Guide to Adventure Training Courses & Instructor Qualifications

Newcomers to the adventure industry often ask us about which courses they need to take in order to train, develop their career and improve their chances of employment. While the is often no set route, and many different ways to better your skills or achieve a recognised qualification that will look great on your CV, each sport does have what is known as a National Governing Body. We talk more about the various layers of organisation that go into outdoor instructor qualifications in this article from last year. But in the following article, we want to take each sport or activity, and look at who governs it, what skills and training courses are on offer, which instructor qualifications you should take, and roughly how much you should expect to pay for each course. Prices are offered as a guide only.

paddlesport section

Canoe, Kayak, Rafting

In the UK we are blessed with fantastic access to a wide range of water types, which have allowed the sport to develop in many directions, and means you have the opportunity to develop your skills on the water type to suit your level.

Paddlesport Courses

climbing and mountaineering section

Walking, Climbing & Mountaineering

The British Mountaineering Council oversee the development of walking, climbing and mountaineering through Mountain Training UK, the body set up to deliver professional development courses and qualifications.

Climbing Courses

mountain biking section

Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking in the UK falls under the control of the body known as British Cycling. They have their own instructor leadership award but unlike a lot of sports, holding the NGB award is not the only option for people looking to get qualified to teach.

Mountain Bike Courses

paddlesport courses

Paddlesports Instructor Qualification Courses

The National Governing Body for Paddlesports in the UK is the British Canoe Union (BCU). The BCU acts as an umbrella body for Canoe England, the Scottish Canoe Association, Canoe Wales and the Canoe Association of Northern Ireland. In order to improve your own paddling skills, or to safely teach other people how to enjoy canoeing, or even coach others so that they can also begin teaching and instructing, you need to be trained and assessed in a number of BCU approved courses. We will split the courses into skills courses and qualification courses, though you will often find that in order to achieve some qualification courses, you will need to have passed one or more of the skills courses as pre-requisites!

bcu star awards

1*, 2*, 3* Performance Awards
The first set of star awards are designed for beginners or intermediate paddlers. They assess individual paddlesport skills and aim to develop your experience. The 3* award is discipline specific meaning you choose the boat type you are interested in (Seak Kayak, Open canoe, etc) and where the first two are flat water awards, the 3* introduces you to moderate water.
Skill Level: Beginner | Intermediate
Course cost about: £150

foundation safety and rescue

Foundation Safety and Rescue Training
A great safety course designed for all paddlers who plan to operate in sheltered water. If you plan to work through the star awards you will soon need to take the white water safety and rescue course - this foundation course will give you the basics and set you up well for the more comprehensive course.
Skill Level: Beginner | Intermediate
Course cost about: £100

bcu star leader

4*, 5* Leader Awards
The leader awards are disclipline specific and the training usually last about three or four days, and the assessment, two or three days. The pre-requisite for the white water kayak and open canoe assessment is the White Water Safety and Rescue awards (see below). For Sea Kayakers, the BCU Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning course is a must have.
Skill Level: Intermediate | Advanced
Course cost about: £320

bcu white water rescue

White Water Safety and Rescue Training
Technically this is a course required for those wishing to take the 4* Leader Award, but really it should be high on the list for any white water paddler as it covers all the safety skills for paddling up to Grade 3 water.
Skill Level: Beginner | Intermediate
Course cost about: £200

bcu advanced white water rescue

Advanced White Water Safety and Rescue Training
An upgrade to the previous skills course and a requirement for the 5* leader award, this course covers safety on water from Grade 3 and above, for kayaks and canoes.
Skill Level: Intermediate | Advanced
Course cost about: £200

coastal navigation

Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning
As a sea kayaker, you need to know how to safely plan trips along the UK coast and how the tides will affect you. A requirement for the 4* leader award but useful for anyone planning to enjoy sea kayaking safely.
Skill Level: Beginner | Intermediate
Course cost about: £70

tidal navigation

Open Water Navigation and Tidal Planning
This is a course for sea kayakers at 5* level, who plan to venture out into more open water.
Skill Level: Intermediate | Advanced
Course cost about: £80

bcu level1 open canoe

Level 1 Coaching Paddlesport
The level one coach qualification is designed for those who wish to be able to plan and deliver paddlesport taster sessions, introducing basic skills in a flat water environment, under supervision of a more highly qualified coach. You qualify to teach people in any boat discipline. Requirement for this first level coaching award include the foundation safety and rescue award and the 2* award (see above).

Level 1 is ideal for people who want to get started in coaching and will look great on your CV if you are applying to work at a multi activity centre that has one or more types of paddlesport on offer.
Instructor Level: Beginner
Course cost about: £300

bcu level 2 kayaking

Level 2 Coaching Paddlesport
To further your coaching career you need to move on to the level 2 qualification. Pre-requisites include the level 1 qualification, a relevant first aid course of six hours minimum and the 3 star award in any discipline. Unlike the first level, as of 1st January 2014, you are now able to take the assessment in a canoe, a kayak, or both. The training, however, will still cover all disciplines.
Instructor Level: Intermediate
Course cost about: £300

bcu raft guide

Raft Guide Level 1-3
The basic raft guide qualification (level 1) allows you to train anywhere, but the assessment has to be taken on the river where you are going to be acting as a guide. In order to be able to work on any river you need to qualify to guide at level 1 on three different rivers, before taking the level 2 training and assessment. After two more years of guiding, you will be able to move up to level 3, where you can lead multi day trips and look after more than one boat.
Instructor Level: Beginner | Intermediate
Course cost about: £500

climbing courses

Walking Courses

Mountain Training UK's skills courses and instructor qualifications can be divided into three main sections: walking, climbing and mountaineering. If you plan to take people on walks or climbs in lowland or upland areas of the UK or further afield, you will need to pass some of the following instructor courses.

lowland walking leader

Lowland Leader Award
This basic award is for people who wish to take groups on walks along footpaths and trails in lowland areas of the UK. The award is aimed at people who may be taking responsibility for school or youth groups, or those involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme.
Instructor Level: Beginner
Course cost about: £300

basic expedition leaders

Basic Expedition Leadership
A popular course for people new to ourdoor adventure leadership. Qualifies your to lead groups of walkers in lowland areas, including overnight camps. Find out more about this award.
Instructor Level: Beginner
Course cost about: £400

moorland walking leader

Hill & Moorland Leader
This was the old Walking Group Leader qualification, which was the previous base level from Mountain Training. Fairly similar in scope to the newer Lowland qualification, including the teaching of group management skills. This award trains you to cope with more exposed terrain and includes provision for camping skills and adverse weather conditions (though not winter conditions).
Instructor Level: Beginner | Intermediate
Course cost about: £400

mountain leader

Mountain Leader
The Mountain Leader Award has long been a popular goal for people who wish to build a career in this area of outdoor education. Qualified Mountain Leaders can take groups into the UK mountains, in non winter conditions. Climbing should only be undertaken where there is no requirement for fixed ropes.
Instructor Level: Intermediate
Course cost about: £650

winter mountain leader

Winter Mountain Leader
The winter version of this award is a sigificant step up from the basic mountain leader award, rather than just the same course taken in a different season. By the time you qualify for the MLW, you will be in a position to move on to the Mountaineering section below.
Instructor Level: Intermediate | Advanced
Course cost about: £650

Climbing Courses

You will find more climbing skills courses than we can possibly cover in this article, all designed to take you from an introduction to the basic techniques of climbing on rock, through to learning how to lead climb with the use of belays, and protection. All of these courses will help you improve your skills and make you a better climber when it comes to instructing others.

climbing wall award

Climbing Wall Award
This qualification is ideal for people who are aiming to work on artificial rock, usually indoors. The award is designed to enable you to teach people safe climbing techniques and optionally, abseiling. A popular choice for people working at multi activity centres or purpose built climbing walls.
Instructor Level: Beginner
Course cost about: £260

single pitch award

Single Pitch Award
Single pitch climbing involves getting up a rock, boulder or artificial wall, where just a single rope is required to complete the climb. If you plan to instruct and supervise people single pitch climbs, then this award is what you require. Probably the most popular climbing awards for those looking to start teaching the sport.
Instructor Level: Beginner
Course cost about: £280

climbing coach award scheme

Climbing Coach Award Scheme
Once upon a time, you were seen as likely to be a good coach if your climbing skills were impressive. Since October 2013, Mountain Training has tried to bring in a registration scheme by launching a coaching qualification, offering three levels (foundation, development, performance) of achievement. These climbing coach qualifications will allow you to offer industry recognised standard of climbing tuition. Definitely worth further investigation if you plan to teach climbing.
Instructor Level: Intermediate | Advanced
Course cost about: £120

Mountaineering Qualifications

You don't just wake up one day and decided to become a mountaineer. Well, maybe you do, but you certainly don't achieve it without dedicating your life to it. The following qualifications are designed for those who are serious about becoming mountain guides and who already have a lot of experience of mountaineering.

international mountain leader

International Mountain Leader
This award follows on from the Mountain Leader scheme (see above) and allows you to lead people in snow conditions, on what is described as Nordic type terrain. That is to say, not including Alpine terrain or galciers. You need to log quality mountain days in winter and summer conditions, both in the UK and internatioanlly. And you may choose whether to take it as a summer, or a more in-depth winter award.
Instructor Level: Advanced

mountain instructor award

Mountaineering Instructor Award
Working in summer conditions, you will learn to instruct people in multi-pitch rock climbing and other mountain climbing skills. You will require a first aid certificate (obviously), the Mountain Leader Award (see the walking section above) and a logbook demonstrating achievement of twenty quality mountain days. For an exact definition of what counts as a QMD, see the Mountain Training website, but in a nutshell, you should be out for upwards of five hours, you should be needing to navigate off marked paths, safety is taken into consideration, you encounter at least one decent peak, and above all you can demonstrate that you have improved your knowledge.
Instructor Level: Advanced

mountain instructor certificate

Mountaineering Instructor Certificate
This qualification includes winter and ice conditions and requires you to have logged some serious climbs. We had course to speak to a few people who hold this award, and apart from perhaps the guys who hold the Cave Instructor Certificate, we struggle to think of anything more hardcore.
Instructor Level: Advanced

mountain biking courses

Mountain Bike Qualifications

Mountain Biking is an incredibly popular sport in the UK, largely due to easy access most of us have to suitable areas of countryside, plus the relatively cheap cost of owning a mountain bike. But if you want to make some money from your hobby in the form of teaching others, then you need to look at one of the recognised instructor qualifications. With Mountain Biking, you have the choice of a few different routes into instructing. We will list the most popular below.

mountain bike leadership award

Mountain Bike Leadership Award
The newest award and probably already the industry standard, though it is still pushed hard by the MIAS qualification. Takes about three days to complete the training and take the assessment, after which you will be lead groups of mountain bikers in non winter conditions below about 600 meters. This is an AALA recognised award, for those of you planning to teach at an activity centre.
Course cost about: £200

mountain bike instructor scheme

Mountain Bike Instructors Award Scheme
MIAS is pretty similar to the MBLA leadership award, though split into six different level of competency. This instructor award is approved by the CTC and is still holds up well against its newer rival.
Course cost about: £200

ctc skills instructor qualification

MTB Skills Instructor
The CTC offer this qualification course to develop riders capable of working as professionals to instruct riders all abilities. With 70,000 members and a long established history, although this is not one of the more popular mountain bike instructor courses on offer, it is still well regarded.
Course cost about: £350