A Message from Outward Bound USA | National Program Update

Latest Course/Program Information as of May 21, 2020

For the remainder of 2020, Outward Bound in the United States will offer limited programming that meets strict pandemic response requirements established by OBUSA in coordination with regional Outward Bound Schools and aligned with the regulations and public health guidance at local, state and federal levels.

In light of the numerous and significant challenges of managing the threat of COVID-19 to students, staff and our communities, Outward Bound summer programs will be significantly reduced.

This decision has unique implications for each regional Outward Bound School. We acknowledge and empathize with those shouldering the impacts and repercussions: our Schools, our staff, our communities and our organization as a whole. There will be reductions in operations and students served, community impact and likely further reductions in staff. We make this decision together, knowing it is the right thing to do and with the utmost regard for the safety and well-being of those affected.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic is the very definition of uncertainty in the face of significant challenge. While a great deal remains unknown about the virus itself and how communities across the country will continue to be impacted and respond, what is abundantly clear is that it has never been more important for Outward Bound to demonstrate leadership in assessing, mitigating and managing risk.

Outward Bound is ideally positioned with teaching locations in diverse and remote areas across the U.S. and a range of program types where the number of students, days in the field, types of activities can vary widely. With the guidance of Outward Bound USA Safety and Risk Committees, working in partnership with Outward Bound Schools, those courses, activities and locations that meet or exceed a risk management threshold will be offered.

Information for Staff and Supporters:

To our staff, we are humbled and inspired each day by your dedication and passion for the values and positive impacts of Outward Bound. With the changes to our programs this year, we recognize that there will likely be downsizing across the Outward Bound network. Each of our Schools has rushed to secure critical loans and funding to keep as many staff employed as possible. We are so grateful for each and every one of you who have given so much as a part of our organization.

Outward Bound is a community, and our community events are also impacted. Currently all gatherings and events are cancelled or postponed; many have been re-created as virtual, online events. This precaution includes all Staff, Alumni and Fundraising events, and is in alignment with CDC guidance.

In our workplaces, we have eliminated in-person meetings and non-essential travel in favor of online or teleconference meetings. We are following the guidelines set by local governments and school districts and requiring all employees to work from home.

COVID-19 is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. We will continue to monitor the situation and take proactive steps in support of the national and local efforts to slow the spread of this disease and to reduce the risk of significant impacts to our future students, our staff and our communities.

For reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic, please refer to the resources below: The Outward Bound Community is resilient. We will continue to tap into our values, our strengths and lean on one another, with compassion, in the coming weeks and months. We will face this challenge, like those we equip our students to face in life, with an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion. We are incredibly grateful for your understanding and support.


Josh Brankman, Executive Director, Outward Bound USA

May 21, 2020
What should I expect on course?
Participants should come prepared to work hard, have fun and learn new skills. Your time with us will be spent outdoors in the natural world, meeting challenges, practicing leadership, managing risks and working closely within a group. Along the way, you will be guided by your instructors and supported by the camaraderie of fellow students.
Is it safe?
Outward Bound has an excellent safety record, and the safety of our participants is a top priority. We invest considerable time and resources in training our staff and reviewing our programs to ensure that they meet Outward Bound’s national standards of safety and quality. The accuracy of the information you provide on medical forms is a safety essential. Families will be notified immediately in the case of an emergency.
Why go into the wilderness or to new places in the city to learn about leadership?
In addition to providing a beautiful setting, wild and natural places offer a unique learning environment. The unfamiliar spaces present participants with inherent challenges and logical natural consequences. While learning to face these challenges as individuals and as a group, participants develop the skills they need to step into leadership roles and more effectively face challenges in their daily lives.
What is a Leadership Expedition?
Participants will be part of a team comprised of 6-12 participants and two professionally trained Outward Bound instructors. Expeditions take place in one of our many course areas which included: portions of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, the wilderness of the Delaware Water Gap, or the Pinelands National Reserve. Depending on the course which you are enrolled, you may experience rock climbing, map and compass navigation, environmental ethics, emotional and physical challenges and team leadership skill development.
How are instructors trained?
Outward Bound instructors are highly qualified outdoor professionals and educators, extensively trained and certified in both hard and soft skills. Typical certifications include: Wilderness First Responder, Wilderness Lifeguarding, AMGA Rock Climbing and ACA Canoe instruction. An instructor must be certified and have both personal experience and professional guiding experience before becoming staff. Outward Bound instructors receive an equal level of instruction in soft skills. This includes group management, conflict resolution, goal-setting and action-planning, managing adolescents in the field, and judgment training. Instructors also learn curriculum, lesson planning, and natural history. They are taught by Outward Bound staff, through the Blank-Read Training Institute and by other professionals.
What should I bring on my Leadership Expedition?
Bringing the proper clothing on your program is crucial. After you are enrolled you will receive a welcome packet that includes a clothing list specific to your course. This list has been carefully compiled based on all the weather conditions you may encounter while on your program. Our clothing list reflects the importance of the layering principle. Dressing in several light layers rather than one heavy layer allows you more flexibility as the weather and workloads change. Wool has been the long-time favorite of outdoors people, as it retains much of its insulating qualities when wet. Both synthetic and wool items are available in backpacking stores, surplus outlets and thrift stores. We advise you not to bring cotton clothing, such as jeans or sweatshirts (t-shirts are okay). Cotton retains moisture and loses almost all of its ability to retain warmth when wet. Also, once cotton gets wet, it stays wet and weighs more. Each participant should have a total of two pairs of closed-toe shoes for any course, one pair for daily use and one pair that can get wet.
Do I need to purchase gear or clothing for my course?
Please don’t feel that you must buy anything. Outward Bound provides all technical equipment, including rain gear, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, duffel bags, back packs, stoves, food, etc. Even if you bring your own equipment, we may insist you use ours.
What should I NOT bring on my expedition?
Please do not bring the following items:
  • Jewelry and other valuable articles.
  • Electronic devices (e.g. cell phone, mp3 players, videogames, etc.)
  • Playing cards
  • Pocket knives
  • Books or magazines
What about medications?
Prescription medications must be approved by the Medical Screening Department before the program starts. If you cannot go for 24-36 hours without your medication, in case of an emergency, we recommend that you bring double the amount needed (with written instructions) in separate, non-breakable, waterproof containers.
What kind of food will we eat?
While on course you will be eating nutritious and portable food – grains, pasta, cheese, vegetables, fruit and nuts – selected to meet high-energy demands for your program. Typical meals include burritos, macaroni and cheese, and tuna sandwiches. The diet may differ from what you are accustomed to at home. To prepare, we suggest you cut down on soft drinks, coffee and junk food.
How will I stay clean??
We are very aware of basic sanitation in the wilderness. You will wash your hands regularly and learn tricks of the trade to staying clean, even though you will not be able to shower. Deodorant is not advised because it has a tendency to irritate skin when not washed off regularly, and the scent attracts many unwanted insects and animals. Personal soap is not necessary, as we provide all you will need.
What happens if the weather is bad?
The course will continue regardless of weather. Instructors will teach students basic safety precautions and protocols. All participants are provided with rain gear for use during the course.
What should participants expect on an Outward Bound expedition?
Participants should come prepared to work hard, have fun and learn new skills. Time with Outward Bound will be spent outdoors in the natural world, meeting challenges, practicing leadership, reaching goals, problem solving and working closely within a group. Along the way, participants will be guided by instructors and supported by the camaraderie of teammates.
Do I need money?
There will be a school store selling Outward Bound gear after your course (hats, shirts, mugs, sweatshirts, bandanas, etc). You should also bring money for lost or broken gear. $20-30 should suffice.
Can I bring my cell phone?
Participants may NOT bring cell phones or other electronic devices on course. The instructor team is equipped with an emergency phone. Participants will not be allowed to place or receive calls during the course.
Whom should a parent/guardian contact in case of a true emergency at home while my child is on course?
Parents/guardians may contact our Course Director during an emergency 24 hours a day. This emergency number is given to parents/guardians once a participant is enrolled in one of our programs.
What paperwork is required?
In order to participate, each participant must complete a medical form and acknowledgement of personal responsibility form. Each form must be signed by the student and a parent/legal guardian (if participant is under the age of 18). Please fill them out entirely and return them to the appropriate person for your group. Every question is important! Please be sure to include your height, weight and blood pressure. We do not require a doctor’s signature; however missing information may compromise participation in the program. Your forms will be confidentially reviewed by our Medical Screening Department. Outward Bound’s screening process is very thorough and rigorous in order to ensure the safety of our participants. Our Medical Screener may need to contact you for further clarification or to request additional information.
What should I wear on an Insight Day Program?
Participants should wear closed-toe shoes. Sneakers are great, sandals are not. Clothes should be comfortable and appropriate for an active day outside. Please be aware that the program runs rain or shine. Dress appropriately. Except for t-shirts, do not bring cotton items, as they lose their insulating quality when wet. Wool or synthetic clothing is recommended for cooler weather.
What do I need to bring with me on an Insight Day Program?
The most important thing you need to have is a good attitude and an adventurous spirit. Your group may ask you to bring a bagged lunch. Outward Bound provides all necessary technical equipment, as well as rain gear and water. No electronic devices, including cell phones, mp3 players, video games, etc. are allowed during the program.