Teen Adventure Camp Program Comparison
Comparing Outward Bound, Moondance Adventures, Wilderness Adventures, Apogee Adventures, and other summer camps for teens
NOLS and Outward Bound are great wilderness educational experiences, and we highly recommend them for adults, college students, people who are seeking education for an outdoor career, or anyone seeking a specific skill focus. There are other summer programs for teens that also offer outdoor adventure travel, but there are many differences, which we’ve outlined below.
Adventure Treks is designed exclusively for teenagers and is best suited for young people who desire a fun yet challenging, community-minded outdoor summer adventure.
An Adventure Treks trip is often our new students’ first big outdoor experience, and it’s our priority to make the outdoors fun, inclusive, and accessible. All teenagers need challenge and appropriate risk in order to grow, but we think it’s crucial that they also have a blast while outside! Our goal is that students arrive home after Adventure Treks feeling much more confident, accomplished, proud, capable, and independent—and wanting to do it all over again the following summer! This is why our student return rate tends to be higher than other companies.
Adventure Treks is a rare opportunity for your child to experience how life without phones and technology can be fun and fulfilling. Enjoying the outdoors and physical challenges with a team of kids your own age is a great way to get your teen ready for the independence of college life. Wes felt that the Adventure Treks environment helped him open up to his peers and create strong bonds. – Julia Nickerson, parent from Leander, TX
|Adventure Treks||Outward Bound||Moondance Adventures||Wilderness Adventures||Apogee Adventures|
|Student return rate||Typically 50 to 60%||*||*||*||*|
|Instructor return rate||Consistently between 60–85%||*||*||*||*|
|Extra fees?||No. All-inclusive||All-inclusive||Must purchase or rent backpack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad||Must purchase or rent backpack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad||Must pay for bike rental, backpacks, sleeping bags, showers, and laundry|
|Director involvement on every trip||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Average instructor age||In 2022, 27||*||*||*||*|
|Minimum medical certification**||Wilderness first responder||Wilderness first responder||Wilderness first aid||Wilderness first responder||CPR, wilderness first aid, and lifeguard|
*Proprietary information was not publicly shared.
**At minimum, Adventure Treks requires our instructors to be certified as wilderness first responders, which is an intensive 80-hour course that also includes CPR. Other companies only require wilderness first aid (16–20 hours) and CPR and first aid (4–6 hours).
It was an amazing trip filled with incredible instructors, students, and activities. Adventure Treks was very organized from the moment that I first called with questions through to the end of the trip. Landon thoroughly enjoyed the trip and can’t wait to go on another one next summer. I think it was valuable that Landon was part of a community and worked together as a team with other students and instructors to make all of the activities possible. It was great that he was able to strengthen life and social skills. Communication with the AT office was excellent. Before signing my son up for the trip, I had many questions and Amanda always made time to answer all of my questions. When his Yellowstone trip was canceled, AT was transparent and quickly helped us to find another trip. Kurt called before the trip and it was comforting to hear directly from a instructor who would be on the trip. I found the webinar before the trip to be very informative and helpful. Thank you! – Christine Tamaddon, parent from Stevenson, MD
At Adventure Treks, our students develop lifelong friends, find their best selves, and have an amazing, out-of-the-box adventures. There are other excellent outdoor-based programs and traditional summer camps, but we believe Adventure Treks stands out out for many reasons:
Most typical summer teen programs have two staff with 12–13 students; our programs have five to six staff and 20 to 24 students. Our larger staff teams are hugely beneficial to our students: More instructors mean:
- More personalities for students to learn from and become close to;
- A larger range and depth of knowledge, skills, personality dynamics, and experience;
- More flexibility in optimizing student experiences;
- And students will get the personal attention, guidance, teaching, and role modeling they deserve.
They are the backbone of our trips. Read more about our rigorous interview process for new instructors.
We don’t hire inexperienced college students looking for a summer job, like many other teen summer camps do. Our instructors are professional educators, and they return to our program because they fall in love with the community and are passionate about working with teenagers in the outdoors. Both new and returning staff go through at least two weeks of training every year (senior staff receive three weeks), and spend the weeks before their trips scouting, planning, learning about their specific trips, and getting to know their students.
More important, our instructors are able to create the safe, nurturing environment we’re known for, while also maximizing the FUN and WOW aspects of the trip!
Lastly, you’ll notice we are one of few programs who showcases our instructors’ biographies online for all prospective and enrolled families to read.
Most other programs cap their student groups at 12 to 18. However, since Adventure Treks’ inception, we’ve successfully run larger student groups of 20 to 24. There are myriad benefits:
- There are more students from a wider variety of backgrounds to befriend.
- We spend time in both the big group and in smaller groups of eight to 12 throughout the trip, depending on the activity. Smaller groups are beneficial in activities like backpacking, where students get more personal time with each other and instructors. They’ll get to cycle through different small activity, cooking, and tent groups throughout the trip.
- Social dynamics are easier to manage. When you’ve got only 12 teenagers, your student spends the entire trip with that one group. With a larger group, instructors can fluidly manage social groups; if two students don’t mesh well together, we can create groups so that doesn’t negatively affect theirs or the group’s overall experience.
We include more in our tuition—like all outdoor equipment—with no hidden or extra costs. Other adventure summer camps not only require parents to pay for gear, but also for laundry, photos, and even showers. At Adventure Treks, we understand that a summer program is already a significant investment in your child’s life; we won’t nickel and dime you for gear.
Many other programs have large groups of students from one particular area, like Washington, DC, New York and New Jersey, or south Florida. We’re proud to attract students from all four corners of the United States, and from around the world. In 2022, Adventure Treks has the pleasure of welcoming students from 44 states and 16 countries!
We understand that our students are trusting us with their summer, and we make sure they don’t regret it. In fact, teenagers have such a great time that 50–60 percent of our students return to us for multiple summers (the highest student return rate in the industry). We focus not only on fun, but also on building a safe, judgment-free zone where students feel free to be their true selves. Our students are able to learn about themselves while making great friends in a respectful, positive group.
Students learn leadership, community-building, and outdoor skills in large and small groups—never alone.
In the last decade, many outdoor-centric companies have shifted to a model of including service on many of their adventures. We could make a lot of money if we chose to do this. However, we would feel guilty making money on something we believe rarely accomplishes most of its intended goals. Volunteerism on the local level has a powerful effect, even for middle and high schoolers. It costs nothing but time, and you can see the direct result of your actions. We do not see these same long-term benefits with international community service trips, also known as “voluntourism.” We’ve declined to follow the market on offering service trips. And here is why: All of the research and literature demonstrates that community service trips are rarely impactful on anyone but the individual taking the trip.
Read more here.
We do our best through our parent questionnaires, student questionnaires, character and school references, health forms, and follow-up conversations and interviews to make sure that our students are capable of the physical as well as the social and emotional aspects of our trips. Everyone deserves to have a great time—we want it to be easy to make new best friends!
AT went beyond our expectations in the areas of safety/expertise of the instructors, organization, experiences, and friendships our child had. Overall, it was a huge growth and learning challenge for our daughter. She says that her group are all still close and open with one another. Everyone helped, lead, and remained supportive throughout the trip. Amanda was very responsive and caring. Kyle was incredible—he is warm, caring, reliable, and I felt he had the kids’ best interest and safety in mind at all times. – Marney Whitney, parent from Chapel Hill, NC