What is Adventure Racing?
(Other than the ultimate gear test!)
For the uninitiated, adventure racing is an endurance sport in which teams of four navigate across rugged wilderness terrain using only a map and compass.
During races, teams are required to transition between any variety of sports, such as trail-running, mountain biking, trekking, canoeing and mountaineering. Along the way, teams report to numerous remote checkpoints to ensure everyone follows a similar route. Almost any non motorized sport could be included, even sailing outrigger canoes on the ocean as was part of Eco-Challenge Fiji in 2019.
What skills do I need?
Those who excel at adventure racing are often good “generalists.” They may not be the best elite trail runners, mountain bikers or world-class climbers, but they have a solid base in all the required disciplines, giving them a graceful efficiency as they move across the land.
Each team is often beholden to one athlete who holds the map and compass and is tasked with keeping the team on track. “The navigator” must always know where the team is on the map and own the responsibility of making crucial route-finding decisions that will get them from checkpoint to checkpoint in the shortest amount of time.
If that weren’t intimidating enough, they often have to do this exhausted, hungry and in the dark of night!
What gear do I need for an Adventure Race?
Since teams are required to perform many different sports across incredibly diverse climates and landscapes, adventure racers can become complete gear freaks.
Their reliance on equipment and clothing cannot be overstated. Racers are often depleted, dehydrated and exhausted, making them prime candidates for both hypothermia and heat exhaustion.
As you can see, an adventure race is the ultimate gear test. If you still like your footwear, apparel and gear at the end of the race, you know you’ve found your formula!
Shop Team Eco-AR’s Essential Gear Selection
All athletes are encouraged to discover the gear that works best for them, but we’re happy to share an essential list of products that have served us well in races and adventures around the planet.
Waterproof Jacket – Beta LT - Arc’teryx
This jacket possesses our holy trinity! It is highly waterproof, truly breathability and blessedly lightweight. The pit zips allow for rapid ventilation and prevent overheating. The hood can be worn over a helmet and the fit is trim, reducing the amount of fabric used to a compact minimum.
Mountain Bike Helmet – Session MIPS - Smith Optics
Let’s face it, mountain biking can be dangerous, so our first priority in a helmet is solid protection in the event of a crash. Although no helmet can prevent all injuries, the Session incorporates MIPS technology that is intended to help reduce rotational force to the head. It’s comfortable and equipped with 15 vents too for ventilation. It can be integrated with Smith eyewear to complete the kit.
Trail Running Shoe – Speedcross 5 - Salomon
The aggressive tread and grippy rubber that these shoes possess make them legendary. The Speedcross makes quick work of muddy trails and the sturdy toe box provides protection against rocks and roots. We have used these shoes on four continents and hope to bring them to a fifth!
Bottoms – MCS Training Compression Tights - 2XU
Even more than the oft-touted performance value of the compression that these tights are famous for, we use them for protection from branches, sun, wind and cold. The comfortable waistband and low-profile seams allow for them to be worn under cycling shorts, making them a versatile garment for the team.
Socks – Pro Racing Socks - Compressport
Socks matter! In fact, they are a crucial element in the formula for making it to the end of an adventure race. These socks from Compressport are made from a synthetic blend that is fast to dry and reduces the amount of friction your feet have to withstand. They are seamless and have integrated “vented zones” to shuttle moisture away from your skin as efficiently as possible.
Watch - Fenix 6 Pro - Garmin
We have always loved Garmin watches and rely on them to track our metrics throughout our training periods. They are user- friendly and employ incredibly accurate GPS technology. Here lies the rub: GPS-capable devices are not allowed on races that require map and compass navigation. Enter the new “Adventure Race” activity profile that Garmin recently added to the Fenix 6 firmware. Thanks to this new mode, which prevents using the GPS for navigation, the racer can still access critical features like the compass and altimeter. This setting will also record your track, so you can look back at your erratic route through that nasty swamp while enjoying a post-race IPA! If you intend to use the Fenix during a race, make sure to check with the race director to ensure that the Adventure Race mode is legal at their event.
Trekking Poles – Distance Carbon Z Poles - Black Diamond
For some reason, the topic of trekking poles always seems to start a debate. People either love them or hate them. What the three of us can attest to is the fact that hiking uphill with a heavy pack gets easier when you can employ your arms and shoulders to aid propulsion! All of the other animals we see in the mountains have four legs - maybe they’re onto something? We like the Distance Carbon Z because they are incredibly light and break down into a small package when stowed in a pack.
Cycling Shorts – Free Tri Short - Castelli
In shorter races, we often wear cycling shorts over tights for the entire event. We avoid bibs because it’s easier and faster when nature calls. The Free Tri Short has a thinner seat pad that makes the ride more comfortable yet doesn’t feel bulky during the trekking stages. There are also a couple of small pockets to stash gels.
Recovery Tool – Grid Ball - TriggerPoint
After crushing it on the course, you owe it to your body to roll out and speed up the recovery process! The Grid Ball is much more compact than a foam roller and easy to travel with. Try bringing it on the plane for some pressure point therapy at 30,000 feet!
Skin Lubricant – Foot Anti Blister Stick - Body Glide
All corny jokes about reducing the “agony of de-feet” aside, this stuff is our secret weapon. It reduces friction and works even when your feet are wet. We carry the travel size with us on the course so we can refresh the application when needed. We love it!
Our next challenge and how you can give Adventure Racing a go
The upcoming Wilderness Traverse will require us to navigate over 185kms of rugged Canadian Shield backcountry on foot, mountain bike and canoe. There are no shortcuts in preparing for an event like this.
It requires spending a lot of long days in the woods, which you get to call “training”! Since navigation is arguably the most important discipline, we have been actively honing our orienteering skills, both by participating in organized events through the Greater Vancouver Orienteering Club and on courses we design for each other in our own backyards.
If you’re intrigued and want to try your hand at adventure racing, make your way to the Canadian Adventure Racing Association website for all sorts of advice and information on the sport.
With the right gear and prep, there’s no excuse to not have an adventure!