Our Planning a Backpacking Expedition series is geared toward freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors (in Warren and McKean counties) interested in working in the region’s growing outdoor recreation industry, those interested in professional backpacking/hiking instruction, or those interested in learning more about local history, geography, health and safety, and ecosystems through a hands-on experience preparing for a backpacking trip in the Pennsylvania Wilds and beyond.

What is the time commitment for this course?

This series consists of a mixture of classroom and hands-on training sessions that last four hours each, over four Sundays. All participants will be responsible for providing their own transportation to/from each session. Sessions are located at AO Outdoors Store (20 Clark Street, Warren) except the final session, which will take place at a trailhead to be determined.

What can you expect from our instructors?

This course is open to a maximum of eight participants, offering a low instructor/student ratio for a better learning environment. Our two instructors, Nate and Sharon Harrington, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2016. Participants can expect a relaxed, professional atmosphere that encourages questions and open conversation, while covering a lot of ground over its duration.

What topics will be discussed during this course?

Each class will begin with a 15-minute interactive discussion about an industry topic before the day’s course-work begins. Topics may include: Challenges to operating an outfitter/guide business; Age, skills, certifications and other requirements for getting hired at an outfitting/guide operation; Pay and perks of working in the industry; How the outfitter reaches customers; Importance of Stewardship/real life ways we engage in this; Ways we impress the importance of safety on customers; And how our company passes foot traffic to other businesses.

After opening discussion we'll dig in to our session topic. We've broken down each below. Click on a photo for a more detailed understanding of what we'll cover.

Do you need to have hiking experience to sign up?

You do not need prior experience to sign up, but you must bring a willingness to learn.

What equipment are you responsible for providing?

We provide all equipment needed for the course.

What else should you bring?

Please remember to bring a water bottle to stay hydrated. Participants should eat lunch before they arrive, and are welcome to bring snacks each day. (Our facility has a fridge for snacks and drinks if needed.)

What are the course dates and times?

Sunday, September 8, 2:00 - 6:00 PM @ AO
Sunday, September 15, 2:00 - 6:00 PM @ AO
Sunday, September 22, 2:00 - 6:00 PM @ AO
Sunday, September 29, 2:00 - 6:00 PM @ trailhead (TBD)

What is the cost of this course?

This course is free to all participants. It is funded by generous corporate donations made possible through the Department of Community and Economic Development Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. Learn more about the Pennsylvania Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship (PA Wilds Center) state-approved Educational Improvement Organization (EIO) program offerings here.

How do you register for a spot?

We'll have parent/guardian liability waivers that will need signed prior to starting the course, but the bulk of registration (and locking in a spot) can be accomplished online by clicking the button below and filling out the form. Have a question? Please email Piper at

What is the PA Wilds Outdoor Industry Exploration Series?

The outdoor recreation economy is an $887 billion annual industry in the United States, accounting for more than 7.6 million jobs in fields that include everything from guide and outfitting services to developing and manufacturing outdoor products such as kayaks, backpacks, tents and cook stoves. Public lands are at the heart of the outdoor recreation economy. For the last 15 years, local partners from the public and private sectors have been working to grow this sector of the economy in the Pennsylvania Wilds. The region is uniquely positioned to do this as it is home to more than 2 million acres of public land – more than Yellowstone National Park -- and 16,000 miles of waterways.

Outfitters and guides are a linchpin businesses in this economic development effort. They help visitors safely access and experience the region’s biggest draw -- its public lands and waterways -- often passing their foot traffic to other businesses such as restaurants, lodges and retail stores, which helps these businesses grow and rural communities thrive.

Just as in the other vibrant niche industries, not just anyone can start or buy and operate a successful outfitting business. Not only are these lifestyle businesses they are also highly technical, requiring a deep understanding of the activities and gear at hand, the landscape on which these things are operated and the customer service and risk assessments that go with each.

The PA Wilds Outdoor Industry Exploration Series helps support and grow the outfitter and guide sector in the Pennsylvania Wilds by building awareness for the industry among the next generation, who may want to work at, start or one day purchase and operate such a business. At the very least, students will get a better understanding for the unique role such businesses play in their communities, the importance of safety and preparation on wilderness trips, and stewardship of the natural resources utilized.