Course Preparation

While you do not have to be a gifted athlete or in peak physical condition to attend an Outward Bound course, you do have to prepare for the challenges of Outward Bound.

There are two kinds of strength necessary to complete your course; physical and mental. Your body needs to be strong, but you must also come with an open mind, willing spirit and a cooperative attitude. Whether you paddle a canoe or kayak for six or eight hours, expedition with a 50+ pound pack for 10 miles or scale a rock wall, you will be pushed and rewarded on many levels.

Note to nicotine users: It's essential to quit before you arrive. Using your course as a means to quit nicotine is NOT recommended. You will be put in a number of stressful situations and a person suffering from nicotine withdrawal may not be able to effectively deal with those situations.

Note to caffeine users: If you drink caffeine, it is also essential to significantly reduce your level of consumption prior to your course start. Caffeine withdrawal may cause severe headaches which can hinder your progress on course.


Consider and be prepared for:

Teamwork: Be ready to be part of a team. Think about other team experiences you may have had in the past. Remember what helped your team be successful. Plan on being a positive contributor during your course.

Living with Less: Look around and think about what you have and what you truly need. Things we may take for granted like hot running water, upholstered furniture and sidewalks will not be part of your experience. When you get into the routines of wilderness living, you may notice that life in the wilderness and life at home are similar in that they are ultimately about food, clothing, shelter and the relationships you have with those around you. Because the wilderness lifestyle is simple, you will leave behind non-essentials like deodorant, make up, electronic devices and books.

Being Away from Home: Whether it is the first or the 20th time you have been away from home, you might not have been this “out of touch.” Don’t be surprised if you feel homesick at some point. Please use your instructors and teammates as resources for support.

Compassion: Compassion is a pillar on which Outward Bound was built. Compassion can be shown in kind, thoughtful actions and can be practiced during course through active listening and understanding of other perspectives. You may find that you need to make compromises as you support your team. It is always important to remember that your attitude and actions affect everyone.

Group Discussion: Your instructors will lead group discussions as you debrief each day. Through coaching from your instructors, your group will practice positive communication and conflict resolution techniques. These skills help your group maintain respect for individual opinions no matter how they may differ. Hopefully, these lessons will extend to your everyday life. Be prepared to share your perspective and gain insight from others during these discussions.


Have fun and enjoy the adventure of preparation while training for your course! This is an excellent opportunity for you to get outside, get fit and explore your neighborhood's parks and recreation areas.

Adopt Healthy Habits: A great way to physically prepare is to adopt healthy habits. Reduce consumption of fatty foods, excessive alcohol and caffeine as these substances require a lot of water and oxygen to metabolize. Eat plenty of unrefined carbohydrates (i.e. whole grains). Drink water regularly instead of juice or soda. If you drink or use tobacco or tobacco products, it is essential to quit before you arrive. And last, but not least, arrive at course start well rested.


• You do NOT have to be an athlete or highly-trained to attend an Outward Bound course.

• You DO have to be physically capable and active. Our courses are demanding. You will use your muscles in new and challenging ways.

• It takes strength and fitness to paddle a boat for six or eight hours a day, carry a 50+ pound pack for 5-10 miles or climb a rock wall. If you aren’t already involved in a fitness program, now is the time to start. Your efforts will pay off in enjoyment, comfort and fun.

> View our suggestions for building fitness, testing your heart rate and an eight week fitness plan. 


Hike with a weighted backpack. Start with 20-30 lbs., then build to 50+ lbs. If you do not own a backpack, you may be able to borrow one from a friend, family member or rent one from an outdoor sporting goods store. If none of these options are available, try a smaller "book bag" style backpack with approximately 15 lbs. in it. Start out hiking just a couple of miles on hilly terrain or stairs and increase your intensity and mileage as you gain strength and endurance. On course, you can expect to carry a backpack that weighs approximately 40 to 55 lbs. and you may be hiking for distances of five to 15 miles per day.


Climbing indoors at your local rock climbing gym is the best way to prepare for climbing outdoors. If climbing at a gym is not available, substitute pull-ups, sit-ups and strength training with weights. On course, you will practice knots, climbing and belay techniques as well as safety procedures.

Food and Nutrition

Due to Leave No Trace camping ethics, we seldom build fires. You will be cooking on gas camp stoves. With coaching from your instructors, you learn backcountry cooking techniques and are responsible for helping with the preparation of all meals. Your diet will be a mix of dehydrated foods, fresh fruits and vegetables. We use rice, beans, tortillas, granola, oatmeal, crackers, salami, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, tuna fish, pasta and trail mixes.

The amount of physical activity you experience during your course demands a nutritious diet to help fuel your body. Junk food is not available on course. To prepare, we suggest you cut down on candy, soft drinks, coffee, pastries and other junk foods. Moderating caffeine, alcohol and tobacco consumption will contribute to your fitness. These products will not be part of your Outward Bound course; a clear head and fast reflexes are essential to safety and success on course. If you are overweight, don’t go on a crash diet to shed extra pounds; you will only deplete the strength you want to develop. Please check with our Medical Screener to set a realistic goal for weight loss and stay committed.


The following list represents common meals at Outward Bound (this is not a menu)


  • Bagels and cream cheese
  • Pancakes with butter and syrup
  • Cream of wheat
  • Grits with cheese and dried fruit
  • Grapenuts or Granola and soy milk or cow’s milk
  • Oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar
  • Huevos Rancheros: eggs, salsa, cheese and black beans on tortillas


  • Peanut butter and Jelly on tortillas
  • Pizza: pepperoni, mozzarella, tomato paste, pita bread
  • Hummus with carrots, cheese and crackers
  • Salami with cheese and crackers
  • Beans Galore: black beans, red beans, white beans, corn, onion, Italian dressing on tortillas
  • Tuna and cheese on pita bread


  • Pasta Alfredo: Rotini with alfredo sauce and mushrooms
  • Burritos: refried beans and rice with salsa and cheese
  • Tuna Mac: Macaroni with cheese, parmesan cheese, tuna and milk
  • Stir Fry: Rice and chicken with vegetables, coconut milk and curry powder
  • Veggie Chili with rice, cheese, onion and cornbread
  • Tacos: Natures Burger with tomato paste, cheese, onion and Tortilla 

Drinks (other than water)

  • Cocoa
  • Tea
  • Drink mix 


  • Fruit (oranges, apples)
  • Trail mixes (many varieties)
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Pretzels
Dietary Restrictions

The North Carolina Outward Bound School (NCOBS) strives to accommodate applicants who have dietary restrictions.

Our courses are backcountry, wilderness-based programs. We purchase our course food in bulk. Prior to course start, your instructors plan your crew’s meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks). We travel expedition-style with approximately a week’s worth of food at a time. All course food must be packable and non-perishable. You prepare and eat meals together as a crew in a camp setting, under the supervision and guidance of your instructors. You will not have access to a dining hall or cafeteria. We do not permit participants to bring their own food or snacks unless authorized to do so by NCOBS.

Be prepared to try new foods. It is imperative for your well-being to replenish the calories you are expending each day.  

Please complete the Dietary Allergen Questionnaire to inform Outward Bound of any dietary restrictions. This information will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by our Medical Screener.

Food Allergies: Eight kinds of food cause most food allergies: cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. Signs of a food allergy include a rash, or red, itchy skin; stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing, or itchy and teary eyes; vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhea; angioedema or swelling; hoarseness, throat tightness or a lump in the throat; wheezing, chest tightness or trouble breathing. Some people with food allergies can have a serious reaction called anaphylaxis.

NCOBS cannot guarantee there will be no exposure to known allergens. If the applicant has had an anaphylactic response related to a dietary allergen, we must consider our remote wilderness area as we determine the appropriateness of our programs for the applicant.

Food Intolerance or Sensitivity: A food intolerance or a food sensitivity occurs when a person has difficulty digesting a food item. This can lead to symptoms such as intestinal gas, abdominal pain or diarrhea. If you are able to tolerate the food item in limited amounts, please let us know. It may broaden the range of foods we are able to provide.  

Food Preference: Food preferences are choices that are made for reasons other than allergy, tolerance or sensitivity. We sincerely request that you think through your practice of limiting your food options while you are on course. Our primary goal is to meet students’ dietary allergies or intolerance/ sensitivities. The addition of food preferences could further influence the menu items we can provide. 

Our staff members, who have had years of experience in the field, find that once students with food preferences engage in our rigorous backcountry, wilderness-based activities, those same students tend to (at least temporarily) broaden their food choices. We believe students may find these foods surprisingly appealing during their course due to their bodies’ increased need for calories.

Personal Hygiene

Maintaining personal hygiene in the wilderness is important and is taught on every course. You will be outside while on course and won't have access to a shower or bath. You will be able to do basic cleanup every day: brush your teeth, wash your face and comb your hair. At the end of your course, you will be able to do a more thorough cleanup.

Since North Carolina Outward Bound is an outdoor program, you can expect to learn and use Leave No Trace camping techniques. Know that it is natural to have questions regarding sanitation in an outdoor setting. Your instructors will answer your questions and will teach you the hygienic and environmentally safe way to dispose of waste as well as techniques for basic cleanliness - don't hesitate to approach them with any questions or concerns

Electronic Devices

In our everyday lives, technology is always at our fingertips. By contrast, in the life of an Outward Bound participant, you have the unique opportunity to unplug and fully immerse yourself in the wilderness to connect with your crewmates and instructors.



  • Electronic devices such as cell phones, GPS devices, asset tracking devices (such as Airtags), and/or any other wi-fi enabled electronic devices are not permitted while on course.
  • No cell phone cameras allowed.


  • Carry your cell phone with you to course start. Your cell will be locked in a group storage bin with your luggage at our facility while you are on course. You’ll be reunited with your cell phone at course end.
  • Bring a camera to record the events of course – either a waterproof disposable camera or a digital camera with a small “dry bag” or Ziplock bag for storage. Our courses are rigorous and there is a risk of losing or damaging your camera.

Safety and Risk Management

Please review our Safety and Risk Management page.



Depending on the length of your course and course area, mail may be delivered to you. Delivery can take up to one week from the time it reaches our base camp. Please do not have packages sent to you unless they contain emergency items - no candy or food please! All correspondence must be clearly addressed with the participant’s name and course number. Letters received near the end of the course may not be delivered on time and will be returned to sender. You will be notified of your base camp mailing address and emergency numbers prior to your course start. If your course allows for mail delivery (criteria below), remember to bring postcards with stamps attached as you can write to family and friends while you are on course.


Mail can be sent and received in the NC Mountains. Delivery may take up to one week from the time it reaches our base camp. You will receive address information prior to your course start. Remember to bring postcards or stationery and envelopes with stamps attached so you can write to your family and friends while you are on course.

Risk Management

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.

Please also review our Safety and Risk Management page.

Emergency Communication

If a family emergency occurs while the course is in progress, emergency messages can be relayed by calling our toll-free number (800-878-5258) on weekdays 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM eastern time. Prior to course start, you will receive an email that provides an after-hours and weekend emergency phone number.

Comments and Feedback

The Student Services Department of the North Carolina Outward Bound School is committed to supporting you through the enrollment process. If you have comments or feedback to share regarding your experience with us, please contact our Director of Student Services Erin Broome,