Risk Management

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.


Evaluation and Surveys

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.

Essential Eligibility Criteria

VOBS Essential Eligibility Criteria

Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) backcountry wilderness expeditions range from six days in length to two-month semester programs with the goal of changing lives through challenge and discovery. The wilderness environments in which our expedition based programs take place are challenging, remote and exposed.

The health and safety of our students and staff are a top priority, along with the educative quality of the course experience for all participants. To achieve essential group goals, the individuals on each course must be fully capable of and committed to learning and using wilderness skills, meeting physical and social challenges, and taking care of themselves and each other.

VOBS values diversity and a positive learning environment but does not specialize in experiences for people with disabilities or with significant mental, emotional or behavioral challenges. VOBS instructors are not therapists and are not trained in adaptive wilderness or integrative teaching skills.

The Essential Eligibility Criteria (EEC) is applied to all students on VOBS wilderness expeditions that take place in a backcountry environment. A qualified person meets the general EEC for VOBS and the EEC for the specific program activities and program areas. If an applicant does not meet specific criteria, VOBS might be able to accommodate an applicant, but will not do so if it significantly alters the fundamental nature of the course activity, jeopardizes the health and safety of VOBS students or staff, or places an undue administrative or financial burden on VOBS.

General Eligibility Criteria

  • Able to understand verbal and visual instructions individually and in a group setting, and follow such instructions whether supervised or not.
  • Able to comprehend hazards and safety concerns when explained, and to adhere to safety policies and procedures even when instructors are not present.
  • Able to identify and recognize hazards posed by the environment (e.g., steep or uneven terrain, moving water, sun, wind, cold, etc.) and other participants (e.g., fatigue, state of mind and other influencers of judgment and decision making).
  • Able to effectively communicate with others personal distress, injury or need for assistance, and communicate to others any hazards and dangers that they perceive.
  • Able to adapt to the physical and emotional rigors of the expedition, and live in primitive conditions for weeks at a time, often more than a day from advanced medical care.
  • Able to stay properly hydrated and nourished, by day or night, and learn skills for self- care, including proper hygiene and use of clothing and equipment.
  • Learn and then practice Leave No Trace camping and travel techniques.
  • Able to refrain from the use of alcohol, tobacco, controlled substances, and any misuse of prescription or OTC drugs. If using prescription drugs, able to follow correct dosage and usage and keep them in good condition between resupplies (up to eight days) with or without instructor assistance.
  • Able to contribute to a safe social and learning environment and maintain appropriate relationships with other group members and instructors, refrain from sexual activity, harassment and bullying, and all other behavior that disrupts the learning of others or the cohesion of the group.

Backpacking Courses

  • Able to carry a backpack weighing 50-60 pounds, approximately one-third of body weight, that will include personal clothing, group food, and equipment.
  • Able to travel each day wearing a loaded backpack over steep and uneven terrain, on and off trail, for over six hours, over six miles and an elevation gain or loss of over 1500 feet, including sections of scrambling (one or both hands needed), and crossing rivers and streams that do not have bridges.

Canoeing Courses

  • Able to wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD or “life jacket”) correctly, able to maintain a face-up position in water while wearing a PFD, and make progress through the water to shore or a rescue boat.
  • Able to follow instructions immediately upon sudden immersion into cold water, whether the instructions have already been taught or are communicated in the moment.
  • Able to sit and kneel in a canoe and maintain stability.
  • Able to control a paddle and pull it through the water to steer and move the canoe forward.
  • Able to re-enter a canoe from the water with minimal assistance from others.
  • Able to help carry a 75-pound canoe with or without another person on or off a trail.
  • Able to travel over uneven terrain on and off trail.
  • Resupplies of food may occur depending on course type, route, and pre-arranged logistics. Thus students need to be able to carry gear, food and personal items or personal medications, (such as insulin) needed for that ration period. A limited amount of necessary personal items may be sent in at re-‐ration.

Rock Climbing/High Ropes Elements in Courses

  • Able to wear a climbing harness and helmet correctly.
  • Able to participate in belaying and climbing activities.

Sea Kayaking

  • Able to wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD or “life jacket”) correctly, able to maintain a face-up position in water while wearing a PFD, and make progress through the water to shore or a rescue boat.
  • Able to follow instructions immediately upon sudden immersion into cold water, whether the instructions have already been taught or are communicated in the moment.
  • Able to enter a kayak cockpit easily, and execute a wet exit in the event of a capsize.
  • Able to sit in a kayak and maintain stability.
  • Able to control a paddle and pull it through the water to steer and move the kayak forward.
  • Able to re-enter a kayak from the water with minimal assistance from others.
  • Able to carry a 60-pound kayak with another person


  • Move on cross country skis or snowshoes over unpacked snow on uneven terrain and ice-covered lakes or rivers.
  • Able to move a load of gear weighing at minimum 50 lbs. by means of sled, backpack or some combination thereof.
  • Able to maneuver in deep snow without skis in five-pound boots (each) over uneven terrain.
  • Able to travel from camp to camp, which may take all day (8+ hours).
  • Able to perform camp chores such as sawing logs, splitting wood and chopping through the ice to locate water.
  • Able to participate in rescues where people have fallen through the ice.
  • Able to learn the commands and techniques of dogsledding.
  • Able to handle dogs, perform daily dog care responsibilities which include feeding, cleaning up sled dog feces and daily check-ins for injuries.
  • Be able to withstand cold temperatures (‐20 degrees F or colder).
Emergency Communication

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.

Course Preparation

While you do not have to be a gifted athlete or in peak physical condition to attend an Outward Bound course, you do have to prepare for the challenges of Outward Bound.

There are two kinds of strength necessary to complete your course; physical and mental. Your body needs to be strong, but you must also come with an open mind, willing spirit and a cooperative attitude. Whether you paddle a canoe or kayak for six or eight hours, expedition with a 50+ pound pack for 10 miles or mush a dogsled, you will be pushed and rewarded on many levels.

Preparing for Your Course

Admissions and Cancellation Policies

Please familiarize yourself with the policies outlined in the Policies Page. By enrolling in Outward Bound you are accountable for and subject to the information contained on these pages.