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Frequently Asked Questions

Deciding to do FOP

Q: Who goes on FOP?
A: Last year almost a quarter of the incoming class participated on 32 trips. This included students from all over the United States and from many foreign countries. There were participants with extensive backpacking experience in Wyoming and folks who have 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, and to do this we try to create diverse FOP trips which are microcosms of the much larger, diverse community at Harvard.

Q: What if I have never been camping before?
A: All the better! No prior experience necessary. We have three different levels, "A", "B", and "C", to provide the appropriate learning experiences and physical challenges for those who have never been camping before and those who are pros. FOPpers who have never been camping 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.

Q: Is Financial Aid available?
A: Yes! Financial aid may be requested by any student receiving aid from the University. Awards are based on the amount of aid you get for the school year. Last year, we offered $30,000 in Financial Aid and provided everything from $50 in aid to full scholarships, based entirely on need. The more money you are receiving from the University, the more you will receive from FOP.

Planning Ahead and Getting Ready

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. That said, there are three levels of trips--"A", "B", and "C"--to accommodate different levels of athletic ability and experience.

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 $10 a piece to rent, and if you are on FOP 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, but 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: Please see our menu information. 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 at one or two of our Service trip sites if this is of particular concern to you.

Q: Why can't I bring deodorant, soap, or scented body lotion? 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, and if they smell something good, they will chew through your pack in search of a bite to eat. FOP provides biodegradeable 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, (say five) it can cause rashes or infections.


Q: How can I tell if my rain gear is really waterproof?
A: Shower in it. No, we aren't kidding! Did you get wet? E-mail us pictures of you in your rain gear in the shower, and we'll really know you've done your research!

Q: What kind of backpack do I need?
A: External frame packs should be at least 3400 cubic inches with room to lash on sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Internal frame packs should be at least 4500-5000 cubic inches. Please see 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 loose 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 perspirate 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?

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; for suggestions try a travel guide with a section on boston or a website such as www.boston.com. 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: How do I get to Harvard from the airport? the bus? the train?
A: Please see our arrival directions. The T (boston's subway system) is the cheapest ($2.00) 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. Please see our Parking Info document and the Yard Operations move-in parking information website for more information. (Note: the dates on this link may be last fall's dates. However, the rest of the information should be valid.)

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 small bag of stored items—usually a clean change of clothes, shower essentials and some sheets for the night you return.  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 consider your possibilities.

Q: Is storage secure?
A: Storage is in the basement of the FDO, which is locked and alarmed at night. However, we cannot guarantee the safety of the items we store, and floods have occurred in the basement in the past, so please do not plan to store anything valuable.

Q: When can I move in to my room?
A: Although you will stay in your own dorm room the night you get back from FOP, you will not be allowed to move in your belongings until the next day. You will pick up your key the afternoon you get back, and you will have access to the small bag you stored so that you can shower and change and have a place to sleep. The next day, Freshman Move-In Day, you will be able to move the rest of your belongings into your room. Despite the early access you have to your room, we expect you to follow regular Move-In procedures, as detailed by the Freshman Dean's Office mailings. Particularly, we ask that you do not claim a permenant room or bed without your roommates being present, as the FDO mandates. Please see the Calendar of Opening Days put out by the Freshman Dean's Office for more information on move-in day itself.

Q: Can I see my family the night I get back?
A: We encourage family members to refrain from arriving on campus until Freshman Move-In Day so that students can wrap up with their groups on the last evening of their FOP trips, despite the fact that they are back on campus. Family members of FOP participants can expect to meet their students on the morning of Move-In Day to follow regular Move-In proceedures.