From a distance, Outward Bound may sound similar to summer camp. While there’s some overlap, like fun outdoor activities, adventure and sleeping under the stars with friends, the purpose and structure of the experience is different. Outward Bound is so much more than a summer camp.
What You Can Expect When You Sign Up
After you’ve enrolled your child in an Outward Bound summer course, you’ll be in contact with a Course Advisor who will answer any questions you may have. From What will the weather be? to Are phones allowed on the course? the Course Advisor will help you and your child feel ready. Our staff understands that it’s a big commitment to sign up for a summer expedition, both for a child and for their parents. Their job is to walk you through the process, from paperwork to what to pack.
When your child steps off the bus at the course start location, they’ll be welcomed by their Instructors and Course Director. Often there are several groups starting in the same place. A group may start out at a base camp, where there are buildings where support staff live, and where food and gear are stored. Other courses begin with a “mobile start,” and students don’t see the base camp until the end of the course, if ever.
After a welcoming talk, they break into groups of 10-12 participants. Each group will start to get to know the others in their “crew” or “patrol” and play some warm up games.
The Instructors help students pack their packs, letting them know what they should take and leave behind. Things that aren’t needed are left in a participant’s duffel bag, collected by support staff and carried back to base camp for safe storage until the end of the course. At the end of the course, the child’s bag and a welcome set of clean clothes await them.
Outward Bound provides all the equipment your child needs: backpack, sleeping bag, tarp, cooking equipment and first aid. The packing list you’ll be sent before the course lets you know exactly what to pack: clothing and a few personal items such as toiletries and a journal and pen.
No Cabins, No Cafeteria
Outward Bound is expedition-based. This means that when students arrive, they pack up a backpack or canoe pack, or organize themselves on a small sailboat, and then they’re off! There’s no cabin to return to every night, no cafeteria where meals are cooked. Instead, they learn skills of self-sufficiency: how to pack their own pack, navigate, set up a shelter, heat water for hot drinks and cook meals. They travel with the same group of 10-12 students and the same two or three Instructors for their entire course.
For example, on the Pinelands Backpacking, Canoeing & High Ropes course, students learn basic paddling skills on a lake, and then load gear into canoes to expedition down the Delaware River. They learn some local ecology and an appreciation of the watersheds they paddle through. They leave the Outward Bound Philadelphia base camp on the first day of the course, and return at the end of the course. They travel with all the food and gear they need for the whole expedition.
Your child will have fun, but fun is only part of the purpose. When you send your child on a course, you can expect them to be challenged and to learn responsibility through natural consequences. They’ll work with a team of fellow students to set the trail for the day, navigate via paddle or backpack, to set up camp and organize their meals. They’ll learn about themselves as individuals who are part of a greater whole, traveling through wilderness. They’ll learn that if the group doesn’t set up their tarp, they’ll get wet if it rains. They’ll learn that cooking a meal together takes coordination, and that it can be satisfying when the whole, hungry group heartily appreciates the result!
Students also learn how to respect and travel responsibly in the wilderness. On the Sawatch Range Alpine Backpacking course in Colorado, students learn the art of traveling lightly in the mountains as they explore beautiful mountain scenery, navigate through forest and mountains and attempt a peak ascent. They’ll learn Leave No Trace backcountry ethics, in order to minimize impact on the environment.
Challenge + Fun
Outward Bound isn’t meant to be easy. Rather, challenge is naturally built into every expedition so students can realize their full potential in a supportive environment.
For example, if a course includes rock climbing, students will push past their perceived limits and learn they can do more than they think. They’ll learn outdoor skills that will allow them to travel through a wilderness-like environment, as well as the skills of working together as a team. They’ll cook meals together in the evenings, and sit around a campfire before finding their sleeping bags.
Another example of challenge + fun is the adventure of sailing the wild coast of Maine. The unique marine environment serves as the backdrop for students to learn a progression of skills, from chart and compass navigation and weather observation, to small boat seamanship and working together in a tight team environment. Skills learned through these challenges can be applied to the challenges of life at home. Living aboard a small boat, they’ll master skills and work closely as a team, at times with humor and hilarity, to make memories that last a lifetime.
Highly Trained & Experienced Instructors
Each Outward Bound group has at least two Instructors, sometimes three. Staff are highly trained in everything from expedition skills to group dynamics. They are required to have certification as Wilderness First Responder, which is the standard of care in the field of outdoor adventure. From this training, Instructors are prepared to take care of anything that can happen in the field, and even more importantly, how to prevent accidents. Safety is the number one priority on a course.
Staff who work with younger students understand that it’s different for most 12-13 year olds to be away from home than for 16-18 year olds. Instructors are prepared to alleviate homesickness with young students.
All Instructors have extensive experience in their field, whether mountaineering, sailing, sea kayaking, rock climbing, canoeing or backpacking. They teach activities starting with the basics, allowing students to develop skills and gain confidence as they go along. They brief students in safety, and manage group dynamics to help students learn to work together.
One of Outward Bound’s “Four Pillars”* is self-reliance. Expeditions are designed for students to create a connection with nature and confidence in their abilities. As they travel with fellow peers and supportive Instructors, they build bonds with each other and begin to find their own independence and self-reliance. They return home with new skills and insights to share.
*Outward Bound’s Four Pillars: Self-Reliance, Physical Fitness, Craftsmanship, and above all, Compassion.
Inclusion and Diversity
Outward Bound was founded on principles of human potential. The founder, Kurt Hahn, was asked to develop a program to help young sailors survive at sea in tough conditions. It was World War II, and when merchant marine ships were bombed by the Nazis, the old sea salts were surviving in life boats, and younger, more fit sailors were not. Hahn, a long time educator, developed a program for new sailors to develop perseverance, a sense of caring for each other, and how to effectively deal with challenge. Outward Bound evolved into locations and Schools worldwide.
From its sailing roots in Britain, Outward Bound now operates programs in about 30 countries. Each is tailored to the culture of its country. In the U.S., Outward Bound operates from the Pacific Northwest to the coast of Maine, and from the Sierra of California to the Everglades of Florida. Programs offer outdoor adventure and challenge to people of all ages, through a wide range of activity. Students of all backgrounds are welcome, no matter their race, socio-economic background, ethnicity or gender identity.
Because every student deserves the opportunity for challenge and discovery, financial aid and scholarships are available thanks to generous donations from alumni, parents, corporations and many others. Aid and scholarships are based on need, motivation and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis by the School where the course is offered. Learn more here.
Outward Bound is also inclusive of all skill levels in the outdoors. We welcome students who have or haven’t set up a tent, belayed a partner while rock climbing or navigated via map and compass. Our expeditions will teach your child valuable outdoor skills, while incorporating lessons of teamwork, compassion, perseverance and so much more.
Why Choose Outward Bound?
If you are going to invest time, money and energy into a summer program, choose Outward Bound. For over 50 years we have challenged students to discover there is more in them than they know. With the best Instructors in the industry and award-winning programs, students return home from their expeditions empowered with confidence, tenacity and compassion. Kids in middle school will learn confidence and realize their decisions have an impact on the world around them. High school students get a taste of independence and learn how to set and achieve goals.
The best gift you can give your child this summer is the chance to discover their true potential. Outward Bound provides the gear, friends, fun and experience to make it happen.
Are you ready to take the next step and give your son or daughter an amazing summer experience? View summer courses here. They fill up fast, so enroll today! If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at 866-467-7651.
About the Author
CJ Wilson’s career in outdoor education has taken her from Maine to Minnesota, and from the Sierra Nevada to Patagonia. A long-time Outward Bound Instructor, she writes from her base camp in Asheville, NC. When not writing, she might be found working as a ranger in a national park, bicycle touring or hiking her favorite trails near home.