Program: Expedition Leader Training
Location: UK, Costa Rica, Panama
Duration: 16 weeks
The Expedition Leader Training Course has a lot of moving parts and a huge number of important considerations, and the build-up to such an adventurous undertaking can seem daunting and fraught with uncertainty. Here we’ve put together our answers to seven of participants’ most frequently asked questions, to shed some light into the jungle depths of this unique route into the outdoor industry.
7. The course looks pretty extreme… what are my chances of passing?
The course looks pretty extreme… what are my chances of passing? A good question. There’s no other way of saying it: the expedition leader training course is challenging, and it operates in high risk environments. With fewer than 500 people able to say they have completed the Expedition Leader Training, this is an exclusive program. However, we are proud of the high pass rate among participants – due in equal part to our high standards of instructorship and to the fact that the course tends to attract individuals of a certain calibre. Wherever you start from – experienced outdoorsperson or enthusiastic newbie, the training process will develop the unique part of you that makes you a leader. With the right amount of determination, everyone with the ambition to take this course will pass. Doubt yourself? Here’s a secret: everybody does.
Injury or sickness can prevent you from completing the program. Despite the best efforts to avoid them, injuries can and sometimes do happen. The jungle is full of opportunities to break bones, get infections or come off worse from an encounter with the forest’s nastier inhabitants. However, cases of people having to be sent home are very rare, and in nearly 30 years of operating in snake-infested environments, our training and prevention strategies have ensured that we’ve never had a snake bite incident. Sickness is more common – after months living and pushing your limits amid the humid heat the body inevitably gets fatigued, which can leave you more vulnerable. You’ll be taught how best to look after yourself and others in extreme environments – use what you’ve learned, be disciplined, and stay safe so that you can complete your training. And remember: don’t run with that machete…
6. I’m not from the UK… is this training internationally recognised?
In short, yes. The qualifications gained through the ELT are above and beyond those held by your ‘standard’ Expedition Leader. Certificates issued by Gapforce as an outdoor training provider are highly regarded throughout the industry. Moreover, the plentiful experience gained through leadership, activity and emergency first response exercises (including 20+ search and rescue and casualty evacuation scenarios) makes Gapforce ELT graduates stand out as competent, highly trained individuals. Gapforce expedition leaders are the full package – trained to ensure clients are safe and happy in a wonderful new environment; practiced at keeping risks to a minimum, but ready to respond effectively should emergencies happen.
The one exception to international recognition of the training is the British Mountain Leader training, conducted in the Welsh mountains during the opening 3 weeks of the program, The Summer Mountain Leader focuses on navigation and leadership of groups in the upland environments of the British Isles. For trainees from outside the UK, this practice in the essential skills of navigation and orienteering is still highly recommended. However, it is possible (though not advised) to skip this phase of the training provided that certain conditions are met. Contact a Gapforce program advisor to find out more.
5. What are the job prospects like?
Gapforce is unique in that it offers work contracts to lead their global expeditions to those who excel at the course, i.e. those who are awarded a grade of ‘good’ or ‘very good’ based on assessment of around 70 essential and desirable criteria. Whether you go on to work for Gapforce or use the leadership experience to launch your outdoor career in another direction, being an ELT graduate marks you as an extraordinary individual with an impressive skillset and rounded understanding of the outdoor industry.
4. What will we eat?
If food isn’t your top priority already, it soon will be after a short while on the ELT.
Have you ever tried Costa Rican food? It’s a mix of the best of Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, big on freshness and even bigger on flavour. When not in jungle camps, you’ll get the chance to sample classic dishes like ceviche, gallo pinto and some of the world’s best coffee.
In the jungle, cooking is done the old school way – over an open fire. Without fire, you don’t eat, and in an environment where it rains heavily most days, cooking can be one of the biggest challenges. The jungle diet features rice, beans, oats and pulses, along with whatever fresh vegetables can be carried and stored in camp. You’ll have to plan the logistics of providing for the team for extended periods when the nearest fridge is many miles away. Part of the fun is to come up with diverse and tasty recipes using quality ingredients, as is discovering the 1000 different ways to cook porridge… we do hope you like porridge!
Vegetarian and vegan diets are easy to cater for as animal products don’t get on well in the tropical heat.
3. What kinds of people do this course? Am I too old? Too young?
Any motivated individual with a passion for a life in the outdoors can join the ELT. Our trainees come from all over the world, and have included school leavers; medical personnel; armed forces servicemen and women; professionals looking for a career change, to name a few. You must be 18 to take part, but there is no upper age limit (provided your doctor gives you a clean bill of health). The average age of participants is in the mid to late twenties. If you have the key traits of confidence, professionalism and bucket-loads of grit, then this course could be perfect for you.
2. How much equipment will I have to fork out for?
If you are an outdoor enthusiast (it seems likely, since you’re considering this course), then you may have a lot of the required gear already. Two sets of clothing and equipment are needed – one for the cold, wet environment of Wales in autumn or winter and one for the hot, humid climate of Central America. If that sounds daunting, take the advice of a past participant and go minimal. Wrap up warm for Wales, but go as light as possible for the jungle – two sets of clothes is all you will need, since your washing facilities will be limited to whatever running water you can find in the rainforest. The key pieces of equipment to focus on are boots – waterproof ones for Wales and lightweight jungle ones for Central America; a good 75-90 litre backpack and a quality hammock and basha sleeping system. For everything else, go for cheap, because it won’t survive the jungle anyway. All other specialist equipment will be provided, including your very own machete. A full kit list will be provided when you sign up for the program.
To hear top tips on equipment from an ELT instructor, check out Gapforce video briefings, fresh from the jungle.
1. Have I got what it takes?
The most frequent concern brought up by potential applicants to the ELT is about the fitness requirements for the program. Obviously enough, the fitter you are, the higher your chances of performing well on this course. But do you have to be a top-level athlete to pass? The answer is no (phew). That said, a good level of cardiovascular fitness is needed to get you through the rigours of the training. Endurance is key – being able to keep on functioning on less food and sleep than you might be used to. In a given day, your precious calories could be expended on long marches carrying heavy packs in 80% air humidity; picking out narrow trails through the jungle and clearing them with your machete; bearing your buddy at top speed on a stretcher on a casualty evacuation exercise; forcing a crossing of a raging river; or a combination of the above. So when preparing for the ELT, make sure you train the parts of your body that will be doing all the work, namely your heart, lungs and legs. Running, swimming, and hiking with a weighted backpack are the best ways to prepare.
More important than physical fitness is mental preparedness. Whether you’re a Special Forces hopeful or a middle-aged career change seeker (we’ve known all kinds on the ELT course), you won’t make it far without inner strength and the drive to succeed. No matter how fit you are, this program will test you. Your body WILL get exhausted and at some point – usually towards the end of the jungle phase of the program – your mind will have to take over to push you through your personal challenges. Digging deep to find reserves of strength you might not have known to exist is at the heart of this course.