We look forward to having you on course with us soon! If you have questions about the application process, submitting forms, or anything else, you may contact the Community Programs Course Advisor, Megan Thiele: firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 491-6790.
This webpage is your home base for information about your upcoming partnership program.
Our Mission: To change lives through challenge and discovery
Our Vision: A more resilient and compassionate world... with more resilient and compassionate people
Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) is excited to partner with your school for a leadership adventure like no other. Your Leadership Expedition (wilderness trip), will take place in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). You and your crew will learn to travel by a traditional and efficient mode of BWACW transportation, the canoe.
The Boundary Waters is a protected and pristine wilderness, with more water than land, and the canoe is well-suited for surviving and thriving in this biome, and it stretches across the northeastern border of Minnesota. The area communicates important stories about conservation, people and place. From geology, to mining and indigenous culture, the BWCAW invites curiosity, inquiry and leadership. You will be challenged to reflect on your place in the world, and you will be called upon to lead with your peers. There is zero light and noise pollution; this may be the first time you truly encounter the wonder of the night sky and really hear wilderness. Numerous lakes, islands and portages create great conditions for learning leadership. You will be part of a crew, and not a passenger. Together, with your peers, you will learn to survive, adapt and thrive in one of the most beautiful, interesting and challenging places on earth.
Your BWCAW Expedition is designed to support your compassion, resilience and leadership. You will travel in a crew of seven students, with two highly experienced, very caring Outward Bound Instructors. You will learn through the group and for the group. You and your peers will progress through Outward Bound’s time-tested and proven Theory of Change, found in the next section.
See what previous students have said about their experience:
Wilderness Leadership Expeditions
Theory of Change:
On Expedition, each participant learns and executes a specific role each day to support safe and successful group wilderness travel and survival, activating peer and personal leadership through trust and vulnerability. Participants develop character and community together-- more resilient and compassionate people, for a more resilient and compassionate world.
The Leadership Expedition develops key social-emotional skills across four Domains of Thriving, leading to vital character outcomes for success. Outward Bound promotes belonging, strength and purpose for developing leaders through hands-on intra and inter-personal skill development.
Belonging, Courage, Physical Engagement, Reflection
Up-to-date COVID-19 vaccination is required to participate in this program. You will need to provide proof of vaccination with your enrollment paperwork. COVID protocols on your course will likely include masking indoors, physical distancing, and testing on Day 1 & 4 of the course.
Please review our COVID-19 Practices page for all our pre-course and on-course policies.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)
Over 10,000 years ago, continental-sized glaciers scraped their way across much of Ontario and northern Minnesota leaving deep ruts, ravines, and holes in their tracks. Eventually, as the glaciers melted, these ravines filled with water, creating a seemingly endless interconnected web of lakes and rivers.
In 1978, the United States designated over 1-million acres of this Northern Minnesota landscape as a protected wilderness area called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Because no roads, power lines, or motorized craft may enter its borders, the BWCAW has remained relatively unchanged since the glaciers receded. The BWCAW extends nearly 150 miles along the Canadian border and encompasses more than 1,000 lakes and rivers. Over 1,200 miles of navigable routes lead to over 2,200 campsites and provide an unparalleled opportunity to travel by canoe and dogsled.
In the winter, the BWCAW transforms into an even more severe and remote wilderness. While more difficult, winter enthusiasts’ travel over frozen lakes and rivers by dogsled, cross-country ski and snowshoe. Winter in the Boundary Waters is mesmerizing, peaceful, and exhilarating. It is a place of spectacular extremes, trackless snow, bracing cold air, glowing warm embers, and powerful silence.
Homeplace, Voyageur Outward Bound School Basecamp, Minnesota
Homeplace is located at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Situated where the Kawishiwi River meets Birch Lake in the Superior National Forest, the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp provides an ideal location for launching/ending BWCAW paddling and dogsledding trips, and practicing white water paddling skills. The surrounding boreal forest also makes Homeplace a great location for spotting moose, wolves, beavers, deer, woodpeckers, eagles and black bear.
Minnesota’s weather can be unpredictable with a wide range of temperatures. In the summer the temperature tends to stay between 60 and 85 degrees. Summer brings occasional thunderstorms and rain showers. Expect cooler evenings, misty mornings, occasional rainstorms, and hot days perfect for swimming.
Canoeing – It’s possible to canoe to the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans from the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp in land-locked northern Minnesota. These journeys, which take anywhere from 3 months or longer, always begin in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW); a million-acre protected expanse of interconnected lakes and rivers. It is also one of the most historically significant and remote wilderness areas in North America.
Because all Voyageur Outward Bound School canoeing courses are un-resupplied, groups paddle with absolutely everything they will need for their entire expedition, allowing students to journey deep into the wilderness. This type of extended wilderness experience, along with our highly-trained Instructors, help students develop and refine new expedition skills, cultivate a deep connection with the environment, form meaningful friendships, and develop a better understanding themselves through challenge and discovery.
During a Voyageur Outward Bound School canoeing expedition, students learn a variety of paddling skills to contend with diverse weather and waterway conditions as they canoe from campsite to campsite. Wind speeds tend to increase around noon and sometimes remain strong throughout the day. For this reason, groups will often rise early to take advantage of flat waters in the morning and then enjoy a longer lunch break as they wait for the windiest part of the day to pass. Paddling partners work together to steer and power their boats through rivers, swamps and lakes, usually traveling between 8 and 20 miles a day. Students also learn how to portage, navigate with a map and compass, cook over a fire or stove, and employ Leave No Trace® wilderness ethics.
Course End – All courses end with a shower, graduation ceremony and celebration dinner. Shower facilities are available at the basecamp.
Please utilize the resource below to physically and mentally prepare for your course. The more preparation you do, the better your experience will be!
The following is an example of what your course itinerary may look like. Your actual itinerary will vary according to weather, student skills and abilities, and instructor preferences.
Day 1: The course begins at the Duluth Airport before transporting to your first campsite near the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp in northern MN. Meet your Outward Bound Instructors, organize your equipment, eat dinner and sleep in tents.
Day 2: Participate in a half-day of rock climbing at a stunning outdoor rock climbing site before entering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to begin the expedition. Learn to paddle and portage a canoe, set up camp, and cook over a fire. Travel until it’s time to set up camp each night.
Day 3: Continue paddling and portaging from campsite to campsite as you refine your wilderness skills and get to know your group.
Day 4: Experience Solo. Take time to rest and reflect at your own little campsite on the shore of a lake. You will not travel during this time and your Instructors will check on you occasionally.
Day 5: Travel back to the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp. Clean your expedition equipment, experience the high ropes course, and enjoy sleeping in a bunkhouse.
Day 6: Participate in the Personal Challenge Event, shower, and attend a graduation ceremony before enjoying a final banquet celebration.
Day 7: Eat an early breakfast and depart for the airport to travel home.
Click on this link to enroll on this course. You will be asked for basic contact and medical history information. This initial registration takes 20-30 minutes, and can be paused at any time to continue later. Once you submit this registration, your course advisor will email you with more course information, and any follow- up paperwork you might need. Registration is due 2 months prior to the course start day.
Wilderness travel means you can and, for your comfort, should carry a lot less than you do in the regular world. Most experienced wilderness travelers will tell you that they bring about the same amount of gear on a three-day trip as they would on a three-week trip. This packing list has been refined over 50 years of Voyageur Outward Bound School expeditions. Please stick to it closely. It is designed to ensure that you have everything you need to be safe and comfortable during your expedition.
If you do not have, or cannot get, any of the gear listed on the packing list, please let your school leader or course advisor know, and Outward Bound can provide those items for you.
Because our courses are characterized by unpredictable weather, obtaining the proper clothing is crucial. Please bring all the items as described on the "Required Clothing and Gear" list below. You can find these items at camping, outdoor, Army/Navy surplus, and thrift stores. Clothing and gear can be expensive—shop around before you buy and keep these helpful tips in mind:
Your choices should be governed by whether or not the piece of clothing or gear will meet our requirements, not if it is the best looking or newest! Consider leaving the tags on any new items you have purchased and saving the receipts; in the event that an item is not needed for your expedition or you do not use it, you should be able to return it when you get back home.
NOTE: When you arrive for course start, you will not have an opportunity to purchase forgotten items.
If you are looking to shop online, many students use the following websites to find their clothing and gear:
On the first night of the course, your instructors will issue you the equipment provided by Outward Bound and assess all of the clothing/equipment you’ve brought in order to ensure that it meets the requirements of the expedition. You’ll repack exactly what you need into packs provided by Outward Bound. Everything you don’t need during the expedition, including your shower supplies, clean clothes for the trip home, valuables, and electronics will stay in your luggage and be stored in a secure location for the duration of the course. These items will be returned to you at the end of the trip.
Outward Bound will provide you with these items:
You only need to bring what’s on the Required Clothing and Gear list, mainly your personal clothing, toiletries, footwear, and a few additional items. We strongly discourage the use of personal camping equipment on Voyageur Outward Bound School courses because of the heavy wear and tear. We feel confident that the equipment we provide will best serve your needs on the expedition; it will keep you safe, warm and dry. If you have questions about using a piece of personal equipment normally provided by Outward Bound, please contact your course advisor to discuss. If you do decide to bring a piece of personal equipment, your instructors reserve the right to inspect it and ensure that it will adequately serve your needs during the expedition. If they do not think it will work, you can leave it with your luggage at the basecamp during the expedition.
Our packing list is based on layering principles; dressing in several light layers rather than one heavy layer allows you more flexibility as the weather and your exertion levels change. When shopping or packing, it is a good idea to try on all of your layers at once to ensure that they fit over one another. Read the information below to get a better idea of what we’re talking about.
Toiletries & Other Personal Items
Your Camp Shoes are worn each evening and morning at your campsite. They get packed away in a safe spot while you travel so they remain dry. Camp shoes should be lightweight, sturdy running shoes, not sandals. Full coverage shoes are required while you’re cooking and working around the campfire to protect your feet from hot embers and boiling cooking-water.
Some Voyageur Outward Bound School courses finish with a Challenge Event that often involves a running component, and some groups do morning runs or day hikes. You can use your camp shoes for these events. For this reason, you’ll need sturdy running shoes NOT fashion or skateboarding type sneakers.
Voyageur Outward Bound courses are rugged and the way you will travel is very unique. Your boots will be one of the most important pieces of equipment that you bring. They will need to be comfortable and perform well in a variety of different environmental settings. Follow the guidelines below to ensure that your boots fit well and meet the course requirements.
Boots must have strong ankle support, a protective sole and the ability to drain water from the inside out. Your instructors will teach you how to take good care of your feet, but everything starts with having the right boots. It is important to allow airflow to your feet. For this reason, avoid all-leather and all-Gore-Tex boots, which trap moisture inside your boot. Some leather and Gore-Tex are OK, and probably unavoidable, but try to minimize them as much as you can. Boots should have as much water-shedding, breathable, mesh material as possible.
If you are participating on a multi-element course with a backpacking component, your boots may or may not dry out from day to day, depending on the weather conditions you encounter.
Here is a list of boots that work well on Voyageur Outward Bound School canoeing and backpacking courses. If you have questions about a boot that’s not listed here, consider the essential requirements – your boots must be sturdy with a strong, protective sole, have full ankle protection (high-top), and allow water to shed/feet to breathe. If you still have questions about a boot not listed here, send an email to your course advisor for their input; include a link so they can view the boot online.
Start by trying on at least two or three different boot options. Put the first choice on one foot and the second choice on the other. Make sure that you’re wearing the same type of wool socks that you plan to wear during the expedition (refer to the packing list for more detail) and fully lace up the boots. Start by standing on a downward slanting slope and try to jam your toes towards the front of the boot. Next, take a walk around the store.
Boots undergo extensive wear and tear during the course and may not be of much use after the course. For this reason, consider a less expensive boot.
Break in your boots before the course begins! Wear them around town, school and at home as much as possible (several weeks). This simple activity cannot be over-emphasized and is one of the easiest and most important steps in preparing for a successful and comfortable wilderness adventure.
None of these items are required and you will be fine without them. Please only buy them if you plan to use them again after your course or you think they will be of great assistance to you during the course. You may be asked to leave these items behind depending on pack-size and weight restrictions.
i-pods, MP3 players, computers, i-pads, and GPS devices?
Cell phones, tablets, GPS devices and all other electronic devices (exception-digital cameras) are not permitted on course. Electronic devices can be distracting and disruptive to the wilderness experience. Stepping away from these devices encourages participants to focus on their experience and their crewmates.
You are, however, more than welcome to travel to and from your course with whatever technology you choose. When you arrive, we’ll have you turn off all electronic devices and leave them in your luggage. Your luggage will then be locked in a secure area during your course. At the end of your course, you’ll get everything back. Additionally, please do not bring any emergency response technology. Your instructors will carry emergency communication devices.
Cameras are welcomed at Voyageur Outward Bound School. We recommended waterproof disposable cameras. If you elect to bring a non-disposable camera, we advise that you store it in a small “dry bag” or plastic zip-lock bag. Our courses are rigorous and there is a risk of losing or damaging your camera.
For digital cameras, we ask that the memory card(s) be blank; please back up your photos and erase your memory cards prior to arriving for course. Cell phone cameras, tablets, and any other Wi-Fi enabled electronic devices with built-in cameras are not permitted on the course.
my cell phone and use it as a camera?
No, if you’d like to take pictures, please bring a camera that does not have cellular capabilities. No cell-phones will be allowed on the expedition.
Unless it’s a natural history identification book, we’d ask you to leave books at home. You’ll be very busy during your expedition and will want to spend your downtime with other group members, sleeping, and just relaxing in nature. Books also get damaged easily. You can bring a book for your travel days but don’t plan to bring it on the expedition.
a pocket knife?
Please do not bring any knives with you to your course-start. Your instructors will provide knives as they are needed throughout the expedition.
my own camping gear (sleeping bag, tent, etc.)?
We strongly discourage the use of personal camping equipment on Voyageur Outward Bound School courses because of the heavy wear and tear. We feel confident that the equipment we provide will best serve your needs on the expedition; it will keep you safe, warm and dry. If you have questions about using a piece of personal equipment normally provided by Outward Bound, please contact your course advisor to discuss. If you do decide to bring a piece of personal equipment, your instructors reserve the right to inspect it and ensure that it will adequately serve your needs during the expedition. If they do not think it will work, you can leave it with your luggage at the basecamp during the expedition.
Every day you will be traveling from campsite to campsite working your way back to the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp or your pick-up location. You’ll be very busy with the daily chores of traveling and living in a wilderness setting and there may not be time for fishing. For this reason, fishing is not a typical activity on most Voyageur Outward Bound School courses. However, if you are very interested in fishing, an exception is sometimes (not always) possible. In these cases, you will need to ensure that you have the correct permit/license, bring one small collapsible pole and one small (paperback book size) fishing tackle box. Outward Bound will provide a fillet knife. Call your course adviser if you are interested in fishing during your course, but please understand that it may not work-out due to other course goals and logistics.
over the counter medications?
Voyageur Outward Bound School Instructors carry an extensive First-Aid kit with ample supply of over-the-counter medications like pain relievers and antacids, among other supplies. Instructors also carry prescription epinephrine injections in case of an anaphylactic emergency. You shouldn’t need to bring your own OTC medication. However, if you frequently take something specific, please consult your course advisor to discuss whether you should bring it or not.
tobacco, drugs, or alcohol?
Tobacco, drugs, and alcohol are NOT permitted on course, this includes both time spent in the wilderness and at basecamp.
Please also DO NOT bring valuables, jewelry, makeup, candy, gum, or large amounts of money.
MEALS AND MONEY ON ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE DAYS - Please bring a little cash for meals during your travel days. Outward Bound will provide dinner on the first day, breakfast on the last day, and some snacks on both of these days. There are minimal food options once you exit the security gate at the airport so plan to get something before you arrive or before you exit security. Remember to drink plenty of water throughout travel days!
MEDICATIONS – If you take a prescription medication, please ensure that you have enough to complete the entire course, and bring a back-up set if possible. If you use an inhaler or carry an Epi-pen, please bring 2 sets.
Remember to pack your medications and other important items (contacts, glasses, travel documents, money) in your carry-on luggage in case your checked bag is delayed or lost.
CLOTHING/DRESS ON ARRIVAL DAY – Please arrive at the meeting place already dressed in your expedition clothes. Your boots or tennis shoes, wool socks, quick-dry pants, underwear, t-shirt and warmer long-sleeved layer (accessible) work best on the first day. Please see the provided packing list for further information about appropriate luggage, clothing and layering principles.
If a student’s family experiences an emergency and needs to contact them while he/she is in the wilderness, the family should contact their designated course director or the emergency response number at 218-491-6799 and listen to the voicemail message for instructions. Each student has a designated course director and their contact information is emailed to the student shortly before the course begins. Students should share these important phone numbers with their family before their course begins.
Please follow this link to read VOBS' Essential Eligibility Criteria.
VOBS regularly evaluates its programming. Students may be asked to complete 1-2 surveys at the end of their course to assist us in this evaluation. These surveys may include:
1. We ask all participants to complete an anonymous survey at the end of programming. Participants are asked to answer the survey items and to indicate their race/ethnicity, gender, and birth year. Completing the survey is optional. No identifying information is included as part of the survey or in any reporting. We also ask participants to provide a reflection of their course and other feedback. This information is used by the organization for reporting on program outcomes and for program improvement purposes.
2. Outward Bound is partnering with The PEAR Institute (Partnerships in Education and Resilience) on a research project to promote our students’ positive social-emotional development. As part of this effort, Outward Bound staff may invite you/your child to complete a brief survey at the end of your/their Outward Bound course. The survey includes PEAR’s Holistic Student Assessment (HSA) plus several additional questions about the student’s social-emotional development and experience while on the course. You/your child’s responses will be kept confidential, results will be reported as a group, and names will never be used in any reports related to this research. Data from this survey will be used for research and educational work and only designated Outward Bound staff and Outward Bound’s research partners will have access to the results.
For more information, including the opportunity to opt-out of the survey, click on the following link/s to download the English Language, English-Spanish Language, or English-CapeVerdeCreole Language versions of the consent form opt-out and return a signed copy to your Course Advisor.
Tick-borne disease is a risk in the areas where VOBS runs the majority of their courses. Fortunately, there are prevention steps that are very effective, and in the case of infection, treatment is relatively simple and recovery complete, so long as the diagnosis is made early. Students and their families should educate themselves on the risks, prevention measures, and signs and symptoms of tick-borne diseases by reading the information provided below.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease, but is not the only risk. Some of the other common tick-borne diseases reported include Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan (POW) virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, and Anaplasmosis. There are treatments available for these diseases, but prevention is by far the best and first step!
*Lyme Disease Incidence Rates by State 2010- 2019 http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/stats/chartstables/incidencebystate.html
You should include this with your child if it is on the course packing list. Insect repellent containing DEET will also be supplied on all courses where there is a significant chance of vector-borne illness transmission.
Signs and Symptoms
There are many symptoms associated with tick-borne diseases. Infected people may not have all of these symptoms and many of these symptoms can occur with other diseases as well. Some common symptoms of infection with tick-borne diseases include body/muscle aches, fever, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, rash, stiff neck, and facial paralysis. Seek medical attention if signs and symptoms of a tick-borne illness appear. Tick-borne diseases are diagnosed based on symptoms and the possibility that the person has been exposed to infected ticks. Most cases can be successfully treated with specific types of antibiotics.
There are other vectors in addition to ticks that inhabit the areas VOBS travels in, mainly mosquitos. Some vectors may be capable of transmitting West Nile Virus, LaCrosse Encephalitis, Jamestown Canyon Virus, Lyme’s disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan Virus, Tularemia, and Swimmer’s Itch.
Additional information on vectors, vector-borne diseases, and their prevention can be found on the CDC, WHO, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Texas state department of health websites.
Safety is our number one priority. At all levels of our school, we demonstrate our dedication to participant safety by our words, actions and values. Outward Bound has been a national leader in wilderness safety for over 50 years and frequently advises and assists other organizations in outdoor adventure risk management. Living and traveling in a remote wilderness setting exposes you to risks different than those you may encounter in your daily life. We believe that accepting appropriate risks and training and preparing participants to manage those risks, provides invaluable life experience.
Regardless of precautionary measures, risk and uncertainty are central to the concept of challenge and adventure. The intent is not to avoid activities involving risk but to recognize, prepare for and successfully manage risk. In order to identify any potential hazards and update best practices, our programs are regularly reviewed by outdoor professionals from inside and outside the Outward Bound system.
Outward Bound instructors receive regular training in the activities and environments in which we deliver our courses. They are trained to anticipate and manage risks inherent in remote areas. They are also trained in first aid, search and rescue and emergency management. Our instructors are certified Wilderness First Responders; some are Wilderness Emergency Medical Technicians or equivalent. Outward Bound maintains a minimum staff-to-student ratio of approximately 1:6. Instructors work in teams of two or three with six to 12 students. Instructor teams are usually co-ed but balancing skills and teaching styles is our primary staffing focus. One instructor in every team is a lead instructor with multiple seasons of training and experience. The lead instructor has single point accountability for the safety and effectiveness of the course in the field as well as mentoring their staffing team.
For more information on our instructors, please check out our staff profiles page or our careers page for instructor requirements. As a participant, you must take responsibility for yourself by following instructions and practicing the skills taught by your instructors.