Outdoor Education R&E Center

Outward Bound
History, Philosophy, Theory, Research & Evaluation

James Neill
Last updated:
08 Mar 2007

Main LinksEarly Outward Bound Program for Women, 1950's, UK


Outward Bound Australia 9 day adults course (for over 30's), North Queensland, 1990

Official Links


Outward Bound Motto

To serve, to strive, and not to yield

(Related link: The Adventures of Ulysses and the Outward Bound Motto)

What's New?

  • Onward Bound - The First 50 Years of Outward Bound AustraliaOnward Bound: The First 50 Years of Outward Bound Australia
    (Australian Outward Bound Foundation, 2006, Canberra, Australia)

    This book is an oral history of the people who contributed to the remarkable development of Outward Bound in Australia. The stories and accounts provide a snapshot full of colour, insight, perspective and memories. It is human account of an organisation's ongoing contribution to Australian society and includes many historical photos.

  • Outward BoundHurricane Island with Outward Bound
    (Joshua Miller, 8 April, 2005, The Bowdoin Orient, USA)

    The past two weeks have been the most challenging of my lifeógetting used to living with 14 people in the small space of  a 30ft schooner designed to be propelled by its two sails -- or its six oars.  The hours of rowing every day and the lack of toilet facilities has not been easy by any measure.  And yet, the last fourteen days were perhaps the most rewarding of my life as well.  The group, a motley crew, to be sure, included J.C., a 17-year-old Texan given a choice of Outward Bound or juvenile detention, and Leila, a 16-year-old from New Orleans who was on the adventure because if she completed it, her step-dad promised to buy her a car of "no less than $15,000," as she often reminded me.

  • Outward Bound Thunder Bay, Canada closes after 35 years
  • (Chen Chikki, The Chronicle-Journal, 7 February, 2005; link no longer active)

    Once known as the world's most remote Outward Bound school, the Thunder Bay school has closed down after 35 years, in a cost-cutting move to help OB survive in Canada...There hasn't been quite as much canoeing or dogsledding in Northwestern Ontario since a group that provided the services quietly slipped out of the region last September. "It is an end of an era," said Dave Wolfenden, executive director of Outward Bound Canada. As an outdoor experiential organization that exists in 48 places worldwide, the charity group decided to close its camp located at Black Sturgeon Lake. It was a cost-cutting move that will save the non-profit organization at least $350,000 a year. Any jobs that existed at the facility were put in its head office at Burk's Falls, Ont.

  • Outward Bound USA "circles the wagons" by merging 5 out of 8 chartered operations
    (Outward Bound USA press release, Yahoo News, 25 January, 2005)
  • Outward Bound founder, Kurt Hahn, had always wanted to see more, not fewer OB schools.  However, in recent years, countries with long histories of OB programs have been struggling and merging rather than expanding.  In an effort to "circle the wagons", OB in the USA has partially joined recent merger trends in the UK and Canada by combine 5 out of its 8 chartered OB operations.   The merger will bring all except 1 of the traditional "wilderness-style" OB schools: OB West (which arose from a 2003 merger of the Colorado OB School and the Pacific Crest OB School),  the Hurricane Island OB School, and the Voyageur OB School, with 2 other OB operations: the OB USA Inc central administration and executive headquarters and ELOB, a whole-school expeditionary learning program developed with a federal educational grant in the 1990s.  The merger will leave 2 urban-based schools, the New York City OB School and the Thompson Island OB School, plus 1 traditional "wilderness-style" program, North Carolina OB School, as independent chartered OB operations.

  • Outward Bound USA traces roots to Marble, CO
    (Christine Dell'Amore, 26 July, 2004, Glenwood Springs Post Independent)
  • Outward Bound West is starting programs again at Marble, CO where OB USA started with the Colorado Outward Bound School over 40 years ago.

  • From struggle to serendipity: Thoughts on the future of Outward Bound [.pdf]
    (Graham Ellis-Smith, Outward Bound International Newsletter, July, 2002)
  • >Is Outward Bound becoming too safe?
    (James Neill, 2002, Outward Bound International Newsletter)
  • Outward Bound Australia: What the research really says!
    (James Neill, 1998, Outward Bound Australia)

What is Outward Bound?

A short answer...

Outward Bound facilitates personal and social development through experiential learning in the outdoors.

A longer answer...

The idea behind Outward Bound is that people can grow through challenge.  The phrase "Outward Bound" derives from the Blue Peter flag, which signalled that a ship was soon to depart.  Symbolically, then, Outward Bound as a program and organisation has come to mean helping people to head out bravely into unknown waters.

Since it started in 1941, Outward Bound has become the world's best-known outdoor education program with a vibrant network of over 40 schools around the world.  Outward Bound was conceived by its inspirational founder, Kurt Hahn, as a short, intense exposure to a series of "life experiences" in order to enhance the psychological fortitude of young merchant navy seaman who were dying at alarming rates in the Atlantic during World War II.  The original Outward Bound programs focused on character development via physical fitness training, outdoor expeditions, skills training, and community service.

Outward Bound survived and thrived well beyond its original intention.  Today, a wide variety of Outward Bound programs exist, and they take many shapes and forms, but share a common philosophy that "there is more in us than we think", and that we can discover that "more" via well-structured challenges.

Whilst most Outward Bound programs are wilderness-based, there are also urban-based programs (esp. New York City Outward Bound Center), schools such as Outward Bound Czech Republic which are known for  emphasizing social, dramatic, and creative challenges, and Outward Bound programs designed for integration with school classrooms (e.g,. Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound).

As the best known and most prominent outdoor education organization, Outward Bound has played a significant role in the development of outdoor education as a whole.  For example, Outward Bound research has helped to legitimize the idea of using outdoor adventure for education.  Outward Bound programs have significantly influenced and helped spawn many other educational experiments, schools, and training  methods, including Project Adventure and the National Outdoor Leadership School, and  Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound.

Hard work was worth it

Outward Bound was surprisingly good fun, although we carried heavy backpacks for kilometres through scrub land and over rocks.

We also consumed the most revolting food you have ever tasted, clambered down rocks on to black snakes and - wait for it - floated down gushing torrents on lilos.

I mean, how silly can you be?  What is the point of risking life and limb when you are probably never going to do that sort of thing again anyway?

By the end of eight days, we were dirty, tired, scratched, smelly and eager to go home.

A couple of us fell asleep on the bus trip back and I can guarantee we call clambered into bed as soon as we reached home.

Although it was hard work, which we are not used to, we all enjoyed it immensely.

ZoŽ Beecher
Class 7, The Cathedral School
Townsville Daily Bulletin, Thursday, September 24, 1987

Outward Bound Recipe

Select: 10 strangers

Remove: Social dependencies - tobacco, spouses, friends, wristwatches, alcohol

Place on the edge of a pan: filled with unusual and stressful circumstances

Give a slight push: and watch to see that all are fully immersed

Add: the opportunity to learn and master skills

Shake: a sprinkling of natural grandeur

Stir in: a soupcon of skilled instructors

Simmer: carefully for 26 days.  Skim off the fat and deep-freeze until needed.

Derek Pritchard, Director
Minnesota Outward Bound School