Outward Bound California is not a summer camp or a guided expedition. Our experiential education programs are designed to change lives through challenge and discovery, whether the course itself is one day or 50 days long. Participants spend every day outside, regardless of weather or conditions, learning how to live in the backcountry and work together as an expedition team.
A pioneer in the field of experiential education, Outward Bound has led the way for more than 50 years in the U.S. What began as a single base camp high in the Colorado Rockies has grown into a national movement centered on using unfamiliar settings and an experiential learning model to help people of all ages discover “there is more in us than we know.”
We have continued to grow and expand our course offerings while remaining true to the original idea that when people are in physically and mentally challenging situations, in a supportive environment, they discover self-confidence, physical and mental strength and a compassion for others they never realized they had.
Outward Bound is more than just a camp. It’s about challenging yourself to do things you never thought possible and discovering your true potential. Many of our alumni tell us that Outward Bound California changed their life. The real power of Outward Bound is in expanding the possibilities of what you think is possible.
In addition to providing a beautiful setting, wild and natural places offer a unique learning environment. This is especially important for today’s youth who often have had limited exposure to the outdoors or to corporate and professional teams who spend most of their days inside. Natural and unfamiliar spaces present participants with inherent challenges and logical natural consequences. While learning to face these challenges as individuals and as groups, participants develop the skills they need to step into leadership roles and more effectively face challenges in their daily lives.
Outward Bound offers a variety of programs to meet the needs of thousands of individuals and groups, including adults. In fact, the majority of Outward Bound programs are not designed with “troubled youth” in mind. Of the programs offered for teenagers and young adults, there are two main categories: Open Enrollment and Intercept courses.
The vast majority of our courses are called “Open Enrollment” or “Wilderness” courses. These courses are a great fit for individuals who are motivated and excited for a physically and emotionally challenging opportunity in the wilderness.
If however, your child is struggling in school or with relationships at home, hanging out with friends that you don’t approve of, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, or you feel like as a parent you’re looking for tools to assist you in working with your child, then we strongly suggest that you check out Outward Bound’s Intercept program. We don't currently run Intercept programs from our California base but many other locations run these courses. Check out our National website for more details. Intercept helps youth, ages 12 - 22, connect their desire for more freedom and independence with the reality that they must take on the responsibility that comes with that freedom. Intercept courses are designed to replace the often negative challenges of the teen years with extremely positive ones. The group expedition in “unfamiliar territory” instills confidence and strength and helps teens develop new perspectives and skills for dealing with the transition to adulthood. These courses also include a parent/guardian component in order to insure the desired outcomes of the program and of the parents, guardians and students.
If you’re unsure which type of program might be a good fit we encourage you to call us so we can offer some suggestions.
Outward Bound provides the backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and all group gear. Please refer to the packing list for specific items you are required to bring. If you have something we provide, you are welcome to bring it as long as it meets the minimum requirements found on the packing list. Your instructors will check all personal equipment to make sure it is safe and appropriate for the course.
We ask that our participants do not bring alcohol, tobacco products, drugs (excluding those prescribed to them) or weapons of any kind on course with them. We also ask that our participants leave electronics behind. You are welcome to bring your cell phone with you on the days you are traveling to and from your course. Outward Bound California will give you a place to store your valuables while you are out on your course. Digital and disposable cameras are welcome but please no smartphones, or tablets.
Outward Bound has an excellent safety record, and the safety of our participants is among our top priorities. We invest considerable time and resources in training our staff and reviewing our programs to ensure that they meet Outward Bound’s National Safety Policies and Standards—often cited as the outdoor industry standard worldwide.
Instructors work for Outward Bound because it is a leader in the outdoor & experiential education industry. As such, our standards for are high. All Outward Bound California instructors are certified as Wilderness First Responders (WFR), an 80-hour wilderness medicine training that must be renewed every two years. Instructors are also certified in CPR. They have extensive personal and professional experience in the activities that they instruct, whether it be backpacking, rock climbing or mountaineering. The minimum age for instructors is 21.
How do you communicate with instructors while students are on course?
Yes! Outward Bound Professional programs are available to any adult group wishing to participate in an adventurous experience designed to strengthen interpersonal and team relationships and performance. Each program is custom designed to meet your goals, and programs range from 1/2 day indoor meeting activities to multi-day expedition format. Contact Director of Communications and Outreach, Emma Rapp, for more info.
We do! A number of our participants receive some sort of financial aid or scholarship to attend a course. Tuition Reduction awards range between 10-30% off the cost of tuition (not including application fee, transportation fee, travel to the course, or clothing). Awards rarely exceed 30%.
In order to hold a space on a course, applicants will be asked to pay a deposit of $500 which will be refunded in its entirety if Outward Bound is unable to offer sufficient funds for the individual to attend a course.
Once an applicant’s enrollment is processed, the applicant will be sent the necessary materials to apply for the course and financial aid simultaneously. Applicants will be considered for financial aid once all application materials have been received. Financial aid awards will be decided on the basis of funds available, the applicant/family’s level of financial need, course availability and appropriateness of the applicant for the course. Since financial aid is limited, we ask applicants to apply early.
Please also note that we ask applicants to be flexible with their course selection as we may ask those requesting aid to transfer to a course with space available for them.
Outward Bound has two types of full-tuition scholarships: our Pinnacle Scholarship and our Youth Leadership Corps Scholarship.
Through our Pinnacle Scholarship program, we provide full tuition scholarships to approximately 10-20 California-based students each year for courses ranging from 7-22 days. In order to be eligible for a Pinnacle Scholarship, an individual must be nominated by an organization that partners with Outward Bound. If you work for a youth-serving nonprofit organization or school in California and are interested in becoming a Pinnacle Partner, please email us at [email protected] or call (415) 933-6222.
Our Youth Leadership Corps (YLC) is a leadership-development program for high-achieving youth who are blossoming leaders in their San Francisco Bay Area schools and communities. Applicants must be rising sophomores, juniors, or seniors aged 14-18. The YLC program is a year-long commitment beginning with a 14-day High Sierra Alpine Backpacking & Rock Climbing course the first summer and continuing through the following spring. If you are interested in applying for YLC please email: [email protected] and we will send you an application which is typically available between January and March.
We do, this page on the main Outward Bound website has information about this process. If you decide to do this, please let your course advisor know, as an end of course evaluation is required.
We recommend that you delay purchasing nonrefundable airline tickets until your application has been approved by our Student Services Department and the course is confirmed. Occasionally courses are cancelled due to permit changes, low enrollment or other issues. Once you have been medically approved and the course has reached its minimum requirement of participants, you will receive an email letting you know that you may make travel arrangements. Feel free to get in touch with your advisor before this to check on the status of the course.
Minimum group size is six and maximum is 10. Each group has at least two instructors.
One of Outward Bound California’s primary goals is to push our participants outside of their comfort zone. We consider time in the wilderness with new people to be integral to the Outward Bound experience. There are incredible benefits to sharing your experience with a diverse new community of people. Participants who start off as strangers often develop lasting friendships after spending days together in the wilderness working and living as a team.
In a small group setting, friends or family members may become competitive with one another or, alternately, dependent on each other. For that reason, Outward Bound California strongly encourages participants to enroll on their own course. Friends or family members wishing to attend a course during the same dates will be placed into different groups whenever possible so that you can get the most out of your course. If you feel we should make an exception in your case, please contact the Student Services Office.
A general rule for backpacking is that pack weight caps at 30% of body weight. This will vary depending on height and weight. For middle school courses, pack weight is kept at 35-45 pounds. We do our best to keep pack weight to a minimum. You can keep your “base weight” (the weight of your pack without food, water, fuel and other “consumables”) low by following our packing list and taking the advice of our experienced instructors when they lead your group through its “duffle shuffle” on the first day of the course.
To best prepare for the weight of your backpack we recommend a strength training routine involving push-ups, sit-ups, and light weights. Students with back pain, scoliosis or recent back injuries are advised to consider water-based courses such as rafting, kayaking, canoeing or sailing.
Outward Bound courses take place regardless of weather. Instructors will teach students basic safety precautions and protocols for all weather conditions. Rain gear is required for all courses, as mountain weather is unpredictable.
Read more information regarding environmental hazards including wildfires, earthquakes, and heat advisories.
You will be able to clean up before heading home but it might not be a hot shower like you’re used to. Participants typically wash in “bucket” showers with soap, shampoo and conditioner.
As a participant, you will have a chance to send and receive letters on courses longer than ten days. Information on where and when to send mail can be found on the course itinerary. Other than snail mail, there is no access to phones or email. Instructors have a satellite phone in case of emergencies, which can be used to send and receive messages.
Parents/guardians may contact our on-call number during an emergency—24 hours a day. This emergency number can be reached by calling our office main line (415) 933-6222 and following the prompts to be directed to the on-call phone.
Yes, there are bears in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. California has black bears but no grizzly (brown) bears. Outward Bound California takes every opportunity to protect our participants (and the bears as well!) by practicing Leave No Trace camping and travel. We use bear canisters or utilize bear hangs when traveling in bear country. Our instructors will teach participants what to do if they encounter a bear while in the backcountry. Incidents involving bear encounters on Outward Bound California courses are uncommon.
The Outward Bound California program team regularly receives notifications from the land agencies and emergency medical services where we operate programs, including updates around fire activity. When an active fire is identified, we closely monitor its status and proximity to our students in the field in partnership with these professional and government agencies. We use this information to make decisions about whether to continue courses, change future course locations or remove students and staff from the field. We take a very conservative approach, keeping the safety of students and staff as a top priority. When these changes impact course plans that are underway, we communicate directly with families.
How do you monitor air quality from fires?
Even when a fire is not in close proximity to our courses, deteriorating air quality due to smoke can have adverse impacts for our students and staff. Staff in our course areas carry hand held Air Quality Index (AQI) monitors and office staff monitor the trends via online reporting databases. OBCA has standard procedures documented which staff are trained on annually. These procedures include detailed instructions for when to issue masks, pause travel, or remove students from the field.
While on course you will be eating nutritious and portable food—grains, pasta, cheese, vegetables, fruit and nuts—designed to meet high-energy demands for your program. Typical meals include burritos, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly. 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.
Does my child need to travel as an unaccompanied minor?
Unaccompanied Minor policies vary from airline to airline. Most airlines require you to book tickets for unaccompanied minors through the reservation call center. Also, many airlines require solo travelers to fly non-stop routes only. On the Course Life page, find your travel page to see more info about Unaccompanied Minor info.
Does Outward Bound have certain criteria I need to meet I can review before applying?
We do - it's on our Essential Eligibility page.