The qualifications and competence of the Certified Outdoor Leader have been demonstrated, assessed, and evaluated according to minimum standards of acceptable performance for effective outdoor leadership. As described in the classic Wilderness Educator by David Cockrell, this includes:

  • Teaching others how to safely use and enjoy the wilderness with minimum impact;
  • Safely leading others in the wild outdoors, exercising good judgment and decision-making in a variety of outdoor environments and conditions;
  • Demonstrating a basic standard of outdoor knowledge and expertise.

The certification does not infer instructor status (i.e., a COL is not qualified to instruct official WEA courses) nor does it imply any level of competency with terrain-specific skills beyond basic backcountry travel. The COL program is a practical, frontline leadership training process, i.e., the Certified Outdoor Leader has been trained in the WEA model and has demonstrated competence in outdoor leadership (the WEA Educational Components, Judgment, and Decision-making) and is ready to integrate that training with activity-specific skill development (rock climbing, paddlesports, mountaineering, skiing, etc.).

NOTE: This certification is not valid without current medical qualifications appropriate for the specific context and setting where the COL operates.  


The WEA training/assessment experience for this certification should not be the student’s first experience with outdoor leadership in general, but should focus on immersion with the WEA model and evaluating field performance. This is not a casual participant on an outdoor trip, but clearly an experienced leader who is committed to personal growth and development.

The Board of Directors firmly believes that WEA-accredited organizational members (AOM) continue to set the benchmark for training and development en route to WEA certifications - both COL and Certified Outdoor Educator. The accredited organization’s curriculum and operations have been officially recognized for providing students with an exceptional grounding in leadership and teaching, and the accredited program remains the most comprehensive pathway to WEA certification. One of the advantages of WEA Accreditation is the flexibility for curriculum delivery, assessment, and evaluation of the minimum standards associated with the Certified Outdoor Leader. The accredited curriculum integrates the six WEA educational components, Judgment, and Decision-making into the program and assesses these across the program. We will continue to support, promote, and emphasize accreditation as the preferred approach for quality assurance and reliability for the COL.


The Certified Outdoor Leader has progressed through a multi-night WEA training experience, documented professional field experience, and been assessed by the Certified Outdoor Educator (COE) against the time-tested WEA evaluation model to determine competency. This information must be documented via a professional online portfolio.


The certification is valid for an initial period of three years. During that time, the COL must maintain and update their online portfolio and hold current professional membership with the WEA. Other requirements may apply in order to renew the certification. Reminder: The COL credential is not valid without medical training appropriate for the specific context and setting in which the COL is leading. 

Progression to the next level of Certified Outdoor Educator entails accumulating field experience and additional training in instructional design and evaluation (the WEA 10.0 series of outcomes).


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