Wild Rockies Field Institute

Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

Q: Who usually takes a WRFI course?

A: WRFI students have ranged in age from 18 to 72, though the average is around 21 years old. Slightly more than half of our students have been women. Several students have taken more than one WRFI course.

Most people who take WRFI courses are students enrolled at a college or university and take our courses for academic credit. But we also welcome aspiring college students who want to learn the WRFI way before entering university, as well as recent college graduates and graduate students returning to school. Non-students who wish to learn outside of formal academia are also welcome. Many WRFI participants enroll in our courses simply to have an enriching personal experience.
WRFI students come from all majors, and from both large public universities and small private schools across the continent. (See our participating colleges section for a complete list of schools.)

Q: Do I have to be a student?

A: No. Non-students who wish to learn outside of formal academia are also welcome. Many WRFI participants enroll in our courses simply to have an enriching personal experience.

Q: Do I have to take the course for credit?

A: No. Courses have been priced and designed to be taken without receiving college credit. For those wishing college credit through the University of Montana, there is a small additional fee.

Q: How do I apply?

A: To apply for a WRFI course, print out and complete our application form and mail it along with the non-refundable $50 application fee. (See our refund policy.) We are unable to process credit cards, so please send a check or money order.

Each course has an early application deadline and a final application deadline. See the specific course webpage for these deadline dates. We do continue to accept applications after the final deadline on a space-available basis, but we encourage you to apply early to secure your spot. After a course fills, the remaining applicants will be accepted into the course of their second choice.

Once you are accepted into a course, we will send you an information packet, including detailed information about the course and its particular equipment and clothing needs, the curriculum and travel routes, a medical form, an assumption of risk form, and a schedule with pertinent dates.

Your $50 application fee will be applied towards your tuition. To reserve your spot on the course, we require that half the remaining tuition be paid within three weeks of your acceptance. Please e-mail us at wrfi@wrfi.net if you have any questions about the application or the application process.

Q: Can I bring my cell phone?

A: Cell phones are allowed on WRFI courses but not in the backcountry. They don’t work in most areas we visit, and they can interfere in the instruction and purpose of the WRFI experience. You are welcome to bring one for calling friends and family between course sections, but they are expected to be put away again after checking in. Instructors have cellular or satellite phones for emergency situations.

Q: Can I contact my son or daughter during one of your courses?

A: Most of our courses involve at least some time in the frontcountry for activities such as meetings with guest speakers and re-supplying food. We send students a copy of the course itinerary, which includes front-country dates, so you can have your child arrange to call you on one of those dates, if you choose. When possible, mail delivery addresses will be included, as well.

Backcountry Travel and Safety

Q: How safe are your courses?

A: Very. Safety comes first on all of our courses and we take great pride in our impeccable safety record. Backcountry travel does involve some inherent risk, but all of our instructors are experienced backcountry guides certified in wilderness emergency medical response and CPR. At least one instructor on each course must have training at the Wilderness First Responder level (80 hours of training) or better.

Each course also has an emergency evacuation plan, and instructors carry satellite phones for use in the event of an emergency. Our instructors typically call the WRFI office to check in once every week to ten days during a course.

We also provide students with the knowledge and skills to help prevent accidents and travel safely, and expect them to share in the responsibility for both their own safety and that of other group members. Instructors include a safety talk as part of the initial course orientation, covering topics such as accident prevention, common hazards and how to avoid them, and appropriate equipment use.

Q: Do I need previous backpacking or kayaking experience?

A: None of our courses require previous experience in outdoor recreation. Every course includes instruction in all the skills students will need to travel safely, comfortably, and with minimum impact in the backcountry. We send an equipment and clothing list to each student before the course, and instructors check students' gear at the beginning of each course to make sure they all have the proper equipment and clothing. We do recommend that prospective students be in adequate physical condition to meet the physical demands of hiking on mountain trails while carrying a backpack or paddling a kayak for several hours.

Q: Are recreational drugs and alcohol allowed on WRFI course?

A: Alcohol and recreational drugs are grounds for expulsion on all WRFI courses. Alcohol and/or drug use in wilderness settings can cause personal injury and/or compromise the safety of the group. Because safety is our top priority, any student expelled from a course will be sent home immediately at his/her own expense and without a tuition refund.


Q: Do I need to have a background in natural sciences or environmental resources issues?

A: No. A background in natural science and environmental resource issues may be helpful, but it is not essential. The only requirement is that you be in good physical shape, and that you will come to WRFI motivated to learn in a natural setting and with a distinct educational purpose in mind.

Q: How would my son or daughter benefit from a field-based academic experience?

A: Our courses are small. There are never more than 10 students on a course and never more than a 5:1 student to instructor ratio. This way we can offer far more individual attention and greater student/instructor interaction than is possible in many classroom settings.

Students often tell us they learn far more, and better, in the field than in a traditional classroom. Learning is often immediate and hands-on, abstract theory can be linked to concrete examples, and diverse disciplines can be integrated through the in-depth study of a specific issue. Many students find this type of experiential learning to be one of their most profound and lasting educational experiences.

Our courses also help develop leadership and teamwork skills, since each course is a small group whose members depend on each other for everything from stimulating class discussions to tasty camp dinners.

Q: How do I get credit for the course?

A: Every WRFI course has been approved for college credit at/through the University of Montana, and a high percentage of our students take our courses for credit they can use toward their college degrees. WRFI has been offering college credit through the University of Montana for 15 years. WRFI offers 300-level credit in a number of departments, including environmental studies, forestry, geography, Native American studies, resource conservation, and science.

Upon completion of a WRFI course, students receive an official transcript from the University of Montana to transfer the credits back to their home institution. Alternatively, students can arrange credit from their home institution via an independent study program.

To discuss how a WRFI course and/or its credits through the University of Montana can contribute to your undergraduate studies, contact the WRFI office for a course syllabus and share it with your academic advisor. It will cost an additional $135 to $540 for a credit filing fee to receive the credits from the University of Montana.