What are the Three Types of Fun?

There are so many reasons we go outside. We get out to hike, climb, ski, escape from the daily grind and relax, commune with nature, or challenge ourselves against its trails, walls, and elements. However, at the core of our outdoor experience is fun. But, as a concept, it’s too general of a term to cover the enormous variety we experience while playing outdoors. After all, it’s difficult to relate a day bouldering with your buddies to that all-day epic in the mountains.

Because of this, the fun scale was created (from 1, or “so much fun!”, to 3, or “not fun at all”) to more accurately describe our adventures in the outdoors.

Courtesy of Ryan Knapp
Courtesy of Ryan Knapp

Type 1 Fun

Type 1 fun is most simply described as fun every step of the way, and it’s what most of us imagine when planning our adventures.

This type is basically what happens when a plan comes together—the weather lines up for your hike, it snows for your ski trip, or you catch that magical day on Mount Washington where it’s warm and sunny without a hint of wind. For others, it can also be catching every wave, cruising through a crux, powder days, splitter cracks, and cold beers next to a warm campfire. This is what you brag to your friends about, and they are sad to have missed it.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Type 2 Fun

Type 2 is a strange beast, because it isn’t actually fun at the moment. In fact, it feels much like suffering. It’s only after the event, and in reflection, that you come to realize you actually had fun. Wading through chest-deep snow, dirty and loose rock, sketchy approaches, hikes that never seem to end, and anything that offers an overriding sense of doom and despair are clear indications you’re having a Type 2 experience. While Type 1 is marked with celebratory beers, Type 2 often leaves you feeling like you need a drink!

In spite of its almost-heinous nature, after a day, week, or month, you forget all about the terrible parts of your adventure and only remember the good moments. For example, the below-zero weather, icy wind, and fact that you lost feeling in your fingers for a few scary moments get forgotten, but the powder stash you found embeds itself deeply in your memory.

For many, myself included, Type 2 fun is the most enriching and fulfilling of the three. Sunny days cragging, cruising a ski resort’s groomers, and long, mellow bike rides all blend into a collective memory—but the days we get out of our comfort zone, push a little farther than normal, and pay the price for our ambition are the times that give us stories we tell over and over again, and lead to the experiences that separate themselves in our memory.

Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition.

Type 3 Fun

Ironically, Type 3 isn’t actually fun at all. Fun doesn’t surface when it’s happening and doesn’t appear later during reflection.

Instead, it’s the type that makes most of us go crawling back to Type 1, and say, “The heck with Type 2, because it’s just too damned close to Type 3.” While we often learn something from our suffering during Type 2 that furthers our outdoor knowledge and experience, it’s Type 3 that chases us away from activities altogether. In fact, most great stories of Type 3 Fun will include the phrase, “And that was the last time I…”

Want to learn more about Type 3 fun? Just pick up a copy of Touching the Void, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, or Into Thin Air to find out more about the art of suffering.

The thing about the 3 types of fun is that, for the most part, these experiences are subjective and often change over the course of time. As memories fade, Type 3 Fun becomes Type 2 because, in hindsight, it wasn’t really that bad. Or, the Type 1 day becomes Type 2, as you realize years later how close to the edge you had been. The important thing is that we’re all getting outside in the pursuit of fun, and hopefully, it’s the good kind—whatever that means to you.