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Student Outdoor Leadership Experience (S.O.L.E.)

SOLE - An 100+ hour technical and leadership training program.

Want to lead others?

What to learn about outdoor adventure leadership?

Want to have the best job on campus?

You are in the right place.

Student Outdoor Leadership Experience is the most in-depth, long-term outdoor leadership development program on campus.

SOLE is unlike any other course or training program you ever had. The class focuses on learning technical skills like climbing, kayaking, biking, backpacking, and other backcountry travel while simultaneously diving into leadership, communication, teaching, risk management and other skills needed to be an outdoor leader. Each weekend is long and in-depth, so a strong commitment to learning is needed to be successful in this class.


Learn how to: rock climb, whitewater kayak, bikepack, backpack and canoe, then learn how to easily and comfortably take others outside with your leadership and teaching skills.

If you make it through the 100+ hours (over 5 weekends ), you’ll have the skills to join the staff, whether with us or for another outfitter. SOLE is the main way people become adventure trip staff for UTOP.

What past experience do I (you) need?

To join the SOLE course, you should have some outdoor experience, like hiking or paddling with the family, climbing with a high school club team, or being involved with scouts. No in-depth experience is necessary, but you should be ready to be pushed beyond your comfort zone.

You don’t need a lot of experience, but if you have never hiked, or paddled, or biked, then you should wait to take this course.

If you are a really good climber, boater, backpacker, or biker, but you haven’t formally taught or lead groups, this course will still be of benefit to you.

If you have guided before (at a summer camp or with a private outfitter) or have a strong technical background but lack experience teaching, talk with us about whether this course is needed, or if you can just apply to become Outdoor Pursuits trip staff.


Questions? Email Josh Elder at or call 865-974-8261.

You must make all course dates. Weekends will be overnight trips, and last from early Saturday until late Sunday. each trip will have a pretrip meeting the week of, determined by the class’s availability.

  1. December 2-3. Intro Weekend. Sea Kayaking.
  2. January 27 – 28. Backpacking
  3. February 17 – 18. Bikepacking
  4. March 23 – 24. Rock Climbing
  5. April 27 – 28. Whitewater Kayaking

Wilderness Medical Training

March 2-3- Wilderness First Aid (8 hours each day, not overnight)

As a SOLE candidate, you receive a highly discounted rate to attend the Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course.

WFA is required to become a trip leader. Some SOLE candidates already have a WFA or WFR* and do not need to take this course.

*WFA/WFR must be from a nationally recognized provider.  

Mini-Term Training & In-service

If you successfully gained the necessary experiences and skills (through SOLE and on your own time), you may be eligible the staff mini-term training and in-service.

These sessions are in-depth (8-10 hours/day) and build on skills and experiences staff already have.

Some staff attend all three, but many attend just two. If you wish to work Ignite Outdoor freshman orientation trips, you must attend the Ignite Outdoors training.

The following are for those who are specialize in each activity.

  1. Whitewater Kayaking – 4 days
  2. Ignite Outdoors – 2 days
  3. Rock Climbing – 4 days

Course Includes:

  • NOLS Wilderness First Aid (WFA) 16-hour certification course
    *Note: Registration is discounted for the class, but not included in the SOLE course fee.
  • Training in rock climbing, mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, backpacking, navigation, & leadership
  • All equipment
  • All food and camping
  • Transportation to/from training sites
  • Instruction from the professional staff with over 20+ years of experience.

The cost for this 100+ hour training course.

  • Total Course Cost: $170

Where does SOLE take place?

SOLE happens a little bit on campus, but most of it is in the wilderness.

Weekend technical training trips are on the rivers, cliffs, and trails throughout Tennessee.

As a SOLE student, you will work with the professional staff and current student trip leaders to plan 1 of the 5 weekend courses.

Applications are open from Sept 1- Sept 25.

Apply Here.

We enroll up to 12 students in SOLE each year.

If you have guiding experience and a WFA or WFR, and you want to lead trips for us, you may not need to take this entire course. Contact us at to send us your resume and let us know your experience.

Most likely not. There is no makeup session, and we don’t have time to get you caught up. You are welcome to apply still and let us know what date(s) you can’t make.

Zero. We heard most candidates would prefer to not take the course for credit. No credit is given for this course.

You need to be comfortable outside. You should spend some amount of time moving around in nature, and ahve a desire to learn more. We prefer candidates with some experience in one of these activities (biking, climbing, paddling etc..), but if you are willing to do the work, then let’s chat. If you have little to no experience, go on trips for a semester or two and then apply!

Zero. Yup. Zero. If you have some certs, cool! Icing on the cake, but you don’t need any. Through SOLE, you’ll take a 16 hour national recognized NOLS Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course so you’ll end up with at least one + rad first-hand knowledge and experience.