Many outdoor enthusiasts consider themselves to be quite experienced in hiking, backpacking, or camping, and want to take their experience and shift it into an outdoor guide job. As a former guide and guide service business owner, I can tell you that there is more to being an outdoor guide than just experience being outdoors–although certainly, that is the number one most important qualification that a person could have.
To be a guide, you must be a people person. You will meet people from all over the country, maybe the world if you decide to work at a major national park, and you must be able to maintain a friendly level of banter with them for an extended period of time. They may share opposing political or even religious beliefs, and you must continue to interact with them professionally. Be aware that as a guide, you are in the hospitality business, and the customer is the most important thing in that realm. Are you up to the challenge that interacting with strangers on a regular basis may pose?
You must be a science lover. People will be asking you questions about native plants, geology, archaeology, human history, ecosystems, and local legends. You will face a range of questions from your clients at any and all times, and you must be able to communicate the information you know soundly. Be aware that preparing to be a guide also includes reading up on everything from regional field guides to urban legends–and memorizing that information. People hire a guide to be better informed about an area–and of course, for seeing scenery off the beaten path.
You may have to acquire first aid certification. This is a no-brainer, but some people don’t take this into consideration when planning a career as a guide. Almost every outfitter that might hire you will have requirements for guides to have at least a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder and CPR certification. These classes are offered by different companies and organizations all over the U.S. The classes are not cheap, and you may have to travel to take one. But having that certification makes getting a job as a guide much easier, and perhaps will give you an edge over other applicants.
You will have to hike, drive, or camp in the same places, over and over. This also is something that many people wanting to become guides are unaware of. As a guide, you are showing people an area or a skill that you know very well. You don’t really get to free-style an adventure as you might camping or hiking on your own. You will most likely have set routes and areas that are being marketed by the outfitter or guide service for whom you will be working, and there will be no deviation from those places, not ever. This is usually due to two things: the permit by which the company operates, if the service is on public land, and for safety reasons (if you as a guide know the area intimately and are aware of all of its potential danger spots or other places of concerns, that reduces the risk of an accident or injury to a client). If you are easily bored by visiting the same places over and over, being a guide may not be for you.
You might have to live in the middle of nowhere. This is important, as many guide service jobs are in very remote areas of the United States. Sure, you could be a guide around the historic area of your hometown, and that would be great, but to be an outdoor guide, you may have to move to a small town or perhaps even inside the boundaries of a national park. Your access to night life, culture, restaurants, health care, and convenient shopping may be difficult or non-existent. You may have to live in a camping trailer, a crappy rental, or a mobile home. Is this going to work for you in the place where you’d like to guide? It is something to think about.
These are the five main items to think about before transitioning your outdoor experience into a job as an outdoor guide. Of course, there are also some other considerations that may or may not come into play to work as an outdoor guide, depending upon the company that is looking for employees. Drug testing, physical examinations, background checks, a valid driver’s license, and other things like that may also be part of your job search. Also, some companies may require other classes to enhance your outdoor skills–perhaps a stint with an outdoor survival or outdoor leadership school.
If you can parlay your outdoor expertise into a job as an outdoor guide, you will be one of the lucky few who can enjoy this profession.