1. Bungee jumping
The bungee jump is an absolute essential — the where is up to you. This photo is at the Verzasca Dam in Switzerland, the jump made famous by the movie Goldeneye. The world’s highest bungee jump is at the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado (at a whopping 321 meters), but I always recommend the jump I did in Chapada Diamantina in Brazil, at the Gruta do Lapão, where we hiked through a cave, swam in the pitch black, and then bungeed back into the cave mouth.
Like the bungee jump, the skydive is a must, but the where is virtually limitless. The picture above is over Lake Taupo in New Zealand, but other popular destinations include Cape Town and Hawaii.
3. Cliff jumping
You can do this anywhere there are cliffs and deep water. In fact, this is the one thing you’re most likely to have done already. Because why wouldn’t you? Cliff jumping is great, as long as you’re safe about where you jump. Most spots are reasonably close to the water, and if not, the worst case scenario (again, if you’re being safe) is you do a bit of a belly flop and earn a sympathetic beer from your friends.
4. BASE jumping
Some of us (read: me) do not have the cojones for BASE jumping. The acronym stands for “Building, Antenna, Span, Earth,” which are the four surfaces one typically jumps off of. Obviously, get comfortable with BASE and with skydiving in general before trying it — this one is a particularly dangerous sport. But some of the jumps are absolutely incredible. The video above is the highest BASE jump ever, from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
5. Shark diving
To be honest, as humans, we exaggerate the danger we face from sharks. They generally only kill six people a year, while we kill tens of millions of them. But that doesn’t make being in the water with them any less primally terrifying. One way to do it is in a protected cage, but extra points for freediving with the sharks. Near Cape Town, South Africa, it’s possible to dive with great whites.
6. Hang gliding
Hang gliding has a somewhat “unsafe” reputation, but that’s largely because it’s such an old sport, as far as air sports go. It’s been around since the 1880s, back when aeronautics wasn’t particularly well understood. Now, the death rate for hang gliding is similar to that of playing soccer or running a marathon. When you pick the place you’re going to hang glide, try and pick a spot with a good view. Unlike skydiving, you may be able to spend a substantial amount of time in the air, and you want something cool to be looking at.
7. Rock climbing
I’m not gonna lie, rock climbing makes me queasy. But it’s a huge international sport, and there are a ton of different variations on it: artificial climbing walls you’re used to seeing in recreational areas, and then actual outdoor rock climbing. This includes bouldering (ropeless climbing on large rocks), free climbing (climbing with ropes that are there for safety, but not for assistance) and, most terrifying, free soloing (climbing without any ropes and, if it’s not over water, with the serious potential to be killed in a fall).
Really hardcore rock climbers will often spend a number of days climbing a single face. Obviously, this causes a problem: Where do you sleep? Rock climbers used to use hammocks — which are obviously risky if you’re a restless sleeper — but now they use portaledges, which are basically tents they set up hanging from the rock face.
9. Running with the bulls
Okay, so this one is location specific — you pretty much have to do it in Pamplona, unless you want to just go out to a farm and piss off some bulls on your own. It’s also a bit problematic if you’re an animal rights person, as the event ends with the bulls being slaughtered in bullfights. That said, the running of the bulls in Pamplona is one of the most iconic yearly travel events. It can be deadly — 15 have died since 1924, and people frequently are gored by the bulls. If you want to get the experience without the risk, read Hemingway’s “Pamplona in July,” or The Sun Also Rises.
Mickey Smith and Astray Film’s short film above about surfing is the best advertisement I’ve ever seen for the sport. I’ve never been able to surf myself — I’ve never lived near the sea — but it’s at the absolute top of my to-do list.
I recently went ziplining over Bootleg Canyon in southern Nevada with Flightlinez, so I’ve gotta recommend that. Four ziplines over a couple of hours, overlooking the expanse of the Mojave Desert? Yes, please. That said, there are some incredible ropes courses out there. Jungle ziplines in Costa Rica, where you can fly along the canopy with the birds and monkeys, or maybe just out in your local woods. Either way, ziplines are awesome.
12. Sailing across a major body of water
Sailing is not usually considered an “extreme” sport, but it requires a ton of skill and requires your almost constant attention. I was going to put “sailing across an ocean,” but let’s be honest — that’s not likely. The main reason sailing isn’t more widespread is the sheer cost of the sport, and logistically, crossing an ocean would be incredibly difficult. If you want some inspiration, though, check out our interview with Jessica Watson, the youngest person to sail around the world solo.
13. Hiking the Triple Crown
The Triple Crown consists of three of America’s best-known trails: the Pacific Crest Trail, which follows the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas from Washington to Southern California; the Continental Divide, which follows the Rocky Mountains from Montana down to New Mexico, and the Appalachian Trail, which takes you from Maine to Georgia. It will take you a few years at least to do all three — altogether, we’re talking around 7,900 miles.
14. Making it to both the North and South Poles
This one is another logistically tough feat to pull off. The North Pole is covered in shifting ice; Antarctica, while an actual continent, sees the most extreme weather on the planet. And a lack of infrastructure in both places makes them tough to get to. So you’ll have to be creative — maybe try snowmobiling, or flying, or dog sledding.
15. Skiing / snowboarding
The sport itself is practically everywhere — people have skiied down K2 in the Himalayas. The safer (and also probably more fun) bet is to go to Colorado, the Alps, or Banff. You could also set yourself a goal of skiing in every mountain range where it’s possible, you could set a total ski distance goal, or whatever — skiing and snowboarding have to be on the list.
16. The Rickshaw Run
The Rickshaw Run is awesome. Your team is given a starting point and an ending point — nothing else in the way of a route. You spend two weeks trying to get to the end point, but your rickshaw (which your team pimps out) is probably gonna break down, and you’re gonna have to figure it all out on the road. It’s sort of a race, but honestly, who gives a shit who wins? The sign-up is here.
17. Water skiing
This is one of the easier and less dangerous items on this list, but skiing as a sport is too much goddamn fun to not put on your bucket list. Like snow skiing, there are a ton of variations on it: You can also go kneeboarding, tubing, wakeboarding, or barefoot skiing.
18. Whitewater rafting / kayaking
Another must. Whitewater rafting can involve as much expertise as you want it to. Basically, if you know how to swim, you can find rapids that are safe for you. That said, a worthy goal would be to be able to master Category V rapids (considered the expert level before VI and VII, which are much more dangerous), or possibly to take a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Sign up now, though — the wait for that one is often up to two years.
This one’s for the photographers and videographers, but it still counts as “extreme” because it can be particularly dangerous, especially when you’re near rotating supercell storms like the one in the video above. Supercells can quickly turn into tornadoes, and a recent stormchaser also got struck by lightning. That said, massive storms like these can make for some amazing photos
20. Wingsuit flying
Wingsuit flying is a variation on skydiving / BASE jumping. You have a suit that gives you a little extra lift, and thus means you can “fly” — or, if we’re being more accurate, “glide” — while diving a bit more. Stunts like the one above are extremely dangerous, and experts die on a fairly regular basis doing wingsuit jumps, but packaged into a simple skydive it would be a good deal safer.
This is easily the silliest item on the list, but zorbing is where they put you in an air-inflated bubble and then push you down a hill or out on the water. It’s basically a human hamster wheel and, unlike virtually everything else on here, involves very little skill. But goddamn, it looks fun.
22. Crossing a continent on a bike
You can obviously choose whether you want to go on a bicycle, or motorcycle it up a la Che Guevara, but biking across a continent is a badass trip no matter where or how you choose to go. Extra points to those who find a solid route through South America, Africa, or Asia. Alex Chacon, in the video above, has gone on to take his motorcycle through Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia as well. Check out his map here.
My vote, personally, is against climbing Everest. For one thing, the price tag is $50,000 to $90,000, and you’re not guaranteed to reach the top. Plus, recent events have proved that Everest expeditions may be getting less safe for sherpas thanks to the crowds — this year, 16 sherpas died in an avalanche. Besides, who wants to climb a crowded mountain? Their are plenty of very tall mountains that are easy enough for beginners to climb.
24. Cave diving
Really, all scuba diving should be on this list, but cave diving has even more of a claustrophobic element to it, in that you can’t just go straight back up to the surface. It’s also some of the most beautiful diving. There’s a lot of it in Central America; the photo above was taken in Quintana Roo, Mexico, but another good spot is off the coast of Belize.
25. Circumnavigating the globe
Another must, if for nothing else than the awesome map souvenir you’ll be able to get out of it. There are a lot of ways to do this, but extra street cred to the people who take more difficult paths, whether that’s traveling around the world only by human-powered means, traveling by sailboat, traveling by motorcycle, or — god help you — walking, this is a long trip and an experience of a lifetime. If you don’t want to spend a few years planning and executing this trip, you could also buy cruises that’ll take you around the world, or you could fly or take trains.