Trade the Cubicle for the Canyon: Your Guide to Backcountry Jobs

Do you dream of trading the fluorescent lights for dappled sunlight filtering through towering pines? Does the call of the wild resonate deep within you? Then a job in the backcountry could be your perfect path! This guide explores the diverse opportunities, essential skills, and unique rewards (and challenges) of backcountry jobs. Having a career based in the backcountry goes beyond enjoying scenery. While the beauty is undeniable, these positions offer a chance to truly connect with nature, contribute to conservation, and push your limits. From wildlife research to guided adventures, there’s a backcountry job waiting for you.

Unveiling the Diverse World of Backcountry Jobs

The backcountry isn’t a one-size-fits-all environment, and neither are the jobs found within it. Here’s a glimpse into 29 of the most sought-after backcountry jobs:

  1. Park Rangers: Protecting our natural wonders and educating visitors are just a few responsibilities of park rangers. Specializations exist for wilderness management, search and rescue, and visitor services, ensuring a diverse and rewarding career path.
  2. Wildlife Biologists: For those with a passion for animals and ecological research, becoming a wildlife biologist can be a dream come true. Backcountry biologists collect crucial data on wildlife populations, contributing to conservation efforts in remote locations.
  3. Wildland Firefighters: Adrenaline coursing through your veins? Wildland firefighters are the brave souls who combat wildfires in remote areas. These physically demanding backcountry jobs require specialized training and the ability to work effectively under pressure.
  4. Backcountry Guides: Share your knowledge and passion for the outdoors by becoming a backcountry guide. Whether leading backpacking trips, kayaking adventures, or challenging climbs, guides play a vital role in ensuring safe and memorable experiences for outdoor enthusiasts.
  5. Conservation Corps: For those seeking to give back while gaining valuable outdoor skills, consider joining a conservation corps program. These organizations offer volunteer and paid opportunities focused on trail maintenance, habitat restoration, and wildlife surveys.
  6. Fisheries Technician: Collect data on fish populations, monitor water quality, and contribute to the health of aquatic ecosystems in remote lakes and rivers.
  7. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist: Utilize spatial technology to map backcountry features, analyze environmental data, and support land management decisions.
  8. Backcountry Horse Wrangler: Care for and manage horses used for pack trips and backcountry travel, ensuring the safety and well-being of animals while working in stunning wilderness areas.
  9. Outdoor Educator: Lead educational programs in natural settings, fostering environmental awareness and appreciation for the outdoors among students and visitors.
  10. Wilderness EMT/Paramedic: Provide emergency medical care in remote locations, requiring advanced medical training and the ability to handle challenging situations with limited resources.
  11. Trail Crew Member: Maintain and construct hiking and biking trails in backcountry areas, ensuring safe and enjoyable access for outdoor enthusiasts.
  12. Research Assistant: Support various research projects conducted in remote locations, assisting scientists with data collection, fieldwork, and contributing to valuable ecological studies.
  13. Hut Warden: Manage and maintain backcountry huts or cabins, providing a safe haven for hikers and skiers while ensuring responsible use of these facilities.
  14. Avalanche Forecaster: Monitor snowpack conditions and forecast avalanche risks in backcountry areas, playing a crucial role in ensuring the safety of winter recreationists.
  15. Wildlife Rehabilitator: Care for injured or orphaned wildlife, providing medical treatment and rehabilitation with the goal of releasing animals back into their natural habitat.
  16. Hunting/Fishing Guide: Lead hunting or fishing trips in backcountry areas, ensuring ethical practices, safety regulations are followed, and clients have a successful and memorable experience.
  17. Whitewater Rafting Guide: Navigate thrilling whitewater rapids, leading guided rafting trips for adventurous souls and ensuring a safe and exciting journey.
  18. Climbing Instructor: Teach rock climbing skills and techniques in outdoor settings, sharing your passion for climbing and guiding individuals in a safe and controlled environment.
  19. Wilderness Therapist: Provide therapeutic services in natural settings, combining outdoor experiences with mental health counseling to promote healing and personal growth.
  20. Backcountry Cook: Prepare and serve meals for guests at lodges, camps, or on guided backcountry trips. This role requires strong culinary skills, backcountry knowledge, and the ability to thrive in remote locations.
  21. Ski Patroller: Ensure the safety of skiers and snowboarders at backcountry resorts by patrolling slopes, performing avalanche control, and providing medical aid in case of emergencies.
  22. Outfitter: Own and operate a business that rents or sells outdoor gear and supplies to backcountry adventurers. This role requires knowledge of various outdoor equipment, business acumen, and customer service skills.
  23. Geologist: Study the Earth’s rocks, minerals, and landforms in remote areas, contributing to our understanding of geological processes and identifying potential resources.
  24. Hydrologist: Monitor and analyze water resources in backcountry watersheds, ensuring clean water supplies and assessing potential environmental impacts.
  25. Archaeologist: Conduct research and excavation in remote locations to uncover and learn about past human societies and cultures.
  26. Backcountry Timber Cruiser: Assess the quality and quantity of timber in remote forests, playing a role in sustainable forest management practices.
  27. Wildlife Control Specialist: Humanely trap and relocate nuisance wildlife in backcountry areas, minimizing conflicts between animals and humans.
  28. Search and Rescue Volunteer: Utilize your skills and knowledge to assist professional search and rescue teams in locating missing persons in the backcountry.
  29. Backcountry Photographer/Videographer: Capture the beauty and essence of remote landscapes through photography or videography, sharing the wonder of the backcountry with a wider audience.

Gearing Up for Backcountry Success: Essential Skills and Logistics

Loving the outdoors is a great start, but backcountry jobs demand more. These vast, remote areas require both physical and mental toughness. Long hours, unpredictable weather, and demanding tasks are common. Backcountry workers need a strong work ethic, resilience, and the ability to thrive alone. But teamwork is also important! Excellent communication and interpersonal skills help build trust and collaboration with colleagues or clients.

Education also matters for backcountry jobs. Park rangers often need a bachelor’s degree in natural resources, while wildlife biologists typically have advanced degrees in biology or ecology. Certifications and training are often required too. Wilderness EMTs need advanced medical training, while whitewater rafting guides might need specific certifications. And don’t forget the gear! High-quality equipment, honed navigation skills, and knowledge of wilderness safety are all crucial for a safe and successful experience. Backcountry careers require a well-rounded approach. You need a love for adventure, plus the skills, education, and preparation to thrive in these demanding yet rewarding environments.

General Skills

  • Strong work ethic and ability to thrive in remote locations: Backcountry jobs often involve long hours, challenging conditions, and limited access to amenities.
  • Excellent physical fitness: Many backcountry jobs require physical strength, endurance, and the ability to navigate difficult terrain.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills: Collaboration and clear communication are essential for working effectively with colleagues, clients, or research teams.
  • Problem-solving skills and critical thinking: The ability to adapt to unexpected situations and make sound decisions is crucial in the backcountry.
  • Self-reliance and resourcefulness: You’ll need to be resourceful and capable of handling tasks independently in remote environments.
  • Strong work ethic and a dedication to conservation: Many backcountry jobs contribute to environmental protection and require a passion for preserving the outdoors.
Search and Rescue Dog Handler - BUCKFISH

Education and Training

  • Formal education requirements vary depending on the specific job.
    • Park rangers often need a bachelor’s degree in natural resources, environmental science, or a related field.
    • Wildlife biologists typically hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in biology, ecology, or zoology.
    • Wilderness EMTs and paramedics require advanced medical training and certifications.
    • Some backcountry jobs, like outfitters or guides, may require specific certifications or licenses depending on the activity:
      • Wilderness Trip Leader Certification
      • Swiftwater Rescue Technician Certification
      • Chainsaw Operator Certification (important for trail maintenance and backcountry construction)
      • Basic Orienteering Certification (navigation skills beyond map and compass)
      • Wildlife Control Specialist Certification
      • Backcountry Horsepacking Certification (advanced horse handling specific to backcountry travel)
      • Ski Patroller Certification
      • Hunting/Fishing Guide Instructor Certification (train or certify future guides)
      • Search and Rescue Dog Handler Certification (working with canines for backcountry search efforts)
      • Avalanche Safety Technician Certification
      • High Ropes Course Facilitator Certification
      • Backcountry Culinary Specialist Certification (advanced food preparation and handling for remote locations)
      • Wilderness Photography Workshop Leader Certification (guiding photography techniques in the backcountry)
      • Wilderness Search and Rescue Certification
      • Leave No Trace Master Educator Trainer Certification (training other educators in Leave No Trace principles)
      • Backcountry Fly Fishing Guide License
      • Backcountry Yoga Instructor Certification (teaching yoga in natural settings with considerations for environment and safety)
      • Kayak Instructor Certification
      • Wilderness Survival Instructor Certification (teaching essential survival skills for backcountry emergencies)

Logistical Considerations:

  • Proper backcountry gear and clothing: Invest in high-quality, weather-appropriate clothing, camping equipment, and survival tools suitable for the specific backcountry environment you’ll be working in.
  • Navigation skills: Learning how to use a map and compass, interpret GPS data, and navigate using natural landmarks is essential.
  • Backcountry safety knowledge: Understanding wilderness risks, first aid principles, and Leave No Trace practices is crucial for backcountry safety.
  • Living arrangements: Depending on the job, you may need to live in remote locations with limited access to housing or amenities.
  • Transportation: Reliable transportation may be necessary to commute to backcountry worksites or transport equipment and supplies.

Remember: This is not an exhaustive list, and specific requirements can vary depending on the job and the organization. Always research the specific position you’re interested in to understand the necessary skills, education, and experience.

Backcountry cook job - BUCKFISH

Your Backcountry Job Hunting Adventure Starts Here

Do you dream of protecting amazing landscapes as a park ranger, or guiding thrilling whitewater rafting trips? These resources will help you find the perfect backcountry job to match your skills and goals. Let’s explore the websites that can lead you to your dream wilderness career!

General Backcountry Job Boards

  1. CoolWorks: Features seasonal job opportunities across the US in national parks, resorts, and ranches, with many positions involving backcountry activities.
  2. Backdoor Jobs: Specializes in adventure and travel jobs, including wilderness therapy, conservation crews, and backcountry guiding positions.
  3. Occupation Wild: Connects job seekers with opportunities in the outdoor, adventure, and travel industries, including backcountry guides, outdoor educators, and conservation work.
  4. USAJobs: The official U.S. government jobs website, listing positions within the National Park Service, Forest Service, and other agencies that manage backcountry areas.
  5. Indeed: A massive job search engine with a wide range of backcountry jobs, from park rangers to wildlife biologists, searchable by location and keyword.

Backcountry-Specific Websites

  1. American Alpine Club: Lists job openings related to mountaineering, climbing, and conservation in mountainous regions.
  2. American Canoe Association: Features job postings for canoe guides, outfitters, and instructors, often focused on backcountry waterways.
  3. Professional Ski Patrol Association: Connects qualified individuals with ski patroller positions at resorts across the US, involving backcountry rescue and avalanche safety.
  4. Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: Occasionally lists positions promoting responsible outdoor recreation, potentially involving backcountry education and enforcement.

Additional Resources:

  1. National Park Service Volunteer Website: While not directly employment, volunteer opportunities with the National Park Service can provide valuable experience and connections for backcountry careers.
  2. State Park Websites: Many individual state park websites list job openings for park rangers, naturalists, and other positions that may involve backcountry management and education. 
  3. Conservation Corps Websites: National and state conservation corps programs like AmeriCorps or individual state programs offer volunteer or paid opportunities for backcountry restoration and conservation work

The Untamed Rewards and Challenges of Backcountry Jobs

Backcountry jobs offer a mix of awesome perks and tough challenges. The good news? You’ll be surrounded by stunning scenery, help protect nature, and really connect with the outdoors. Every day brings new adventures and chances to grow. But the bad news? These jobs can be tiring, have long hours, and involve unpredictable weather. Being alone and feeling far away from everything can also be tough.

BUCKFISH gets that some folks want a different kind of life. Backcountry jobs aren’t for everyone. But if you’re looking for a unique and rewarding career, the good stuff definitely outweighs the challenges.