Can’t sit still while on holiday? Next time, swap the ‘fly and flop’ scenario for something more extreme – a cross-country race or desert island experience, an Australian outback survival course, or perhaps even a North Pole expedition.
Embark on one of these 10 wild adventures and we reckon you’ll be begging for a beach and a good book afterwards.
Expedition Alaska, USA
Any kind of trip to Alaska is an adventure. But every June, the organisers of Expedition Alaska (expeditionak.com) put on what many consider to be the most challenging adventure race in the world. This seven-day event on the Kenai Peninsula covers roughly 500km and includes monster stretches of trekking, ocean crossings, white-water kayaking, packrafting, mountain biking, canyoneering, coasteering, and abseiling. Needless to say, it’s experts only. Expedition Alaska is the ultimate test of fitness, outdoor survival skills and wits, in one of the world’s most unforgiving wildernesses.
Bear Grylls Survival Academy, Zimbabwe
Bear Grylls is on his way to creating an entire army of survivalists who are overly enthusiastic about freezing their butts off and eating disgusting things. There are currently more than a dozen Bear Grylls Survival Academies around the globe, where instructors have been handpicked by Grylls and, in many cases, served as crew or technical advisors on his shows. Our favourite is an intense five-day course near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Alongside nine others, you will be issued your Bear Grylls survival knife and taught everything from treating rancid water and building a shelter in the bush to lighting a fire – all while being watched by rhinos, lions and elephants (beargryllssurvivalacademy.com/africa).
Speight’s Coast to Coast, New Zealand
We love an adventure race named after a beer. But don’t be fooled – the Speight’s Coast to Coast (coasttocoast.co.nz), which happens every February, is a 243km multi-sport adventure race on New Zealand’s rugged South Island that takes two full days to complete. From the start at Kumara Beach, you and about a thousand others will run, bike, and kayak across stunning Lord of the Rings landscapes until you end up at Brighton Beach near Christchurch. But what we love most about the iconic 33-year-old event is that it’s achievable for mortals – the spirit among competitors is classic Kiwi enthusiasm and the atmosphere is more fun-run than Iron Man.
Fuego y Agua Hunter Gatherer Survival Run, Nicaragua
With a tagline ‘adapt or die’, this 80km race – sometimes held in the USA, sometimes in Nicaragua – sees competitors climb, swim, dig and run over brutal wilderness terrain. This is no co-worker team-building outing so don’t sign up unless you have some endurance race experience. Unlike other hardcore adventure races, it places a premium on intelligent problem-solving, and the permitted-gear list looks more like something you’d find on a survival course than an ultramarathon (fuegoyagua.org).
Amazon River Annual International Ra Race, Peru
This three-day event deep in the Peruvian jungle is almost as fun to watch as it is to participate in. Covering 180km, more than 40 teams of four build their own raft out of local balsawood logs (locals are on hand to help) and then paddle downstream, stopping only to sleep along the way. But it’s not as simple as it sounds – only one foreign team has won in 17 years. After a pre-race dinner and a little dance party, it’s off the bed to rest up for the journey. Then you spend the next three days learning more than you could ever want about your raft mates, and trying to become the second team ever to beat the locals.
Bob Cooper Outback Survival, Australia
Where better to test your survival skills than in one of the world’s most inhospitable places: the Australian outback. And who better to teach you the bush skills you need to survive the 30+°C heat, deadly snakes, and the sort of remoteness that makes men go crazy, than Australia’s most legendary survivalist, Bob Cooper. Cooper gets deep here, touching not only on how to avoid toxic flora and fauna, but also the psychology of survival. Even Cooper’s basic three-day Wilderness Survival course – a prerequisite for one of his more intense eight-day challenges – will test your skills in fire building, navigation, foraging and building shelters (bobcoopersurvival.com).
Docastaway Desert Island Experience, worldwide
Docastaway (docastaway.com) hand-picks an ever-changing list of islands and beaches around the world that allows you to experience desert island isolation, with as little or as much in the way of resources as you want. In fact, it offers two styles of trips, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Adventure’. While both are aimed at those seeking total seclusion, the ‘Adventure’ trips are genuine survival experiences that take place on remote deserted islands in places with imaginary names, so as not to divulge their actual location. And if you choose the ‘Extreme’ option, there is a good chance you’ll be making your own shelter. However, many islands have spartan bungalows or lean-tos and Docastaway will provide whatever other basics you need to look after yourself.
Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School, USA
Tom Brown Jr is a legend in the tracking and survival game, with a strong emphasis on the techniques and traditions of his Native American ancestors. His courses take place in the not-so-remote Pine Barrens of New Jersey but, after nearly 40 years in the business, his services have been sought out by everyone from the police to potential contestants on the TV show Survivor. Brown teaches basic survival – building shelters, making fires, etc – as well as things like evasion and search and rescue. But it’s his knack for tracking, a skill passed on to Brown by his own Apache grandfather, Stalking Wolf, that has earned him his reputation (trackerschool.com).
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race
This is the Vendée Globe for Everyman: complete novices are invited to simply sign up, take the intensive six-day training course covering everything from cooking to rigging, and then embark on as many or as few of the eight stages as you can handle – and afford. This 20-year-old race is a way for those who don’t have the skill or cash to do such a thing independently to experience sailing’s greatest test. You will join a crew on one of twelve identical 21m yachts, with an experienced skipper at the helm, and then rotate through every role on the boat. The reward is cutting through the open ocean at up to 35 knots, through the Doldrums, past Cape Horn, or through the Roaring Forties (clipperroundtheworld.com).
Polar Explorers’ North Pole expedition
The only ‘summit’ that really rivals Everest in terms of bucket-list cred is the North Pole. Sure, all the climbing is measured in lines of latitude, but the cold, bleak journey has been capturing the imagination of explorers for far longer than any mountain. Illinois-based Rick Sweitzer was the first person ever to lead a guided dogsled-ski expedition for amateurs to the North Pole in 1993 and has since, through his company Polar Explorers (polarexplorers.com), been putting together everything from five-day in-and-out ski tours to full 60-day expeditions. Sweitzer’s crew is the best in the business, experts in cold-weather survival and suffering, but also known to host cocktail hours after a hard day on the ice.