Family Adventure Racing

Team up for a totally cool, outdoor orienteering adventure!

Father and son cycling - family adventure racing
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If you're looking for a truly fun fitness challenge to share, check out family adventure racing. It combines the treasure-hunting of geocaching with the physical skills and thrills of biking, hiking, and paddling—then adds a hearty amount of nature and wraps everything up in a big teamwork bow. And even the littlest kiddos can participate.

Family adventure races are a family-friendly alternative to other adventure races (sometimes called expedition races).

These can cover long distances and last 24 hours—or more. A family race can be completed in an afternoon, and anyone who can pedal a bike can participate, in teams of two to four people. Some races even allow bike trailers, so that littler kids can join in the fun. And some shorter adventure races ("sprint" or "sport" distance) will allow family teams to participate, too, without having a special family event.

What to Expect at a Family Adventure Race

Most adventure races combine three disciplines: biking, paddling, and trekking/hiking. Race organizers place checkpoints throughout the course, and teams must visit as many checkpoints as possible in the least amount of time. Sometimes you need to visit them in a certain order; in other cases, any order is fine, so coming up with a strategy for how to get to them all is part of the fun. Family races operate the same way, usually just with less challenging terrain.

Adventure races often incorporate fun challenges, too: Teams may have to complete puzzles, ride a zip-line, climb a rock wall or tree, or walk across a slackline. These challenges are usually kept a surprise, so you won't know what they are until you're out on the course.

Unlike a 5K or other fun run, you won't be able to preview the course, since figuring out where to go is an essential component of the challenge.

 More elite adventure races require serious orienteering skills. For family adventure races, you just need to know how to read a map.

It's also important to know that you have to stick together. This is a team sport, not a relay, and the rules require that team members stay close to each other at all times. That said, family events are usually flexible. You can skip parts of the course that don't work for you (say, if you have a toddler in a bike trailer or a preschooler who really hates water) and participate just for the fun of it. Don't worry about your time; just enjoy the outing and the team bonding!

Gear Up for Family Adventure Racing

Almost every event that incorporates water travel (canoes, kayaks, or inner tubes) provides boats, paddles, and life jackets for participants. So you don't have to worry about bringing your own watercraft.

When you register for a race, you'll get a list of mandatory gear. This usually includes a bike and helmet, appropriate clothing and footwear, plenty of water, and sometimes a whistle, compass, and/or waterproof bag to hold your map and passport.

(The passport is a piece of paper or a punch card where you record visits to checkpoints.) Entry fees range from about $30 to $80 per person; your fee helps cover the cost of boat and supply rentals, course set-up, after-race celebrations, and so on.

How to Find a Family Adventure Race

Search online for "family adventure race" plus your city, state, or region. You can also try the listings at Active.com or at the U.S. Adventure Racing Association (look for family, beginner, or "tenderfoot" events; some beginner events will allow family teams).

Another option is a permanent adventure racing course, or PARC. These allow you to try out some simple orienteering and practice your skills, or just have an adventure anytime without waiting for an event that may only be held once or twice a year. Or, for an adventurous outing without the race component, check out an adventure park.

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