How to choose between a WFA & WFR


The WFA is a two day wilderness first aid course. At baseline this course teaches you everything you would expect out of a basic CPR and first aid class while also expanding in to other common medical, trauma and environmental based injuries.  All of this is accomplished with a wilderness based twist* to providing care.  This 2 day course format allows for a lot more hands on practice and discussion of how to apply the training than a typical one day CPR & First aid class.

Wound care is one of the wilderness specific skills discussed in a WFA


A WFR is 8 days of learning (hybrid courses require only 5 days in person).   In the course you will take everything learned in a WFA course and then add on 6 more days of additional skill and practice.   A WFR will push people to get a much deeper understanding of the medicine involved with emergency care.  You will also get a larger ‘tool kit’ of wilderness based protocols for backcountry based emergency care.  Ultimately, the extended time of a WFR allows for the ability to practice a lot of patient care and to work on enhancing your critical thinking in life like drills and practice sessions.

check out my blog post on What is a WFR?

Get the full details on what to expect in a WFR





When deciding between a WFA an WFR it important to think about what your goal with the knowledge is? Is this certification for personal or professional growth? What sort of places do you work and play in?  Are they deep in the backcountry, far from help, or more simple day hikes and car camping trips?  Do you want to get general awareness or a deep understanding of how to handle emergencies?


Think through these questions and figure out which course is better in alignment with your needs.  You can us the graphic to help.





A core component of wilderness medical courses is…well…wilderness. But what is wilderness?  The idea of exploring jungles, trekking deep in the backcountry or a certain number of miles down a trail head come to mind.  In reality, wilderness is more of broad concept that hinges on 3 factors.


You have delayed access to definitive care.

Meaning, even if you call for 911 (if you are lucky enough to have phone service) help can’t arrive quickly.  In wilderness medicine we are particularly worried about a delay in care that will lead to a worsening of the patient’s problem.  This is the difference between, having a sprained ankle 20 min down a trail versus someone having a severe asthma attack 20min down a trail who doesn’t have their inhaler.


You have limited resources

Meaning you don’t have everything available to problem solve and manage a patient that you would have at home.  These resources could include the extensive list of over the counter medicine in your cupboard at home, or even ready access to x-ray and other helpful medical and diagnostic tools.   Resources can also include the limited amount of food, water and things to create shelter when suddenly delayed on your hike or trip.


You are in a hostile environment

Meaning the sun, wind, cold, rain, insects etc are inherent threats to us as humans.  We are incredibly distant from this reality with our layers of cloths, insulated structures, air conditioning, heating, and safe drinking water etc.   Out in nature we are far more exposed.  Or in the unfortunate case of a natural disaster we may be cut off from heating, water and even transport- think of hurricanes, tornados, mud slides and wild fires.

How remote do you play and work? photo credit C. Milovich

When you begin to view wilderness in this lens you can realize that it’s rather easy to find ourselves inadvertently in a wilderness context.  This might happen when you are off-roading in jeeps with your friends, sailing offshore, or even traveling abroad.


It’s important to evaluate how accessible help really is where you work and play.  If you think you could find yourself being in situations that meet these 3 criteria, I highly suggest you consider taking at least a WFA class.

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