Vast and varied, Alaska is an ideal setting for an Overland challenge trip.
On this trip, the challenges take many forms. There’s the physical challenge, of course: three separate backpacking trips, increasingly long, increasingly hard. All remote, all beautiful. There’s the learning aspect: wilderness first aid, glacier travel, ice climbing. Good stuff to know, now and in the future. And there’s the simple fact of Alaska: far from home, giant (over 660,000 square miles!) and different, in so many ways. So many cool ways.
The challenges work because you’ll be in an Overland group. On Overland, you’re never alone. You’ll be with two terrific Overland leaders who will care for you every step of the way. And you’ll be with a small group of dynamic, adventurous kids who share your desire for new discoveries and new challenges. Kids, like you, who want to have fun and make friends. Great friends, from all over.
The Talkeetnas, the Mantanuska Glacier, the Chugach. Legendary Alaskan names, legendary places. On Alaska Challenge the destinations alone are worth the trip.
This is our goal: helping you grow – and have a blast! – through a carefully crafted series of challenges with a clearly defined goal. The takeaways for you? Fun, friends and accomplishment, a clearer sense of who you are and what matters to you, a deepened understanding of teamwork and leadership. And not just in a place as wild as Alaska, but anywhere you go.
My leaders were absolutely incredible! They were part of the group, and they were always cheerful and supportive.
- Stokes Kandzari, Atlanta, Georgia
Days 1 & 2: Trip Start
We’ll meet in Anchorage and spend our first couple of days getting to know one another and preparing for our backcountry hiking. We’ll review our gear, learn how to pack our backpacks, shop for food and go for a day hike in the Chugach Mountains.
Days 3-8: Backpack the Talkeetna Mountains
From Anchorage, we’ll head to the Talkeetna Mountains for the first of three backpacking trips. We’ll hike through valleys and over passes, across the Alaskan tundra and along remote lakes. During this trip, we’ll focus on learning backcountry skills such as Leave No Trace practices, bear awareness and map and compass navigation. Averaging six to seven miles per day on the trail, our days will be long and full as we learn and practice new skills.
Days 9 & 10: Wilderness First Aid Course
After our first backcountry hike, we’ll drive to Eagle River for our Wilderness First Aid course. Under the guidance of a professional wilderness medicine instructor, we’ll spend two days learning how to manage first aid and emergencies in the backcountry. Upon successful completion of the course, we’ll each receive a Wilderness First Aid certificate.
Days 11-15: Backpack Kesugi Ridge
We’ll drive north to Denali State Park, where we’ll hike for four days along Kesugi Ridge offering us staggering views of giant Denali, North America’s highest peak. Averaging seven to eight miles per day on the trail, we’ll continue to learn and practice the backcountry skills we addressed in the Talkeetna Mountains.
Days 15-17: Ice Climbing & Glacier Travel on the Matanuska Glacier
For the next three days, our professional guides will teach us how to travel across glaciers. Equipped with helmets, crampons and ice axes, we’ll learn how to walk in a rope team and read a glacier. In addition to basic ice climbing skills, we’ll learn to tie knots, climb and rappel.
Days 18-26: Backpack the Chugach Mountains
From Talkeetna, we’ll drive south to Palmer and prepare for our final backcountry hike. For seven days, we’ll hike in the Chugach Mountains over challenging terrain. Averaging five to six miles per day on the trail, we’ll hike up braided riverbeds, over passes, along ridges and through fields of blueberry bushes and fireweed. During the last few days, every student will co-lead the group for a day, testing their planning, navigation and leadership skills under the careful supervision of the Overland leaders.
At the end of the trip, we’ll return to Anchorage and celebrate a month of adventure, accomplishment and fun in the great Alaskan wilderness.
14 nights of backcountry camping with no access to bathroom facilities.
10 nights of frontcountry camping. Campground facilities vary; some have pit toilets while others have flush toilets, showers and laundry.
2 nights at a hostel in Anchorage with dormitory style accommodations.
Things to know
- We travel light on Overland trips; please only bring items on your packing list.
- Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
- Please do not bring any electronics (including your cell phone). See FAQs for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
- Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
- If you are flying to your trip start, wear your hiking boots and carry your sleeping bag and sleeping pad on the plane in case your checked luggage fails to arrive on time.
- Pack everything in your backpack or day pack. Do not bring additional luggage.
- There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
- Please wear the navy Overland shirt that you will receive from the Overland office to your trip start location.
- Navy Overland Shirt (1)
We will send students an Overland shirt prior to their trip, and we encourage students to wear their Overland shirt to trip start. We highly recommend this for students flying to their trip start location.
- Fleece Pants (1)
Please do not bring cotton sweatpants (they are heavy and bulky and will not keep you warm if wet).
- Synthetic Hiking Pants (1)
Lightweight and quick dry material. Non-cotton warmup style pants are acceptable.
- Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
- Synthetic Shorts (2)
- Synthetic T-Shirt (3)
Short-sleeve T-shirt or tank top.
- Underwear (5)
- Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (4)
- Winter Hat
- Gloves or Mittens (pair)
Insulated, warm and waterproof. Avoid knit and porous materials.
- Hat with Visor
For protection from the sun. Baseball hats are acceptable.
- Swimsuit (optional)
If we swim, many students will wear shorts (and a sports bra for girls).
- Fleece Jacket or Pullover
Medium to heavyweight and reasonably compact.
- Packable Synthetic or Down Jacket
Lightweight, compressible, synthetic (Primaloft or similar) or down jacket. Full zip or 1/4 zip are acceptable.
- Waterproof Raincoat
Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain coats provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. We recommend hoods and breathable materials. Gore-Tex is a well-known waterproof and breathable fabric but there are many other quality fabrics. Ponchos are not acceptable.
- Waterproof Rain Pants (1)
Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain pants provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer.
- Internal Frame Backpack
65-85 liters or 4,000-5,100 cubic inches. Before purchasing a backpack, find your backpack size by measuring your torso length and your hips (instructions are available here). We recommend getting fitted at a store and trying on multiple packs.
- Waterproof Pack Cover
If your backpack does not come with a cover, we recommend buying a cover one size larger than your pack.
- Day Pack
Basic two-shoulder backpack large enough to hold your lunch, two water bottles, snacks, extra layers and rain jacket. Use your day pack as a carry-on for your flight and for daily activities or hikes. A standard school backpack is usually fine (no satchels or shoulder bags).
- Synthetic Sleeping Bag
A lightweight, compact synthetic sleeping bag rated to 15 degrees Fahrenheit or less. A synthetic sleeping bag is required for this trip; down is not appropriate as it does not insulate if wet. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
- Sleeping Pad
Full- or ¾-length compact sleeping pad. We recommend closed cell foam that is thin and firm (e.g., RidgeRest) or self-inflating (e.g., Therm-a-Rest).
- Adjustable Trekking Poles
To add stability, reduce strain on the knees and improve balance while crossing unstable surfaces.
Calf-height, waterproof gaiters to protect your legs and feet when hiking through brush, across snow fields or streams.
- Bowl, Mug & Utensils
6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
- Water Bottle
One 1-liter bottle. A Camelbak or similar water carrier is acceptable.
- Headlamp & Extra Batteries
- Mosquito Head Net
- Waterproof Hiking Boots
Choose comfortable boots designed for hiking with a pack (i.e., mid to high cut for ankle support). Boots should be waterproof. Break them in before the start of your trip.
- Camp Shoes
Closed-toe shoes to wear around camp. Crocs or lightweight tennis shoes are ideal.
- Photo Identification
A current school or other kind of photo identification (if you have one).
- Unaccompanied Minor Fee Receipt (if applicable)
For students travelling as Unaccompanied Minors, please print a copy of the UAM fee receipt for your child's leaders to keep on file.
- Baggage Fee Receipt (if applicable)
Some airlines allow passengers to input credit card information to cover checked bag service charges when checking in online prior to the trip. To reduce hassle at the airport, we encourage you to pay for checked baggage beforehand and supply your child with a copy of the receipt for his or her leaders to keep on file.
- Pre-Trip Training Calendar
Please bring your completed and signed calendar to trip start.
- Synthetic Camping Towel
A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
All items should be travel size (if necessary, you will be able to restock during the trip).
- Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (10)
To organize and waterproof your gear and small items.
- Large Trash Bags (4)
To waterproof your gear.
- Package of Moleskin or Molefoam
To protect your feet from blisters.
Polarized sunglasses that wrap around to protect from glare are ideal.
- Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
- Insect Repellent
- Spending Money
$30 per week in cash or a debit/ATM card.
- Personal Journal or Book (optional)
- Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
A digital or disposable camera and, if necessary, a charger and large enough memory card to accommodate your pictures (4 to 8 GB).
- Health Insurance Card
Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
- What is the weather like on Alaska Challenge?
The weather on Alaska Challenge varies. Sometimes it is sunny and warm, while at other times it is rainy and cold; typical summer temperatures in Southcentral Alaska range from the high 40s to high 60s during the day and cooler at night. Although it varies season to season, the climate in Alaska is often wet and thus temperatures may feel colder due to humidity. Our packing list takes these variables into consideration. Layering is the best strategy. Please follow the packing list, paying close attention to rain gear specifications.
Your student should come prepared for some mosquitoes and black flies. The number of bugs varies from year to year with weather conditions. Using bug spray, head nets and wearing long sleeve shirts and/or pants alleviates most problems.
- What are the arrival and departure airports for my child's trip?
You will need to arrange transportation for your child to and from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) at trip start and trip end. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a program.
- How often will my child have access to showers and laundry?
Groups typically shower and do laundry once a week.
- What do you do about bears?
Traveling as a large group goes a long way in preventing unwanted attention from wildlife. In addition, we hike in well-traveled areas and train all of our staff in backcountry skills and awareness. We instruct our leaders how to set up camp and store food in ways that reduce the chances of attracting wildlife, including bears. We’ll brief students on these routines at the start of the trip. Both of our leaders also carry bear spray in case of a bear encounter.
- Please tell me about the Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course.
The WFA course provides students a chance to learn the basics of wilderness first aid. A professional wilderness medicine instructor will teach our group how to deal with weather, the environment, injuries and illnesses in the backcountry. Students will engage with realistic scenarios for hands-on practice, putting their new knowledge and skills to the test. At the end of the 16-hour course, students will receive a WFA certificate.
- Please tell me about safety at Overland.
Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent and other risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.
- Does my child need to have previous experience?
While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific program and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready–and excited–to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.
- Please tell me about Overland’s admissions process.
For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
When we receive child’s application, if the first choice is available, you will receive a phone call and an email containing a link to our Overland Portal where you will find our Admissions Review Forms. We will accept your deposit to hold your child’s place in the program pending a favorable Admissions Review. If the first choice is not available, we will call you to confirm that the second choice is acceptable. If neither the first choice nor second choice are available, we will call you to discuss options. For those students placed on our waitlist, we will notify you as soon as a spot becomes available.
We seek to admit students who have demonstrated that they possess the personal qualities and experience necessary to succeed on an Overland trip. While Overland is always supportive and nurturing, an Overland program is unlike a traditional camp in that our small groups–12 students and 2 leaders–travel, live and work as a group, making all of their own meals, helping each other and cooperating in ways big and small, and they do all of this far from home. As a result, every student must be able to thrive in an environment that places equal emphasis on:
1. Teamwork and Shared Responsibilities.
2. Independence and Self-Reliance.
3. Support of Others and Consideration for Others.
- What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?
To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers (the exceptions to this are: your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency). If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send him or her with an expensive smartphone; instead bring an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss to phones, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.
Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).
We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer (outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage). Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with their child.
Hone leadership skills, complete a Wilderness First Aid course, backpack and ice climb in Alaska’s mountains.
Students going on Alaska Challenge should prepare for:
- 17 days of hiking with an average of 7 miles per day
- Travel to and from the trip
- An Overland experience
We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.
Preparing for Hiking
On Alaska Challenge, you will go on one day hike and spend a total of 18 days backpacking. You will hike through a variety of landscapes, including forests, river valleys and wide-open tundra. You will follow a combination of trails and backcountry routes over rough, muddy and overgrown terrain.
Backpacking is a strenuous physical activity and requires proper training. While backpacking, our groups are fully self-supported—you will carry all of your belongings (clothes, sleeping bag and pad), some group gear, food and water. Your leaders will distribute group gear and food among all members of the group. Pack weights will vary trip by trip, depending on the location, weather, student and the distance covered. Typically when backpacking, pack weights average about 30% of a hiker’s weight.
Before your trip, we strongly advise you spend time breaking-in and adjusting to your hiking boots. We expect you to prepare adequately so you can keep up physically and participate in all of your group's activities. Please follow our guidelines as you prepare for your program, and please refer to the Pre-Trip Training Calendar where you will record your training in the weeks leading up to trip start.
- 5 weeks before your trip: take four 30-minute walks in your hiking boots. Walk around your house or neighborhood so your boots begin to conform to your feet. .
- 4 weeks before your trip: take three 45-minute hikes over varied terrain in your boots.
- 3 weeks before your trip: take two 1½-hour hikes and one 4-hour hike over varied terrain in your boots.
- 2 weeks before your trip: take two 2-hour hikes and one 6-hour hike with a loaded backpack with 10-15% of your body weight over varied terrain in your boots .
- 1 week before your trip: take three 3-hour hikes with a backpack loaded with 25-30% of your body weight over varied terrain in your boots.
Groups typically average between 1½ and 3 miles per hour (although pace varies by group). You will take multiple breaks throughout the day - for water, snacks, lunch, to adjust packs, etc.
Preparing for Travel to and from the Trip
Families are responsible for arranging flights to and from the designated airport during a specified window (please do not purchase flights until you have received an email confirming our review of your health forms and school reference). Overland staff will be at the airport to welcome you at the start of your trip and to assist with your departure. You may also be dropped off and picked up at the airport. If you are flying to and from your trip, we will have you call home upon arrival and before departure. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed you on a program.
Preparing for an Overland Experience
Overland programs are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be supportive of your trip mates and your leaders, enthusiastic, positive and helpful. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. You will have the opportunity to send letters and receive mail at designated mail stops, which are shared in the spring.
All trips have a range of challenges. You should come prepared and recognize that some days will be more difficult, more challenging and longer—both in terms of miles and hours on the trail—than others. Delays occur due to a wide range of variables beyond the control of you, your group or your leaders. Weather patterns change and trail and route conditions vary. You, or someone in your group, might develop a blister or encounter another issue that could delay your group. On some days your group will arrive in to camp in the early afternoon, with time to work on lessons from Overland's leadership curriculum or explore the area as a group, while on other days your group will spend more time on the trail.
Arriving ready for a challenge—and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland program.