Program Comparison

backpackers-reflectionComparing Adventure Treks, Outward Bound, and other teen adventure camps

NOLS and Outward Bound are great wilderness educational experiences, and we highly recommend them for adults, college students, and people seeking a specific skill focus. There are other, seemingly-similar programs with outdoor adventures, 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 summer outdoor adventure program.

Thanks for providing a fantastic experience. We’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from Connor. And the maturity bump is notable and just in time for high school. Your attention to all the right details—great instructors, great activities, and great tripmates—really sets Adventure Treks apart from its NOLS and Outward Bound counterparts. As far as I am concerned, AT is the gold standard in outdoor experiential education. – Tony Diehl, Bedford, NH

  Adventure Treks Outward Bound Moondance Adventures Wilderness Adventures Apogee Adventures
Age range of students 13–19 13–60+ 12–18 11–19 11–18
Student-to-instructor ratio 4:1 or better 6:1 7:1 6:1 6:1
Student return rate Consistently between 55–60% * * * *
Instructor return rate Consistently between 60–85% * * * *
Thorough screening process for new students? Yes Medical only Yes Yes No
Extra fees? 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
Minimum instructor age 21 21 21 21 20
Minimum medical certification** Wilderness first responder Wilderness first responder Only wilderness first aid Wilderness first responder Only CPR & first aid

* 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 require only lesser certifications, including wilderness first aid (16–20 hours) and CPR and first aid (4–6 hours). 

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 summer youth camps, but Adventure Treks stand outs out for many reasons, all of which we’ve outlined below!

Our directors are hands-on.
We are the only program who has a director open and close and get to know students on every single trip. Our three regional directors and executive director spend their summers in the field and provide additional support and leadership on logistical and airport days.
Our instructor-to-student ratio (1:4) is the best in the industry.

A 4:1 ratio is otherwise unheard of in our industry. Our five- to six-person staff teams are hugely beneficial to our students: More instructors mean:

  1. More personalities for students to learn from and become close to;
  2. A larger range and depth of knowledge, skills, and experience;
  3. More flexibility in optimizing student experiences;
  4. And students will get the personal attention, guidance, teaching, and role modeling they deserve.
60 to 70 percent of our instructors return year after year (more than any other program).

They are the backbone of our trips. Read more about our rigorous interview process for new staff members.

Our instructors are older, have more experience, and go through more extensive training.

We don’t hire inexperienced college students looking for a summer distraction, like most other programs do. Our instructors are professional educators, and they return to us year after year because they’re passionate about working with teenagers in the outdoors. Both new and returning staff go through at least two weeks (senior staff receive three weeks) of training every year, 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!

Larger student groups have more benefits.

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:

  1. There are more students from a wider variety of backgrounds to befriend.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Tuition covers everything but airfare.

We include more in our tuition—like all outdoor equipment—with no hidden or extra costs. Other programs not only require parents to pay for gear, but also for laundry, photos, and even showers. At Adventure Treks, we won’t nickel and dime you. We keep our overhead intentionally lower than other programs so that we can offer the best value for parents.

Our students come from all over.

Many other programs have large groups of students from one particular area, like Washington, DC, or the northeast. We’re proud to attract students from all four corners of the United States, and from around the world. In 2019, Adventure Treks has the pleasure of welcoming students from 44 states and 16 countries!

We emphasize fun, personal growth, and a positive, constructive social environment.

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 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 silly, goofy selves. Our students are able to learn about themselves while making great friends in a respectful, positive group.

We do not offer extended solo experiences.

Students learn leadership, community-building, and outdoor skills in large and small groups—never alone.

Adventure Treks screens applicants to ensure that our students have an excellent peer group.

We 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!

For nine years we have been with Adventure Treks. I wanted my kids to have a chance to reset from school and electronics, and it turned into their favorite place to be. My daughters have pushed themselves emotionally and physically on each trip, and with each trip they’ve learned how to be a stronger person with a love for the outdoors. The people they become at the end of the program are ones that know how to exist in a community and know how to be the best person they can be. This year, my youngest daughter said her community was a family—a place where she felt safe and could tell everyone how she was feeling. Community meetings are her favorite time of day. – Phyliss Hasen, College Park, GA