Choosing an outdoor education course

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 3-9, 1997
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Choosing an outdoor education course

Choosing an outdoor education course
Question: I am considering doing a course with either NOLS or Outward Bound. I'm 29 and in reasonably good shape, with some outdoor experience. I am trying to understand the differences between the two programs. Can you describe the differences in the skills learned and experiences one has in the programs, and also, which type of people tend to prefer one over the other? Thanks for your help.

Jackie Glynn
San Francisco, CA
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Though both programs are winners, one teaches a heavy dose of wilderness skills while the other emphasizes communication and personal discovery. If technical outdoor skills are what you're after — learning how to correctly tie knots, do an Eskimo roll, belay a climbing partner, or paddle with a J-stroke — you should consider NOLS. If you are more interested in developing self-esteem, self-confidence, and interpersonal skills with fellow group members, take a close look at Outward Bound.

A typical NOLS course is 30 days, and the average age is early 20s (averages are somewhat dangerous to mention for both NOLS and Outward Bound, considering they offer such a wide variety of courses). In the first week instructors will demonstrate all the skills necessary for you to thrive on the trip, as well as general basics about the geology, botany, and physical environment that surrounds you. By the second and third week the students take turns in the role of leader, and by the fourth week the students break out of the pack, leaving the instructors behind. The end result, hopefully, is that you'll feel you have all the necessary cooking, camping, and technical skills to do your own wilderness expedition.

Outward Bound also offers 30-day courses, but the large majority of their trips are two weeks long, designed with the 30-year-old working stiff in mind. In fact, because Outward Bound focuses on communicating and working as a team, many adults tend to gravitate toward Outward Bound.

But before you take my word for it, call each company and speak with a course advisor for the full range of options. For NOLS call 307-332-6973. Outward Bound can be reached at 800-243-8520.

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