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.


Prevention of Tick-Borne Diseases

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


  1. Staff will teach students to recognize ticks and remove them as soon as they are found. This is the BEST form of disease prevention. Removing ticks within 24 hours considerably reduces the risk of being infected with a disease-causing bacterium.
  2. When traveling or camping in areas with woods, bushes, high grass, or leaf litter, staff and students will check themselves for ticks at least once every day.
  3. Wear and use protective clothing/equipment (long pants tucked into socks, for instance). Light colors make it easier to see ticks.
  4. Use a chemical barrier. Some Outdoor clothing comes pre-treated with Permethrin, such as BugBeWearInsect ShieldL.L. Bean’s No Fly Zone, and ExOfficio’s BugsAway. You can also treat any clothing and footwear (long-sleeve shirts, jackets, hats, gaiters, and boots) with Permethrin to repel and disable ticks. Two methods for treating your own clothing are to send clothing away to Insect Shield or to treat it yourself at home with a spray-on Permethrin solution available from Sawyer or Repel. This treatment will last up to a month. Follow instructions on the bottle for how to apply permethrin to clothing items. Clothing must be treated prior to traveling to course start. DO NOT treat base layers (long underwear tops and bottoms for example), or any item that will cover your face (buffs, masks, etc).
  5. Use a chemical repellent. Apply insect repellent containing about 30% DEET to exposed skin, according to the directions on the container. This lasts for a few hours before you have to reapply it.

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. 

Additional information

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.

‚Äč‚ÄčAdditional 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.

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

Please follow this link to read VOBS' Essential Eligibility Criteria

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.