Top 6 Pieces of Gear to Start Adventure Racing

Hiking, backpacking, and most other outdoor activities aren’t usually competitive, but for those looking to get their athletic juices flowing, there is another option that encompasses all of these passions with the spirit of sport.

Adventure racing came to the United States from New Zealand in the 1980s. It’s a competitive endurance sport encompassing three legs on an unmarked course: paddling, mountain biking, and trekking. Participants may race solo or with a team consisting of two to four people. Race lengths vary from as little as three short hours to as long as three sleep-depriving weeks. You not only need stamina but also wit and ingenuity.

As you race, orienteering checkpoints are scattered across miles upon miles of woodlands, waterways, deserts, or valleys. Your body and mind are tested as you ascend and descend mountains. Your spirit and emotions are pushed to the limit as you search for balance between the decisions you may think are right, and those your team may feel are the best. It is the experience of a lifetime, and not one you will soon forget.

So, now that you are committed, what do you bring? If you are even the slightest of an outdoors person, you may have some equipment hiding in the back of your closet, basement, or attic. However, there are six essentials every adventure racer should have.

Suunto A-10 Compass

This is by far the most essential piece of equipment. It doesn’t just point north. When combined with a map, the compass can be used to triangulate your position, give the distance to your next checkpoint, and guide you past some nasty obstacles.

If you are just starting out, the Suunto A-10 is a very fairly priced compass and completely reliable. I have used it now for the last half-dozen races, and it has not let me down. Most of all, it’s dependable, which is extremely important if you are navigating more than 50 miles in a single race.

Osprey Talon 33

The most important thing to consider when shopping for a backpack is comfort. You don’t want it to fit incorrectly and leave you with sore shoulders or an aching back. To ensure this, I recommend that you visit the store when shopping to get fitted correctly. EMS was kind enough to not only fit me, but to also have me put my stuff in it and walk around.

Additionally, when you pick through the assortment of bags, consider the length of your race, the gear you will haul, and the ease of accessibility to things like water and food. No one likes a hangry adventure racer. I know this from experience.

For me, the Osprey Talon 33 is lightweight, extremely comfortable, and versatile and has all the pockets and straps you could need. Not to mention, it comes with a great lifetime warranty and fantastic Osprey customer service attached to it. I bought it solely for a 24-hour race, but even for this trip, it was far too large.

Keep in mind that some races have minimum backpack sizes, and it usually has to be able to carry a minimum of 1.5 liters of water. In time, you will see how little you need, or want, to carry.

Kona Lava Dome Mountain Bike

Although some races provide some of the major items like kayaks and ropes for rappelling, bikes are typically BYO. These are another expensive item, for sure, but you won’t want to skimp for the sake of comfort. Like when you purchased a pack, make sure you buy the right size and get fitted for it. You’ll be amazed at the difference in your mental attitude when your equipment suits your own personal needs.

When shopping for a bike, consider conditions. So you’re prepared for the rough roads ahead, spend an extra couple bucks to get disc brakes, slightly bigger tires, and a lighter frame. You may have to drag this thing through the woods or rocket down a mountain, so make it easier on yourself.

Salomon SpeedCross 3 Trail Running Shoes

Take care of your feet! You will run through mud, grassy fields, sand, and water, all of which can give your feet a good beating. When you’re shopping, consider waterproof or at least water-resistant trail sneakers. You want flexibility in your ankles for running and biking but a stiff enough shoe to handle bumping into hidden logs and rocks.

You’ll also want to consider the laces. My biggest irritant by far has been tying and retying my sneakers while bushwhacking. Do yourself a favor: Get a good shoe with quick laces. You’ll thank me later.

TNF Reaxion Amp V-Neck T-Shirt

You are going to get wet. You will either be saturated from your own sweat or from the water during the paddling section, so make sure you wear light clothing that will dry quickly. Nothing is worse than doing an autumn race and going from the paddle to the biking leg with a soaking wet cotton T-shirt. To be prepared, pick your fabrics based on how hot you will be pushing your limits, not how cold you will be standing still.

AMK Ultralight/Watertight Medical Kit .9

Accidents happen. One minute, you are chatting with your teammates as you bushwhack down a mountain, and the next moment, you hear a groan and several profane but justified words echo down the mountainside. Your teammate just sprained his ankle.

All adventure races require you or your team to carry a first aid kit. Usually, it needs to have the basics: bandages, gauze, and alcohol wipes. Luckily for you, specific kits are out there for adventurous people such as ourselves. No need to dig to the bottom of that bathroom drawer for an ace bandage you swore you still had. Instead, save yourself some time, and just update your supplies. If you do already have a kit, make sure to check all of your medications for expiration dates.