HOW WE DIFFER FROM OTHER COMPANIES – SUMMARY: Though some companies charge a bit less, you get what you pay for. First and foremost we are the only company with a minimum age of 30 for guides; we pay our guide/naturalists more than most other companies — and we demand a higher level of professionalism. Our menu is dominated by organic foods and those with no chemical additives. Our equipment is the best available. Our knowledge about our country’s Wilderness areas and national parks is recognized as second to none — and we’ve been in the backpacking business longer than anyone. We are a family business and we’ve intentionally kept Big Wild small enough for the owners to manage the operation with the personal oversight for each trip and each guide. Each trip is offered in the best time slot and each is personally planned by the owners. We emphasize providing a real wilderness experience, not just a recreation activity that utilizes wildlands as an “outdoor gymnasium”. And our work for wildland conservation is nationally known and fundamental to our business philosophy. Most of our guides hunt and fish and they all know how to find wildlife; they are wilderness lovers first, recreationists second. Our safety record is unmatched: zero deaths and zero helicopter evacuations in 38 years! In other words, we don’t cut corners and we provide nothing but the best for our clients. For more details, read on…….
EXPERIENCE – OWNING THIS BUSINESS SINCE 1978: And still co-owned with Marilyn Olsen by founder Howie Wolke, who has personally guided over 500 multi-day treks. Nobody else can match this level of longevity and experience. Our track record is unmatched, and here is a sample of comments we’ve received from our clients.
THE BEST GUIDING STAFF ANYWHERE: Click here for guide bios. From certified Wilderness First Responder training (we utilize and recommend the Aerie Backcountry Medicine school) to our own in-house guide training program, Big Wild leaves nothing to chance. But we don’t just hire officially certified guides; that’s not enough. It’s also important to us that Big Wild guides are mature adults with lots of life experience, not young people right out of college. Our youngest guides are in their 30’s. Our guides are also great naturalists and they are fun people, with great “people skills”, able to make sure that everyone has a wonderful wilderness walk! And Big Wild guides are part of the Big Wild Family. They are friends, and are supervised directly by owners Howie Wolke and Marilyn Olsen.
KNOWLEDGE: Howie co-authored The Big Outside, America’s definitive inventory of our remaining big roadless wildlands. Howie has also taught “The American Wilderness” class in the Montana State University system and has penned many dozens of articles and essays about our nation’s shrinking wildland acreage. He is widely recognized as one of the foremost authorities on wilderness in the United States. Marilyn is a registered nurse with expertise in wilderness medicine, a long-time conservation activist and has led girl scouts, university students and Big Wild clients through the wilderness. All of our guides live up to the rigorous standards set by Howie and Marilyn!
FAMILY BUSINESS: We’re not big but we are committed to quality. Because we are relatively small, each trek is carefully planned with the personal touch of Howie and Marilyn. When you communicate with Big Wild, it is directly with the owners.
EACH TRIP IS UNIQUE, not mass-produced with numerous departure dates. Instead, we schedule each trek for an optimal time slot based upon weather, insects, stream crossings, snowy passes, wildlife viewing opportunities and other factors. Some areas are simply better to visit at particular times during the season. Especially during the brief Rocky Mountain summer, a couple of weeks earlier or later can make a huge difference in the success of a trip. More than anyone, we know when best to schedule each trek, and we schedule them for optimal timing.
WE WILL NOT CANCEL YOUR TRIP: Once we confirm your reservation we will run the trip. Even if you are the only client (which is rare but does occasionally occur) we will still run the trip unless you opt out. Your vacation is safe with us. If we confirm, then you won’t have to squirm!
NO GUESSING ON TRIP AVAILABILITY: If the trip is advertised on our website, then unless noted that it is filled or cancelled, we will run it and it is open for bookings. Count on it. Unlike some companies, we advertise only the trips that we plan to run.
NO HIDDEN COSTS: Unlike other companies, our prices are all-inclusive: our complete state of the art gear package, all food/cooking gear, all trip planning/permits/entry fees, applicable sales tax, transportation from our meeting place to and from the trek, and of course, the services of our professional guide staff. There is a $300 discount if you bring your own gear. Click here for backpacking equipment list information.
FORGIVING PAYMENT POLICY: For most trips we require just $500 as a deposit ($2,000 for Custom & Family Trips), and the balance is due just 60 days prior to the trip. Up to that time, we provide full refunds minus the deposit. However, for late cancellations due to illness or emergency, we are flexible and on a case by case basis, we provide full refunds or full credit toward a future trip.
NO GIMMICKS: We are about quality, not quantity and we don’t cut corners to come up with discounts and other gimmicks so that folks will return on future trips. Most of our clients return simply because they had a great experience. Our trips are full value; they’re worth it! Yes, we offer fewer departure dates than some other companies, but each trek is personally planned by and gets the focused attention of owners Howie and Marilyn. You can be assured that we cut no corners in providing the best and most personalized wilderness experience possible.
CONSERVATION: We don’t just talk conservation or support the efforts of others; we are doers, in the forefront of work to protect America’s wildlands. Howie and Marilyn are leaders in the public lands conservation movement, and they utilize our sister organization, Big Wild Advocates, as a non-partisan vehicle for much of their work. Howie has been the President or board director for the national conservation organization Wilderness Watch for many years. And our guides are also dedicated conservation activists. We are a green business business in many other ways, too.
YELLOWSTONE: We’ve lived, worked and played in and around Yellowstone since the early 1970’s. Our home is 6 miles from the park. Nobody knows this wondrous wild world-class landscape better than we. Yellowstone Park rangers know us well and appreciate our competence, helpfulness and commitment to safe trekking and keeping Yellowstone wild. Howie is widely known as the senior “old timer” backpack outfitter/guide in Yellowstone National Park. Don’t settle for anything less!
GOOD HEALTHY FOOD: It’s delicious! And filling! Much of our menu is organic and/or free of chemical additives. And fresh produce is part of our carefully designed diet to meet the high energy and nutrition needs of backpackers. We provide 3 meals/day plus snacks, and we include plenty of energy-inducing complex carbohydrates, which is what the body needs on multi-day treks, especially at altitude. We do utilize some dried foods, in order to keep backpack weights down. And leave the cooking to us!
WILDLIFE: Some of our treks provide some of the best possible opportunities in North America for viewing wildlife in a wilderness environment, if you know how and where to look. Our guides do. Wildlife viewing is important to Big Wild! And many of our treks are within some of the best areas for viewing wildlife in the world!
SAFETY: In all our years we’ve never had a helicopter evacuation. We’ve had no deaths or life-threatening injuries on Big Wild trips, though we have at times helped with Park Service or Forest Service care and evacuation of injured hikers we’ve come upon during the trip. Part of our amazing safety record is good luck, yes, but a big part of it is our unrelenting attention to client/group safety. We have strict protocols and consider client safety to be our number one priority. A close family friend physician acts as a medical adviser. Guides carry emergency communication devices and comprehensive first aid kits. By paying attention to the details, we make sure that the big picture is one of safety first.
CUSTOM AND FAMILY TRIPS: The options are limitless. Click here to view our Custom/Family Trip page.
CUSTOMER SATISFACTION: Over half of our clients are repeaters from previous Big Wild trips. There is good reason for this! For more information, click here.