Training in Leadership, Survival and Personal Development

Outward Bound is much, much more than the wilderness survival course that many people think it is. Everyone who goes through an Outward Bound course has a unique experience–that’s pretty much the only promise Outward Bound will make before you attend. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it. I can attest that for me, and apparently also for the others in my brigade, it was a life-changer. I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through some of the trials of my adult life if I had not gone through Outward Bound when I was young (18).

Most of my brigade went to Outward Bound to find out what our limits were. The one thing we all learned was that our limits are never where we believe they are–so it’s always worth our while to keep pressing and not stop until we really have gone as far as we can go, instead of stopping where we think we can’t go farther.

The other lesson we all learned is that we can accomplish a heck of a lot more in collaboration with others than alone.

To Serve, To Strive and Not to Yield: The Outward Bound Motto

Origin of the Program

Most of what you read about the origins of Outward Bound will mention sailors during World War II in the convoys that brought supplies to Great Britain. I have rarely seen it expressed in a way that resonates.

My father and my mother’s father sailed in those convoys, so the way the story came down to me is more vivid. In a strict sense it might not be completely factual–legend often modifies truth to make the story stronger. But the essence comes through very well.

Someone noticed that after a ship was torpedoed and went down, the older sailors were more likely to survive long enough to get rescued. This flew in the face of conventional wisdom, which expected younger sailors to be stronger and better able to survive.

Why? Because the younger sailors gave up sooner. The older ones tended to have developed a stronger will to survive.

That gave birth to Outward Bound–a program to instill the will to survive.

Go ahead and read lengthier histories about it, but keep this legend in mind. It really gets the essence of the program across. Friends in the military say it sounds a lot like boot camp–that it seems designed to break you down to the core of yourself–but instead of using that to instill obedience to a chain of command, it uses that to get you to grow.

Experiential Learning

Outward Bound is heavily into experiential learning. For example, when we had a search and rescue exercise, we didn’t get a lecture first about how to do it. We simply got tossed into the drill and had to figure it out on the spot.

My brigade botched our search and rescue exercise. When we debriefed with our instructors, none of the staff said a single negative thing to us. Even though we could see they were disappointed, the closest they would get to criticism was asking ‘Do you think you could have done that in some other way that might have worked better?’ We felt awful about how badly we had done. The lessons we learned really sank in–without one harsh word from the instructors.

You learn how to learn from life very effectively this way.

Relevant Links

Outward Bound USA

Each Outward Bound school uses its wilderness setting as the foundation for its courses. You can choose a school with emphasis on an outdoor activity you love. My course was int eh Boundary Waters of Minnesota because I love to canoe. Other courses are in mountainous, desert or seagoing settings.

Outward Bound UK

There are Outward Bound schools around the world. I now live in the UK, adjacent to Wales, where the first Outward Bound school began.

Wikipedia about Outward Bound

I find the Wikipedia entry rather dry, but it contains a lot of information and there is no sense in repeating it all here.

Books about Outward Bound


Leadership the Outward Bound Way: Becoming a Better Leader in the Workplace, in the Wilderness, and in Your Community


Outward Bound USA: Crew Not Passengers


Kurt Hahn: Inspirational, Visionary, Outdoor and Experiential Educator


The Outward Bound Wilderness First-Aid Handbook, Revised and Updated