How do you become an outdoor instructor?

Cumulus Outdoors senior instructor, Jess Gundry explains the different ways you can become an outdoor instructor.

How do you become an outdoor instructor? I get asked this question at least twice a week. The answer? It’s different for everyone.

There are as many different pathways into the outdoor world as there are up a mountain. It’s generally a case of finding which path suits you best.

Do you want to get to the summit as quickly as you can? Or, would you rather take a more gradual route and have some great experiences along the way?

To help you in your journey to becoming an outdoor instructor, i’ve  highlighted the pros and cons of the most common routes into the industry.


The Direct Route – Fast Track Instructor Training Schemes

Attending a Fast Track Instructor Training Scheme is the fastest way to get qualified in a range of activities. These schemes typically last for 3-4 months, with the training taking place through the winter to get you qualified and ready to work the summer season.


  • Get lots of nationally recognised qualifications in various activities
  • Very practical
  • Some schemes include equipment packages to get you all the kit you need to be up and running as an instructor


  • It can be expensive, anywhere between £5000 – £9000+
  • Minimal interaction with groups
  • You might be paying for qualifications you don’t want or need

high ropes instructor

The Educational Route – College/ Uni

Many universities and colleges offer degrees and diplomas in Outdoor Education. Attending a college course straight out of school can set you up nicely to enter your first job in the outdoors or to progress onto university.


  • Gain lots of knowledge in all aspects of the outdoors
  • Social life – you’ll be surrounded by likeminded people who you can share adventures with
  • A degree could help you achieve careers in other related fields such as teaching or management


  • It takes time! It can take 3 – 4 years to complete a degree
  • You might not gain any useful NGB qualifications
  • It may not be a great option for those who are not so academic
bushcraft session in isle of purbeck woodland instructor


The Apprentice Route – Learning on the job

A lot of outdoor companies offer entry level jobs. These can be in the form of apprenticeships, traineeships or an assistant or volunteer role, which allows you to gain experience and qualifications, often whilst being paid. These positions usually come inclusive of accommodation and food, which help keep your outgoings to a minimum.


  • Training courses and qualifications might be paid for by the employer
  • Gain experience on lots of activities with a broad range of customers
  • You can earn as you train


  • Some training might only be recognised by that employer, not throughout the industry
  • The pay for these roles is usually quite low
  • Well paid trainee positions which include Nationally Recognised Qualifications are rare
Cumulus leader instructing on beach safety


Step by Step Route  – Second Job/ Freelancing

Think of this route as being a bit like acclimatising on a big mountain, heading up to Camp 1 then back to base, up to Camp 2, back to base, and so on until you reach the summit. Only the base is your current day job and the camps are various outdoor qualifications. This route into the industry is becoming more and more popular.


  • Get qualifications in the activities you enjoy
  • Do it in your own time and at your own pace
  • Option to freelance for multiple companies


  • Need good time management
  • Can take a while to become fully qualified
  •  Navigating the world of qualifications can be tricky on your own – some companies use their own in-house qualifications, some only recognise NGBs and some require a log book of experience
DofE coasteering experience on the Jurassic Coast