Outdoor Education

Empowering Leaders: Unveiling the Transformative Power of Wilderness Adventures

By Wilderness Adventures March 12, 2024
Two people looking at a map in the desert.

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow and transform” – Roy T. Bennett


In a post-pandemic world of social media, peer pressure and ever-changing social norms, Wilderness Adventures has been thinking about how we can empower our youth more than ever before. We are seeing a dramatic shift in the way youth are interacting with the world around them and are thus striving to create opportunities for change and growth.

When building our programs we consistently ask ourselves, how can we provide a space for our students to disconnect so they in turn may reconnect with their community, the natural world and themselves? 

We believe in Doing Something Wild, inspiring growth and wonder by building community, fostering leadership, and caring for the natural world. 

It is our hope that by empowering our students to become confident leaders through our overnight programs, we serve as a launch pad for continued growth in all future endeavors. By fostering the development of leadership skills among youth, we hope to empower them with the confidence, resilience, and adaptability needed for success in an ever-changing world. 

More important than summiting the mountain or surfing the biggest wave is the opportunity to step outside comfort zones, confront challenges, and collaborate with peers in natural settings.

Leadership is a key component of all of our trips. Here are a few of the ways WA trips work to promote the development of young leaders:

Trip Leaders as Mentors

Our students learn first and foremost from their Trip Leaders. They represent who we are, serving as an example of what it means to be an active member of a small community. They are our student’s biggest cheerleaders, strongest advocates and most compassionate caretakers. 

Each Trip Leader carries extensive experience in outdoor education and brings a unique skill set to every one of our programs. They impart essential outdoor skills, foster a sense of adventure, and encourage personal growth through experiential learning. By modeling resilience, leadership, and environmental stewardship, Trip Leaders inspire youth to overcome challenges, embrace new experiences, and cultivate a deeper connection to nature. 

Through their expertise and mentorship, Trip Leaders empower youth to discover their strengths, build confidence, and develop lifelong skills that extend far beyond the bounds of wilderness, shaping them into responsible, resilient and compassionate leaders of tomorrow. With silly games, lots of sparkles, and smiles for days, our Trip Leaders bring the magic!

Person teaching young boy how to tie a knot.

Leader of the Day

Every day on a WA trip, a student is tasked with being the “Leader of the Day”. Every participant has the opportunity to be in this role at least once throughout their program. Some of their responsibilities include:

  • Meeting with their Trip Leaders the night before to go over the next day’s agenda so they may accurately relay it to the rest of the group
  • Organize tasks and delegate responsibilities to fellow group members
  • Establish a time management plan to ensure the overall seamlessness of the day
  • Check in on the rest of their group (energy levels, morale, personal care, etc.)
  • Navigate on trail, adjusting hiking pace for the benefit of the entire group
  • Lead a debrief at the end of the day

The role of “Leader of the Day” works to instill a sense of responsibility and ownership in each student. It provides students with the opportunity to step into a leadership role, make decisions and guide their peers through various activities. As the designated leader they learn to communicate effectively, delegate tasks, and problem solve, boosting their confidence and self-esteem. This experience fosters independence, encourages initiative, and cultivates a sense of accomplishment as they see their efforts positively impacting the group. Being entrusted with leadership responsibilities empowers young students to realize their potential and prepares them for future leadership roles in school, work, and community. 

Cook Crews

One unique way we work to empower students is by involving them in the meal planning and cooking process. Our Trip Leaders divide students into groups of 3 or 4, and while guiding them through the process, give them the autonomy to pick what meals they want to prepare for the group one day on their trip. 

For many of our students this is their first experience cooking. They learn how to create a balanced meal from creating a shopping list to picking items out in a grocery store to cooking for their whole group on a camping stove! 

We hope that this experience promotes teamwork and collaboration, working to build communication skills, encourage cooperating and strengthen relationships among peers. 

Check out this fun blog on Culinary Considerations on a WA Trip written by an alumni student!

Thee people cooking french toast at a camp stove and laughing.

Providing Space for Everyone’s Voice

Wilderness Adventures is dedicated to creating space for everyone at our campfire. We work hard to create an inclusive environment for all of our students. Because of this, we have students come from all over the world from wide ranges of backgrounds. 

Providing space for everyone’s voice creates an environment of cultural exchange and mutual learning. Interacting with peers from different cultural, social, and geographical backgrounds exposes students to varied perspectives, traditions, and ways of thinking. They share knowledge, skills, and experiences, expanding their understanding of the world and broadening their horizons. 

Through collaboration and cooperation with peers from diverse backgrounds, students develop empathy, cultural competence, and communication skills, preparing them to navigate an increasingly interconnected and diverse global society. This exchange of ideas and experiences enriches the outdoor education experience, promoting mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation for diversity.

Whether performing “Leader of the Day” duties, meal planning on cook crew, learning from students from different backgrounds, everyday on a Wilderness Adventure’s trip provides the opportunity for students to gain the skills necessary to become strong, confident leaders. 

The curriculum at WA focuses on youth development and empowerment. We prioritize lifting our students up, making everyone feel as though they are the most important person in the room. By finding the balance between challenge and risk, our programs dance on the line of comfort zone to find the sweet spot of growth. 

Personalized Leadership Development

As a company that believes in the youth of today, our core curriculum and most important values work together to accomplish the following:

  1. Build Self-Confidence and Self-Awareness Outdoor education encourages youth to push beyond their perceived limitations, fostering a sense of self-confidence and self-awareness. Engaging in outdoor activities such as rock climbing, hiking, or backpacking requires individuals to confront fears, take risks, and overcome obstacles. Through these experiences, youth learn to trust in their abilities, develop resilience in the face of adversity, and gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. This heightened self-awareness forms the foundation for effective leadership, as individuals learn to lead from a place of authenticity and self-assurance.
  2. Foster Communication and Collaboration Effective leadership often hinges on the ability to communicate clearly, listen actively, and collaborate with others towards common goals. Our programs provide many opportunities for youth to hone these essential communication and collaboration skills in real-world scenarios. Whether navigating a challenging trail, putting up a tent, or working together to solve a problem, youth learn to communicate effectively, delegate tasks, and leverage the strengths of their peers. By fostering a culture of teamwork and cooperation, outdoor adventure experiences cultivate leaders who can inspire, motivate, and mobilize others towards shared goals.
  3. Promoting Decision-Making and Problem-Solving In the unpredictable and dynamic environment of the outdoors, youth are constantly faced with decision points and unexpected challenges. Experiential education encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills as individuals learn to assess risks, evaluate options, and take decisive action. Whether strategizing the best route up a mountain or improvising solutions to unforeseen obstacles, youth develop the ability to think on their feet, adapt to changing circumstances, and remain calm under pressure. These skills are invaluable for effective leadership in any context, enabling individuals to navigate complex situations with confidence and agility.
  4. Instilling Environmental Stewardship and Responsible Leadership Adventures in the wilderness instills in youth a deep appreciation for the natural world and a sense of responsibility towards environmental stewardship. By immersing themselves in the beauty and wonder of nature, youth develop a profound connection to the environment and a commitment to preserving it for future generations. This sense of environmental consciousness extends to leadership practices, as youth learn to lead with integrity, empathy, and a respect for the world around them. Outdoor education nurtures leaders who are not only capable of achieving success but also dedicated to making a positive impact on their communities and the planet.

Through the unique setting of a Wilderness Adventures trip, young individuals cultivate resilience, communication, and problem-solving abilities essential for effective leadership in an ever-changing world. As stewards of the environment and advocates for social change, these emerging leaders are poised to navigate challenges, inspire others, and create positive impact, ensuring a sustainable and thriving future for generations to come. Embracing outdoor education as a platform for leadership development is not only essential but also transformative, shaping resilient and visionary leaders poised to tackle the complexities of tomorrow.


– Meg Lahr, Regional Coordinator