hybrid format, meaning there’s some portion of online learning prior to the in-person course start date. All in-person classes will be broken up into classroom lectures and hands-on practice. Hybrid courses provide lectures, books, and foundational learning all prior to the course so that the 5 days are focused on hands-on skills.


Both full-length and hybrid medical courses are great options. Often people with less medical knowledge or remote experience enjoy the longer courses. The 5-day courses work well for people who are coming in with some experience in the realm of emergencies and perhaps previous medical training.


How is a Wilderness First Responder course structured?

Round table of patient assessments


Of course, a WFR course teaches medical concepts, but where all wilderness medical courses really shine is the hands-on learning! Practicing hands-on skills in the most life-like situations is a core component of the course. This means that all participants will spend a portion of the course role-playing both as a patient and as the rescuer. While participants don’t have to be an expert actor, there is an element of role-playing, dressing up, and moulage (wounds from makeup) that make the experience vivid and often intense.


This is one of the most fun elements of a course, but even more importantly, it’s part of the course that puts knowledge into practice. No amount of learning is useful if it can’t be applied to stressful, real-life situations. A WFR course helps mimic the stress of emergencies in a safe and supportive environment. This allows students to learn the valuable process of managing their own stress to make important decisions. Participants will graduate feeling far better prepared to transfer their knowledge into real-life emergencies.


Gaining a basic understanding of medical concepts will also be a foundational component of each course. This means there is some science, anatomy, and physiology in the core teaching.  Thankfully, the curriculum does a great job of taking complicated medical concepts, simplifying them, and breaking them down into bite-sized chunks.  The curriculum Gut-Z Journey licenses are provided by Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA), one of the leading educators in the business.  WMA has a dedicated team of doctors, physician assistants, and other medical personnel reviewing the latest research and updating materials for students.


Is there a WFR exam?

Water injuries can occur in wilderness settings


To pass a WFR class, you must demonstrate a basic understanding of emergency medicine and the ability to turn this knowledge into hands-on assessment and actionable treatments. Thus, there is no single exam that defines your success. Rather, your completion of the course relies upon continued assessment throughout. These assessments include quizzes, exams, and practice skill sessions. The feedback process occurs throughout the course so that students can continuously hone their skills. By the end, all students are expected to perform full patient assessments, identify problems, and critically think through an action plan.  


Still curious? You can see a complete list of all skills taught and assessed throughout the course HERE.


Who should take a WFR?

Ski Patrollers need a minimum of a WFR


  • Disaster Relief Personnel and Volunteers
  • Outdoor Educators
  • Outdoor Guides
  • Avid outdoors people
  • Those camping or traveling overnight into the backcountry
  • Military
  • Researchers
  • Search and Rescue Personnel and Volunteers
  • Offshore sailing and Seafarers
  • Remote field work Personnel
  • Those traveling over abroad
  • Anyone with the desire to develop skills beyond the Wilderness First Aid level

How long does a WFR certification last?

Wilderness First Responder students


Certifications with Wilderness Medical Associates last 3 years! Some companies grant 2-year certifications with a 1 year grace period for recertifying. During the grace period, you are no longer considered an active WFR.  With WMA you will be an active certified WFR for your full 3 years but you MUST seek out a recertification course before the last day of the month your certification expires.


How much does a WFR cost?

Hypothermia is a cold challenge faced in extreme wilderness settings


Each course has a unique price based on the location, lodging, and food options, and instructor travel fees. Typically, Wilderness First Responder courses cost between $700 to $1,000. All forms of the WFR (hybrid 5-day or 8 days in person) provide over a week’s worth of focused training. This breaks down to $88-$125 per full day of instruction.


Moulage, or fake wounds, make excellent WFR practice


This course is hands down the best investment for people who live or play in remote areas, have field work or desire to work in the outdoor industries.  It’s worth every penny of the investment.  Don’t just take my word for it, check out these testimonials!

"Natalie is an inspiration. She is very knowledgeable, including extensive Search and Rescue experience, best instructor I've ever had, and has a delightful personality!"


"...thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for showing me the kind of person I can be and empowering me in every way to help others in need. The WFR course alone has opened so many doors for me and I know that I will carry this for the rest of my life."


"I thought I had seen the best, but N.B. is right up there and earlier in her career. Top echelon of outdoor professionals. This is clearly in her blood!"


"It is because of the lessons that you taught me that I saved a life today. I can never thank you enough for passing down the knowledge that I did not think I would ever have to use. I may have responded but you are the true hero Natalie. Thank you."


"I felt insanely confident when evaluating her injuries and creating a communication/evacuation plan.. So happy to have had your amazing instruction and would take the class again in a heartbeat."

Kyle S

The class was challenging. Patient engagements often hard. And I am truly grateful for the opportunity to learn by doing; the drills are so valuable and essential. I'm a much better prepared WFR for it

Bill Voight

Natalie blew me away with her knowledge, passion, and excellent teaching skills. Throughout her WFR Recertification class, I felt challenged, supported, and empowered. A great teacher, making greater guides.


Your passion for wilderness education was evident ... and immediately attracted me to your offerings. Your instruction style was direct, corrective, repetitive, when necessary, and the entire time I could still feel the love you have for the curriculum and the desire to send us onward as stewards of your studio...I was grateful for every piece of instruction.

Aaron R

My satisfaction comes from the countless stories of how my students have helped someone in need and even saved lives because of this course!

Your instructor,
~ Natalie



The Best Exercises for the Mountain Athlete

Mountain climbing is a physically demanding sport that requires a high level of endurance, strength, and agility. Strength training is crucial for mountain climbers as it helps to build the necessary strength and endurance required to tackle steep hills and challenging terrain. In this article, we will focus on the best strength exercises for mountain climbers.


Summit of Norman Clyde Peak

Tag more summits with intentional strength training!

Leg Strengthening

Mountain Climbing


Back squats are an excellent exercise for mountain climbers. Squats help to build lower body strength & endurance. They target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. These muscles are the primary muscles used for ascent and descent during mountain climbing.


Strong squats will translate to the strength to take big steps up and down without having your legs feel wobbly.

To perform back squats:
  • Place a barbell on your shoulders behind your neck
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Feet should point out 30°
  • Squat down as if you’re sitting on a chair until your thighs are parallel to the ground
  • Return to standing, focusing on squeezing your quads and glutes on the way up


It’s essential to start with a lighter weight and work your way up to heavier weights as you progress. It’s also important to keep the weight centered over your midfoot.  Not only is this the most efficient movement, but it also helps prevent strains and injuries due to poor form.




Deadlifts are another great exercise for building leg strength and overall body power. Deadlifts work your back, hips, and legs and will help you develop the strength to carry heavy packs up steep mountains.


Strong deadlifts will translate to feeling confident leaning over with a heavy pack and stepping on uneven terrain.

To perform a deadlift:
  • Stand with your hip-width apart (closer than squat)
  • Center bar over mid-foot
  • Bend at hips to grab the bar
  • Bring shins to the bar (without moving the bar)
  • Pull tension against the bar then straighten to standing with back straight core tight
  • Bar should drag up your legs


Good form and an appropriate progression are crucial to slowly build back strength without risking strain or injury. This exercise can be the best thing your back ever got for preventing injury! However, it can also be the thing that injuries it when performed poorly.



Knee Stability Exercises

Knee stability is crucial for mountain climbers to strengthen their knees in the more extreme ranges of motion. Some ways to focus on stability are to work good range of motion in the knee and perform exercises that focus on lower leg strengthening and balance. I love deep lunges where I purposefully get my knees over my toes. Weighted step-downs and shin-strengthening toe raises can also be helpful.


There are numerous exercises focused on stability that can be useful depending upon what is a baseline for you. Most of these are helpful to practice only with body weight until full range of motion and balance can be achieved.

Core Strength Exercises

Core strength is essential for mountain climbers as it helps to maintain balance and stability. While climbing uphill, energy will be transferred from your arms through your core and to the legs. This happens even more when using trekking poles, ski poles, ice axes, and scrambling. It’s important to integrate some core and upper body work into training. The following exercises accomplish this.


Presses, such as bench press and overhead press, are useful exercises for strengthening your upper body. Strong upper body muscles will help you carry heavy packs and maintain your balance during climbs.


  • To perform the bench press, lie flat on a bench with a barbell over your chest with your core remaining flat on the bench, then push the barbell up and down.
  • The overhead press involves standing with a barbell at shoulder height, then pushing the barbell up and down overhead.


Planks are a great way to target the core while integrating arms and legs. Isometric holds (staying still) and twisting movements will engage the deep muscles of the abdomen such as transverse abdominis. This is far more important to train then the superficial muscles of the rectus abdominis (the thing that gives us a 6 pack).


  • Front planks involve holding your body in a push-up position with your forearms on the ground, and your body in a straight line.
  • To side plank, lift your body with one forearm on the ground, and your body in a straight line.
    • You can add a twist by reaching for the ground with the upper arm and rotating the torso then returning to the side plank position.


Cardio & Endurance Training

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, is essential for building endurance and improving overall cardiovascular health, which is crucial for mountain climbing. Climbing at high altitudes can be especially challenging due to lower oxygen levels, making it important to have a strong cardiovascular system.


Cardiovascular exercises as endurance training are one of the most intuitive modes of training for mountain climbing, but it is often over-emphasized and poorly trained. By this, I mean that strength training is equally as important as endurance & cardio-based training. In fact, a strong base of strength will enhance endurance.


As a golden rule, you can’t effectively train both strength and endurance at the same time. You can do both but you won’t be able to reach your peak potential in both at the same time. I find it best to rotate through blocks of time where I train strength and maintain my endurance, then switch to training endurance and maintaining strength.


Lastly, the most effective form of endurance and cardiovascular training is training done in your aerobic zone. Essentially, exercises with a moderate output and heart rate. Something you can maintain all day. Making HIIT workouts very ineffective for translating to good endurance gains and anything specific to mountain climbing. Conversely, quality cardio training will enhance endurance and help with long physical days and high-altitude hiking. So train cardio, just be intentional.


I prefer to focus on movements most similar to mountain climbing so hiking and running, however, there are a variety of options for endurance training such as:


  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Hiking

In Conclusion

It’s important to note that proper form is crucial when performing these exercises to prevent injuries. True training needs a measured progression.  This allows you to consistently see gains in strength or cardio (depending on your focus).  It’s often a great idea to recommended to work with a trainer or coach when starting a strength training program.  You can also seek out programs that help give you the support you need to eventually train yourself in both strength and endurance (I offer a program like this specific to mountain training.)


To tackle steep hills and challenging terrain, strength and endurance training are essential for mountain climbers. Incorporating exercises such as back squats, deadlifts, presses, core strength exercises, and knee stability exercises into your workout routine will help you build strength and some endurance. Remember to start with lighter weights and progress slowly to heavier weights as you build strength, and always maintain proper form to prevent injuries.


In addition, a good progression of aerobic exercises will begin to grow overall endurance for long days of mountain climbing. Be sure to focus on aerobic-based exercise rather than sprints, HIIT, and other high-output cardio sessions.



 5 Lessons Learned the Hard Way as an Outdoorsy Woman

I’m sharing these five lessons that I have learned in my 20+ years working as an outdoor guide, educator, risk manger, search and rescue team member, park ranger and wilderness medicine course provider.  Suffice it to say that I’ve been around the block.  Working the desirable and undesirable jobs.  Always along side men, rarely with any others. I always wished I could have had a female mentor. I’ve learned a lot, the hard way.  Let me spare you some challenges with these key lessons:







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