What is the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS)?
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 obstacles 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 History of BOSS 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 Travel Information page.
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 new way of engaging with the wilderness. Although many of our students come from the US, a growing number of alumni in Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Australia, and the UK are spreading the word about our courses.
What kinds of courses does BOSS offer?
See the Courses page for details on courses we currently offer.
What are the most popular courses?
Our Field courses are the oldest and most famous. For this reason, they remain popular with people looking for a challenge. In recent years, with the growth of our alumni base and their desire to return, our Explorer courses have become very popular, too. And our Skills courses are a hit with those who want to learn wilderness skills in depth, without as much hiking.
But really every course or course type has something special to offer. If you’re not sure which course is right for you, contact us and we’ll help you decide.
How tough are BOSS courses?
BOSS has been called by some “the toughest survival school in the world.” This is based on our Field courses, where students have been known to hike as many as 20 miles or more in a 24-hour period. The question of toughness, however, has less to do with the challenge of the course and more to do with a person’s physical fitness and mental approach to the experience of a course.
If you exercise regularly and are excited to face a challenge, you will probably do well on a Field course. If you have never exercised in your life and you are signing up 2 weeks before a 28-day course, you may find yourself in over your head. The most important thing you should do is fairly assess your level of fitness and determine what kind of training program makes sense before you show up at BOSS. We can help you do this once we speak with you on the phone. But please, don’t be too worried or afraid of your performance — many people who were concerned that they’d be the slowest or the weakest hiker in a group have done wonderfully. Relax, and let us help determine what’s the best course for you to take.
Skills courses and most Explorer courses, by the way, 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 is the maximum number of students on a trip?
We keep BOSS courses small to maximize interaction among the participants: 9-12 students (max) for all Field and Explorer courses, and 15 students (max) for Skills courses. BOSS Custom courses have other limits based on location and course content. For teambuilding retreats or off-sites program, we can create programs for up to 200 people at a time.
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, after all, a major component of our curriculum and of our philosophy — learning how to do more with less.
On all BOSS courses, we hope you leave with a greater competency in wilderness skills and an appreciation for the natural world. We also hope you appreciate what it takes for traditional cultures to live in the wilderness without all the trappings of Western culture and modern backcountry travel.
Are there age limits (young and old)?
Unless it’s a custom course, a person must be at least 18 years old to take a BOSS course. Our oldest student so far has been 73. We are more concerned, however, with a person’s physical fitness and mental attitude toward the program than his or her age. While our average student age is around 33-35, we seek that all students be mature enough to accept and appreciate our curriculum.
Are BOSS courses Coed?
Yes, and they always have been…since 1968. We have offered single-sex courses in certain years, like the Women Only 7-Day Field course. If you’d like more information, please contact Jenny Stein in our office.
How does BOSS differ from other outdoor programs?
BOSS courses offer a more natural, immersive experience in the wilderness than most other programs— literally. 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. The Hunter Gatherer course requires that you successfully complete a 14- or 28-day Field course first. However, most of our courses are open to the adventure-minded person without any prior training or knowledge. If you have questions about this, 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, you will be hiking with our guides for most of the course and they are there to assist you, if needed.
I live on the East Coast. Will the primitive skills I learn at BOSS in Utah be applicable here?
Yes. While it’s true that the materials we use will likely be harvested or collected from somewhere 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 collect suitable materials to succeed with your skills when you return home. Granted, there may be some differences, but part of wilderness competency comes from experimentation.
Are BOSS courses dangerous?
This is an understandable question, since it’s 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 do have your safety in mind. So our initial answer to this question is “No” but we suggest you read the Risks at BOSS and Health and Safety pages to learn more about the hazards that may present themselves on the trail. You can also call 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 a group, if needed, so they hopefully won’t get too far off their route. 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, although the number of students who drop from courses has gone down in recent years (due to better marketing of our programs and better training by our participants). We spend a lot of time 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 out, usually because of some family issue or something that unexpectedly came up before the course started.
For most, they dropped from a Field course because they found it too physically demanding. A few others dropped 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 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 condemn 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 discuss your 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?
Yes. We have had mother/daughter, father/son, husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend and other pairs in the field with us. Whether or not 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 things. In certain areas, it can take many hours and sometimes days for a person to reach you. Last year, for example, one group was in an area that was inaccessible due to flash flooding for 4 days. Our coures operate in remote wilderness on the best of days but during storms and flood season, it can be almost impossible to reach a group.
Secondly, as a general rule, we prefer to 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 situtation 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 survival school, does BOSS teach military techniques?
No, we are not a military survival or militia-training program. In fact, we’re so far from the “Rambo” mentality on the trail that we ask people who are looking for a military program to go elsewhere for their training. Some of the techniques taught might be the same, but our emphasis is more on indigenous arts and traditional living skills. The philosophy is totally different.
However, many people in the military do come on BOSS courses.
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 week 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?
Well, here are some reasons why we need to charge what we do — which, by the way, we compare with other programs every year:
First, our instructors must be paid a competitive wage. It is their expertise, after all, 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 25 years and we appreciate the value that brings to our students.
Secondly, there is a whole “business” side to BOSS that is, by necessity, totally modern. Regardless of industry, these machines (and things like a good website, brochures, etc.) cost BOSS quite a bit each year.
Third, most of the food you eat on BOSS courses is organically grown — for example, the peanuts and raisins in your trailmix and the lentils in your stew. This costs us a little more to acquire, but sustainable agriculture is a core philosophy of the school, so it’s a decision we stand by each year.
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 cannot make guarantees as enrolment 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. But expect 2 instructors and 1 apprentice for most courses. On courses in foreign countries, we typically add a translator as well.
Health and Fitness Questions
What kind of training should I do for a BOSS course?
There are a number of training regimens can help you prepare for your BOSS course. The key is to train well enough in advance so that when you arrive in Boulder, Utah, you’re in shape and prepared for an adventure.
On Skills and Training courses, the physical training needed to comfortably participate in the course is minimal. You should, however, be capable of hiking short distances and participating in the daily activities. For Explorer and Field courses, however, you should seriously assess your current level of fitness and determine what’s needed to arrive at BOSS in peak shape. BOSS courses are not fitness courses – that is, you’re not to use the trip to get in shape. If you do, you’ll likely jeopardize your health and perhaps the quality of the trip for others.
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. If you would, please discuss this and any concerns you have with our office during the registration process, as it is important that we understand your ability to hike at a reasonable pace.
What if I fail the test?
The test is used as a diagnostic tool, as explained above, to evaluate your body’s response to physical stress and how quickly it recovers. Therefore, it’s not really a question of “failing.” We just want to get a sense of how your body works and how that might affect or be affected by the course.
Can I wear contact lenses? What about sunglasses?
No, and no. Here’s why:
Contact Lenses: We’ve found that it is not easy to keep your fingers clean enough so you can take your lenses out and put them in each day (we prefer to NOT have Wet-Naps in the field with us). There is also a lot of sand flying around, and too many students have ended up with scratched lenses, lost lenses, dirty lenses, infected eyes, etc. So please, no contact lenses. Bring your glasses and a good case to store them in at night.
Sunglasses: This one sometimes confuses people, since in the summertime it’s sunny and sunglasses could help shield your eyes. True, but so will a good hat, and we need to see your eyes while we lead the course. This point can’t be overemphasized — the instructors need to know how each person is doing on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis in order to most effectively manage the health and well-being of the group. If your eyes are hidden behind dark shades, we can’t see how you’re doing. So no sunglasses.
If you are concerned about exposure to UV rays, we suggest you get some 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 (and only this), 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, so you should be okay. Most meals on the trail consist of lentils, rice, quinoa, amaranth, oatmeal, carrots, potatoes, and some flavorings like vegetarian bouillon. Odds are that you will find other vegetarians on your course who can join you in your cook group (at BOSS, students cook their own meals on the trail — in cook groups of about 4 people sharing one #10 can).
However, on longer Field Courses, some meals may include meat, since it is not unusual for survival cultures to be dependent on meat in their diets. During these meals, it is up to the student if he or she would like to eat it.
For those who are kosher, lactose intolerant, allergic to nuts, 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?
Most of the time, this is not a problem. It will depend on the specific medicine, what it does, and how it may affect your performance on a Field course. 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. So 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 Jenny Stein in our office, who can ask our school’s physician if necessary.
I can’t swim. Will that be a problem on my course?
On Skills and Training courses, this is not a major concern. On Field courses, this isn’t usually a concern either, but 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 even higher. There are also some routes that may require you to swim briefly though a narrow slot canyon. In these cases, it’s helpful to know if students can swim or not before the course route is set.
Can I smoke on my course?
No. Smoking is not allowed on any BOSS courses. Doing so will jeopardize your continued participation in the course.
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. If you normally live at sea level, you should expect that your body will need some time to acclimatize. On Skills and Training courses, this shouldn’t affect your participation in the course, as you will not be hiking that much (typically) during the first few days. However, on Field and Explorer courses, there is a very good chance that you will be hiking and challenging your body while it is still acclimatizing to the altitude. For most people, this is not a problem. However, for some, it may prove to be an additional challenge that you prefer to avoid. If so, 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 and Logistics Questions
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. From there, students take a van or bus to Provo for the evening, and BOSS will arrange transportation the rest of the way to our school (about 4 hours south of Provo). Upon registration, you will receive a more detailed travel sheet, with guidelines and suggestions to help you reach our school. Of course, if you would like more information, please contact us in Colorado (where our year-round marketing office is located).
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 in Provo at the Days Inn. 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 Provo Days 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 Provo, Utah?
For students who travel through Provo, Utah, we recommend that everyone stays at the same hotel — this makes the trip to Boulder, Utah much easier to coordinate. BOSS students receive a discounted rate at the Provo Days Inn, 1675 N 200 W., Provo, Utah. This is the rendezvous point for the BOSS shuttle.
If you want to stay elsewhere in town, that’s fine as long as you arrange to be at the Days Inn before the shuttle van departs for Boulder. All this information (and more) is in your course’s Application Packet.
How does the BOSS shuttle work?
For most courses, the BOSS shuttle departs the Provo Days Inn at 7:15am sharp on Sunday morning. Please check out and meet in the lobby with your belongings at 7:00am to ensure a timely departure. The van drives directly from Provo 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 Provo Days Inn, departing BOSS around noon, and arriving at the Days Inn around 5:00 pm.
Can I drive to BOSS?
Yes. Students who wish to drive directly to BOSS should plan to arrive at our Field School in Boulder, Utah by 11:45am on the day the course begins. Student vehicles can be parked in the BOSS lot for the duration of the course (This will be reviewed during Orientation).
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 Provo. 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 drove 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 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 Provo, but once there, you’ll need to take a shuttle or taxi to the airport (another hour away). Any number of delays along the way could force you to miss your flight, and that would be unfortunate. 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 Questions
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 bowdrill so you can stay warm and cook your food — it has a direct purpose. So every student is expected to successfully make a fire (or eat cold foods).
On a 14-Day Survival Skills course, you will also learn the bowdrill technique, but you have the option to learn more: for example the handdrill, 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.
Pick any skill on a Field Course (see next 2 paragraphs), and it 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 bowdrill fire technique, basic trap construction, 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. That’s only covered on Field Courses and on specific Explorer Courses like the Desert Navigator
What is the most challenging element of participating in a BOSS Field Course?
The mental aspect, typically— the challenge of 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 — seems foreign. There is also a physical element — the heat, the alkaline air and water, the elevation, the lack of food. These certainly play an important role in how the course plays out, but the mental element is usually more of a concern.
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). As long as you approach life on a moment-to-moment basis and can avoid creating expectations which may disappoint you, you will be fine. However, 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 students performance. These are the things that we suggest you do NOT do before your course:
- 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
- Work ridiculous hours just to get the time off to come on a BOSS course
- Begin any kind of prescription drug treatment
- Have any kind of surgery which may affect your abilities on a course
These actions make it even harder for you on the trail, and it will only be a matter of a few miles before you begin to feel it. So please, do not use BOSS as the place to start getting in shape — come prepared to hike.That said, 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.
- Workout on a stationary bike, Stairmaster, or treadmill to increase your cardiovascular health.
- Avoid eating foods with a lot of sugar and starches
- Avoid drinking sodas, coffee and other caffeine drinks
- Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest
- When training, drink and eat moderately.
This last point is important, since we have seen some 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 Impact or, later, a 1500 calories-per-day diet on a course, their bodies were unable to cope and some dropped out. While we don’t want you to train on a completely empty stomach (although some of our alumni did), 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.
What happens if I can’t complete the course?
It’s a rare occurrence, since most people want to see their investment reach fruition. By the time you’ve started the course, you have also read a lot of preparatory materials to help you face the challenges. If, however, you do decide to leave a course, the Field Director will arrange for your transportation out of the field — which is all explained up front prior to participating in the course.
An important element of the Field Course experience is that it is more than just a hike through the desert — it’s a modern day rite of passage. It’s about facing the unknown, having your limits expanded and reaching a better understanding of what you can, and cannot, do. Therefore, we hope the temptation to leave the course will be present for everyone. At times, we hope that the hunger, the heat, and the lack of knowing where you’re going or what you’ll be doing next will push buttons in people and make you push yourself. But the goal is to stay committed to the trip and enjoy the sense of accomplishment you get at the end.
There is also, of course, a curriculum of skills being taught. All of these things, not to mention all the friends you make on the course, combine to make you want to stay. We don’t encourage students to leave, but it does happen, and some people end their trip early, usually regretting it the second they get back 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, and you are drinking the water you find in creeks, potholes, and drainages along the way. Please note that there may be nights when you don’t have water and have to dry camp or days when you hike from waterhole (in the am) to waterhole (in the pm) with little if any drinkable water along the way. The goal of this phase is to open your eyes to the world around you, to notice the resources present or absent in the wilderness.
After this phase, you are given food rations which typically include rolled oats and grains for breakfast and stews (lentils, rice, potatoes, carrots) for dinner. These amount to about 1500 calories per person per day, and you cook these in small groups of students, deciding each day what you’ll have.
So yes, you are given food past the Impact phase. We give you enough food to keep the average body healthy and active, but we still encourage you to learn about the edible plants and other food sources in the area.
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, and any additions (unlikely) have to be approved by your head instructor. Smuggling in food could jeopardize your staying on a course, since it would undermine the program we’re creating for everyone else.
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. So you’re welcome to bring less but not more than what’s on there. 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. He or she has 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 has a surprising diversity of habitats. At lower elevations, the desert varies from riparian areas around the Escalante River and its tributaries, to bare slickrock and Pinyon/Juniper. Slightly higher in elevation, the BOSS field office is located in the Pinyon/Juniper zone 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). We live in an area where you can experience habitats typical of the southwestern United States to forests which can be found in Canada.
At BOSS, we feel that utilizing a variety of these habitats on our Field Courses gives students a more diverse experience, providing unique sights, challenges, and learning opportunities. It’s possible to be sweating and thirsty at the Pinyon/Juniper elevation one day, and then be hiking through falling snow in the Aspen or Spruce/Fir elevation the very next – even in July. So don’t come expecting exclusively desert – you’ll be exploring and experiencing far more and your staff will do their best to expose you to the beauty and diversity around Southern Utah’s Boulder Mountain.
Am I really all alone during Solo? What if something bad happens?
Yes, you’re alone during your Solo, which is the goal of the phase. But you are not totally isolated — you and your coursemates are strung out in a line along a watersource (usually), so you could travel just a short distance upstream or downstream and find someone. At the end of the line, there are also your instructors if there’s an emergency.
Before Solo begins, your instructors will review how our safety monitoring system works, but we have a way of checking on your safety without interfering with your privacy using rocks. Should there be an emergency, assistance is not that far away. But your primary goal is to just relax and enjoy the solitude.
Can I go off on a hike during Solo? Can I visit my neighbor?
No, and no. Solo is your time to be alone, but it is 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. Stay there, please. There’s plenty of room for a shelter, for sunbathing, and for pondering the meaning of life. But leaving your site and hiking off somewhere violates the goal of the phase and may jeopardize your staying on the course. The only course that offers you a true solo expedition is the Desert Navigator.
The same policy goes for your visiting your neighbor. Please respect their right to have their own Solo experience and wait until the phase is over to reconvene.
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 these mysteries. We therefore can’t say more and hope that alumni returning to BOSS (or discussing their course in the Forum here) help us preserve this aspect.
Skills Course Questions
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 your 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 approx. 9,000 feet above sea level on Boulder Mountain, where aspen and pine 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 pine trees.
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, though, 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 — at least, there shouldn’t be. 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 on Skills Courses – 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.
Questions From Women
Do women go on BOSS courses?
But of course! I know that the school’s tough reputation and Spartan equipment lists might seem more appealing to men, but we have thousands of female alumni who have enjoyed the course as much as anyone else. And these are the normal, friendly women you’d want to hang out with: teachers, lawyers, doctors, sales reps, directors, students, and life-long adventurers. If you’re on the fence just because you’re concerned about being a woman at BOSS, please give us a call. If you’d like, we can put you in touch with other women just like you who’ve been to our school.
Does BOSS offer single-sex (women only) courses?
Yes, we do. We first started offering Women Only courses (where all students and staff are women) in 1995 and continue to do so based on interest. If you have a group of 9-12 women who would like to attend BOSS together (where they will be led by an all-female staff), please contact us.
What if I don’t feel “tough enough” to be with a group of men?
That feeling is not uncommon. But don’t worry too much about being a woman on a BOSS course. If anything, your presence will be greatly appreciated and, if past female alumni are any indication, you should pull through the course just fine.
Are there female instructors at BOSS?
Yes, there are. In fact, BOSS’s staff is 50% female, and we do everything we can to have at least one female staff member on each course. We’ve found this makes it easier for female students should there be any “feminine questions” and it also helps keep the male energy in check. We can’t guarantee that every course will have female staff, but we do our best.
I’ve heard that BOSS doesn’t bring toilet paper on Field Courses. Is this true?
Yes, this is true. Briefly, toilet paper has only been around for about 150 years. Many, many options exist in the natural world, as your instructors will teach you at the beginning of your course. Really, it’s not that bad and this should in no way prevent you from taking a course.
What if I get my period… Do you allow tampons?
We do, and we recommend types with applicators to minimize the chance of infection from external sources. We also give each woman a special “Fem Pack” at the beginning of each trip which contains some plastic Zip-loc bags, an opaque bag, a packet of tissues, and some Wet-Naps. While we discuss how women in traditional cultures dealt with their periods and encourage you to try these traditional methods, the Fem Packs are there to help you stay sanitary during menstruation.
I’m not expecting to get my period during my course. Do I still need to bring personal items for it?
Yes, please do. We have had many women who swore they wouldn’t get their periods get them while on the trail. It’s one of the reactions your body can have to stress. Better to be prepared than not.
If I’m on “the pill,” can I continue taking it while on my course?
We have had many women stay on their pill while taking our courses, so there’s probably not much risk, but you should ask your physician just to be sure.
Questions About Equipment
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 (assuming you’ve gone camping before). 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, but you are welcome to bring less if you would like.
On our Field Courses, you may not bring more than what is on the list. This typically includes a good wool blanket, a sturdy poncho, water bottles, a knife, thermal underwear, standard clothes, and an enamel cup.
On our Skills Courses, you can bring a little more gear than that, but not much. 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.
On all courses, you are given a specially-designed equipment list with suggestions. This typically includes a good wool blanket, a sturdy poncho, water bottles, a knife, thermal underwear, standard clothes, and an enamel cup, but it varies from course to course.
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. Better to have more options than fewer when it comes to good gear selection.
What about a knife? What do you recommend?
Ah, the knife question. Seems that everyone has an opinion about what knife is best. Well, we’re not going to go into a lengthy discussion here, but perhaps the following can assist you.
- We believe a simple, high-carbon, full-tang sheath knife with a “Scandinavian Grind” (a flat grind without a secondary bevel) is best for your BOSS course. There are many great brands and models out there for you to choose from, so feel free to explore.
- 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.
- In our store, we sell several models by Mora of Sweden. They have all the qualities we look for in a knife at an attractive price.
- If you’re not sure if the knife you have is going to be better than the knives we sell, we suggest you bring your knife with you and we’ll evaluate it during orientation.
If you have other questions, please give us a call and we’ll do our best to help.
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 Utah.
During orientation, you will be given a chance to pick up your order and, if you like, add or subtract items based on what you and your instructors decide is best. We spend about 2 hours going through everyone’s gear to make sure you have what is appropriate for your course. Once you’re comfortable with the gear needed from our store, you can pay with Visa, Mastercard or cash.
Can I bring a camera?
You’re more than welcome to bring a camera on your course. In fact, you’re encouraged, since Southern Utah is so beautiful. Just 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 keep it your camera in when not in use. If you are going to bring an expensive camera, bring a good camelhair brush and rubber blower bulb so you can dust it every now and then. If you’re bringing a digital camera, please bring extra batteries and SIM cards, 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:
- 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.
- Student 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. The last thing some people want is a video camera in their face while they’re enjoying their time away from everything. If even one person in your group takes issue with your “documenting” the course, please stop doing it out of respect to the experience that we offer.
- Students must recognize that their video footage is strictly for personal, home viewing. If you want to show friends and family how you fared on certain parts of a course, that’s great. However, BOSS courses are not to be used as a backdrop for an informational series of promotional videos about your life on the trail. One should not be distributing or sharing BOSS footage for professional or promotional use. Similarly, nothing should be posted to YouTube, Vimeo, etc. without the expressed, written permission of anyone who may appear in the video and the expressed, 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. You can discuss them further with Laurel or Steve during registration or with your instructors while in the field. Anyone who violates these rules is subject to dismissal from their course and forfeiture of their tuition.
Questions About Registering
How far in advance should I register for my BOSS course?
We are fortunate enough to be able to accommodate a wide range of growth, often opening up new sections for students when courses begin to fill up. However, we expect to have waiting lists on many of our trips each year. 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 bascamp 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. Or you can sleep outside under the pine trees. 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 some skills, but the emphasis is more on the traveling lightly — there’s not a lot of 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 recieve the following course credit for their time at BOSS:
7-Day Course – 1 credit
14-Day Course – 2 credits
28-Day Course – 4 to 6 credits
Academic credit is offered through Western State College’s Extended Studies program. To learn more about it, please visit the school’s website or contact the college at this address:
Recreation and Outdoor Education Program
Western State College of Colorado
600 N. Adams St.
Gunnison, CO 81231
You can learn more information about the program and download an application packet from Western State College’s website.
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. This is 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. It is also almost impossible to fill a space on a course if you cancel at the last minute.
Refund Policy Please note that the deposit on your course is nonrefundable after the initial seven day grace period. Application fees received for courses which are already full will be returned to the applicant or applied to a course with availability. Participants who leave a course once it has begun — whether it is due to sickness, evacuation, or any other reason — will not be entitled to refunds of any tuition or fees. Nor will these participants be able to transfer their tuition to another course.
Transfer Policy A student who wishes to transfer enrollment from one course to another may do so for a $25 processing fee (assuming there is space available in the course a student wishes to transfer to). This only applies to students who transfer 60 or more days from their original course start date. Students who wish to transfer from one course to another 59 days or fewer before their original course date will have normal cancellation policies apply (see above). Transfers only apply to the season they originally enrolled in. For example, a student who enrolls in a 2016 course may not transfer to a 2017 course. Again, please talk with us if you have any questions.
Common Media Questions
Does BOSS offer discounted rates for journalists?
Yes, but with the following restrictions:
- 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.
- The course you are interested in attending must have a “media space” available on it.
- BOSS must be given a letter of assignment from the editor outlining the editorial assignment and scheduled publishing date.
- 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, this is an attractive proposition. To then subject these participants to the very high-tech presence of a camera crew would be, understandably, a bit of an incongruous imposition. 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, though, we fully enjoy hosting crews and are hopeful we can work something out with you. Our first suggestion would be to create a custom course for you, where we determine the course date, duration, group size, terrain type, and difficulty based on your needs. We can even plan re-supply 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 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 – 2013 – Josh Bernstein
2013 – 2017 – Steve Dessinger
2017 – present – BOSS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
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, either.
- BOSS staff members are guides or 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 https://www.boss-inc.com
- 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.