General FAQ

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What is the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS)?

The Boulder Outdoor Survival School, Inc. is a nonprofit educational institution dedicated to the instruction and preservation of traditional living skills and to the development of people through experiences within the natural world. BOSS is the oldest and largest wilderness survival school in the world.

How did BOSS get started?

The idea for the BOSS program began in 1968 with Larry Dean Olsen, noted author of Outdoor Survival Skills. Larry felt that our society had lost its edge when it came to facing and overcoming the pressures of modern life. To deal with this situation, he created a wilderness program featuring specific physical and mental challenges that would produce more adaptable and resourceful people. BOSS was incorporated as a private business in 1980 and then transitioned to a nonprofit in 2017. For more info on our history, please visit our BOSS History page.

Where does BOSS operate?

We are located in Boulder, Utah — a small town in south-central Utah near Capitol Reef National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We’ve been based there since 1968 and it’s this more remote Boulder that gave us our name. For detailed travel directions, see the Getting To BOSS information page.

What can people expect to learn from participating in a BOSS course?

On almost all courses, you will learn traditional skills like friction fires and shelter construction. On Field courses, you will also learn about your body’s capabilities, its strengths and weaknesses, and your ability to handle different stresses. This is a major component of our curriculum and of our philosophy — learning how to do more with less. We hope you leave any BOSS experience with greater competency in wilderness skills and a new perspective on the natural world and traditional cultures who lived off the land

What are the most popular courses?

Our Field Courses are the oldest and most well-known courses we offer. They remain popular with people looking for a challenge. For those seeking to learn a wider range of wilderness and primitive skills in depth, without the physical challenge of extensive hiking, we suggest our Skills Courses. Advanced courses like the Hunter Gatherer are only available to those with previous experience. 

If you’re not sure which course is right for you, contact us and we can help you decide.

How tough are BOSS courses?

BOSS has been called “the toughest survival school in the world.” This reputation is based on our Field courses, in which students can hike up to 20 miles or more in a 24-hour period.  The “toughness” of our courses is based less in the physical challenge but rather the mental fortitude needed to complete the experience. 

Physical fitness is critically important to success on a Field Course. You should honestly assess your level of fitness and determine what kind of training program makes sense before you show up at BOSS. If you have any concerns or questions, contact us. Many people who were concerned that they’d be the slowest or the weakest hiker in a group have done very well on BOSS courses. 

Skills courses do not present the same types of physical challenges. Students on these courses should be comfortable with day hikes and primitive camping, but the same type of training is usually not necessary.

What kinds of courses does BOSS offer?

See the Courses page for details on courses we currently offer.

Who participates in BOSS courses?

People from all walks of life come to BOSS. Most of our students are open-minded adults looking for a challenge and a new skill set for their wilderness experience. Although many of our students come from the US, we have alumni from Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Australia, and the UK.

See here for more information on Who Goes To BOSS.

What is the maximum number of students on a trip?

We allow a maximum of 12 students for all Field courses, and 15 students for Skills courses. Navigator courses and the Hunter Gatherer have a maximum of 9 students. BOSS Custom courses have limits based on location and course content. For team-building retreats or off-site programs, we can accommodate up to 200 people at a time.

Are there age limits (young and old)?

A person must be at least 18 years old to take a BOSS course. Our oldest student to date was 73. Physical fitness and mental attitude is more important than age. Our average student age is around 33-35.

Are BOSS courses Coed?

Yes, and they have been since our beginnings in 1968. 

Are there female instructors at BOSS?

Yes, there are. We do everything we can to have at least one female staff member on each course. We can’t guarantee that every course will have female staff, but we do our best.

Does BOSS offer single-sex (women or men only) courses?

We have in the past and can provide custom programming if there is a demand. If you have a group of 9-12 people who would like to attend BOSS together (where they will be led by an all-female or all-male staff), please contact us to set up your course.

What weather should I expect for my course?

See here what to expect regarding the weather on BOSS courses on our Weather page.

Advanced FAQ

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How does BOSS differ from other outdoor programs?

BOSS courses offer a more natural, immersive, and challenging experience in the wilderness than most other programs. On our courses, we do not bring stoves, tents, sleeping bags, or even backpacks into the field. Instead, we teach you how to make fire without matches, how to build shelter from forest debris, and how to navigate with the stars. We avoid the high-tech, bring-it-all-with-you mentality, and the result is an experience that can be much more “real” and meaningful to a person on the most basic level. Additionally, our average student is 33 years old and professional, making our target audience slightly older than that of most outdoor schools.

What course should I start with?

Almost all of our courses are open to beginners, without prerequisites. If you are looking for the classic BOSS challenge and skill-building course, we recommend a Field Course. If you want to focus on skills without the physical rigors of a field course, we recommend a Skills Course. If you have any questions, contact us.

Are any of the courses more rigorous or intense than others?

Yes. Our Field course is the most rigorous course we offer –– and some would say the most physically strenuous course available outside the military. It’s not for the faint of heart. However, people from all backgrounds and walks of life are routinely successful on these courses. They do require a base level of physical fitness, but far more important is mental toughness. Also, you will be hiking with our guides for most of the course and they are there to assist you, if needed.

I don’t live in Utah. Will the primitive skills I learn at BOSS be applicable where I live?

Yes. While it’s true that the materials we use will likely be harvested or collected from the land near Boulder, Utah, the lessons we teach at BOSS attempt to place all skills within a regional, national and international context. Where materials are concerned, this means teaching you not just what works in our area, but what qualities you want to look for in those materials. So you should be able to use what you learn at BOSS when you return home. Granted, there may be some differences, but part of wilderness competency comes from experimentation.

Are BOSS courses dangerous?

It is unusual for a person to go into the wilderness without much food, water, or gear. But please keep in mind that we have been doing this program for many decades, and we take your safety very seriously. So our initial answer to this question is “No” but we suggest you read the Risk and Health & Safety pages to learn more about the hazards that may present themselves on the trail. You can also contact us if you have specific concerns or questions.

Has anyone ever been lost on a BOSS course?

Sure, but not permanently. Our backup teams and field support staff can track and find a group, if needed. We have extensive emergency protocols and resources we can use if necessary. But finding yourself a little off-course adds some excitement to the experience, especially during phases when the students are doing all the navigating.

Do people ever drop out of courses?

Yes. We put a lot of effort in to preparing our students mentally for their trips, especially the Field Courses. As a result, our students are in better shape and are more capable of meeting the challenges each course presents. There are still some people who drop. 

For most, they dropped from a Field course because they found it too physically or mentally demanding. A few others drop because of personal situations/emergencies at home. But most of our students understand that our Field Courses are not designed to be easy, so they come for the challenge. We hope that you’ll respect your decision to come, and you’ll honor the challenge a course presents. 

Should you decide to drop, you are more than welcome to try again at a later date (although your tuition will be forfeited from the first course). Our instructors do not judge those who quit, but we are sometimes disappointed that you will not be able to share in the group’s elation at the end of the course. 

Please feel free to contact us to discuss any concerns you might have before or during the application process.

Do family members or couples ever participate together? Does BOSS encourage this?

We have had family members, friends, and romantic partners in the field with us. Whether you are on the same course, or same section of a course, is up to you. 

As long as you are aware of the curriculum and have the ability to function as members of the whole group–and not isolate yourselves from activities at hand–anything you want is fine with us. On our Field Courses, we encourage people to see new aspects of themselves. Therefore, it may be helpful to not have a close friend or relative with you at all times. That said, the decision is up to each person and family. However, couples who attend together should be aware of our policy about sex: all relationships on BOSS courses should be kept platonic until after the course is over. As a school, BOSS wants all students and staff to feel comfortable approaching people and interacting at all times, so it’s best to wait until you leave BOSS to share physical intimacy.

Suppose I need to be reached by my family when I’m on a course. Is that possible?

Yes, but with some important restrictions. First, your location and the logistics involved in getting an urgent message to you can affect how long it takes. In certain areas, it can take many hours and sometimes days for a message to reach you. 

Also, as a principle, we keep courses isolated from the modern outside world. On Field Courses in particular, it’s part of the DNA of the course. However, if there is an urgent situation and the Field Director feels that the “seal” of a course should be broken so that an outside message can be delivered, BOSS staff members will do everything they can to reach you as quickly as possible. 

All that being said, most courses complete without incident and we hope you’ll come ready and able to focus on the experience in the field.

As a wilderness survival school, does BOSS teach military techniques?

No, we are not a military survival or militia-training program. In fact, we ask people who are looking for a military program to go elsewhere. Some of the techniques taught might be the same, and we pride ourselves on the quality of instruction and deep challenge we provide, but our teaching philosophies are very different. 

That said, every year many veterans and active duty service members come on BOSS courses and thrive.

Can I bring a cellphone on my course?


What about the prices? They seem a bit steep to me.

We’re guessing that you’re asking this because it seems odd to pay so much for a long trip in the desert with very little food, water, equipment, etc.? After all, there are no physical structures or expensive machinery around you to justify the cost, right? 

We strive to keep our courses as affordable as possible. Here are some reasons why we need to charge what we do: 

First, our instructors must be paid a competitive wage. It is their expertise that brings so much to your course. While some people might appreciate a slightly lower price, we know everyone appreciates the quality of our instructors and it takes a certain amount to keep them with BOSS year after year. Some of our staff have been with BOSS for over 20 years and we appreciate the value that brings to our students. That said, our instructors are not getting rich. 

Second, there is a whole “business” side to BOSS that is, by necessity, totally modern. Digital infrastructure, insurance, marketing, and equipment are expensive. 

Third, most of the food you eat on BOSS courses is organically grown–for example, the peanuts and raisins in your trail mix and the lentils in your stew. This costs us a little more to acquire, but positive impact is a core philosophy of the school, so it’s a decision we stand by each year. 

For a more detailed breakdown, contact us. 

There are many other factors that go into our course pricing, but you should know that we’re not picking numbers out of a hat. We think very carefully about our costs, the quality of our programs, and the value they offer you, and our prices reflect this. Our goal is to make the price affordable so you’ll experience everything we have to offer, yet still keep BOSS in business for many more years to come.

What’s the ratio of men to women?

Typically, we have 25-35 percent women but sometimes we will see courses with over 50 percent women. We hope to have a balanced number of men and women on each course so the dynamic in the field doesn’t favor one sex, but we cannot make guarantees as enrollment varies from course to course.

What is the ratio of instructors to students?

A typical course will have a 1:4 ratio –– 1 staff member for every 4 students. Some may have a 1:3 ratio, as survival skills are hands-on and it helps to have someone there working with you on a skill. Expect 2 instructors and 1 apprentice for most courses. On courses in foreign countries, we typically add a translator as well.

Health & Fitness FAQ

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What kind of training should I do for a BOSS course?

For Field, Hunter Gatherer and Navigator Courses, the key is to train well enough in advance to arrive in shape and prepared for an adventure. You should honestly assess your current level of fitness and determine what you need to arrive at BOSS in peak shape. BOSS courses are not intended to be used as fitness courses. Arriving for a Field course unprepared can jeopardize the experience and safety of the whole group.

On Skills and Wilderness Medicine courses, physical fitness is not a requirement. You should be capable of hiking short distances and participating in daily activities. 

Please read the Fitness & Training page for a more complete answer, including suggested activities and assessment tests.

What if I can’t run at all? Do I still take the Cooper Run test?

Yes, it is still advised that you complete the 1.5 mile Cooper Run test, even if it’s at a walking pace. While we’d hope you run, jog or walk fast enough to elevate your heart rate, we can still observe how your body responds to the walk and to the altitude. It is important that we understand your ability to hike at a reasonable pace.

If you have any questions about the run please contact us. 

What if I fail the test?

The test is used as a diagnostic tool to evaluate your body’s response to physical stress and how quickly it recovers. It is not a pass/fail test. 

Can I wear contact lenses? What about sunglasses?

No, and no. Here’s why: 

Contact Lenses: We’ve found it difficult to manage contact lenses in the field due to dust, dirt and depending on the user, poor hygiene (good hygiene is a core part of our curriculum!). Eye infections and abrasions can be course-ending issues. Glasses in a protective case along with a spare pair is the best option for our courses.

Sunglasses:  We don’t allow sunglasses on course. Sunglasses seriously hinder our ability to assess student well-being in the field. Your eyes reveal a lot about your mental status and health on course. Instructors need to see your eyes throughout the course.

If you are concerned about exposure to UV rays, we suggest you get clear glasses that provide UV protection. If your eyes are sensitive to light due to a medical condition, we’ll need a letter from a physician stating this. In this case we may allow sunglasses to be worn during the course.

What if I’m vegetarian, kosher, lactose intolerant, etc.?

About 20% of the students who come to BOSS each summer are vegetarians. Most meals on the trail consist of lentils, rice, quinoa, amaranth, oatmeal, carrots, potatoes, and some flavorings like vegetarian bouillon. On longer Field Courses, some meals may include meat. Please let us know in advance about dietary restrictions prior to the course so we can best accommodate you. 

For those who have food allergies, are kosher, lactose intolerant, gluten free, etc. please mark this information down on your health history form (in your Registration Packet) and let us know if any adjustments to our rations need to be made.

What about medications? Can I take prescribed medicines on the course?

This will depend on the specific medicine and approval by your physician and BOSS’s Advising Physician. If you can go without it, that’s usually best, but we understand this isn’t always possible. You and your physician should be aware that on Field Courses, there will be times when you have no food and limited water. You will be under heavy exertion at times, and your diet will not be high in fats. Any medications you take must be safe for these variables. Also, all prescribed and “over the counter “ drugs taken at the time of your course must be listed on the Health and Physical Exam Form. If you have questions about this, please speak with our registrar.

I can’t swim. Will that be a problem on my course?

On Skills courses, this is not a major concern. On Field courses, please note this on your course application. On certain routes, a group may have to cross rivers that are knee-high. During flood season, it’s possible that these will be thigh-high or more. Some routes may require you to swim briefly through a narrow slot canyon. In these cases, it is important to know if students can swim before the route is set.

Can I smoke on my course?

No. Smoking is not allowed on any BOSS courses. 

Is altitude a concern at all?

BOSS courses operate at altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level. Boulder Town itself sits at 6,700 feet above sea level. Depending on what altitude you are coming from, this can present an additional physical challenge. On Skills Courses, this should not affect your participation. On Field and Explorer Courses, you will be hiking and challenging your body while it is still acclimatizing. This is not an issue for most. If you are concerned about how the altitude will affect you, we suggest that you consider arriving in Utah earlier so that your body has some extra time to adjust. Please contact us for additional information.

Travel & Logistic FAQ

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What city should I fly to for my BOSS course?

This will depend on which course you take. But most of our trips are based out of the small town of Boulder, Utah — population 236. Yes, that’s Boulder, Utah, not Boulder, Colorado. It’s in this smaller Boulder that we’ve been operating since 1968, and we’re happy to call such a beautiful, rural town our summer home. Boulder is approximately 4 hours south of Salt Lake City, Utah, where you would need to fly to if you decided to take a BOSS course. Students stay the night in Salt Lake City at a hotel near the airport, and BOSS will arrange transportation the rest of the way to our school. Upon registration, you will receive a more detailed travel sheet, with guidelines and suggestions to help you reach our school. More details on travel.

If I want to look into flights, what dates and times should I use?

This varies between courses but in general our courses start at 12 noon on Sundays and end at 12 noon on Saturdays. So you would want to arrive in Salt Lake City on the Saturday night before your course, and spend that first night ideally at the Holiday Inn west of the airport. If you choose, we can arrange for a BOSS shuttle van to bring you down to Boulder, Utah on Sunday morning. For the return trip, most people reach the Holiday Inn on Saturday night, where they shower, change clothes, and then go out for dinner to celebrate. We therefore recommend that you fly out of Salt Lake on Sunday morning, not Saturday night. Again, some courses have different schedules, so best to check with us before buying your ticket. But please do not buy a return flight that forces you to rush to the airport on the last day of the course — odds are you will miss the flight, as some courses take longer than others to wrap up.

What about lodging in Salt Lake City, Utah?

For students who travel through Salt Lake City, Utah, we recommend that everyone stays at the same hotel — this makes the trip to Boulder, Utah much easier to coordinate. The hotel we recommend is the Holiday Inn & Suites Salt Lake City-Airport West, 5001 Wiley Post Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84116. This is the rendezvous point for the BOSS shuttle. If you want to stay elsewhere, that’s fine as long as you arrange to be at the Holiday Inn before the shuttle van departs for Boulder. All this information (and more) is in your BOSS Student Portal.

How does the BOSS shuttle work?

For most courses, the BOSS shuttle departs the Holiday Inn at 6:30 am sharp on Sunday morning. Please check out and meet in the lobby with your belongings at 6:15 am to ensure a timely departure. The van drives directly from Salt Lake City to Boulder, Utah (making one or two stops, as needed), typically arriving around 11:45am. Orientation for courses starts at 12 noon. On the final day of your course, the BOSS shuttle will drive students back to the Holiday Inn, departing BOSS around noon, and arriving around 5:00 pm.

The BOSS shuttle is $300 for a round-trip reservation or $150 for one-way.

If I’m driving to BOSS, when should I arrive?

Course Orientation typically starts at 12:00pm sharp on Sundays, just after the shuttle arrives from Salt Lake City. Students who are driving to BOSS on their own should please be at the school and ready to go before this — we recommend no later than 11:45am, so you have time to stretch your legs, use the facilities, park your car, etc. before Orientation starts. To ensure that you arrive in time, please use our website and other resources to make sure you properly estimate driving times. Certain roads in Southern Utah have steep banks and sharp curves, so you may have to drive slowly. There could also be road blocks, cattle drives and a number of other unforeseeable restrictions that would slow you down. For this reason, we recommend that you leave plenty of time to make sure you’re at BOSS well before the 12 noon start time of your course.

What happens to my car when I’m out on my course?

During Course Orientation, all students who drive their own cars are asked to park their vehicles in BOSS’s northern parking lot. Your keys should be clearly marked and included in your “valuables bag,” which is given to your instructors for on-site storage prior to departing for your trip. Cars remain parked for the duration of your course.

Can I leave valuables with BOSS while I’m on my course?

Yes. During Orientation, students will be given a “valuables bag” in which you can place your car keys, wallet, cell phones, and other personal items. For those driving, you may choose to lock valuables in your car and then simply leave your keys with us. All valuables are then stored at BOSS under lock-and-key for the duration of your course. This will be explained in greater detail during Orientation.

If my course ends on a Saturday by noon, can I fly home that evening?

We don’t recommend it. Simply put, there’s no guarantee that you’ll make your flight if it’s just hours after your course is over. Not only is it a long drive from BOSS in Boulder, Utah to Salt Lake City, but once there, you’ll need to take a shuttle or taxi to the airport. Any number of delays along the way could force you to miss your flight. We therefore recommend you fly out the morning after your course is over, just to be safe. If you have specific questions about this, please contact us and we’ll do our best to help.

Field Course FAQ

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What skills will I learn on a Field Course, compared to a Skills Course?

Here’s an example: On a 14-Day Field Course, you will learn how to make fire with a bow drill so you can stay warm and cook your food — it has a direct purpose. Every student is expected to successfully make a fire. On a 14-Day Survival Skills Course, you will also learn the bow drill technique, but you have the option to learn more: for example the hand drill, the fire plough, and the fire pump techniques. It’s up to you and the rest of the group to determine what skills are covered by the staff. Most skills on a Field Course will probably be covered on a Skills Course. The converse is not true: plenty of skills covered on Skills Courses are absent from the Field Course curriculum. On a Field Course, you can expect to learn the bow drill fire technique, knife safety, hygiene & cooking skills, hiking & campsite selection skills, map reading, navigation & orienteering, natural and adaptive shelter construction, water purification techniques, and whatever else comes up during your time on the trail. Please see the Skills Course pages to read about the skills typically taught, but one skill you won’t cover on a Skills Course is map reading & orienteering. 

What is the most challenging element of participating in a BOSS Field Course?

The mental aspect is usually the most challenging. This usually involves facing the unknown and, for many people, giving up control. There are no lights to turn on at night, no telephones to call friends, and no way to really isolate yourself from the dynamics of the group. You are immersed in a traditional living experience, in a world that — although completely natural — may feel foreign. You are asked to hike long days at times with little food or water. There is also a physical element — heat, desert air, alkaline water, elevation, exertion, hunger and thirst. 

What kind of training should I do for my Field Course?

The most important muscle in a survival situation is the one between your ears (your brain). If you strive to live in the moment and avoid creating expectations which may disappoint you, you will be fine. 

Since your body can only go as far as your feet can take you, here are some thoughts on conditioning programs. Over the years, we have seen a number of training programs and their effect on a student’s performance. These are the things that we suggest you do NOT do before your course:

  • Smoke
  • Drink excessively (water, alcohol, soda, or any caffeine drink)
  • Depend on your morning cup of coffee to get going
  • Sit at your desk all day
  • Start any kind of prescription drug treatment

Please, do not use BOSS as the place to start getting in shape — come prepared to hike.

Here are some thoughts on ways to train or improve your strength on the trail:

  • Go for day hikes, working up to a 6- or 8-hour hiking capacity.
  • Cardiovascular health is paramount, so running or cycling can be great preparation.
  • Eat well.
  • Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
  • When training, drink and eat moderately.

We have seen some endurance athlete students (Triathletes, Marathon runners, etc.) who trained for a Field Course on a 5000 calories-per-day diet drinking water and sports drinks non-stop. Once confronted with the realities of hiking long days with little or no food or, later, a 1500 calories-per-day diet on a course, they fell behind the group. While we don’t recommend that you train on a completely empty stomach, it is important that you recognize how your body performs with and without calories and water on a regular basis. If you have a few months to prepare for your course, there should be no problems getting in good shape. More detail on Fitness & Training.

What happens if I can’t complete the course?

If you do decide to leave a course, the Field Director will arrange for your transportation out of the field. An important element of the Field Course experience is that it is more than just a hike through the desert — it is a modern-day rite of passage. It is about facing the unknown, facing and pushing beyond your limits to reach a better understanding of who you are, and what you can and cannot do. We hope the temptation to leave the course will be present for everyone. At times, we hope the hunger, heat, and disorientation will require serious effort and perseverance. 

The goal is to have students finish the course and enjoy the sense of accomplishment. Most students who choose to leave regret it the moment they return to civilization.

Do we get any food or water during Impact? During the course?

All Field Courses start with a phase called Impact. During this time, you are not carrying or eating any food. We find our drinking water in creeks, potholes, and drainages along the way. There may be nights without water or days when you leave water in the morning and don’t find more until camp in the evening. The goal of this phase is to present you with a simulated survival experience. This is intended to push you physically and mentally. After Impact, you are given food rations which typically include rolled oats for breakfast and stew (lentils, quinoa, potatoes, carrots) for dinner. This amounts to about 1500 calories per person per day.  We provide enough food to keep the average body healthy and active.

Can I bring extra food, like Powerbars, for Impact?

No. The food rations and equipment list we give you for a Field Course is set. Smuggling in food could jeopardize your place on the course. The programs BOSS provides have been designed and refined over 50 years and smuggling food undermines your BOSS experience and the experiences of your fellow students.

What about extra gear? Can I bring more than what’s on the list?

On our Field Courses, the equipment list we provide is our maximum allowable list. You are welcome to bring less equipment, but certainly not more. However, over the years, we have made some adjustments based on weather, route, or medical conditions. If you have a specific question, ask your Head instructor during course orientation and they will have the final say in the matter.

I’ve heard that BOSS is a desert survival school. Should I expect to be traveling in only a desert environment? I want to learn more than that.

The area around Boulder, Utah is amazingly diverse. At lower elevations, the desert varies from riparian areas around the Escalante River and its tributaries, to bare slickrock and Pinyon/Juniper scrubland. Slightly higher in elevation, the BOSS field office is located at the foot of Boulder Mountain, where the transition to the Ponderosa Pine forest begins. On Boulder Mountain itself, one finds forests of scrub oak, Aspen and even Spruce/Fir at the highest elevations (11,000 feet). You can experience habitats ranging from those typical of the southwestern United States to types of forest which can be found in Canada. At BOSS, we feel that traveling and learning in a variety of these habitats on our Field Courses gives students a more diverse experience, providing unique insights, challenges, and learning opportunities. It’s possible to be sweating and thirsty hiking in sand and sagebrush one day, and then through the falling snow in a stand of Aspen or Spruce the next, even in July. On most courses you’ll be exploring and experiencing far more than desert and your staff will do their best to show you the beauty and diversity around Southern Utah’s Boulder Mountain.

Am I really all alone during Solo? What if something bad happens?

Yes, you are alone during Solo. However, you are not totally isolated. Typically, you and your coursemates are strung out in a line along a water source so you have neighbors relatively nearby. Before Solo begins, your instructors will review how our safety monitoring system works. We have a way of checking on your safety without interfering with your privacy. Should there be an emergency, assistance is not far away, and your instructors will clearly explain what to do if you need help.

Can I go off on a hike during Solo? Can I visit my neighbor?

No. Solo is your time to be alone, but not a time for a solo expedition. Your explorations are confined to your site, which may be a 1/4 mile wide and 1/2 mile long. Please remain in your designated solo area. There’s plenty of room for a shelter, for sunbathing, and for pondering the meaning of life. Leaving your site violates the goal of the phase and may jeopardize you remaining on the course. The only course that offers you a true solo expedition is the Desert Navigator. 

Regarding visiting your neighbor, please respect their right to have their own Solo experience.

What is the “Final Challenge”?

In order to preserve our ability to create a facilitated survival experience, certain phases and elements of BOSS courses are not revealed on our website or in our literature. The Final Challenge is one of the elements we choose to maintain a mystery. 

Skills Course FAQ

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What skills will I learn on a Skills Course, compared to a Field Course?

Skills courses, by design, cover many more skills than a Field course does. Skills courses also go into more depth, as students have the time to experiment and explore other methods and techniques. As described on our site, Skills courses will cover the following during the first week: Bow drill friction fires, basic lithics, debris shelters, cordage methods, basic edible plants, trapping, and basic hunting tools. Modern topics such as poncho shelters, camp hygiene, knife safety use and maintenance, priorities of survival, thermo-regulation of the body (dressing appropriately for the wilderness, sleeping warmly, external heat sources) and campsite selection are also covered. Some of these skills are covered on Field courses, too, but not in the same depth, as the group is traveling more during each day. Debris shelters, for example, take time to build and are impractical in a Field course setting where one might be moving from one day to the next. On a Skills course, one could build a debris shelter and sleep in it for many nights in a row. The same is likely for trapping — yes, traps could be set on a Field Course, but it makes more sense to do so when you know you’ll have a fire in the morning to prepare whatever you catch, and this isn’t always the case on Field Courses. So the Basecamp setting of a Skills course gives you a chance to lengthen the time spent on these skills and deepen your understanding of how things work. If you want time to practice skills, to study techniques, and to experiment, you should take a Skills Course.

Where do we go on Skills Courses?

Skills courses are usually held at BOSS’s Durfey Creek Basecamp. This is a meadow at approximately 9,000 feet above sea level on Boulder Mountain, where aspen and coniferous trees offer shade and protection. There are several large, student-made shelters there called wickiups that sleep 10 or so people each. You are also welcome to sleep outside, either under the stars or the conifer forest (aspen forest generally has many standing dead trees, making it unsafe for slumber). During the day, instruction is held at any number of settings: around the campfire, at the flintknapping pit, in the open meadow, or under the trees. Day hikes to nearby ridges or creeks are common, and some groups may opt for an overnight away from the Basecamp. Hikes are typically 3–5 miles, over rugged terrain for which appropriate hiking shoes should be worn. Unlike a Field course, you can carry food, water, and personal items with you throughout this course. The goal of all Skills courses is to teach you skills in depth, so while there might be hiking involved, it’s done so that you can explore more plants, wildlife, and ecosystems than what a single location can offer. If you have more questions about this, please let us know.

What kind of training should I do for my Skills Course?

The training we recommend for a Skills course is nothing like what we recommend for a Field course at BOSS. There are no marathon hikes and arduous challenges on Skills Courses. Students should, however, be comfortable with the idea of camping outside. All Skills Courses take place in the wilderness in camps with no electricity, telephones, etc. Because Skills Courses are typically held at around 9,000 feet above sea level on Boulder Mountain, students should be prepared to be at altitude. If you normally live at sea level, it will take you several days to acclimatize, so be prepared for that. You should be ready to go on day hikes and, as needed, to carry your gear with you as you travel. Again, most people who are familiar with backpacking will find a Skills Course to be well within their range of comfort. If you have questions, please let us know.

What’s the food situation on Skills Courses?

On Skills Courses, food is provided for three meals a day.  Students will have the opportunity to help with the preparation of meals. During some parts of the course, foods may be limited to those that the students have processed themselves from natural sources. Unlike Field Courses, food restriction is not an intentional challenge – you’re there to focus on learning and practicing skills. If you have any dietary restrictions or allergies, please let us know on your application.

Equipment FAQ

survival camping trips
What kind of gear will I need for my course?

We do not believe that you should go out and buy all the latest outdoor gear for your BOSS course. You can probably make do with many items you already own. For each course, a specific equipment list is sent to you upon registration. This list will explain some of the gear we suggest you bring, though you are welcome to bring less if you like. You may not bring more than what is on the list. The list typically includes a good wool blanket, a sturdy poncho, water bottles, a knife, thermal underwear, standard clothes, and a stainless-steel cup. On our Skills Courses, there is slightly more gear permitted. We ask that you sleep either in the natural shelters we have, or outside in a shelter you build. If you have specific questions once you have read the equipment list, please call us so we can discuss them in detail. 

I have some gear already, but yours might be better quality. What should I do?

Bring it with you! You can always bring it to Orientation for your instructors to evaluate. If you decide to use it, great. If not, you can buy items from our store and leave the other items with us or in your car until the course is over. It’s better to have more options than not when it comes to good gear selection.

What about a knife? What do you recommend?

There are many definitions and opinions on what constitutes the best survival knife. We use our knives primarily to carve wood and process game.

  1. We believe a simple, high-carbon, sheath knife with a “Scandinavian Grind” is best for your BOSS course. 
  2. We strongly urge you to not purchase or come to BOSS with a Rambo-style military knife that is heavy and contains emergency supplies in the handle. These are not well-suited to how we use knives on the trail.
  3. In our store, we sell knives from Mora of Sweden. They have all the qualities we look for in a knife at a very reasonable price.
  4. If you’re not sure if the knife you have is going to be better than the knives we sell, we suggest you bring yours with you and we can evaluate it during orientation.

If you have other questions, please give us a call and we’ll do our best to help.

VIDEO: Choosing a Knife for Your BOSS Course

If I buy my gear from BOSS, when do I get it?

Orders placed through our online store are packed in Utah and labeled with your name and course number. Payment is not made until you get to our campus in Utah. During orientation, you will be given a chance to pick up your order and, if you like, add or remove items based on what you and your instructors decide is best. We review everyone’s gear to make sure you have what is appropriate for your course. Once you establish what gear you need to purchase from our store, you can pay with Visa, Mastercard or cash.

Can I bring a camera?

You are more than welcome to bring a camera on your course. Be aware that the conditions you’ll be in (hot, sandy, cold, wet) do not work well with electronics, and dirt and sand has a way of getting into every nook and cranny, which can ruin expensive gear. We suggest you bring some Zip-loc bags (Freezer style, extra thick) to protect your camera when not in use. If you are going to bring an expensive camera, bring a good brush and rubber blower bulb so you can remove the fine sand and dust that accumulates. Remember to bring extra batteries and memory cards, if needed, as you won’t be able to recharge your camera or download files during your course.

What about a video camera?

Today, most digital cameras have a video mode built in. While most people choose to take only pictures of their BOSS experience, some do what they can to create “video journal” moments of their time on the trail. For this reason, BOSS has the following policy about creating video during our programs:

  1. Students must recognize that certain portions of courses, including all lessons and skills, are not to be filmed at all. This is to protect key aspects of BOSS’s program and curricula that are shared only with those who are in the field with us.
  2. Students must recognize and agree that they will not film other students without their permission and the permission of all others in their group. Many students come to BOSS to get away from modern technology. 
  3. Students must recognize that their video footage is strictly for personal, home viewing. One should not be distributing or sharing BOSS footage for professional or promotional use unless there is an agreement with BOSS to do so. Similarly, nothing should be posted to YouTube, Vimeo, etc. without written permission of anyone who may appear in the video and the written permission of the school.

We understand that people likely have the best intentions with using their cameras but must ask that you honor these rules and ask us if you have any questions about them. Anyone who violates these rules is subject to dismissal from their course and forfeiture of their tuition.

Registration FAQ

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How far in advance should I register for my BOSS course?

Enrollment trends vary each year, and it is difficult to give an exact answer here. Our courses do fill, so generally the earlier the better. However, if you let us know which course you are considering, we can give you a sense of when it might fill up.

What course should I take?

If you’re looking for a physical challenge that really pushes you, that covers a lot of miles through some stunning environments, the Field Course is for you. Field courses are based on the “less is more” philosophy, where dependence is placed on what you know, not what you have with you. It’s all about adventure, about traveling ultra-light and exploring the wilderness with a small group and your instructors. Conversely, if you do NOT want a physical challenge or to travel a lot of miles without much food or water, then Field Courses are not for you. If you’re interested in learning wilderness survival skills in depth, the Skills Courses are best. On Skills courses, you spend most of your time in a beautiful rustic basecamp on Boulder Mountain. On most trips, there’s a cook tent, a clear creek, and three large wilderness shelters called wickiups for you to sleep in. Skills Courses typically offer you three meals a day and a more formal curriculum of hands-on lessons, so you can explore many ways to make fire, set traps, break rocks, etc. (On a Field Course, you have time to cover many skills, but the emphasis is more on traveling lightly – there’s not as much time to cover the finer points of bushcraft.) When you apply for your course, we will discuss these points in greater detail, so you can rest assured you end up on the trip that best meets your needs.

Can I get university credit for my BOSS course?

Yes, college students can receive up to three semester credits for their BOSS course.

Academic credit is offered through Western Colorado University’s Extended Studies program. To learn more, see here.

Does BOSS offer tuition discounts or scholarships?
What are the standards of behavior on BOSS courses?

On all BOSS courses, participants are expected to maintain high standards of honor, morality, and integrity. They are to abstain from all use of tobacco, alcohol and harmful drugs for the duration of the course. Participants must recognize the needs and privacy of others and allow for personal differences. Students who violate these standards may be released from a course immediately, without any reimbursement of tuition or incurred expenses. You will be given a code of conduct with your registration paperwork, and this is also discussed in more detail during your course’s orientation.

What are your refund and transfer policies?

Most program expenses are incurred while preparing for you to attend a course. Our cancellation and refund policies reflect the fact that it is impossible to recover these costs for late cancellations, no-shows, or withdrawals from ongoing courses. See our Registration Policies for details.

Media FAQ

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Does BOSS offer discounted rates for journalists?

Yes, but with the following restrictions:

  1. In order to qualify for a discounted media rate, you must be a previously published writer with your name on the masthead of the publication.
  2. The course you are interested in attending must have a “media space” available on it.
  3. BOSS must be given a letter of assignment from the editor outlining the editorial assignment and scheduled publishing date.
  4. In addition to your course paperwork, the media company you work for must sign BOSS’s acknowledgement of risk and indemnity release form.

If you have additional questions or would like to check availability, please contact our office.

Can I film a BOSS course for TV?

Most participants who come to BOSS do so because they seek to enter the wilderness without much modern gear. Tents, stoves, backpacks, flashlights, watches, etc. are not allowed and, to many of our students, this is an attractive proposition and an important part of the course. For this reason, we don’t typically allow film crews to enter standard Field Courses or other trips where we feel it might jeopardize the student experience. 

Having said that, we have successfully hosted crews in the past and are hopeful we can work something out with you. Our first suggestion would be to create a custom course, where we determine the course date, duration, group size, terrain type, and difficulty based on your needs. We can even plan resupply points along the way so that batteries can be charged and the crew can take a break, if needed, away from the participants. (We’ve done this many times before, for everyone from MTV to National Geographic to NBC’s TODAY show.) If you’re interested, please let us know.

How do I arrange a custom course?

Custom courses are coordinated by contacting our office. The simplest way to get started is to let us know the type of course you’re interested in, how many people, and what dates you’re available. Once we have that, we can start figuring out the rest.

Who owns BOSS today?

BOSS started as a program at BYU in 1968 and became a private corporation in 1980. In 2017, BOSS transitioned to a nonprofit corporation. The owners of BOSS since during its life as a private company were:

1980 – 1985: Doug Nelson, 1985 – 1997: David & Paula Wescott. 1997 – 2014: Josh Bernstein, 2014 – 2017: Steve Dessinger, 2017 – present: BOSS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization

More on the History of BOSS.

What are your media guidelines?

BOSS is more than happy to provide you with our logo and field photography for your article (some fees may apply). Please contact us for more information. Regarding the school’s name and preferences, please note the following for any articles about us:

  • The school is called BOSS, not B.O.S.S.
  • BOSS is a primitive survival school, a wilderness survival school, or even just a survival school.
  • BOSS is not a militia survival school or a para-military program. BOSS is not a youth-at-risk program.
  • BOSS staff members are instructors, not survivalists. (Survivalists are typically the militia-types)
  • BOSS students are not kids (average age is mid-30s). Minimum age is 18, oldest on record in 73.
  • BOSS’s website is
  • BOSS’s toll-free number is (800) 335-7404

We appreciate it if you’d send us any articles you write about our program. If you have other questions, please let us know.

BOSS™ is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.