Backpacking Light's Wilderness Trekking School Frequently Asked Questions

Student learning on the fly in the Gallatin Mountains.

Wilderness Trekking School FAQs

Q: I'd like to enroll now. How do I do it?

A: Click here: ENROLL NOW » and then select the "Enroll Now" link next to the course you'd like to take. Select the course you want, then click the "Add to Cart" button to enroll in the course.

Q: What’s the difference between the acronyms WT and WS and the numbers 1, 2, and 3?

A: WT stands for Wilderness Trekking, and these in-depth courses are either one or two weeks long. WS stands for Wilderness Skills, and these are short format one- to three-day courses designed to teach the basics, or more focused and advanced skill sets in a short period of time.

The numbers 1, 2, and 3 in the Course IDs represent the approximate level of difficulty of each course, from easier (1) to intermediate (2) to more difficult (3).

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
In the Wilderness Trekking School, you'll have the opportunity to try different types of gear, including those not commonly found at your local outdoor shops.

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
You'll learn to travel safely through the heart of both gray wolf and grizzly bear country in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
Greater Yellowstone is home to some of the largest herds of majestic elk in North America.

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
All of our WT2 and WT3 treks are long traverses - not loops (some of our WT1 courses are traverses, too). You'll walk across vast landscapes through remote wilderness that just feels ... big.

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem straddles the Continental Divide. Many of our trekking routes visit the Divide, including its most famous spot, Parting of the Waters.

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
You'll enjoy no compromises in using ultralight gear and techniques, such as cooking a meal in a 2-oz titanium pot over a solid fuel tablet tucked below a couple of rocks!

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
In addition to practical skills, we teach you some impractical ones as well, including the Bear-Ninja-Cowboy method for group decision making, and writing invisible words using a single-LED keychain light.

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
Packrafters on WT2-Packrafting will experience the excitement of getting ready to drop into both small and large wilderness creeks and rivers and let the current do the work!

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
Packrafting offers an unusual sort of camaraderie, because of its ability to be as enjoyable to watch as it is to do.

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
Navigation is a core component of our curriculum. Custom maps keep everyone engaged and in tune with their topographical surroundings.

Wilderness Trekking School by Backpacking Light: Skills, Respect, Community, and Simplicity.
Carrying a lightweight pack gives you comfort, speed, flexibility, and untold freedom on and off the trail, in the snow, or in a backpackable boat!

Q: How do I find even more information about what to expect on one of these courses?

Once you enroll, you'll receive a comprehensive welcome packet, gear list, and access to personal mentoring from your instructors.

If you have questions before you enroll, please don't hesitate to contact our School Director, Ryan Connelly, via email: school@backpackinglight.com.

Q: How many people will be on my course?

For most courses, we have limited the student instructor ratio to 5:1 and maximum group size to 12 (including 2 instructors). Sometimes, larger groups may be split into two smaller "traveling" groups that will travel together during the days and camp together at night, to minimize the environmental impact of our presence. During each "session" (e.g., time period), there may be more than one course taking place simultaneously at our retreat center. While we may have a few "large group" sessions (meals and a keynote speaker occasionally), you'll spend most of your time with your smaller course group.

Q: What is your core education philosophy?

We believe that experiential, immersion education is the most effective means of teaching skills that will benefit you for a lifetime.

All of Backpacking Light's Wilderness Trekking courses are immersion experiences. You will live, eat, sleep, share, and learn with your course mates. Your knowledge and passion for lightweight backpacking, packrafting, or tenkara will increase dramatically as a result of intense classroom education and the opportunity for course participants to cross-pollinate each other with their own knowledge and experiences.

Q: How should I prepare for a course like this?

Prior to the actual course, you will participate in a closed online forum with your instructors and course mates. Here you will get to know each other and begin your preparation for the course. The online forum is a chance to ask all your questions and share experiences - and to come to the course fully prepared for an enlightening seminar.

In addition, all trekking and expedition courses include access to the online version of "Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp", a self-directed course with more than 40 video, audio, and essay modules developed by Ryan Jordan.

Q: The tuition seems like a lot, what am getting for all the money?

A: We encourage you to shop around, compare with other schools, and feel free to ask us any questions. We are offer a very unique and professional service that desires to help you grow, enjoy your time with us, and experience world-class venues in the Northern Rockies.

Q: I have some gear of my own, what can I expect to rent from BPL? What’s provided?

A: Part of the pre-course curriculum is to create a detailed gear list on a spreadsheet that will be shared with your instructors and teammates. This simple act has proven to be a valuable learning experience, and it will set you up well to truly experience the benefits of the light pack. It is also a great way to begin to get to know your instructors and course mates.

The pre-course information has a detailed gear list for review. You will be need to bring most of your personal gear. BPL can provide group shelter and cook systems as needed. In addition, we provide breakfast and dinner rations, and maps. BPL rents packrafts and Tenkara fishing gear on a limited basis, so ask early!

Gear selection and BPL-provided gear will be a significant part of the on-line dialogue with instructors and other students during the pre-course discussion. Other topics discussed in this forum include course goals, travel logistics, group dynamics, food planning, terrain, weather, navigation, wildlife, and any other topic you want to bring up with your teammates.

Q: How does BPL’s Wilderness Trekking school differ from other organizations?

A: We are an advanced lightweight camping, backpacking, and packrafting school. The focus of our courses is to build the skills and confidence you need to travel in the wilderness with the lightest load that safety and comfort will allow. Backpacking Light is an organization dedicated to lightweight wilderness travel. We take this role very seriously, and we’ve proven to be a leader in this dynamic form of camping and wilderness travel. A core goal of our program is to extend your range of comfort, distance, speed, and safety, with less gear and more advanced skills.

Q: What level of physical fitness is required?

A: You should have a clean bill of health for vigorous exercise in remote areas. For WT1, you should arrive in adequate physical condition such that you can carry a backpack weighing up to 25 pounds for up to 10 miles per day over 5 days on trails and easy cross-country routes. For WT2 courses, you should be able to carry a backpack weighing up to 25 pounds for up to 10 miles per day over 5 days on difficult and steep terrain. For WT3 courses, you should be able to carry a backpack weighing up to 25 pounds for up to 10 miles per day over any type of terrain, even if it's snow-covered.

A medical release signed by your doctor and a complete medical history form are required for participating in a course. That said, the better your fitness level, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the experience. We strongly recommend an ongoing exercise program before the course begins.

The minimum age for participation is 18 years. Minors are allowed on some courses if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Q: What’s the food like on these courses?

A: Lightweight campers are notorious for eating bland glop, and we are dedicated to ending that misconception! We put a strong emphasis on quality, variety, and nutrition during our time in the mountains. Our previous students have told us that one of the most satisfying things from their course was learning to eat extremely well using only a lightweight cookset. It’s a satisfying feeling to watch the sunset and eat a hot mug full of angel hair pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and calorie-dense pesto sauce.

We will supply the dinner and breakfast rations, and you’ll need to bring your own snacks and drinks.

Q: How much previous experience is required?

A: WS1 and WT1 courses are set up to service the needs of the beginner camper, and as such, no previous backpacking or outdoor experience is required. That said, the majority of our students have a good foundation in traditional backpacking, and they come to us to learn the technical skills required for lightweight backpacking.

WS2 and WT2 course participants should have a rudimentary knowledge of lightweight backpacking gear and skills.

WT3 participants should be well-practiced lightweight backpackers with the ability to hike and camp efficiently so as to maximize time spent in the challenging trekking environments.

Q: I’m worried the lightweight format will be TOO extreme for me, should I be concerned?

A: We work hard to tailor the course to your individual needs. Our instructors have a lot of experience in ultralight camping in the same terrain that our courses are run. The goal is to travel with minimum gear without sacrificing comfort or safety. These courses are bold, but we won’t set you up to be uncomfortable or unsafe. WT1 courses will be pleasurable and comfortable.

WT2 courses will be pleasurable while providing unique challenges.

WT3 courses are unpredictable with multiple unknowns, but provide an immensely rewarding experience.

Q: Is there a waiting list?

If you see an "OUT OF STOCK" message, then the course you have selected is either full or we haven’t finalized the exact dates. Please sign up for a STOCK ALERT to automatically be placed on the waiting list. We will contact you in the order in which stock alerts are received if there is a cancellation. If you have any questions contact us at (school@backpackinglight.com).

Q: Will you provide a welcome packet or gear list?

Yes, we have both a welcome packet and gear list available. They will be made available to students shortly after they sign up for their course via a special "student-only" section on our web-site. That pre-course information will be in an interactive electronic format.

Q: I heard a rumor that there are banned items during the camping part of the course. What are they?

No illegal substances, firearms, alcohol, tobacco, GPS units, electronic compasses, altimeters*, pedometers, watches*, radios, satellite or cellular phones, electronic music players, electronic gaming devices, or any other electronic device other than a flashlight. We want to heighten the wilderness experience, and these items are not essential (* these items may be allowed at the instructor's discretion).

Q: What is your refund policy?

ADVANCE PAYMENT FOR FULL AMOUNT OF TUITION IS REQUIRED TO RESERVE YOUR SLOT. IF CANCELLATION OCCURS MORE THAN 90 DAYS IN ADVANCE OF THE FIRST DAY OF YOUR COURSE, 75% OF YOUR TUITION IS REFUNDABLE AS CASH. IF CANCELLATION OCCURS LESS THAN 90 DAYS IN ADVANCE OF THE FIRST DAY OF YOUR COURSE, 50% OF YOUR TUITION IS REFUNDABLE AS CASH. IF CANCELLATION OCCURS LESS THAN 30 DAYS IN ADVANCE OF THE FIRST DAY OF YOUR COURSE, 50% OF YOUR TUITION IS REFUNDABLE FOR USE IN ANOTHER COURSE (0% IS REFUNDABLE AS CASH).

Q: What happens if a course is cancelled?

We have had to cancel courses in the past - about 10% of them - for a variety of reasons, including dangerous water conditions (for packrafting courses), snowed in trailheads in our permitted areas (for late season trekking courses), and low enrollment. While we make our very best efforts to make sure EVERY course goes off without a hitch, we may have to resort to cancellation. To protect yourself, please make sure you are booking refundable airfares with the appropriate cancellation insurance. If we do cancel a course, you will receive 100% of your deposits and tuition back as a full refund within 48 hours of the cancellation date.

Q: I would love to chat with someone and ask a few questions, is there a phone number I can call?

A: Please send us your e-mail (school@backpackinglight.com), and we’ll get back to you and happily set up a time to chat.