Whether you’re looking for a single day of high-impact adrenaline or a long distance endurance expedition, there’s an adventure race out there waiting for you to push your limits.
What is Adventure Racing?
Adventure Racing (AR) was born in the 1980s, it involves three core disciplines of kayaking, trekking and mountain biking, with competitors either following a set course or navigating their own way from checkpoint to checkpoint. Events last from a few hours to 10 days or more and often include extra challenges, from horseback riding to extreme mountaineering or rope work.
The sport has an official AR World Series and AR European Championships, a race series in the USA and many independents too – so to narrow them down, we’ve picked 9 of the best you can enter.
1. Red Bull Defiance
- Where: Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia
- Length: 2 days, 150km
- Next race: August 25 – 27, 2023
Red Bull Defiance Australia is a sister event to the long-established New Zealand original and sees competitors race from the heart of the rainforest to the luxurious Castaways Resort on North Queensland’s stunning Cassowary Coast.
Do this if you… want an extreme challenge that ends at a luxury resort.
The field for this year’s event includes some of the world’s top multisport and endurance athletes and it won’t be easy – because the course is a real challenge, with a punishing first day that must be carefully managed and some unique mystery disciplines thrown into the mix.
- Where: Fiji
- Length: Multi-day, 650km
- Next race: TBC
This event took AR to the mainstream in the 1990s when it became one of the first ever reality TV shows. It aired for 10 years and has now been resurrected by originator Mark Burnett for a new show on Amazon Prime.
Do this if you… want to be on prime TV and have a chance to win $100k
The next edition will take place on the volcanic island of Fiji, a place with perfect AR terrain including narrow canyons filled with dense jungle, wild rivers and the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean. Competitors will race non-stop to the finish, with 20 camera crews covering their every move.
3. Patagonian Expedition Race
- Where: Patagonia, Chile
- Length: 8-10 Days, up to 1,000km
- Next race: September 9, 2023
This is known as ‘The Last Wild Race’ for good reason – it’s an epic event considered by many as the ultimate AR challenge, with Chilean Patagonia’s epic fjords, glaciers and mountains as its playground.
Do this if you… want to feel like a real explorer at the end of the Earth.
The non-stop race through one of the planet’s most remote places has a finishing rate of less than 30 percent. Four-person teams have paddled icy rivers on inflatable sleep mats, bushwhacked through thick brambles and even swum in the Straits of Magellan to win a wooden finisher’s medal.
4. Red Bull Dolomitenmann
- Where: Lienz, Austria
- Length: 1 day
- Next race: September 9, 2023
The unofficial ‘World Cup of extreme sports’, this event adds paragliding to the traditional trio of AR sports. It involves four-person teams, but they race in a relay with each member taking on their specific specialist discipline.
Do this if you… want to specialize in one discipline.
The race starts with the runner taking on a 12km trail that climbs 2,000m. The paraglider then does two flights, running between them with their kit. Next, the mountain biker pedals up 1,400m then drops a high-speed downhill and finally the kayaker completes an extreme whitewater course before sprinting to the finish on foot, dragging their kayak behind them.
5. Wilderness Traverse
- Where: Ontario, Canada
- Length: 1-2 days, 150km
- Next Race: September 30 - October 1, 2023
Teams have 30 hours to navigate through a series of checkpoints on this rugged and remote course – and there are so many route options it’s hard to avoid getting completely lost in the wilderness.
Do this if you… want to lose yourself in remote wilderness
Trekking terrain includes thick forest, sinking swamps and icy cold river crossings. On the bike, there’s 85km of old logging roads and single tracks. And paddling is done in traditional Canadian canoes on rarely used rivers with tough portage sections.
6. Coast-to-coast New Zealand
- Where: South Island, New Zealand
- Length: 1-2 days, 243km
- Next race: February 10-11, 2023
This epic endurance race crosses New Zealand’s south island from west to east and has become a must-do on any serious AR athlete’s bucket list, with more than 18,000 people taking it on since it was first run in 1983.
Do this if you… want to compete in one of the world’s oldest AR events
The one-day event is known as the World Multisport Championship but it can also be split over two. The route includes a legendary 30.5km off trail run with multiple river crossings and an elevation gain of nearly 800m, a mighty 70km of paddling on the Waimakariri River and a 70km ride on the Canterbury Plains to a beachside festival finish.
7. Source to City
- Where: New York, USA
- Length: 4 days, 480km
- Next race: September 20-23, 2024
This event follows the Hudson River from source to sea, starting in remote mountain wilderness and finishing in the centre of one of the world’s most iconic cities, New York.
Do this if you… want to finish an adventure race in downtown Manhattan
The race highlights just how close the Big Apple is to remote wilderness and includes a 35km mountain trek or trail run, 33km of kayaking through the Hudson Highlands and 420km of biking, finishing with the ultimate post-race party overlooking the famous city skyline.
- Where: North Island, New Zealand
- Length: 8.5 days maximum, 600km
- Next race: February 23 - March 4, 2023
Run in the AR heartland of New Zealand, this event is arguably the world’s biggest AR and its ninth edition will include geothermal mud pools, geysers and natural hot springs in the volcanic region of Rotorua.
Do this if you… want to race through volcanoes and bubbling mud pools
The course is kept secret until just before the event and the four-person teams are free to choose their level of difficulty – gambling on tougher rapids or harder climbs in a bid to cut distance, race faster and get to the finish line first.
- Where: Florida
- Length: 72 hours, 360km
- Next race: February 23-26, 2023
This non-stop expedition race, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, cuts across the Florida peninsular from west to east and includes rivers that are home to hundreds of alligators.
Do this if you… want the chance to paddle past alligators
Teams must visit as many checkpoints as possible in 72 hours, swapping disciplines as they travel through five different state parks on the way to the finish in America’s oldest city, St Augustine. Top finishers qualify for America’s AR series nationals final.