The CertHero Blog

The official blog of CertHero.


A friend just emailed me expressing interest in an outdoor medical course. She asked me to compare and contrast WEMT, WFR and WFA. I field this question on regular basis, so I thought I'd sum up the curriculum and relative merits here.

First, narrowing your options to these three is smart. There are many certifications, but these are the three big ones. Every guide, outdoor educator or park ranger has one of these certs. Many recreationalists do as well. Brief summaries and time commitments are listed below.

Abbreviation Course Hours In a Phrase
WEMT Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician 200 Stabilize the patient. Solve some problems. And make a long term plan.
WFR Wilderness First Responder 40 Stabilize the patient. Solve some problems. Get him out of here.
WFA Wilderness First Aid 18 Stop the bleeding. Open the airway. Get help.

Note: Course times vary by provider.

The courses with more instruction are obviously more comprehensive. Let's look at what happens as you increase class time:

  • You dig into physiology: More advanced classes spend time teaching about the human body.
  • You understand more complex issues: A more complex understanding of the human body means you'll better understand complex failings and illnesses.
  • You practice more complex medical interventions: A deeper understanding of the human body and its problems allows you to intervene under more serious situations and with more elaborate tools.

Let's take an example. A climber is struck on the arm by a falling rock and begins to bleed profusely.

  • A WFA would bandage the wound.
  • A WFR would bandage the wound. He'd look for signs of hypovolemic shock.
  • A WEMT would bandage the wound. She'd look for signs of hypovolemic shock. She'd call for (or administer) oxygen.

In the end of the day, there is lots of overlap. WEMT courses typically consist of a traditional Urban EMT course combined with 5 days of wilderness training (EMT + WFR). And the first 18 hours of WFR looks a lot like a WFA class.

How does this help you though? What course is best for you? Do you need a certification? Unfortunately there are no "rules," what makes sense for you depends on a few things:

  • Are you responsible for others? If the answer is yes, you should definitely carry one of these certifications. Almost all guides, outdoor educators and national park rangers do.
  • How far from help are you? As your distance from emergency care increases, you should increase your level of training. Leading a day trip 4 hours from the trail head - WFA might be appropriate. Leading a 30 day course, several days from a trail head - WFR is a good idea.
  • How likely are accidents to happen? While it's impossible to predict, you should have some idea of the risks your exposing yourself to. Are you hiking in a national forest? Or are you mountaineering in a region infamous for rock fall and hypothermia? As risk factors increase, so should your training.

For a visual explanation see below. You'll see that with further training, you're able to handle more complex issues in more remote areas.

Wfa chart
Wfr chart
Wemt chart

Moderate Risk High Risk
Weekend Trips Week Trips Longer Trips Weekend Trips Week Trips Longer Trips
Plan on leading others WFA WFR WFR / WEMT WFR WFR WFR / WEMT
Don't plan on leading None needed WFA WFA WFA WFR WFR

I haven't told you which course to take - but I hope I've help you understand how to frame your decision. In addition to thinking “what do I need” think about what you wan't. Medical courses like WFA, WFR and WEMT are extremely fun. If you like helping others and pushing yourself outdoors, you can't go wrong.

You can always reach out to me for further help.
- Logan ([email protected])

Note: These are my opinions based on: taking a number of medical courses; researching the courses; and working with medical technicians from a numerous backgrounds.


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