Why should I choose the Voyageur Outward Bound School?
The Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) has been a leading provider of wilderness expeditions in the United States for over 50 years. VOBS has a strong safety record, highly trained professional staff and a commitment to providing more than just any summer camp or outdoor experience. Outward Bound (OB) is a character development school. Yes, Outward Bound teaches students technical skills, wilderness savvy and a love of the outdoors, but more importantly, Outward Bound gives students an opportunity to develop greater self-confidence and accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
Alumni, looking back at their VOBS experiences, often say it was the best time of their life, but probably not because it was always fun or easy. Outward Bound expeditions are profound and valuable precisely because they’re so physically, emotionally and socially challenging. Inclement weather, long periods of silence, physical discomfort, beautiful wilderness settings, sore muscles, meaningful friendships and tons of easy, care-free fun provide the catalyst for great conversations and personal reflection.
What can I/my child expect to gain from a Voyageur Outward Bound School experience?
All Voyageur Outward Bound School students can expect to be physically and emotionally challenged by their Outward Bound experience. In many cases, Outward Bound may be the hardest thing a student has ever done. Outward Bound philosophy maintains that by facing adversity in the wilderness, students emerge physically and mentally stronger, with an increased mastery of expedition skills as well as a better understanding of one’s own capabilities and how to make a difference in the world. Students develop greater self-confidence, motivation and leadership skills. Time and time again, Outward Bound sees that the payoff is well worth the work, but students should be aware of what they’re getting into and excited about tackling big challenges.
Successful completion of an Outward Bound course demands trust, mastery of skills, fitness, confidence, tenacity, leadership, initiative and compassion. The promotion of these qualities, and the discovery of what one is truly capable of achieving, is the purpose of Outward Bound.
What experience do I need?
No experience is necessary. You do not have to be an athlete or an outdoor enthusiast to succeed at Voyageur Outward Bound. In fact, we have many students who have never camped before. It is important that you physically prepare for your course.
Our Admissions Advisor can answer questions you have about what to expect. The best way to prepare yourself for a course is to get active and commit yourself to giving your best effort. Once on a course, instructors will introduce you to outdoor skills and address any concerns you have.
How challenging will it be?
Voyageur Outward Bound courses are both mentally and physically rigorous. Different aspects of courses challenge each student in different ways. Our courses are designed for people of average fitness; however, how well you prepare for a course can greatly impact your success and enjoyment of the experience.
It is important that you: be prepared to keep an open mind, be ready to embrace new experiences, and follow the guidelines you receive upon enrollment. Our Student Services Representatives will be there along the road to prepare you and to answer any questions you may have. All you have to do is call or email us.
Will I be safe?
Since 1964, Voyageur Outward Bound has served tens of thousands of students on wilderness expeditions. Safety is of the utmost importance to us. We are proud of our safety record over that time and frequently review and refine our policies to maintain that record. It is important to recognize that there are real risks associated with participating in outdoor activities. Learning to manage those risks is part of every course, and each student is expected to play a role in their own safety by adhering to the rules, policies and procedures set up by instructors and staff members while at Outward Bound.
Our risk management efforts include: internal and external reviews of courses and course areas, instructors who are certified as Wilderness First Responders (an outdoor education industry standard level of training), annual instructor assessments, training requirements and the development of comprehensive program plans.
Even with these measures, risk of serious injury, property damage and death cannot be eliminated. While we cannot completely eliminate these risks, our focus on risk management allows participants to face challenges, travel into remote areas and meet success.
What is wilderness travel like?
Outward Bound courses are demanding. It can literally take every waking moment to get from point A to point B. Travel may be on trails, or “off-trail” over rugged, steep terrain, through forests, snow, rushing rivers or choppy lakes. Travel will require perseverance, grit and humility. Navigating, fire-building and dealing with physical discomfort are all very real challenges to be expected during wilderness travel. Even when the weather is brutal, groups will rarely take rest days, so students should be prepared to push on even when it seems unbearable. When groups get to camp in the evenings and are hungry from a big day’s travel, it still takes over an hour to gather enough firewood, boil water, chop vegetables, cook and serve the meal. Groups master the art of tarp set-up and knot tying to ensure they’re protected from the elements each evening. Every action of the day requires energy and investment, from the moment groups wake up until the moment they fall asleep each night. Rest assured though, it will be worth it in the end; that’s what most Outward Bound alumni would tell prospective students. There is nothing as spectacular as the northern lights on a clear evening, or a moose swimming across a narrow channel just 20 feet in front of the canoe. Moreover, few experiences compare to the sense of accomplishment students feel upon completion of such an epic adventure.
Wilderness travel challenges students to compare what they have at home with what they actually need to survive on the expedition. Hot running water, padded furniture, hot food in seconds and flat sidewalks are not a part of the wilderness experience. Students are asked to leave non-essentials like deodorant, makeup, electronic devices and books behind. These can be difficult sacrifices at first, but in the end, students learn to embrace the rare opportunity to live minimally, finding contentment with less stuff and more substance. When students find their expedition rhythm they often see that life in the wilderness and life at home are both ultimately about food, clothing, shelter and one another.
What does a typical day look like?
A typical day usually means getting up early, making breakfast over a fire or camp stove, packing up camp, mapping a route and heading out on the trail or water, depending on the course-specific activities. Students travel all day, taking breaks to rest, eat and enjoy the view, but generally covering lots of ground. When groups reach camp each evening, they divide up chores like preparing food and setting up tents. After dinner, groups usually sit around the fire, share thoughts on the day, discuss the next day’s plans, laugh and enjoy one another’s company before crawling into their sleeping bags for a well-deserved rest.
Want to know more about the specific course elements? Check out:
How will I stay clean?
Instructors teach their groups about the available bathing options and general backcountry hygiene. Every course environment has different techniques and environmentally appropriate practices for going to the bathroom and bathing. Students learn how to dispose of human waste in latrines, cat holes or other wilderness area-specific methods. Groups carry soap and hand sanitizer for hand washing. Showering and washing hair are typically not options on the course. However, on most Voyageur Outward Bound summer courses students travel on water every day, and swimming is a daily practice when temperatures allow. At the end of the expedition students have access to indoor plumbing and showers before returning home.
What is the food like?
You will help cook meals for yourself and your group while out on your Voyageur Outward Bound School course. Our food is wholesome, simple, lightweight and nonperishable. With high levels of activity on our courses, carbohydrates are essential. A few examples of things you might have are: bagels, cheese, granola, Grape-Nuts, grits, oatmeal, potatoes, raisins, hummus, peanut butter, pita, salami, tortillas, tuna, trail mix, noodles, rice, beans, soup, chili, etc.
With advance notification, we can accommodate vegetarian and many other special diets. If you have questions about whether we can accommodate your special diet, contact us.
What is a 'solo'?
During every course, students separate from each other, staying within close range to the instructors, to be alone – or solo – for a period of time. Most people use this time for reflection and relaxation, as well as a time to use all the technical skills they have learned. This is not a survival test; you will not be dropped into a remote area. Participants will be given shelter, food, water and a journal to help them record and reflect while alone. The Solo sites will be chosen by the instructors, who will find a place that is both secluded and within hearing distance of other members of the group for safety. You will not be traveling during this time and your instructors will check on you occasionally. The length of a Solo is determined by course length, weather and group dynamics.
Who will my instructors be?
Voyageur Outward Bound School Instructors are some of the most highly trained professionals in the outdoor industry. All Instructors must be a minimum of 21 years old. As a leading organization in the experiential education field, Outward Bound requires Instructors who are accomplished outdoor educators, with extensive experience and training in technical and facilitation skills. Thanks to the high retention rates at the Voyageur Outward Bound School, all instructors receive on-going training in technical skills, safety and risk-management. Additionally, the Voyageur Outward Bound School provides continuous professional development training to staff in areas including, but not limited to, leadership, facilitation, teaching and managing group dynamics. Those who are selected to instruct Struggling Teen and Young Adult courses receive additional training specific to working with struggling youth and facilitating conversations with their families.
Typically, new members of the Voyageur Outward Bound School staff arrive with a wealth of experience in the outdoor industry, and they complete an 8-week intensive training before instructing their first Outward Bound course. Most staff complete 1000 or more hours as an Assistant Instructor before being promoted. Every course in the field is accompanied by at least one Instructor who has received 80 hours of training in wilderness medicine, is certified in CPR and is a certified Wilderness First Responder or EMT, in addition to their hours earned as an Assistant Instructor.
What is the gender make up of my crew?
All courses are co-ed unless published otherwise (i.e. Girls Only courses). However, there is no guarantee that the course will attract a mixed gender group. If you have questions about the gender make up of a particular course, give us a call. We can share that information with you. We often try to have instructors of both genders on a course, but cannot guarantee this is always available. Students on courses with a maximum age of 18 or younger will sleep in single gender groups with instructors in close proximity.
How many people are on each course?
A small group is essential to managing wilderness travel and maximizing learning for each individual. In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, courses are broken up into crews of up to seven students with two instructors. In other areas, your crew could be up to 12 students with three instructors. You will laugh, cry, argue, rejoice, celebrate and share every moment of your course with your crewmates, developing close and lasting relationships.
What is the application process like and how long does it take?
The Outward Bound application process is extensive in order to best ensure that students are appropriate and prepared for their Outward Bound experience. In order to reserve a spot, either through the website or over the phone, applicants are required to complete a short Health History Questionnaire and pay a $500 deposit that is applied toward the total cost of the course. This deposit includes a $150 non-refundable enrollment processing fee. After this, a Voyageur Outward Bound School Course Advisor will contact the applicant and provide additional documents, including a more extensive application to be completed within a specified time-frame, typically two weeks. The applicant may also be required to return supplementary documents completed by their doctor, therapist or other reference. Upon receipt of the completed application, a Course Advisor will call/email to schedule a phone interview if s/he has any questions (both parent/guardian and student interviews are mandatory for Struggling Teen and Young Adult expedition applicants). The whole process typically takes 2-3 weeks but can take longer if all pieces of the application are not returned in a timely manner.
Is it possible that I won’t get accepted for my Outward Bound course?
Not all applicants are accepted to the Voyageur Outward Bound School. Outward Bound courses are designed to serve a wide variety of students at different points in their lives. However, the Voyageur Outward Bound School does expect that each applicant puts time and thought into their decision to attend Outward Bound. It is a unique program, unlike typical summer camps, and not everyone is prepared for the challenges that a true wilderness expedition presents. At a minimum, Outward Bound applicants must be willing and able to fully participate without risk to their physical or emotional safety, and committed to their own personal development.
Can I participate on an Outward Bound course with my friend or family member?
In general, Outward Bound discourages friends and family from participating on the same course, unless the course is specifically designed for families. Outward Bound’s goal is to ensure a quality experience for each participant, and we have discovered that people in established relationships, however positive, have expectations and mental images of one other. An Outward Bound course is an opportunity to leave behind any preconceived ideas about oneself and discover new strengths and talents. An environment free of expectations is an important part of this process. When students attend with someone they know, they risk forfeiting much of the value of an Outward Bound experience. In addition, pre-existing relationships sometimes negatively impact group interactions. We therefore encourage friends and family members to enroll on separate courses so each student can experience the full measure of an Outward Bound experience.
Can Outward Bound accommodate my food allergy?
Yes, the Voyageur Outward Bound School can accommodate most food allergies. We put a lot of energy into creating menu plans that work for people with a variety of food allergies, including people who do not eat meat, dairy, gluten, tree nuts and peanuts. In some cases we may ask students to provide some of their own food supplements.
Does Voyageur Outward Bound School provide scholarships and/or payment plans?
Yes. Voyageur Outward Bound offers payment plan options and scholarships based on financial need. For more information, check out our Need-Based Scholarships page.
What does tuition cover?
The tuition you pay prior to going on course covers all of your food while on course, instructors' salaries, land use permits and most of the equipment (backpacks, sleeping bags, cooking utensils) and other technical gear associated with the activities you will participate in at Voyageur Outward Bound School.
Students will need to provide their own clothing, footwear and some gear, such as a headlamp, and will be responsible for the costs of any physician's exam (if required) and travel to and from the course meeting site. A clothing and gear list will be provided to each student upon enrollment. You can always call us if you have questions about the clothing and gear requirements.
How do I get to and from my Outward Bound course?
Once enrolled, a Course Advisor will provide a Travel Information document that will help students schedule their arrival and departure.
MN Courses: In most cases, but not all, Voyageur Outward Bound School students meet in the Duluth International Airport baggage claim at 1:00 PM on the first day of the course. Students typically return to the Duluth International Airport around 11:30 AM on the last day of the course and should plan to fly out any time after 1:00 PM to account for check-in and security clearance.
TX Courses: In most cases, but not all, Voyageur Outward Bound School students arrive in El Paso, TX the day before their course officially begins. Students spend the night in a local hotel (not included in the course cost) as directed by their Course Advisor. Students typically return to the El Paso International Airport around 1:00 PM on the last day of the course and should plan to fly out any time after 2:00 PM to account for check-in and security clearance.
Explicit travel directions will be shared with you after you enroll on a course. Students should refrain from making travel plans prior to being approved for their course and receiving travel details for their specific course as the exact details may differ slightly from the directions listed above.
When can I buy my plane ticket?
We recommend that you delay purchasing nonrefundable airline tickets until you have been approved for participation and the course is confirmed a "go." Occasionally, we cancel courses due to permit changes, low enrollment or other issues.
When you have been approved for the course and you know it is a "go," make sure you pay close attention to the start and end times and location of your course start/end before booking your tickets, to avoid any mistakes with your reservation.
How do I mentally prepare for my Outward Bound course?
One of the greatest challenges on any Outward Bound course is breaking out of established routines and habits. The shock of entering a totally new environment with a group of strangers can be a difficult, and exhilarating, transition. Students can prepare for this transition by incorporating new experiences into their lives well before their Outward Bound course starts. Developing habits that foster a healthy appreciation for new experiences will help students sustain a positive attitude and open mind throughout their expeditions. Here are a few suggestions:
How do I physically prepare for my course?
Adopting a daily exercise routine can be challenging, to say the least, but every minute of physical preparation pays off during an Outward Bound expedition. Before starting any fitness program, it is always a good idea to consult a physician. Outward Bound recommends 30 minutes of aerobic activity (running, bicycling, skiing, etc.) at least three times a week for two to three months before the course begins. Aerobic exercise increases the heart and circulatory systems' ability to supply blood and oxygen to organs and tissue. Don’t forget to stretch to maintain flexibility. If students are already working out three days a week, they may consider building up to five or six days a week, or increasing the length of their workouts by 10%.
Consider specific training techniques to prepare for specific course activities. For example, yoga and upper body weight training will help strengthen core and upper body muscles, and be especially beneficial on paddling courses. If a student is enrolled on a multi-element course that involves backpacking, they may consider training with a weighted backpack. Building core and lower body strength may be more beneficial for backpacking students. A strong commitment to physical preparation will not only increase a student’s enjoyment of their Outward Bound course, it will dramatically reduce their risk of injury during the course.
No matter what course type, the following tips will help: