Why choose Montana Wilderness School?

There are many great outdoor education schools in the United States, but a few details that set us apart include: our commitment to providing scholarship opportunities, the fact that our school is more locally-based and is highly committed to Montana conservation, our goal of providing students with opportunities to receive a Wilderness First Aid Certification, and a small team that can work closely together to provide your student with the best experience possible.

Who can go on an MWS expedition?

MWS course expeditions are open to all students who are 14-18 years of age. Our program is intended for Montana youth, but we have had students enroll from out of state, or internationally, as well.

MWS is not a wilderness therapy program. MWS does not enroll students with chronic substance abuse problems or serious mental health issues that require on-going one-on-one supervision.

How does MWS deal with risk-management?

Risk-management is our number one priority. All our instructors are experienced and highly trained, and have a Wilderness First Responder or Wilderness EMT Certification. Instructors leading water courses also have a Swift Water Rescue certification. Additionally, our field staff carry extensive first aid kits and communication devices in case of a medical emergency requiring outside assistance.

It is still important to recognize that there remains a certain degree of risk traveling in the backcountry, as this is the nature of an outdoor expedition. MWS emphasizes perceived risk activities as much as possible over actual risk through professional trainings, experienced decision making, and policies developed for these situations.

How difficult are MWS courses?

Students do not need previous experience in backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, pack rafting, or canoeing.

We look for students who are motivated and excited for their course. All students should be able to carry a 50-pound backpack and walk moderate distances over uneven terrain.

What does an expedition look like?

Due to permitting and instructor/student rations, our group size is typically 8-10 students with 2-3 instructors. Courses range from 10-21 days in length and include co-ed and all women’s courses. Students will focus on one or two technical aspects during course (such as paddling or climbing), in addition to learning about decision-making, land conservation, leadership styles and Montana-based ecology. For information about the different stages of an expedition please visit our Expedition Life page under our Resources tab.

What should my child bring? Do we need gear?

MWS will send you a gear and clothing list prior to expedition. We have all technical and camping gear that students will need for their expedition. Our packing list will go into detail about clothing and boots, and we are often able to provide these items if you are unable to find or purchase them.

Can I send my child mail? Can I call them?

Yes, we encourage mail, but no food please (due to bears). As part of immersing students in the wilderness, they will be disconnected and will not have access to their phones/electronics until after the course. While this can be difficult, we believe that students benefit from this unique opportunity to be closer to nature and more in tune with their community.

Our staff will have access to communication devices in case of an emergency while in the field.

If I arrive from out of state/country, when should my child arrive?

We suggest your child arrives a day early as most of our courses start early in the morning. We have local partnerships with hotels and shuttles and can work with your family to help make local arrangements. Please give us a call to set up a plan for your participant at least one month before the start date of their expedition.

What is the food like at MWS?

At MWS, we believe you can eat creative and interesting meals in the backcountry. Students will have healthy, calorie-filled meals and will learn how to cook (for the first time, or improve as chefs!), a great skill they can bring back home.

MWS does not use freeze dried or premade meals on our expeditions. Instead, students will learn to combine a variety of items (such as rice, dried beans, oats, etc) with cheese, summer sausage and/or dried vegetables to create healthy and satisfying meals. Field instructors will coach students on the appropriate quantities and combinations to ensure that your participant feels satisfied with their meals while on an MWS expedition.

If you have any type of food restriction, you will have the opportunity to note that before the course begins and alternative foods will be provided. If you have a severe nut allergy, please discuss this with us before you apply.

Can my child shower? How will they stay clean?

This is often a subject that makes students nervous. In the wilderness, we must give up some of the luxuries we have at home, such as hot showers, and learn new ways to bathe and use the bathroom. While students won’t shower, they will have ways to bathe using Leave No Trace principles, similar to a solar shower. Instructors consider hygiene a priority and will teach students how to use appropriate self-care to stay clean.

Where will my child sleep?

MWS provides a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and shelters customized to each course. Students will sleep in lightweight tents with several other participants.

What about medications?

Any prescribed medication can be taken in the field as long as we can accommodate the storage guidelines and it does not need to be refrigerated. For the safety of all our students, all medication will be kept by instructors and administered by MWS staff as prescribed. Please bring your prescription medications in their original containers and bring back up medication in case the medication is lost, damaged or otherwise unusable.

What about grizzly bears?

Many MWS courses operate in grizzly bear habitat. We take the necessary precautions to minimize interactions with bears, and it is important to note that bear and human interactions are extremely rare. MWS follows the National Park and Forest Service guidelines for camping and traveling in bear habitat. Our field staff have extensive training with bear spray, and each student will carry a personal bear spray canister (provided by MWS) at all times in the field.

For Students

More questions?

Please see our Expedition Life page or reach out to us at enroll@montanawildernessschool.org and we will be happy to answer any other questions you may have!

For Parents

More questions?

Please see our Expedition Life page or reach out to us at enroll@montanawildernessschool.org and we will be happy to answer any other questions you may have!