Academic Program

The Center for Outdoor Studies is proud to offer a concentration in Applied Risk Management and Backcountry Leadership.

Applied Risk Management and Backcountry Leadership (Concentration)

In a synthesis of traditional classroom and experiential learning, this program provides students with the core knowledge and skills to lead backcountry trips. Students in the program will gain an understanding of risk assessment, decision making, minimizing impact, problem solving, and caring backcountry leadership. Field-based training and experience are crucial in gaining a mastery of the requisite skills associated with backpacking, whitewater paddling, and rock craft. As such, excursions to local rivers, trails, and climbing areas play a significant role in the program. Throughout the coursework, students will research, train, receive feedback, and reflect as they work to integrate the technical, interpersonal, and judgment skills vital to successful backcountry leadership. (16-18 total credits)

Required Courses (15 credits)

  • CFOS 100: Foundations of Risk Management and Backcountry Leadership (3 credits)
  • CFOS 200: Intro to Adventure Sports (3 credits)
  • Two courses chosen from the following (6 credits):
    • CFOS 301: Long Distance Hiking
    • CFOS 302: Intermediate Whitewater Paddling
    • CFOS 303: Intermediate Rock Craft
  • CFOS 400 provides the Capstone Experience in Applied Risk Management and Leadership (3 credits)

Additional Requirement: Students in the Program are required to complete a wilderness first aid or responder certification (1-3 credits).

I’m Interested: Where Do I Begin?

  • Students who want to complete the concentration start here, by enrolling in CFOS 100 (course description below). CFOS 100 is being offered in Fall ’24 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30pm-2:50pm.
  • Ask us questions! Shoot us an email and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about the program. We’re always open to phone calls and Zoom meetings, too.
  • Talk to your advisor. Your academic advisor will have more information on the program and can help you register for CFOS 100.

 Course Descriptions

CFOS 100: Foundations of Backcountry Leadership and Risk Management

The course covers fundamental backcountry skills and topics, including the ethical principles of Leave No Trace, decision making, backcountry kitchen safety, backcountry lifeguarding, weather, navigation, and group management. This course supports students with an interest in outdoor recreation and prepares them for further experiences in guiding and leadership. The course will be taught in a classroom/workshop setting with excursions to the Bartlett-Crowe Field Station mixed into the curriculum. 3 credit hours

*This course is required for E&H backcountry trip leader jobs.

Textbook for CFOS 100

CFOS 200: Introduction to Adventure Sports

Through an introduction to the adventure sport disciplines of backpacking, whitewater paddling, and rock climbing, this course places backcountry risk management in experiential context. This course provides a skills-oriented experience with class regularly venturing to local rivers, trails, and climbing areas. Lectures and skills instruction associated with each discipline are scaffolded to support beginners and to encourage a safe and lifelong relationship with the outdoor recreation. Class will meet in the Outdoor Center, the campus pool, and various off-campus programming areas. 3 credit hours

Pre-requisite: The Completion of CFOS 100 with a C or better.
*This course is required for E&H backcountry trip leader jobs.

CFOS 301: Long-Distance Backpacking

In this seven-week course, students engage in intensive training in preparation for hiking the Appalachian Trail. The coursework consists of in-depth instruction of long-distance backpacking topics and skills, including the history and key figures of the Appalachian Trail, risk assessment and safety, Leave No Trace ethics, footwear, layering systems, backcountry cooking, navigation, logistics management, nutrition, and problem-solving. 3 credit hours.

*This course is exclusively for Semester-A-Trail students.

CFOS 302 Intermediate Whitewater Paddling

This course supports students with a significant interest in advancing skill and technique in whitewater kayaking and rafting, preparing them for further experiences in guiding and leadership. Participants will paddle class I, II, and III whitewater and engage in a variety of topics and skills instruction, including the history and key figures of whitewater paddling, river rescue, reading whitewater, river running skills, decision making, group management, weather considerations, and driving and loading vehicles. The course will be taught in a classroom/workshop setting, in the campus pool, and with excursions to local lakes and rivers. 3 credit hours.

Pre-requisites: CFOS 200 with a grade of C or better
Additional Requirements: Wilderness First Aid Certification or higher.
*This course is required for whitewater trip leaders.

CFOS 303: Intermediate Rock Craft

This course focuses on the intermediate aspects of single-pitch rock climbing and provides hands-on instruction and practice in managing risk in climbing sports. The coursework covers a variety of rock craft topics and skills, including the history and key figures of climbing, climbing gear, indoor/outdoor bouldering, knot fluency, belaying, top-roping, sport climbing, anchors, traditional lead climbing, rappelling/lowering, and body movement. 3 credit hours

Pre-requisites: CFOS 200 with a grade of C or better
Additional Requirements: Wilderness First Aid Certificate or higher medical training.
*This course is required for E&H rock climbing trip leaders.

CFOS 400: Capstone in Applied Risk Management and Backcountry Leadership

Working closely with the staff of the Center for Outdoor Studies, students in this course will research, plan, market, and implement an adventure-based trip or program. In a final, comprehensive presentation, students will articulate their personal philosophy on backcountry leadership. To inform the presentation, students will conduct research in their chosen adventure discipline, focusing on contemporary issues in the field with topics including social justice, land management, ethics, options for further education in the field, and career opportunities. 3 Credit hours.

Pre-requisites: Two of the following with a grade of C or better: CFOS 301, CFOS 302, or CFOS 303
Additional requirements: Current Wilderness First Aid or higher certification.


  • This information is effective using the most recent Academic Catalog for more detailed course descriptions you can view the Academic Catalog here.