Frequently Asked Questions

Expedition Life

What experience do I need?

None!  We’ll start with the basics. Many of our students have never spent any time in the wilderness before. Some have done a little camping or indoor rock climbing. As long as you are fit, excited to learn, and committed to graduating from your course, you will do just fine.

Will I be safe?

Since 1962, Colorado Outward Bound School has served tens of thousands of students on wilderness expeditions. Safety is of the utmost importance to us. We are proud of our safety record over that time and frequently review and refine our policies to maintain that record. It is important to recognize that there are real risks associated with participating in outdoor activities. Learning to manage those risks is part of every course, and each student is expected to play a role in their own safety by adhering to the rules, policies and procedures set up by instructors and staff members while at Outward Bound.

Our risk management efforts include: internal and external reviews of courses and course areas, instructors who are certified as Wilderness First Responders (an outdoor education industry standard level of training), annual instructor assessments, training requirements and the development of comprehensive program plans.

Even with these measures, risk of serious injury, property damage and death cannot be eliminated. While we cannot completely eliminate these risks, our focus on risk management allows participants to face challenges, travel into remote areas and meet success.

What is wilderness travel like?

Outward Bound courses are demanding. It can literally take every waking moment to get from point A to point B. Travel may be on trails, or “off-trail” over rugged, steep terrain, through forests, snow, rushing rivers or narrow canyons. Travel will require perseverance, grit and humility. Navigating, working with a team, and dealing with physical discomfort are all very real challenges to be expected during wilderness travel. Even when the weather is brutal, groups will rarely take rest days, so students should be prepared to push on even when it seems unbearable. When groups get to camp in the evenings and are hungry from a big day’s travel, it still takes over an hour to boil water, chop vegetables, cook and serve the meal. Groups master the art of tarp set-up and knot tying to ensure they’re protected from the elements each evening. Every action of the day requires energy and investment, from the moment groups wake up until the moment they fall asleep each night. Rest assured though, it will be worth it in the end; that’s what most Outward Bound alumni would tell prospective students. There is nothing as spectacular as the night sky miles from civilization. Moreover, few experiences compare to the sense of accomplishment students feel upon completion of such an epic adventure.

Wilderness travel challenges students to compare what they have at home with what they actually need to survive on the expedition. Hot running water, padded furniture, hot food in seconds and flat sidewalks are not a part of the wilderness experience. Students are asked to leave non-essentials like deodorant, makeup, electronic devices and books behind. These can be difficult sacrifices at first, but in the end, students learn to embrace the rare opportunity to live minimally, finding contentment with less stuff and more substance. When students find their expedition rhythm they often see that life in the wilderness and life at home are both ultimately about food, clothing, shelter and one another.

Read more about the different types of wilderness travel and activities that make up a COBS expedition:


What does a typical day look like?

A typical day usually means getting up early, making breakfast over a camp stove, packing up camp, mapping a route and heading out on the trail or water, depending on the course-specific activities. Students travel all day, taking breaks to rest, eat and enjoy the view, but generally covering lots of ground. When groups reach camp each evening, they divide up chores like preparing food and setting up tents. After dinner, groups usually sit around the circle, share thoughts on the day, discuss the next day’s plans, laugh and enjoy one another’s company before crawling into their sleeping bags for a well-deserved rest.

Want to know more about the specific course elements? Check out:

Course Life and Activities


How will I stay clean?

Instructors teach their groups about the available bathing options and general backcountry hygiene. Every course environment has different techniques and environmentally appropriate practices for going to the bathroom and bathing. Students learn how to dispose of human waste in latrines, cat holes or other wilderness area-specific methods. Groups carry soap and hand sanitizer for hand washing. Showering and washing hair are typically not options on the course. However, on most Utah courses students travel on water every day, and swimming is a daily practice when temperatures allow. On Colorado courses, students can take advantage of alpine lakes or streams to rinse off the trail dust. At the end of the expedition students may have access to indoor plumbing and showers before returning home.

What is the food like?

You will help cook meals for yourself and your group while out on your Colorado Outward Bound School course. Our food is wholesome, simple, lightweight and nonperishable. With high levels of activity on our courses, carbohydrates are essential. A few examples of things you might have are: bagels, cheese, granola, oatmeal, dried fruit, hummus, peanut butter, pita, salami, tortillas, tuna, trail mix, noodles, rice, beans, soup, chili, etc.

With advance notification, we can accommodate vegetarian and many other special diets. If you have questions about whether we can accommodate your special diet, contact us.

What is a 'solo'?

During every course, students separate from each other, staying within close range to the instructors, to be alone – or solo – for a period of time. Most people use this time for reflection and relaxation, as well as a time to use all the technical skills they have learned. This is not a survival test; you will not be dropped into a remote area. Participants will be given shelter, food, water and a journal to help them record and reflect while alone. The Solo sites will be chosen by the instructors, who will find a place that is both secluded and within hearing distance of other members of the group for safety. You will not be traveling during this time and your instructors will check on you occasionally. The length of a Solo is determined by course length, weather and group dynamics.



Application Process

What is the application process like and how long does it take?

The Outward Bound application process is extensive to best ensure that students are appropriate and prepared for their Outward Bound experience. To reserve a spot, either through the website or over the phone, applicants are required to complete a short Health History Questionnaire and pay a $500 deposit that is applied toward the total cost of the course. This deposit includes a $150 non-refundable enrollment processing fee. After this, a Colorado Outward Bound School Course Advisor will contact the applicant and provide additional documents, including a more extensive application to be completed within a specified time-frame, typically two weeks. The applicant may also be required to return supplementary documents completed by their doctor, therapist or another reference. Upon receipt of the completed application, a Course Advisor will call/email to schedule a phone interview if s/he has any questions. The whole process typically takes 2-3 weeks but can take longer if all pieces of the application are not returned in a timely manner.

Is it possible that I won’t get accepted for my Outward Bound course?

Not all applicants are accepted to the Colorado Outward Bound School. Outward Bound courses are designed to serve a wide variety of students at different points in their lives. However, the Colorado Outward Bound School does expect that each applicant puts time and thought into their decision to attend Outward Bound. It is a unique program, unlike typical summer camps, and not everyone is prepared for the challenges that a true wilderness expedition presents. At a minimum, Outward Bound applicants must be willing and able to fully participate without risk to their physical or emotional safety and committed to their own personal development.

Can I participate on an Outward Bound course with my friend or family member?

In general, Outward Bound discourages friends and family from participating on the same course, unless the course is specifically designed for families. Outward Bound’s goal is to ensure a quality experience for each participant, and we have discovered that people in established relationships, however positive, have expectations and mental images of one other. An Outward Bound course is an opportunity to leave behind any preconceived ideas about oneself and discover new strengths and talents. An environment free of expectations is an important part of this process. When students attend with someone they know, they risk forfeiting much of the value of an Outward Bound experience. In addition, pre-existing relationships sometimes negatively impact group interactions. We therefore encourage friends and family members to enroll on separate courses so each student can experience the full measure of an Outward Bound experience.

Can Outward Bound accommodate my food allergy?

Yes, the Colorado Outward Bound School can accommodate most food allergies. We put a lot of energy into creating menu plans that work for people with a variety of food allergies or preferences, including people who do not eat meat, dairy, gluten, tree nuts and peanuts. In some cases we may ask students to provide some of their own food supplements.

Does Colorado Outward Bound School provide scholarships and/or payment plans?

Yes.  For more information, check out our Scholarships page.

Scholarship Information

What does tuition cover?

The tuition you pay prior to going on course covers all of your food while on course, instructors' salaries, land use permits and most of the equipment (backpacks, sleeping bags, cooking utensils) and other technical gear associated with the activities you will participate in at Colorado Outward Bound School.  

Students will need to provide their own clothing, footwear and some gear, such as a headlamp, and will be responsible for the costs of any physician's exam (if  required) and travel to and from the course meeting site. A clothing and gear list will be provided to each student upon enrollment. You can always call us if you have questions about the clothing and gear requirements.

How do I get to and from my Outward Bound course?

Once enrolled, a Course Advisor will provide a Travel Information document that will help students schedule their arrival and departure.

CO (and WY) Courses:  In general, courses for 12-13 and 14-16 year-olds are picked up at Denver International Airport by 1pm on the first day of course. For 16+ courses, students fly in the day before course and stay at the DoubleTree Stapleton North Hotel, so that students can have a restful night to acclimate to the elevation and be ready to depart by 8am the first day.

UT Courses: In general, courses for 12-13 and 14-16 year olds will be picked up at the airport in Grand Junction, CO (the closest airport to Moab) by 1PM. For 16+ courses, students fly in the day before and stay at the Clarion Hotel in Grand Junction, so they can be ready for a 9AM pickup the first day of course.

AK Courses: All Alaska course depart from the Anchorage International Airport at 8am on the first day of course. Students are recommended to arrive the day before course and stay at a hotel in Anchorage.

AZ Courses: All Arizona courses will depart from the DoubleTree Hotel in Phoenix at 8am on the first day of course. Most students will need to fly in the night before.

Explicit travel directions will be shared with you after you enroll on a course.  Students should refrain from making travel plans prior to being approved for their course and receiving travel details for their specific course as the exact details may differ slightly from the directions listed above.

When can I buy my plane ticket?

We recommend that you delay purchasing nonrefundable airline tickets until you have been approved for participation and the course is confirmed a "go." Occasionally, we cancel courses due to permit changes, low enrollment or other issues.

When you have been approved for the course and you know it is a "go," make sure you pay close attention to the start and end times and location of your course start/end before booking your tickets, to avoid any mistakes with your reservation.

Preparing for Your Course

How do I mentally prepare for my Outward Bound course?

One of the greatest challenges on any Outward Bound course is breaking out of established routines and habits. The shock of entering a totally new environment with a group of strangers can be a difficult, and exhilarating, transition. Students can prepare for this transition by incorporating new experiences into their lives well before their Outward Bound course starts. Developing habits that foster a healthy appreciation for new experiences will help students sustain a positive attitude and open mind throughout their expeditions. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Try new foods.
  • Get up earlier, even on the weekends.
  • Join an intramural team or club with a group of strangers.
  • Regulate your body temperature by adding/subtracting layers of clothing instead of using the AC or heat.
  • Have a difficult conversation with someone you trust, maybe your parents. Share something you’re learning about yourself. Ask them for feedback on your words and actions.
  • Explore a new place once a week.
  • Keep a journal. Contemplate how your daily actions reflect your values.

How do I physically prepare for my course?

Adopting a daily exercise routine can be challenging, to say the least, but every minute of physical preparation pays off during an Outward Bound expedition. Before starting any fitness program, it is always a good idea to consult a physician. Outward Bound recommends 30 minutes of aerobic activity (running, bicycling, skiing, etc.) at least three times a week for two to three months before the course begins. Aerobic exercise increases the heart and circulatory systems' ability to supply blood and oxygen to organs and tissue. Don’t forget to stretch to maintain flexibility. If students are already working out three days a week, they may consider building up to five or six days a week, or increasing the length of their workouts by 10%.

Consider specific training techniques to prepare for specific course activities. For example, yoga and upper body weight training will help strengthen core and upper body muscles, and be especially beneficial on climbing courses. If a student is enrolled on a multi-element course that involves backpacking, they may consider training with a weighted backpack. Building core and lower body strength may be more beneficial for backpacking students. A strong commitment to physical preparation will not only increase a student’s enjoyment of their Outward Bound course, it will dramatically reduce their risk of injury during the course.

No matter what course type, the following tips will help:

  • Arrive at the start of your course well rested.
  • Reduce consumption of fatty foods, excessive alcohol and caffeine. These substances require a lot of water and oxygen to metabolize.
  • Eat plenty of unrefined carbohydrates (i.e. whole grains).
  • Drink more water than usual, 1/2 to 1 gallon of water per day.
  • Stop using tobacco.
  • Don’t overdo it. Some people, novice and experienced alike, complain of tired and aching bodies: the result of believing that the harder the body is pushed the faster it will improve. In fact, the opposite is true. Training moderately, while adequately increasing one’s heart rate, promotes the fastest progress. The most common mistake people make is going too fast, too soon — quickly joining the ranks of the stiff, tired and discouraged.

More questions? Call us at 720-381-6589.

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