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Outdoor Instructor Training - How to Choose Your Pathway to Adventure

An outdoor instructor training group is in a cave, dressed in red caving suits and helmets with head torches, gathered around their trainer and listening to their instructions.

Today, we are discussing a few important factors when picking an outdoor instructor training pathway. Your career goals, timeline, location and financial picture are practical considerations that help you get the most effective training and in-demand qualifications to progress your professional prospects.

Why is outdoor instructor training important?

A career in the outdoors is rewarding, fast-paced and filled with opportunities to connect with others and share your skills and knowledge. As a successful instructor, you need the correct training to lead outdoor activities and manage unexpected events. A training route that provides you with the industry-standard qualifications and interpersonal skills you need is a key step in your journey.

4 questions to ask yourself about instructor training:

  1. What are your career goals?

  2. How much time do you have?

  3. Where would you like to train?

  4. What is your financial picture?

Another point to consider includes your learning style. How you learn will impact your instructor training experience; it is good to be honest about things like self-led study, preparation for assessments and exams, and whether you are a hands-on or theoretical learner. Once you have thought about these things, you can narrow your search for your ideal outdoor activity training pathway.

Career goals in the outdoor industry - what are yours?

That is a question that can be a struggle to answer. Fortunately, there are different pathways to suit different professional aspirations. Would you like to be an on-the-go freelancer, roving about with the seasons and enjoying the variety? Or does the blend of stability and long-term connection of full-time employment suit better?

Either way, think about where you want to be in the future and what sort of lifestyle will support that goal. For example, if you want to get out instructing as soon as possible, the hands-on and time-efficient approach of fast-track intensive outdoor instructor training programs can get you working within a year. Or perhaps you are interested in the theory behind outdoor education and development; in this case, university could provide the foundation in the outdoor industry that you are looking for.

Time (and place) is of the essence

A person with long hair tied back, dressed in black trousers and a blue shirt with a large rucksack on their back, is standing on a hill facing away from the camera. They are looking at a very pretty scene of a valley filled with mist while on an excursion for their outdoor instructor training course.

An exciting thing about this decision is that there are a range of outdoor training providers around the UK that offer a variety of courses. As a result, it is a fantastic opportunity to explore new places and create connections. However, it does bring to light another factor in your decision - how much time do you have to commit to training? Not to mention that training providers may be in a different part of the country to you, which brings additional considerations.

6 questions to ask yourself about training locations and time commitments:

  1. Are you planning on working while training?

  2. How much time are you able to commit to training excursions?

  3. Will exams and assessments conflict with work?

  4. Will you need to relocate?

  5. What are the accommodation options and costs?

  6. If you relocate, how will that influence your post-training plans?

Maybe you want to get qualifications quickly or are looking to spend several years in deep study. Depending on your goals, considering these questions will help you find a realistic balance between pushing your boundaries and managing practical life necessities.

How much does outdoor instructor training cost?

This is perhaps one of the top considerations for many people choosing a training route. Some pricing models for providers (subject to eligibility) include:

  • All-inclusive one-off fee

  • Initial deposit with an instalment plan

  • Base price with other options for an additional fee

  • Eligibility for Adult Learner Loans

  • University-assisted funding, where applicable

Prices for fast-track intensive courses can start from around £5,000, but read the fine print so you know what you will get for that price. University courses will be more expensive, in line with current tuition fees. Additions like food and accommodation, excursions, extra assessments or qualifications can add further costs.

Your main points to consider financially include:

  • Overall cost

  • What is included

  • How long you will be carrying the cost (for example, if you need a loan or will be relocating long-term)

  • Your available financial resources

There may be other things you would also like to consider regarding expenses, but this is a good starting point to check your financial circumstances and how that can support your journey.

What are your instructor training options?

Nine different coloured kayaks are lined up in a row on a river. One paddler is standing up and attempting to run across them in a team-building exercise during their outdoor instructor training course. The paddlers that are sitting down are holding each other’s kayaks to stay in line while he runs across. They are wearing orange buoyancy aids and helmets in different colours.

We have considered career goals, time expectations, location and financial circumstances. Now, we will get to the stuff you are really here for.

There are currently three pathways to becoming an outdoor instructor. These are university programs, apprenticeships, and accelerated outdoor instructor training programs. Each route has its benefits and considerations.

University outdoor education programs

The most time-intensive option on our list, university programs are typically delivered over three years of full-time study and have nationally set academic requirements for entry. You will achieve a degree and have a general working knowledge of the outdoor industry and instruction theory.

However, there is less focus on achieving national governing body qualifications in specific activities. To work as an outdoor instructor, you may need time during or after your degree to pursue your national governing body qualifications.

University outdoor education programs are perfect for you if:

  • Your career goal includes business management and/or ownership

  • You enjoy academic-style studying and assessment

  • You want to spend an extended time immersed in your studies

Something to consider is that a limited number of universities offer outdoor education programs, so there is a chance that you will need to relocate and shoulder the related costs.

University outdoor education programs may not suit you if:

  • It is too big of a relocation

  • You are a hands-on learner

  • It is too long of a time commitment

  • You want to work as an outdoor instructor soon

Outdoor activity apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are less of a time commitment than a university program, and you can earn an income while training. They last for one year and the employer sets the entry requirements. It is practical, hands-on training, and you will hold several national governing body qualifications when you have finished.

Apprentices also often interview with their training provider for a job at the end of their training. However, the apprenticeship role can become repetitive and won’t always relate to instruction. You may be helping with site jobs and temporarily covering different roles within the business such as reception duties. You also need to split your attention between work commitments, self-led study and excursions.

Outdoor activity apprenticeships are perfect for you if:

  • You are happy learning on the job

  • You can commit to a year of training

  • You want to earn an income while training

However, an apprenticeship wage can be low depending on your financial circumstances, and you may have to arrange your accommodation if you need to relocate for the position.

Outdoor activity apprenticeships may not suit you if:

  • You would prefer to focus completely on your studies

  • The financial and time considerations may interfere with your ability to undertake additional training or trips

  • You would prefer to finish your training quickly with a known number of qualifications

Accelerated outdoor instructor training programs

An outdoor instructor trainer is crouched on a wooden abseiling platform with a trainee instructor. The trainer is wearing a blue Mendip shirt, grey trousers and white climbing helmet. The trainee is wearing a blue Mendip waterproof jacket, black trousers and a back climbing helmet. The trainer is demonstrating how to set up anchors and ropes for abseiling down a cliff face.

You can think of accelerated outdoor instructor training programs, also known as AOIT courses, as a fast track to your career goals. Typically delivered over four months, you will leave with a portfolio of national governing body qualifications and a great network of outdoor professional contacts. The course provider sets the entry requirements, and there is often the opportunity for an interview with the company when you’ve completed the course. It’s a great way to fully commit to your training and immerse yourself in the experience with a great group of people.

Accelerated outdoor instructor training programs are perfect for you if:

  • You want to maximise your time and focus wholly on your training

  • You want to work as an instructor sooner rather than later

  • You don’t want to worry about disrupting your life with long-term expenses or relocation

Instructor training courses are an opportunity to gain all the qualifications you need to hit the ground running. Make sure you do your research as each provider offers different course content and accommodation options.

Most AOITs will offer, to varying degrees and costs:

  • 10+ national governing body qualifications

  • Training and excursions

  • Assessments

  • Accommodation

  • Food

  • Optional equipment packages

  • Interview opportunities

Look at the qualifications you will gain through the course to make sure they align with your career goals. It is also good to look for any additional or hidden costs associated with food and board, equipment, excursions and optional training units and assessments.

Have you checked out the Mendip Accelerated Outdoor Instructor Training program yet?

We have to admit, we think our AOIT program is one of the best in the country, a great example of what an outdoor activity training program can be. One up-front fee covers everything you need for the 4-month program, including training, assessments, trips, food and accommodation.

Highly experienced, knowledgeable trainers and staff will guide you through the course and you’ll walk away with 20 national governing body qualifications to start your journey as an 

outdoor instructor. And we haven’t even mentioned the ski trip yet!

What’s included in Mendip’s Outdoor Instructor Training program?

  • 20 courses and qualifications

  • Fully catered accommodation

  • Training trips and expeditions to National Parks

  • Ski trip in Europe

  • Unlimited shadowing

  • Contracts available

UK activity qualifications are highly respected around the world. Outdoor instructor training providers here are fortunate enough to have access to a wide variety of experienced industry leaders and training environments within a relatively compact area.

When we designed our program, we wanted to make the most of the expertise and natural environments that would most benefit future outdoor instructors. Participants on our AOIT courses speak highly of their learning experiences, and we are proud of their progressions and achievements. Graduates have launched businesses, work freelance and have joined outdoor activity centres worldwide, including in countries close to home like Wales, Scotland and England, and further afield, such as Spain, Norway, Canada and New Zealand.

"Being part of Mendip's intensive training course has quite literally changed my life."

Ready to get started?

Dive into your research and check out our handy comparison table below. You can find out about our Accelerated Outdoor Instructor Training program here so you know what to expect.

We hope this has helped you figure out the best path for you, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have. We wish you all the best on your path to an adventurous career.

Compare your outdoor instructor training options - university vs. apprenticeships vs. AOIT





£11,000 for Mendip's AOIT course covers everything

Approximately £30, 000 for 3 years, covering tuition and living expenses

Earn around £13,000 in a year, with living expenses around £10,000 a year


18 weeks

3 Years

1 Year


Full instructor wage at end of course

May need to spend additional time getting national governing body qualifications after completing your 3 year degree

Potential for full instructor wage at the end of the 12 months


100% of your time is dedicated to training

Courses vary but around 20% of the course content is practical and the rest is academic

Approximately 10% of your time is spent on college work, 30% on training, and 60% working at an activity centre performing site jobs


Mendip's course fee includes accommodation, catering and excursions but not all providers do, so make sure to check the details when choosing your course

You will need to arrange and pay for living expenses and some (or all) excursions

Provisions of accommodation, catering and excursions varies by provider so check the details when you are considering your options


Apply to your chosen university through UCAS

Apply directly with the provider. It can be highly competitive, with around 100 spaces for 5 or 6 jobs


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