Teen Adventure Camp Program Comparison

Comparing Outward Bound, 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, and people seeking a specific skill focus. There are other, seemingly-similar summer camps for teens that 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 camp.

A summer without AT is not a summer at all. Adventure Treks is pure magic… Children get an opportunity to be just that—children, within a structure premised on safety, respect, community, acceptance, and fun. The selection of destinations, peers, instructors, food, activities, etc. have large doses of thought and care and love. This summer was the best escape from the pandemic. – Sanjani Varkey, parent from Berkeley, CA

  Adventure Treks Outward Bound Moondance Adventures Wilderness Adventures Apogee Adventures
Operated trips in 2020? Yes No No Yes*** No
Student-to-instructor ratio In 2020, 3:1 6:1 7:1 6:1 6:1
Student return rate Consistently between 55–60% * * * *
Instructor return rate Consistently between 60–85% * * * *
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
Average instructor age 28 * * * *
Minimum medical certification** Wilderness first responder Wilderness first responder Wilderness first aid Wilderness first responder CPR, wilderness first aid, and lifeguard

Adventure Treks operated on a small scale in 2020 in western North Carolina. For families who could not attend, we provided full refunds with no penalties.

*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 may only require wilderness first aid (16–20 hours) and CPR and first aid (4–6 hours).
***Wilderness Adventures offered programs only to families who lived in Wyoming.

Adventure Treks is a great opportunity for students to have an unusual, challenging experience with peers from diverse geographic locales, build a sense of community, and learn skills from capable outdoor instructors. Our sons have both enjoyed their experiences with AT through the years. They love the camaraderie, sense of community, and adventure! For 2020, Adventure Treks pulled off and executed the most wonderful AT experience, at a time when it is more valuable than ever. These students needed it, wanted it, adhered to protocols—as did you and your entire team. Many thanks again for having pivoted and reconstructed curricula and making this the best AT experience EVER! George looks forward to Alaska Expedition in 2021. We appreciate ALL of you! – Suzy Seger-Zach, parent from Lovettsville, VA

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 Adventure Treks stands out out for many reasons:

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 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 many other teen summer camps 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 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!

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 adventure summer camps 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, 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 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 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.

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!

Our son returned for his third year in 2020 because Adventure Treks is thoughtful, supportive, positive, and fun! Daniel loves it so much. Every activity, every outing, EVERYTHING at AT has been carefully considered and is done for a reason. Making connections with other teenagers outside of school has been so valuable. AT gives him the chance to really connect with other kids in meaningful ways that he just doesn’t do at school. Also, the great relationships he gets to form with the instructors are also so important and valuable. This year, he said, “We ALL got along well with each other—that’s so unusual for any group of teenagers, mom. There were no cliques, no sub-groups that only hung together.” It was heaven for him. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. What a great gift you gave my kid. – Laura Miller, parent from Cabin John, MD