Whether it was Lewis and Clark’s exploration into unfamiliar territories, Shackelton’s race to the south pole or Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s 1953 summit of Everest, they all share a commonality with an Outward Bound course: expedition and adventure into the potential unknown.
Lucky for you and not so lucky for all of the former listed great adventurers, you live in an age where obtaining the correct information is just a click, call, email or blog read away. Summer is in full swing and with it comes your opportunity to share in your own Outward Bound expedition. Here are some tips on making sure you are prepared for your summer outdoors!
Where are you going?
Are you going to be canoeing the beautiful Boundary Waters of Minnesota or gripping onto the red holds in the canyonlands of Utah? Your location during your adventure will be a huge influence on what clothes you bring and why. The high desert can be a scorcher during the day where light layers, sun protection and synthetic clothing to help dry sweat will be vital. At night the temperature can cool substantially, leaving you wanting that jacket you weren’t even thinking about in the heat of that afternoon sun. There are ample resources for finding weather patterns all over the world and it’s easy for you to see the average temperatures in the places you are going.
Gear lists are endless and ever changing, and there’s always the “next best gadget.” Don’t fret too much! Lucky for you Outward Bound provides a gear list prior to starting a course and also a majority of the special equipment you will need for the various activities and location of your expedition. These lists are tried and true by years of former Outward Bound students.
Let’s focus on footwear. You would not exactly want hiking boots for the days you are going down the river on a rubber raft, but you might want them for any hiking you could potentially do once you get to camp. Shoe choice is of big importance on your expedition and can often be your work horse of gear. The right shoes will keep your feet, and the rest of you, comfortable, supported and able to make the most of the physically demanding miles of hiking, river running and climbing. Your clothing should fall into the same general categories:
- Lightweight, but durable and protects you from the death star (the sun!)
- Keeps you dry in the rain and warm enough at night to let you dream of that quintuple cheeseburger when you finish your expedition
Tip: Whatever personal gear you do bring, the worst thing you could do is use your new gear for the first time at the start of your course. Try out any and all gear or clothing and KNOW that you feel comfortable while using it.
Are you getting your body and mind ready?
The phrase “off the couch” is thrown around often in a prideful manner. In reality, if you do attempt to just “wing it” you are more likely to sustain irritating and potentially expedition-ending injuries in your tendons, ligaments and muscles during full and long days of using only your body’s power and energy as your mode of transportation. Physical fitness will be a major part of your expedition, and while you’ll almost definitely develop some strong “trail legs,” you should still prepare for the endeavors ahead. Start now, ease into a routine of exercise and slowly start to increase the amount of time you are exercising. Focus on endurance exercise and get your heart rate up. Weightlifting can be helpful in some ways, but remember that big muscles don’t always mean fast hikers. All that exercise and practice is also going to be working that brain muscle you keep tucked between your ears. Listen to your body and how your head reacts when you start to push it a little harder. Also remember that the longer your course expedition, the more important it is to be physically ready beforehand.
Do a weekend warrior expedition!
After getting all your gear and getting into that fitness routine, try your abilities out with your friends and family. One overnight backpacking trip is going to tell you a lot about how you want your pack to fit, what to bring so you don’t overpack and even how you feel when you’re getting hungry and tired. Grab an adventurous friend, perhaps someone who has experience doing the activity, and go check out that local loop hike or waterfall. Even rivers all over the country offer day-long rafting trips for good prices so you can become familiar with being in a paddle raft. There is even a good chance your local pool has roll clinics if you even wanted to learn how to roll a kayak! Doing research before your expedition is a great way to show up prepared, although it is not mandatory as you will learn all of these skills on your Outward Bound course.
What is your environmental impact?
Arguably, almost all of the places humans explore have some human impact, but we can do our part to minimize it. Outward Bound has led the way in educating people about low-impact backcountry travel and helping them appreciate the earth’s limited natural resources.
Today, all Outward Bound students are trained in Leave No Trace outdoor skills and ethics, which were developed in a coordinated effort between federal land agencies, wilderness educators, environmental scientists, and outdoor retailers and equipment manufacturers.
Think about researching Leave No Trace principles before your expedition. Additionally, having knowledge of both invasive plants and animals can get your expedition team to spark a conversation on some bigger picture issues while you are out enjoying the mountainous view. You might even ask yourself what impact you are having on the environment by purchasing shiny new gear and not simply using the perfectly acceptable warm layers you have already.
Have you checked your attitude?
On an Outward Bound expedition, you will not be alone; you’ll be an important member of your expedition team. This team can have more success in its endeavor if each member has taken the initiative to prepare well for it. Ultimately, you’ll have more fun and make the most of your summertime adventures by showing up ready to embrace the journey ahead. Check your attitude and ask yourself if you are ready to be more of a team player and less of a lone wolf because that team is going to need your attention, help and someone to keep a positive attitude during the tiring moments of your expedition.
What are you achieving on your Outward Bound expedition?
Whether it is canoeing, rafting, rock climbing, mountaineering, sailing, sea kayaking or backpacking there will be a progression on course that allows you to master your skill. Outward Bound expeditions are designed to provide you with the space to learn all of the basics and then give you the time and coaching from Instructors to master the fine details. Instructors are highly skilled in the activities on your expedition, and you will learn the industry standards of the activity of your choice. Often a technical goal of these expeditions is the opportunity to climb a certain peak, cover large distance with your craft or be able to climb that classic route.
The other side of these technical skills is often hard to capture in photos, and that is an ability to master working with your peers. In order to achieve the technical goals, you will gain communication and teamwork skills that allow you to communicate successfully with your team.
Your expedition team…
Or as Howard Tombs put it, “the beautiful machine.” Joining an Outward Bound course will give you the opportunity to get to know peers from all over the country, and often, from other corners of the world. Your team will often be made up of peers within a few years of your age and fairly quickly you will find other commonalities you share with these new faces from different places. I have seen many expedition teams rise and fall; often most teams do both, and the difference between the two comes down to the amount of compassion and laughter they share together. If you read through this looking for tips and tricks, increasing your ability to listen to, laugh with, and embrace the experience alongside will be the best one you could possibly pull out in any group effort.
The BIG takeaway here is this: Don’t just let your expedition creep up on you, PREPARE! Make sure you do what you need to to feel confident going into your expedition and let that confidence be a measure of your readiness. These tips are here to get you thinking and so you can cover all those broad and possibly overwhelming topics of what to do about preparing for your summer expedition. So what are you waiting for? Get on it!
About the Author
Devin Shunk has been involved in outdoor education since 2013 and has been a field Instructor with the Northwest Outward Bound School since 2015. He has worked in the urban settings of NYC, assisted with adaptive skiing in the Colorado Rockies and watched the fall color change with students in West Virginia. Devin enjoys climbing, skiing, mountain biking, (but mostly whitewater kayaking) in the South East and Pacific Northwest.