Navigating your way around choosing your first aid course provider can, though it shouldn’t, be a daunting task. There’s a huge array of providers, awarding bodies, and authorities around to choose from and hopefully, this article will give you some pause for thought before you splash your hard-earned cash.

The first thing to get straight before choosing your provider is why do I want to do the course? Is it because I have to, to fulfill a requirement of working in a particular field (pun intended) or to achieve or comply with the requirements of a National Governing Body? This is the tick the box reason.

If it’s the tick the box reason then find the cheapest, most convenient course, most likely to be a first aid course outdoors rather than an outdoor first aid course, and yes there is or should be a significant difference between the two, and get your box ticked. That simple. You may cease reading now.

However, I’d like to think that the majority of people looking for a first aid course suitable for working and playing in the outdoors want to take it for more noble reasons. To be in the prime position to help save lives when misfortune befalls you, a member of your party, or just an absolute stranger.

Choosing your provider to ensure the best of training from the best of instructors can be a minefield but let us help you navigate a path through it.

How difficult is it to become an “Outdoors” first aid instructor?

The shocking fact is that it isn’t. For many awarding authorities who oversee qualifications, anyone can become a first aid instructor and subsequently an outdoor first aid instructor. There has been a huge growth in traditional first aid at work instructors becoming providers of outdoor first aid courses of late. It’s seen very much as an evolving market and the only pre-requisite to delivering these courses is for the instructor to pay for attendance on one of their awarding authorities outdoor first aid courses and then pay for a presentation pack to deliver it. There’s no need to be an outdoors person or have experience of the challenges that providing medical aid outdoors brings. An instant expert if you like.

There are some course providers who differ mind you.


Scan through Facebook pages and you’ll see lots of people looking for a REC course. But which one?

Remote Emergency Care or Rescue Emergency Care both advertise as REC courses. To become an instructor in these there is NO requirement to have ANY prior experience in the outdoors nor is there even any requirement to hold a recognised teaching qualification [1][2].*

*Addendum – 18/09/2020.

Following the publication of this article I have spoken at length with Dave Preece, Rescue Emergency Care Training and QA Advisor.  All Rescue Emergency Care instructors are required to undertake teaching and assessment modules as part of their instructor training in order to deliver the Rescue Emergency Care courses. This process begins during their four-day instructor course but must be completed prior to them delivering courses.

In essence, it means that there is NO guarantee that you are getting training any better than an indoor first aid instructor teaching first aid outdoors. Seeking out a course just because it has a REC tag attached to it is pretty meaningless. Similarly, ITC, Nuco, QA, be they OFQUAL regulated, Level 3 or Level 4 are all offering the same thing, or are they?

You need to look for more.

At last a change?

Concerns around the quality of first aid courses and those teaching them to outdoors professionals have actually been brewing for quite a while and some might say are coming to a head now. The Institute for Outdoor Learning has spent seven years looking into the provision of outdoor courses and their current 2020 document, Outdoor First Aid Training – Institute for Learning Statement of Good Practice, is rightly seen by professional outdoor first aid providers as the “bible” of standards. Many NGB’s have reviewed and supported the content and, perhaps even more telling, the British Association of International Mountain Leaders has actually issued a statement advising that some outdoors first aid courses will no longer be accepted by them as an organisation as they don’t meet this standard. [3] There is definitely a grassroots swelling of opinion that other NGB’s may well follow suit.

The actual document is good reading and can be accessed here.

The guidelines make it clear that it’s not just the content of an outdoor first aid course that is important. Most outdoor first aid courses will follow a similar syllabus, good course providers will tailor it to suit the client group, but the trainer’s experience, current competence, and knowledge are equally important, if not more so, and that has been fully acknowledged in the statement of good practice.

So how do I choose a course?

An instructor in first aid can deliver a course having never actually dealt with a casualty. Just stop and think about that for a moment.

In any course, you do you wouldn’t choose it without knowing that the instructor has relevant and current experience would you? You wouldn’t pick a sailing instructor that doesn’t actually sail or a climbing instructor that hasn’t physically climbed anything or last did so twenty years ago. Why on earth would you choose to learn lifesaving skills from someone that’s never put what they are training into practice?

1 – Check with your course provider and ask them about their instructors, ask them about their policies around who delivers their courses, do they have a CPD policy in place, who will be delivering your course? Ask for their background. Do your own due diligence.

Poor instruction through lacking knowledge is everywhere but you only have to look on some of the first aid instructor forums to see how bad it can be. Trust me on that.

2 – The course content, does it cover what you need. Does it look at diversity from open fractures, wilderness protocols, and inclement weather to ticks, lightning strikes and improvising splints?

3 – Is there a proper practical element? Do they have the equipment for you to actually get hands-on and practice with or is it a show and tell?

4 – Will you be trained outside as well as in? Outdoor first aid courses need an element of outdoor training. Learning how to insulate a casualty from the elements while delivering treatment cannot be replicated in the warmth of a classroom.

5 – Will the course be accepted by your NGB/Employer? Check beforehand. Ask the question. Not sure? Ask your NGB/Employer directly. You don’t want to spend money and submit your certificate only to be told it’s not recognised.

The days of blindly going with a “big name” as a guarantee of the quality of training are no more.  Antiquated practices, out of date content, and downright dangerous teaching are still out there but there is hope. Elements such as guidance, an ever-increasing availability of CPD for instructors, and NGB’s no longer accepting substandard courses will undoubtedly be an improvement in the long term but it will take time.

In order to deliver our Adventurous Activities Outdoor First Aid Course an instructor has to possess

  • A recognised teaching qualification covering both teaching and assessing
  • An Internal Quality Assurance qualification
  • A current qualification above the standard of HSE 3 day first aid at work i.e. FREC3, MIRA, EMT, or similar
  • A current portfolio of outdoors experience in a professional/responsible capacity i.e. Mountain Leader/Cadet Leader
  • A current portfolio of involvement with the delivering of pre-hospital care i.e. Medical staff/First responder/Events first aider
  • An ongoing portfolio of CPD related to both the outdoors and pre-hospital medical care

Only with that do we feel that an instructor has the well-rounded knowledge, skills, experience, and ability to deliver a course that complies fully with the current guidelines and has been confirmed by the Institute of Outdoor Learning as being aligned with their guidance. If in doubt, just look for the badge.

Craig A.Borthwick FRGS FRZS MInstLM