Leadership Matters Program Information

Preparing for Your Trip

This page is a resource for participants, parents and organizations to plan for their Summer Expedition; it includes information about clothing and gear that participants need for their trip, and which items are available for rental or purchase at the Deer Hill Store (including those covered by your scholarship), as well as general information about Deer Hill Expeditions and how to prepare for your trip. Required forms are outlined below, please note deadlines and instructions for proper submission. If you have any questions, please call our Admissions Manager, Jordan Lang, at 970-533-7492 or email her at jordan@deerhillexpeditions.com.


To plan for the safety and success of Deer Hill Summer Expedition participants, we collect detailed health information. Please complete the forms below as soon as possible. One of them is completed online; the other is a printable PDF to be completed by the participant’s physician and returned to our Admissions Manager according to the instructions on the form.

Participant Health History Form

Due immediately

Physician’s Medical Form

Due June 1

Please print this form, and bring it to the participant’s physician to be completed. Return the form by mail or email (complete instructions are included with the form). If you have any questions, please contact our Admissions Manager, Jordan Lang, at 970-533-7492 or by email at jordan@deerhillexpeditions.com.

Clothing and Gear

Climate and Outdoor Activities

Climate and Living Outdoors

The right equipment and clothing will make your Deer Hill experience more comfortable and enjoyable. Deer Hill programs travel in two very different climates of the Colorado Plateau: high desert and alpine. Temperatures in the desert can range from 55º F at night to 105º F during the day. We dress to protect ourselves from the sun and heat. Rain is infrequent, though it may rain hard during brief storms. In the alpine zone of the mountains, temperatures can range from 15º to 80º F in a single 24-hour period. During the summer, brief hail or snowstorms are not uncommon. Even though you may not experience these extremes, you must be prepared for all types of weather.

Synthetics, Cotton and Staying Warm

Synthetics, Cotton and Staying Warm

Please pay close attention to our fabric recommendations. Most fabrics perform equally well when dry. When wet, fabric performance changes dramatically. Cotton fibers absorb moisture, which rob heat from the body. Synthetic and wool fibers repel moisture, maintaining their ability to trap air and heat, even when wet. For these reasons, we wear cotton in the hot desert to help keep us cool. Conversely, in the cool, wet mountains, we wear synthetic and wool. When deciding between wool and synthetics, choose items that are comfortable and lightweight. The sheer number of names of synthetic fabrics (e.g. Capilene, Polypropylene, Synchilla, Polar Tec, fleece, etc.) can be overwhelming. Most of these are nearly identical, but sold under different brand names. Please do not buy polyester/cotton blends, as these are not sufficient.

Where to Find Your Gear

Where to Find Your Gear

Buying Good Quality Gear

You can find quality backcountry equipment at stores that specialize in mountaineering and/or backpacking. Try local shops that carry brand names such as Black Diamond, Patagonia, The North Face and Marmot, or try one of the large retail chains such as REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), or EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports). If you are shopping online it is useful to try items on locally to ensure the correct fit.

Renting / Purchasing Gear from Deer Hill

Your scholarship includes the rental and purchase of many items required for this expedition. We stock quality items that have been tested over the years at Deer Hill.

The Deer Hill Outfitting Store

The Deer Hill Outfitting Store

The Deer Hill Outfitting Store plays an important role in the comfort and safety of our participants. We research each item thoroughly and carefully select gear based on function and value from The North Face, Helly Hansen, Sierra Designs, and others. We stock enough clothing and gear to meet every participant’s needs. There is no need for you to reserve clothing and gear from us in advance.

How the Store Works

Your scholarship includes the rental and purchase of many store items required for your safety in the wilderness. Please make the time prior to coming to Deer Hill to review the list of items included with your scholarship. Should you wish to acquire additional numbers of items included in your scholarship, you may purchase those items at the standard price.
As part of program preparation, each participant will go through their clothing and equipment with one of their leaders. The leaders have a list of necessary items for each expedition of a Deer Hill program. If a participant is missing an item or what he/she brought is determined to be inadequate, the leader will then require that the appropriate item is rented or bought from the Store.

Items Available in the Store

The items available through our store are noted on the Packing List and Store Price List. We offer a rental program for the larger, more expensive items such as sleeping bags, backpacks, rain and cold-weather gear. Our rental prices are based on the initial cost of the item, the amount of use each item receives, and laundering and repair costs. You can purchase an item that you have rented from us and we will apply the rental charge towards the purchase price. Our purchase prices are consistently below those suggested by the manufacturers. We also offer, for purchase, used clothing and gear at greatly discounted prices.

How to Best Utilize the Store

Our staff does its best to outfit everyone properly, at the most reasonable cost. When you read your program Packing List, please notice that many items are indicated as being optional. These are items that are great to have and are useful in the out-of-doors, but are not mandatory. Items that are not indicated as optional are required. You must bring these items with you or you will need to acquire them here. We advise you to review the Packing List carefully as a family, so that everyone is in agreement on what can be spent on optional items. Although we ask your son/daughter to call you for permission to purchase items over $75 in value, it is not possible for us to question and counsel each individual participant on their spending habits and family limitations.
Parents: please discuss with your son/daughter the effects of peer pressure on spending habits. Some participants are told to purchase anything they want. Others are told to stick to the minimum. Help us by making your son/daughter aware of his/her personal needs and spending limits.

If you have questions about the Store, Store Account, or purchasing your own gear, please call us: 970-533-7492.

Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots

General Information

Your most important piece of equipment is your boots. Many foot problems (blisters, cold feet, etc.) can be avoided by purchasing properly fitted footwear. Consider this as an investment in your comfort. Please take time and care when buying your boots. You will wear them almost every day, therefore the fit and function will have a significant impact on the quality of your experience. Our information on fitting is relatively universal. Take this information with you when you go to buy your boots.

Your boots will need to support you while hiking through loose gravel, snow, scree, mud, small streams, and tall, wet grass. You want a boot that gives you plenty of support, and is comfortable and versatile, so you can use it as a work boot during your service projects. The best choice is a sturdy, medium-weight, ankle high hiking boot. Many leather/fabric combinations work well. Please remember that tennis shoes, sneakers, or low top shoes do not offer enough support for hiking and will not be satisfactory for this program.

We recommend the following brands of backpacking boots (or brands of comparable quality and design): Asolo, Salomon, Zamberlan, Merrell, Scarpa, La Sportiva, Lowa, Vasque, Montrail. Please do not buy “running-style” boots, such as those made by Nike, Hi-Tec, and Adidas.

Fitting your boots

Fit is more important than the brand or how much a boot is broken in.

Start with a boot a 1/2 size larger than your normal shoe size, fitting the boot to your larger foot. Feet swell during the day, so, if possible, it is best to shop in the afternoon.

Without socks, or with just a liner sock, slide your foot forward into an unlaced boot until your toes contact the front of the boot. Stand up and lean slightly forward. You should be able to slide your finger between the back of the boot and your heel. If you cannot do this, the boot is too small.

Now try the boots on with a pair of hiking socks. Lace them snugly, but not too tightly. Walk around a little. You should not feel spots that rub or irritate you. If you do, these spots might turn into blisters after a few hours of hiking. Your heel should lift up slightly (not sloppily) and your toes should have room to wiggle. Your boots need to fit with one pair of wool socks and a pair of liner socks. This is how you will wear them in the backcountry. Some people prefer the added comfort of two pairs of wool socks. If so, make sure your boots are roomy enough to be worn in this manner.

To double check the length, kick the boot against a wall or walk down the store’s incline ramp. Your toes should have some “wiggle room.” Try different brands. Their internal shapes vary considerably and some brands will feel more comfortable than others. Be sure that your boots are not too small.

Once you have purchased your boots, wear them as much as possible before arriving here. It is best if you can break-in your boots at home, or on short hikes, before hiking in them while wearing a pack.



Your scholarship includes backpack rental.

Deer Hill uses and recommends internal frame backpacks. Most participants rent their backpack from Deer Hill, using their program as an opportunity to try out a backpack in actual field conditions. The Deer Hill Store carries packs by Lowe Alpine and Osprey Packs. These packs are easily adjustable to fit a wide range of body sizes and shapes.

If you buy an internal frame pack, it should have a capacity of at least 5000 cubic inches or 85 Liters (3000 cu or 50 l for Southwest Journey). We recommend that it have side and top pockets. Packs must have padded shoulder straps and a padded hip belt. Your pack must fit you well. Some packs come in sizes, while others are adjustable. Should you purchase a pack, be sure the salesperson takes the time to properly fit the pack to your back.

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping Bags

Your scholarship includes the rental of appropriate sleeping bags for each element of your expedition.

Deer Hill travels in two very different environments: hot canyons and cool mountains. For maximum comfort, programs that have River, Canyon, Native American service and mountain components use two different types of sleeping bags. A “canyon bag” is a lightweight, synthetic bag with about 20 oz. of fill. It should be rated warm to 45º F or a little cooler.

A “mountain bag” is a heavyweight, synthetic, mummy bag with approximately 46 oz. of fill. It should be rated warm to at least 0º F. (Canyon Country needs only a “canyon bag.” Heart of the Rockies needs only a “mountain bag.” All other programs will need both “mountain” & “canyon” bags.)

Deer Hill has sleeping bags for rent for both temperature ranges. Rental cost for our sleeping bags is $5/night, with a maximum of $70-$90, depending on the length of the program. Some participants bring their own bag, some bring one of the two bags and rent the other from us, and some rent both a canyon bag and mountain bag.

Advice for Buying a Sleeping Bag

If you are going to buy a sleeping bag, please buy a bag comparable in weight and design to what we provide. For safety, we want all participants to use synthetic-filled sleeping bags (e.g. Primaloft, Climashield, Thermic Micro) instead of down, which will not keep participants warm if wet. Since most of our programs go into the mountains, where rain is likely, synthetic-filled bags best assure that everyone will sleep warmly. Cotton is not an option.

Other Considerations

Be sure your mountain sleeping bag is a “mummy bag” with a hood that goes around your head.

The weight of your bag is important. A reasonable total weight for a synthetic 0-degree bag is 4-4.5 pounds.

How easily is the bag compressed and how big is it once it is in its stuff sack? You do not want a huge, heavy, bulky bag that is difficult to get into a backpack. You will need a compression stuff sack.

Rain Gear

Rain Gear

Your scholarship includes the rental of rain gear.

The outdoor clothing industry has varying ideas of what is waterproof. Many lightweight, coated nylons do not keep out the rain. If you are buying your own rain gear, make sure both jacket and pants are 100% waterproof (water repellent isn’t good enough.) “Waterproof and breathable” fabrics (such as Gortex) are comfortable to hike in because they “breathe” out the body’s moisture. However, they are more expensive and sometimes soak through in heavy rains.

Rain Jacket Recommendations

All rain jackets must have a hood and come down below the waist.

We recommend multi-layered (2-layer or 3-layer) nylon rain jackets. They work quite well and are less expensive than Gortex. The multi-layered system often includes:

  • An exterior of waterproof/coated nylon
  • An internal lining of polyurethane or equivalent
  • Another inner mesh layer, frequently taffeta
  • Underarm zippers (pit zips) for added ventilation (This is probably the most important feature to prevent excessive sweating. We have found that Gortex jackets without pit zips do not work as well as a nylon jacket with pit zips.)

Make sure your rain jacket is large enough to be worn over several layers of insulating clothing.

Ponchos are not allowed. They do not work well in windy, mountain storms.

Rain Pants Recommendations

Some rain pants are also multi-layered. An exterior shell of waterproof, coated nylon with an internal polyurethane layer works well and is lightweight.

A zippered cuff is nice to have so you can put your rain pants on over your hiking boots. (Otherwise, you will have to take your boots off to put your rain pants on. Not fun during a rainstorm!)

Be sure your rain pants are large enough to be worn over your insulating pants.

Understanding the Packing List

Understanding the Packing List

Please bring only the items that are on the packing list. Except for a few personal items or extra toiletries, you will not need more than what is listed. You will not change clothes every day. In fact, for a given expedition or project you will carry only the necessary clothing for that environment. The remainder of your clothing and any extra items will be stored at Basecamp for the duration of your program or until you need it for another environment. Additionally:

  • All personal clothing and gear should be labeled with the participant’s name.
  • Pack lightly. Choose items that are lightweight and compact.
  • Keep in mind that service work and wilderness living are hard on clothing. The clothes you bring to Deer Hill will receive rough treatment and may become torn or permanently stained.

We have designed the Packing List to help you select the appropriate gear for your program. Items available for purchase or rental at the Deer Hill Store are indicated as such in the Packing List. The Packing List also contains information about each item to assist you if you decide to shop on your own. For the most expensive/complicated items, we have included more detailed shopping guidelines in the sections above.

Packing List and Deer Hill Store Pricelist

Leadership Matters

Each expedition with Deer Hill is unique and requires specific clothing and gear for safety and comfort. It is imperative that every participant read the packing list for her or his program and bring, or acquire from the Deer Hill Store, all required items. Please note that your packing list is broken up into two sections: first is a list of items that participants need to bring from home, second is a list of all of the items that are included with a scholarship. If you have any questions about the packing list, store price list, or your scholarship store package, please reach out to our Admissions Manager, Jordan Lang at 970-533-7492 or email her at jordan@deerhillexpeditions.com.

Preparing for Your Program

Preparing for Your Program

Preparing for Your Program

Mental Preparation

It is normal for participants to have a mixture of emotions gearing up for a Deer Hill program; these places, people, and experiences may all be unfamiliar. Traveling into the wilderness for the first time is a remarkable experience, and Deer Hill has guided thousands of first timers over the years. We support participants wholeheartedly and encourage adventurous attitudes. Every year when staff leaders arrive at basecamp in Mancos, Colorado for training they’re reminded of our 30 year old mantra “Safety, Fun, Learning”: when participants feel safe, they have fun, and if they’re having fun, learning will come naturally! To get the most out of a Deer Hill program, participants need to prepare themselves to act responsibly, have fun, and try new things.

Physical Fitness

Participants do not have to be star athletes to succeed at Deer Hill. However, our programs are very active, and at times physically challenging so we encourage participants to prepare accordingly. The experience will be more enjoyable, especially at the beginning of the program, with rest, good fitness and mental preparation to live outdoors. Physical conditioning should begin at least two months prior to a Deer Hill Program. This can include walking, jogging slowly, swimming or riding a bike for at least an hour 3-4 times a week. This will improve aerobic fitness dramatically. In addition, regular resistance training, such as lifting weights, going to a climbing gym, and/or yoga, will help strengthen balance and physical confidence. Consult a trainer, take a class, or talk to your doctor before starting a resistance-training program.

Acclimation and Rest

Coming from sea level (as most participants do) to the Colorado Plateau (Basecamp is located at 7,000 feet above sea level) participants will notice and feel the high elevation and dry climate on their first day. It is recommended to rest and relax for a couple of days prior to your program start date. Arriving with a rested and replenished body will aid in adapting to the high altitude more quickly. Drinking water while you travel and on your first days at Deer Hill is very important for successful acclimation.

The Beginning of Your Program

The Beginning of Your Program

After meeting field leaders, fellow participants and some of the Basecamp staff, immediate needs can be taken care of. While waiting for others to arrive, there is the opportunity to play volleyball or go for a swim in the pond.

When the entire group has arrived, there will be a tour of Basecamp and some “icebreaker” activities to get to know one another. After a home-cooked welcome dinner in the Dining Hall, the group will participate in their first “Circle”, an informal meeting that is tradition at Deer Hill. This will include a discussion of expectations, safety issues and ground rules for life around Deer Hill.

On the morning of Day 2 there will be a conversation about the structure of the program and what to expect. Afterwards, participants begin packing for the first section of the expedition. Guided by leaders, participants will gather the appropriate food, clothing and gear. This includes separating clothes and items that are needed in the backcountry from those that are not. Our Outfitting Store will be available for any necessary gear that participants need to rent or purchase. Our staff will help with the selection and sizing of these items to ensure proper preparation. Any superfluous and unnecessary items will be stored with luggage and kept in a secure location here at Basecamp while the program is running.


Spending Money

It is recommended to bring a small amount of spending money for airport days, gifts or souvenirs. This should be in the form of either cash or ATM card, though, participants will not have access to an ATM except on airport days.

Return Travel Money

Be sure participants have money to cover any airline fees that are assessed at the gate for the return flight (i.e. baggage, unaccompanied minor services, etc.) These fees vary considerably from one airline to another. It’s encouraged to check with the airline to estimate an appropriate amount of money to help cover these contingencies, and to pack this money separately from spending money.

Communication with Family and Friends from Home


Phone Calls Home

Traveling to and from Basecamp with personal electronic devices (phones, tablets, etc.) is recommenced. Upon arrival, cell phones will be stored and secured with luggage because they are not allowed on programs. Cell phones do not work at our Basecamp or in most of the remote areas in which we travel. Leaders carry satellite phones for use in emergencies only.

Once in Durango participants will call parents to let them know that all is well. Participants without a cell phone are able to use the Deer Hill phone at Basecamp. At the end of the program, if there have been any sudden travel changes, parents will be called in order to confirm. Parents: Please contact Deer Hill Basecamp if there have been any changes that you are aware of. Otherwise, plan on seeing your child when he/she gets off the plane at the airport.

Please do not call participants at Basecamp unless there is an emergency. This can be difficult for parents at times, but this approach is based on nearly three decades of caring for teenage participants, our respect for their journey towards growth and independence, and our understanding of group dynamics. If there is an emergency at home, parents should contact us at 970.533.7492. If your son or daughter is having any problems at all, be assured that you will hear from us. Otherwise, please follow the rule that “no news is good news”.

Mail and Email

We know that parents and families want to hear from participants, so we strongly encourage (but do not force) them to send letters and postcards during transitions in the itinerary – typically, at the end of the first and second weeks of the program. We also hope that parents, family members and friends will send mail to participants while they are at Deer Hill. Please allow several days for mail and packages to arrive in rural southwest Colorado.

Please mail letters and cards to:

(Participant’s Name and Program)
c/o Deer Hill Expeditions
PO Box 180
Mancos, CO 81328

Care Packages

We ask that family and friends do not send food. It is best for group dynamics that no one receives this special attention. We have plenty of delicious treats and snacks available here. Nobody goes hungry on a Deer Hill program!

If you need to ship packages, such as a box of gear or clothes for the trip, and wish to use a private shipping service such as UPS or FedEx, please ship to:

(Participant’s Name and Program)
c/o Deer Hill Expeditions
7850 Rd 41
Mancos, CO 81328

Program Updates

We are in communication with the leaders throughout the program. Parents will receive at least one “Report From the Field” by email from the Deer Hill office. We will write a summary of how the trip is going and try to include a photo of the group. It is important to set your SPAM filters to receive Deer Hill emails. Ensure that you receive emails from these addresses by adding them to your address book in your email program:

Traveling to Deer Hill

General Information

General Travel Information

Travel to Durango, Colorado will be arranged and paid for by one of the sponsoring organizations of Leadership Matters.

Participants should carry the Deer Hill number with them (970.533.7492) and notify us of any changes or delays during travel. At the Durango airport please proceed to the baggage claim (there is only one). A Deer Hill leader will be waiting there wearing either a Deer Hill t-shirt or cap. It may be necessary to wait at the airport with a leader for up to an hour for the next incoming flight. If there are no participants on the next flight, the group will head directly to Basecamp. This is a beautiful 45-minute drive through the mountains into the Mancos Valley. Leaders and other fellow participants will be at Basecamp upon arrival.

As a Licensed Child Care Facility in the State of Colorado, Deer Hill provides all parents and guardians with the following information:

  • To report child abuse/neglect, call 1-844-CO-4-KIDS or 911
  • To report a child care licensing complaint, contact the Office of Early Childhood at 1-303-866-5948 or at 1575 Sherman Street, Denver, Colorado 80203.

Deer Hill has been a major part of my life, even though it has only been two summers. I always remember the leaders and the spectacular views in the mountains. I always cherish the memories made and the life lessons learned. At Deer Hill I have matured far beyond what I was when I first showed up.

Alex, participant