The Outdoor Orientation trip is a classic Northland College experience. Almost every student who walks through the Ponzio Student Center has gone hiking, biking, canoeing, or exploring in the Wisconsin north woods at the beginning of their Northland career. While we can wax prophetic about the friendships made, shooting stars seen, and s’mores eaten, read on for some basic things every student should know about their OO trip.
1. It’s a Northland tradition for a reason
Northland has had an Outdoor Orientation program since 1976. Whether you have previous outdoor experience or not, we’ve learned that using an outdoor experience like this is an awesome metaphor for helping you transition to a new place. The OO trip will help introduce you to Northland College, our northland region, and your new community of peers, professors, and other Northlanders.
2. Student leaders are the best
Our OO leaders are dedicated and passionate people who all have different backgrounds, majors, hobbies, and experiences. Each OO trip has at least one leader who is WFR (Wilderness First Responder) certified, and every leader has taken a semester long skills course that goes over everything they need to know to lead a successful trip, like backcountry cooking, orienteering, teaching camping skills, and more. The trips are individually planned by each leader team, from the route to the meal plan.
3. You don’t have to be an outdoors expert
You can be a total beginner on any of our OO trips. We’ll provide the instruction before all activities and it will always be geared towards those with little previous experience. You just need to show up with your personal equipment and be willing to try new things. Trips are designed with all fitness levels in mind, but it might be beneficial to train a bit for our “difficult” trips.
4. Local trips + local food = happier planet
Northland OO pushes itself to be as sustainable as possible. Most trips are within 50 miles of campus, reducing drive time and gasoline fumes. We purchase local food from places like Benoit Cheese (Benoit, WI), Starlit Kitchens (Bayfield, WI), and Sixth Street Market (Ashland). And before heading out on the trail, OO trips pick their own veggies and herbs from our Mino Aki campus garden. (Psst… in short, OO hooks you up with tasty and nutritious meals that accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions.)
5. You’re gonna get bugged by, well, bugs…
Mosquitos, leeches, ticks, oh my! To avoid getting sucked dry by these little guys, bring bug spray (natural or deet, your choice), a long sleeved shirt and long, loose pants. A cheap head net can help those of us who are particularly annoyed by itches and buzzing to have a bug-free time. Luckily, Lake Superior is a leech-free for the most part, so dive away!
6. Don’t drop thousands on gear
Outdoor Orientation can supply free backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and limited personal gear to incoming students – just fill out the Gear Request form. And although we include a comprehensive gear list for each trip, your gear simply needs to do three things: keep you healthy, warm, and dry. Bring your medications and toiletries, warm clothes (Goodwill has the best wool sweaters), rain gear (Frogg Toggs are great at $10-$30 for pants and a jacket), and sturdy shoes. Don’t be afraid to borrow, buy secondhand, and get thrifty!
7. OO leaders help you move in on Arrival Day
OO leaders, ResLife staff, and Northland faculty and staff will be ready and waiting to whisk your stuff into your room. Arrival Day is designed to help you navigate various college departments to pay your bill, get a student ID, and meet with other support services, etc. and then get introduced to your OO leaders and fellow trippers. A tentative schedule for this day is on the Incoming Students page.
8. At some point, you are going to be frustrated
Be willing to step out of your comfort zone with small and big steps. We know that not everyone is comfortable with all aspects of the OO experience and hopefully there is a trip that fits your needs. But we also want there to be some discomfort—this is a good thing! OO leaders will be there to support you as well as the new friends you picked up along the way.
9. Almost everyone is feeling a combo of nervous/excited/pumped/apprehensive…
Worrying about food, making friends, or being cold is normal. Even our leaders, many whom have lead multiple trips before, get nervous before meeting their trippers. OO trips are a big deal, and it is okay to feel scared or concerned about them.
10. There are no dumb questions
While on trail, your trip leaders are there to listen to your questions and concerns. They will work their hardest to make sure you have a great trip. If you have questions about food, gear, trip details, or anything else before you arrive, email Lucas, Clair, and Gabe at the Orientation Office at or call (715) 682-1846.
Now pack your bags, lace up your shoes, and let’s hit the trail!