Frequently Asked Questions

If you can't find an answer to your question below, feel free to contact us!

Deciding to Go on FOP

Q: Who goes on FOP?

A: In 2019, about 1 out of 4 members of the incoming class participated in FOP. FOPpers participated in 39 trips and came from all over the United States, and from many foreign countries. There were participants with extensive backpacking experience in Wyoming and folks who had never been outside of New York City. Students came from all different races, ethnicities, economic circumstances, nationalities, and languages. Our goal is to prepare students as best we can for their upcoming Harvard experience. To do this, we try to create diverse FOP trips which are microcosms of the larger, diverse community at Harvard.

Q: What are the FOP dates in 2021?

A: FOP will run approximately from August 19th to 24th in 2022. No pre-orientation programming will conflict with first-year move in dates. The entire FOP community will gather in-person on campus during opening days (date and location TBD).

Q: How is FOP different from other Harvard pre-orientation programs? 

FOP, unlike other pre-orientation programs, uses the outdoors as a medium to form tight-knit communities and engage in reflective activities. If you are interested in learning more about yourself, meeting lots of cool people, and having a great outdoors adventure, FOP is the pre-orientation program for you! 

Many of the other programs serve a specific community of incoming Harvard students, such as international students (FIP) or first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented first-year students (FYRE). Others specialize in leadership building skills (LIFE), community service (FUP), and the arts (FAP). Many international, first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented first-years participate in FOP each year! 

Q: What if I have never been camping before? 

A: All the better! No prior experience is necessary to go on FOP. We have both wilderness trips and site-based trips.  Many trips involve camping, but some of the site-based Site Exploration trips will spend the nights in cabins—which can be a perfect middle ground for someone who would rather not plunge into wilderness camping. In addition to site-based exploration trips, we sort FOPpers into different wilderness trip difficulty levels to provide the appropriate learning experiences and physical challenges for all first-year students. FOPpers who have not spent much time outside before often learn the most about themselves and have some of the most rewarding experiences. On the trip, leaders teach all the skills and provide all the info FOPpers need to be comfortable in the wilderness. Please note: FOP will take place virtually in 2021 but there will be opportunities for in-person outdoor experience throughout the academic year. 

Q: What about the outdoor equipment? That looks expensive, and I don't own my own.

A: FOP has a significant supply of rental equipment. Each year, approximately 80 percent of FOPpers borrow some form of gear. This gear is available at very reasonable rates. In addition, anyone receiving financial aid from the College or from FOP is eligible to rent gear for free. Please note: students will need no outdoor equipment for virtu-FOP.

Planning Ahead and Getting Ready for an In-Person FOP

Q: Should I be working out to get ready for FOP?

A: Yes! We encourage everyone to engage in some type of regular physical activity in preparation for the trip. Hiking and canoeing involve physical challenge, and we've found that people who prepare a little for trips are less tired and enjoy hiking more.

Q: What do I need to buy for my trip?

A: Please see the equipment list. Please keep in mind that FOP has an extensive supply of gear to rent as well.

Q: Isn't all of this stuff going to be terribly expensive?

A: New outdoor gear from specialty backpacking stores can be expensive, but going on FOP doesn't have to cost a fortune. Discount stores offer reasonably priced, quality gear. FOP will also loan out gear, such as backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, rain jackets and pants, fleece and long underwear tops and bottoms, and boots. Most of this gear costs between $5 and $15 a piece to rent, and if you are on FOP's financial aid, your gear fee will be waived. Because FOP does not have a limitless supply of gear, you may also want to consider borrowing from friends or family; however, do test any gear to make sure it's durable and in good condition before you bring it with you. Borrowed gear also needs to fit well enough to be worn comfortably all week. You may also consider some of your purchases a long-term investment; many FOPpers and leaders find that the clothing and boots that they buy for FOP are quite handy during the long New England winter.

Q: What is the food like?

A: Check out our sample menu. If you have any allergies or special dietary needs, please contact us right away!

Q: There are bathrooms and showers with good water-pressure in the woods, aren't there?

A: Well, not exactly. Spending five days in the wilderness includes learning how to keep clean when there aren't showers and going to the bathroom in the woods. But don't worry, this is a new experience for many and your leaders will explain everything you need to know to be comfortable. A few of the sites where FOP stays do have outhouses because they are high-use areas and in these cases concentrating the impact of human waste causes the least damage to delicate wilderness areas. There will be running water access (showers and bathrooms) available on our site-based trips.

Q: Why can't I bring deodorant, soap, or scented body lotion on my wilderness trip?

A: There are several reasons. Wild animals in the areas FOP uses, such as chipmunks, mice and black bears, are attracted to the same delicious odors that you enjoy. If they smell something good, they will chew through your pack in search of a bite to eat. FOP provides biodegradable soap, which helps keep us clean and has less impact on the environment than commercial soaps made with perfumes and phosphates. Also, wearing antiperspirant when you are hiking every day and not showering is not good for you because it traps sweat and the toxins it excretes under the surface of your skin. When this happens for days on end, it can cause rashes or infections.

In-Person Wilderness Equipment

Q: How can I tell if my raingear is really waterproof?

A: Shower in it. Seriously, we aren't kidding! Did you get wet? E-mail us pictures of you in your raingear in the shower, and we'll really know you've done your research!

Q: What kind of backpack do I need?

A: Exact pack type and volume depends on the individual using it. Most folks prefer an internal frame pack. For FOP, an internal frame pack should be somewhere between 55L and 80L (smaller people can use a smaller size). Check out our backpack advice for more information.

Q: What should I look for when choosing a sleeping bag?

A: Sleeping bags are rated by temperature. (If the one you're looking at isn't, definitely don't take it.) For FOP, bags should be warm to at least 20 degrees and should have 4-6 inches of loft (thickness when laid on the ground). Please note that participants are asked NOT to bring down sleeping bags on FOP.

Q: Why can't I bring my down sleeping bag on FOP?

A: Sleeping bags work by trapping pockets of still air in their insulation, which your body then heats up to keep you toasty all night. Down sleeping bags use tiny puff of feathers to do this, and synthetic bags use a mass of fine synthetic fibers. When they get wet, the feathers in down sleeping bags clump together and lose their ability to trap air. Synthetic fiber does not suffer from this drawback, and it dries much more quickly than down. Since we sleep under tarps (which are open on the sides) on FOP, there is a chance that in a heavy downpours sleeping bags may get wet, so we don't want to take the risk of getting stuck several days out into the wilderness with a wet bag that won't dry! Also, when it's not raining, there can be very high levels of humidity in the East. This means that you may perspire in your sleeping bag, again rendering down sleeping bags much less effective. As a final note, you may hear some people tell you that down sleeping bags are warmer per ounce of weight than synthetic ones. This is true, but it does not mean it's not possible to buy synthetic sleeping bags that are as warm as down ones. It only means that a synthetic bag rated to 20 degrees will be slightly heavier, but just as warm, as a down bag which is also rated to 20 degrees.

Health Insurance Coverage

Q: I have signed up for the Harvard Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plan. Will that suffice for the health insurance required while I am FOP?

A: Yes. If you sign up for Harvard Blue Cross/Blue Shield, coverage should start in early August. You will be covered while you are on your FOP trip. If you are filling out your forms and have not yet received your Harvard Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy number, please make a note of this on the form, then then email us the rest of the information, or have it on hand when you arrive for your trip.

Coming to Cambridge

Q: What do I do about accommodations the night before FOP begins?

A: FOP does not provide housing before check-in; however, there are many hotels in the area. Limited hosting with the families of local FOPpers is available for FOPpers who are traveling from very far away, but please make requests well in advance as these spots fill up fast.

Q: What about the first night of FOP before we head out into the woods?

A: After Arrival Day, you'll spend the night in a temporary Harvard dorm room, sleeping in your sleeping bag.

Q: How do I get to Harvard from the airport? The bus? The train?

A: Check out our arrival directions. The T (Boston's subway system) is the cheapest option (about $2.50 - and free from the airport!) and an easy way to travel if you are not carrying many belongings (which you shouldn't be!). It will bring you directly into Harvard Square.

Q: Where can my parents park their car on check-in day?

A: Parking can be tricky in Cambridge, but do check out our parking information.

Q: What do I do about dinner on check-in day?

A: There are many restaurants in and around Harvard Square, including sandwich shops, pizza places, and more expensive restaurants. You should plan on bringing about $25 for lunch and dinner on the day you arrive.

Q: Can I store stuff? How much?

A: We have very little storage space. Every FOPper is limited to one bag of stored items. We have no special storage space for valuables; your things will be stored in a small basement to which other people have access. Suggestions for storage: 1) If you ship your stuff to your Harvard postal address, the mail office will keep all of it for you until Move-In Day; 2) If your parents can bring any items on Move-In Day, then you will not need to bring those items with you for FOP; 3) If storage is a logistical or financial barrier that would prevent you from otherwise participating on FOP, please contact us so we can help figure out a workable arrangement.

Q: Is storage secure?

A: Storage is in Harvard facilities that are locked throughout FOP trips. We cannot fully guarantee the safety of the items we store, so please do not plan to store anything of irreplaceable value. Cell phones and computers may not be brought on trips, so plan to either store them or have them brought to you on Move-In Day.

Q: When can I move into my room?

A:  You will return to campus the afternoon before Move-In Day. After making sure all your FOP equipment is cleaned and returned, your leaders will make sure you know where to pick up your Harvard ID card and room keys.  Please note: Harvard has a strict policy that prohibits students from choosing beds or rooms within a suite before all members of the suite are present.



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