Getting Started

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:

  1. Start at the thrift store.
  2. Buy last year’s model.
  3. Don’t worry about colors or style.

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. 

Equipment Provided by Outward Bound

Outward Bound will provide you with these items:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • Backpack
  • Rain gear
  • All group camping, cooking, and traveling equipment

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.

Layering Principles

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.

  1. Inner Layer: This is usually called the wicking layer (long underwear, liner socks, and sometimes gloves) – Moisture is the enemy of warmth. Sweat from physical activity like backpacking, paddling, or climbing is your body’s attempt to cool itself off. Synthetic long underwear pulls moisture away from your body, so your sweat won’t cool you down too much and make you cold. This layer is worn next to your skin. Cotton items retain moisture and exaggerate sweat’s cooling effect, which is why we’ll sometimes ask you to avoid using cotton clothing.
  2. Middle Layer: This is usually called the insulation layer (fleece tops, wool socks, and sometimes fleece pants) – This layer should be thick and fluffy like a fleece or wool sweater that will trap and store the heat your body is producing. This layer is worn over the top of the base layer. Your packing list might require more than one “insulating layer” like a medium weight fleece and a heavier wool sweater. You can put on several "insulating layer" pieces at a time, so be sure to try them on over the top of your inner layer and over the top of each other to ensure you still have mobility and things aren't too tight.
  3. Outer Layer: This is usually called the wind/shell layer (jackets, pants, and rain gear) – Adding an outer windproof layer prevents the wind from stealing your store of built-up heat. The third layer is worn on top of the base and insulation layers. This layer will take the most wear and tear and look the most weather-beaten by the end of the trip.  For dogsledding courses, we provide all outer layers for you.  For all other courses, rain gear is provided.
Required Clothing & Gear


  • 1 Warm Beanie. Used on colder days and evenings.  No cotton.
  • 1 Sun Hat. At a minimum, it should shade your face like a baseball cap.  Having a brim all the way around is even better. Made out of something that can get folded up and packed.
  • 2 Washable Cloth Masks- Must cover nose and mouth, and be secured either around the back of the head or behind the ears. These masks will be worn at different times throughout the course to mitigate the spread of communicable diseases. This is a required Please talk with your Course Advisor if you have any questions. See more detailed mask info here: Mask Information
  • 1 Buff. Versatile lightweight neck gaiter. Buff Example

 Upper Body

  • 1 Light or Medium Weight Long Underwear Top. This can be fitted (not restrictive) because it will be the base layer next to your skin.
  • 1 Long Sleeve Sun Shirt. Loose, lightweight, and light-colored for sun and bug protection. Instructors prefer old button-down men's dress shirts.  It’s likely that you won’t want to wear this shirt again after your course because of the wear and tear it will undergo, so don’t spend too much on it.
  • 3 Short Sleeve Shirts. Cotton or quick-drying fabrics are both absolutely fine.  Again, these shirts will experience a lot of wear and tear.
  • 1 Medium-Weight Warm Top. This can be a polyester or 100 weight wool or fleece shirt.  Usually comes with a 1/2 to 3/4's zipper.
  • 1 Heavy Fleece or Wool Top.Must have good breathability and dry quickly when wet.  This can usually be found at a thrift store.  Must fit over all other layers.
  • 1 Wind Jacket. Nothing fancy, basically an old-fashioned windbreaker.  This can usually be found at a thrift store.  Must fit over all other layers.
  • 2 Sports Bras. Should be appropriate for athletic activity. Many women will use this as a swimsuit top with Quick Dry shorts.  You do not need to bring a swimsuit if you plan on using this combination.

 Lower Body

  • 1 Light or Medium Weight Long Underwear Bottoms. This can be fitted (not restrictive) because it will be the base layer next to your skin.
  • 1 Quick Dry Pants. Lightweight nylon fabric wicks moisture, dries quickly, and is easy to pack. Should be loose fitting to aid in movement and protect against bug bites through the pants (no yoga-style or tight pants). If durable, one pair will last the trip. One pair can be zip-off pants, in which case you do not need Quick Dry  No cotton.
  • 1 Quick Dry Short. Lightweight nylon fabric wicks moisture, dries quickly, and is easy to pack.  Shouldn't be a swimsuit, though could easily double as a swimsuit or swimsuit bottom.
  • 3 Pairs Underwear - Quick Drying or Cotton. Quick drying underwear is usually a blend of Nylon and Spandex that breathes well, wicks moisture, and dries quickly. Quick Drying is recommended, but cotton is okay as well.  Women should bring at least a couple cotton pairs.
  • 1 Swimsuit. Ladies, you may choose to bring a swimsuit or use a pair of shorts and a sports bra for swimwear.  No bikinis.


  • 3 Pair Hiking Socks. Medium weight wool hiking socks.
  • 1 Pair Canoeing Shoes. Any second pair of old running shoes will work.  Must be sturdy, closed-toed and have a protective sole.  Water shoes will also work. No sandals.
  • 1 Pair Hiking Boots. Sturdy, lightweight hiking boots with ankle support.  See “Footwear” section for more information.
  • 1 Pair Camp Shoes. Lightweight, sturdy running shoes. Not fashion or skateboarding type sneakers. An old pair of running shoes is just fine.  No sandals. 

 Personal Gear

  • 2 Bandanas. These will be helpful in multiple different ways and will get ruined during your course. Bring old or cheap bandanas that you are not attached to. 
  • 1 Pair Sunglasses w/ Keeper Strap and Hard Case. Essential for protecting your eyes in a highly reflective environment.  Keeper strap is important so they don’t fall into the water and sink.
  • 2 Water Bottles. Must be a 32 oz. wide mouth Nalgene-style bottle with a plain lid.
  • 1 Small Headlamp with Extra Batteries. This is a hands-free flashlight. It is either an LED or halogen headlamp that uses a minimum of three volts (two or more AA- or AAA-batteries).  Halogen bulbs are bright but consume more battery power.  LED lamps are bright and consume very little battery power.  Bring one extra set of alkaline batteries per week of course.

 Toiletries & Other Personal Items

  • 1 Sunscreen. Waterproof, SPF 30 or greater.  8-oz. bottle.  No aerosol. You may bring two 3-oz. travel size bottles in place of one 8-oz. bottle.
  • 1 Lip Balm.  30+ SPF or greater.
  • 2 Hand Sanitizers. Pocket-sized squeeze bottles of hand sanitizer.
  • 1 Insect Repellent.  30% DEET or other effective repellent. No aerosol cans allowed.
  • 1 Toiletries Kit. Toothbrush, small toothpaste, comb or brush. Women: bring plenty of feminine supplies. Change in activities can cause irregular periods.
  • 2 Sets Prescription Medications. If you use prescription medications, including inhalers, please bring enough for the entire course.  If possible, bring a backup set.  If you use an inhaler or have a prescription epi-pen, you must bring two. If you use an albuterol Rescue inhaler please bring a spacer. If you do not currently have one please get one prescribed by your doctor to bring along on the trip. Spacers allow the medicine to get into your lungs faster and play a key role in managing asthma in the back country. Clearly label everything with medication names, dosages and when you take them.  Instructors administer medications for students 21 and younger and will ask for them upon your arrival so pack medications in an accessible place in your carry-on.  Outward Bound should be aware of any medications you are bringing, if not, please contact your course advisor immediately.
  • 2 Pair Glasses or Contacts, if needed. Both glasses and contacts are acceptable.  Stick with whatever you normally use.  Bring plenty of supplies and at least one set of backup glasses either way.  Because sterile-lens-care is more difficult on the trail, their use is not encouraged.  Daily disposable contacts are a good option that will help you avoid dirt and dust build-up that might cause damage to your eyes.
  • 1 Medical Insurance Card. Please bring your Insurance card, or a copy of the front and back of the card, if you are covered under any medical insurance.  The actual card is preferred.
  • 1 Towel and Shower Supplies. You’ll have a chance to shower after your expedition.  Bring whatever shower supplies you normally use, ideally in travel sizes, and a towel (any cotton towel).  Pack these items in their own kit so it’s easy to find when you return from the expedition.  These items will not go on the expedition with you.
  • 2 Sets Clean Clothes. After you finish your expedition and shower you’ll want clean clothes for traveling home.  Don’t forget to include socks and underwear.  Please bring clothes that cover your stomach and upper legs and take into consideration cultural differences and social expectations.


  •  Think about bringing $15-$20 for meals during your arrival and departure days.  
  • Travel Information. Carry a copy of the Outward Bound Travel Information for your course (on the tab next to this one) with the Outward Bound phone number in case of travel delays. See this information for directions on what to wear to the start of your course.
  • Cell Phone and Charger. It’s a good idea to travel with a cell phone in case of travel delays.  Your phone will be stored in a safe place during your expedition and returned to you after the trip.  

Camp Shoes

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.


Hiking Boots

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 be relatively waterproof. Full Gore-tex is not necessary. Consider getting a less expensive boot, or using an old pair of boots you already have, and treating them with a waterproofing sealant before the course.  

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.


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.

  • Your toes should never hit the front of your boot.
  • Your boots should be comfortable with plenty of room to wiggle your t
  • Your heel might slip as much as 1/8” to 1/4” in the back. Any more than 1/4” is too m
  • You shouldn’t feel any obvious pressure points.
  • If you don’t feel absolutely confident that your boots fit correctly, purchase them and wear them around your house for a few hours (not outside). Bring them back and look for different boots if you still have concerns.

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.


Optional Items

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.

  • 1 Bug Shirt. While this item is optional, we HIGHLY recommend it for any courses between June and August.  Visit to see exactly what we recommend. Do not bring the all mesh variety because they get ripped.
  • Permethrin - Must treat at least 2-3 days before course-start. Again, this is optional, but the Voyageur Outward Bound School HIGHLY recommends that you treat your clothing* with Permethrin, which repels ticks and mosquitoes. Lyme Disease continues to spread and cases have recently been reported in northern Minnesota.  Your Instructors will teach you how to minimize your risk of tick-bites.  Treating your clothing with Permethrin will further lessen your risk. *DO NOT treat base layers (long underwear tops and bottoms for example), or any item that will cover your face (buffs, masks, etc).
  • Ear Plugs. If you are a light sleeper, earplugs can be very helpful. 
  • 1 Small Fanny Pack.  Can be very handy for carrying and organizing small items.
  • Camera.  Waterproof disposables (bring a few) are great and you don’t have to worry about protecting them from the elements.  A small regular camera would also work well, but you’ll need to take extra precautions to protect it.  Ziploc bags work, or consider getting a waterproof case. 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. 
  • 1 Small Journal.  Small and sturdy.  Please bring pens and put in a Ziplock bag.
  • 1 Pair Teva/Chaco-Style Sandals. Must have an ankle strap.  No leather.
Can I bring...?

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.

a book?
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.

fishing gear?
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.