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Out Back Thrival Guide
Thea Dodds

Each March, nearly 30 faculty members swap out their blazers for backpacks to join the entire 11th grade on Out Back, an 11-day backcountry odyssey through New Hampshire’s White Mountains. This experience would be a challenge in the summer, but doing so in the winter makes it undeniably difficult. Out Back is hard, intentionally hard. But it’s an experience that thousands of Holderness students have successfully navigated. We asked a number of OB experts for their best tips, tools, and recipes to not just survive, but thrive, on Out Back.

Tyler Cabot, 10 OBs

Most prized piece of gear on OB: Outdoor research Gore-Tex sombrero hat. Awesome for keeping rain and snow off your head and neck. If it has snowed recently and there is melt on the trees it is also great to hike it. Keep your head dry, warm, but not too hot.

Favorite OB recipe: Knorrs chicken flavored rice sides turned into soup and add extra veggies (l like broccoli and edamame) then can either add extra chicken or meatballs. It is pretty lightweight, can be made in one pot and it is quick both to make and clean up. Also loved a new recipe I tried this year which was spam and vegetable rice bowls. Minute-rice in one pot, assorted frozen veggies (peppers and broccoli) in one pot, then cubed up spam in the frying pan. Add hot sauce and soy sauce on top of everything in the bowl, maybe add some garlic powder and pepper too. 

Best Solo food hack: Heat the solo meal slowly, don't try to rush it. If you are patient, watch it carefully, don't get your fire too big, it will turn out pretty good. 

Best tips for staying warm: Don't or rarely sit down. There are very few leaders who sit in their crazy creeks around the fire. Instead they are always moving; collecting/cutting wood, tending to the fire, cooking, or just generally moving around. Also staying hydrated and well fed is key. You don't think about it at home, but out in the woods it makes a big difference. Lastly, make sure the feet are as dry as possible (change your socks if you get cold) and make sure your core is always warm. I love a vest.

Best tip for staying positive:  Enjoy the surroundings and the people. Find joys in the smallest things like a good shelter, or great conversations. Lean on your peers and your adult leaders. Laugh at yourself, at others, or the situation. 

What do you wish you knew on your first OB?  Do everything in your power to stay as dry as possible and keep all of your gear as dry as possible.  Insulated neoprene gloves are way better than fleece gloves.  Hiking pants are so much more comfortable than rain pants.

What is your Greatest of all Time OB moment? It's hard to pick one, but the feeling when you are finished and on the bus home or back to campus, never gets old. It's 10 of those moments but they are all some of the best 10 days of my life. 

Pat Casey, 10 OBs

Most prized piece of gear on OB: A Swedish hatchet that I take if the weather looks iffy. 

Favorite OB recipe: Pizza bagels and apple crisp.

Best Solo food hack: Combining the peanut butter and chocolate bar was a favorite of mine during my solo. I also tout the technique of cooking the solo meal on coals rather than over open-flame. 

Best tips for staying warm: I'm always working on staying warm by keeping dry. If you wear too many clothes you'll get wet from the inside out with sweat. I'm a big believer in the ""be bold and start cold"" method for starting a hike. If I get cold I'll do 50 jumping jacks to warm myself back up.  I warm my hands with big windmill arm-swings. The windmill motion throws the warm blood from my core out to my cold finger tips. 

Best tip for staying positive:  Sing, dance, and eat often. 

What do you wish you knew on your first OB?  I wish I knew about how wet my feet would get within minutes of hiking in bunny boots. Sock changes seemed optional, but they really are mandatory. 

Peter Durnan, 20(ish) OBs

Most prized piece of gear on OB: The same LL Bean puffy coat I wore in 1999 when I went on OB with the then-11th grade Andrew Sheppe.  I've used it every year, including this year.

Favorite OB recipe: Whatever Leigh Anne Connors is cooking.  Maybe brussel sprouts hors d'oeuvres.

Best Solo food hack: Don't forget to remove the plastic wrapping before cooking.

Best tips for staying warm: A long walk with a Nalgene full of hot gatorade.

Best tip for staying positive:  Go with Janice Dahl/Leigh Anne Connors/Alexandra Disney

What do you wish you knew on your first OB?  My ass from my elbow. I didn't.

What is your Greatest of all Time OB moment? I'm usually out there on my birthday, March 15 (the Ides).  Three years back we endured a Nor'easter that dumped two feet on us on the 14th.  We let the kids sleep in after a long night of clearing off buried shelters.  But Dis and I woke early and ripped some runs on our skis in the fresh powder.  Best birthday ever.

Elizabeth McClellan, 3 OBs

Most prized piece of gear on OB: Aquaphor

Favorite OB recipe: Spaghetti and meatballs + brussels sprouts in with the meatballs (and a lot of parm)

Best Solo food hack: Cook your ramen, drain most of the water so it's more of a sauce than a soup, and add the flavor packet plus a big scoop of peanut butter. Mix and enjoy :)

Best tips for staying warm: Move!!!!! Sit-ups in the bag, walking around, squats, sawing firewood, digging the kitchen pit. Cooking dinner is also a great way to stay warm.

Best tip for staying positive:  Singing in your head, playing a trail game

What do you wish you knew on your first OB?  Move move move before getting in your sleeping bag--the warmer you are getting in, the warmer you'll be for the night.

What is your Greatest of all Time OB moment? Sitting in a fire pit in the middle of a snowy field on the last night before solo, stargazing with the group, and we all saw a shooting start at the same time, coming out of Orion's bow like an arrow. 

Ian Casey, 7 OBs

Most prized piece of gear on OB: I don't have any "luxury" items that I bring. The boots and sleeping bag that I get from the school are the only items that feel crucial to my comfort throughout the trip.

Favorite OB recipe: OB breakfast sandwich (sausage and cheese on a fried bagel)

Best Solo food hack: Start planning out your meals and preparing your food well before you want to eat. You're much more likely to take the time to make something you're excited to eat.

Best tips for staying warm: Key to staying warm: Stay dry. Keys to staying dry: 1. adjust your layers throughout the day to avoid sweating. 2. Don't let your clothes touch the snow (It will melt. That includes not leaving your layers on the ground when you take them off and not sitting directly in the snow.)

Best tip for staying positive:  When you're feeling down, find a way to help someone else in the group. It will make you feel better about yourself and what you're capable of. It will also spread this habit throughout your group.

What do you wish you knew on your first OB?  OutBack is such a unique experience that, after it's over, you'll spend a lot of time reflecting on every detail of how you spent the trip. Take advantage of every opportunity to do something your future self will be proud of.

What is your Greatest of all Time OB moment? Best summit is Mt. Carrigain with a clear view of the top of Mt. Washington with my (pregnant) wife on the year we got to lead a group together. Best group activity is the first official game of "twig hurling" with Will Tessier and Charles Harker. Best meal is the triple-decker quesadilla with fried pepperoni made by Ryan Houx and Anna Jones.

Leigh Anne Connors, 9 OBs

Most prized piece of gear on OB: Nemo inflatable sleeping pad and my 60Tree Oh My Hoodie (I think that is what it is called)

Favorite OB recipe: Appetizer Veg. Cooking frozen veggies (brussels sprouts being my favorite) before dinner with soy sauce, butter, and any spices that we bring with us. I learned this from Mr. Sheppe.

Best Solo food hack: Check to see if there is any plastic wrapping around the meal so it doesn't melt into your food.

Best tips for staying warm: Move, move, move! Go collect firewood, change your socks, put on another layer (the rain jacket can do wonders), saw wood, take a walk. If you're in the ski group pop your skis on and ski around. 

Best tip for staying positive:  Smile and Laugh. It is inevitable you are going to fall in the snow with your pack on and it is going to likely hurt a little but laughing about it and having a group member help you up can go a long way. I think also helping each other can help everyone have a positive mindset. The group functions best when everyone is helping each other. Also, eating and drinking can certainly help change a mood.

What is your Greatest of all Time OB moment? 
I have two...

1. There are so many but one that sticks out to me the most is when Andrew Sheppe and I took our group up Mt. Chocorua on the most beautiful day. We could see so far in the distance. If you have been to the summit of Chocorua you know it can be windy but on this day there was no wind and a blue sky.  

2. This past year was my first year leading the ski group with Peter Durnan which was so much fun. During the second half of Outback there was a major snow storm where it snowed about 14 inches. As the ski group we had to go skiing. We lapped the hill behind us and had an unforgettable powder day. 

Both of these moments have different weather elements of a huge snow storm and your perfect blue bird day but the group embraced the moment to have the best time and make the most of the experience.

Tommy Raymond ‘24, 2 OBs

Most prized piece of gear on OB: Solid knife and flashlight

Favorite OB recipe: OB bagel - bagel, pb, cheese, pepperoni, honey.

Best Solo food hack: Solo bread, peanut butter and banana chips for breakfast.

Best tips for staying warm: Put on more clothes when you feel yourself getting cold. Also if your hiking pants can be waxed, wax them, it keeps out wind and makes them waterproof.

Best tip for staying positive:  Knowing you’re out there with 70+ other people doing the same thing as you.

What is your Greatest of all Time OB moment? Talking around the fire with other senior leaders at satellite camp this past spring.

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