What is an ‘adventure with a purpose’?

Is it time to ask more from explorers and adventurers than simply to go, harder, faster, further, longer?

Many already do. Who are they? What do they have to do to be counted as a bona-fide ‘adventure with a purpose’ in your eyes?

Names, Examples, stories all welcome.

We shall continue to write about those who stand out for us, and hope that they continue to inspire and provoke debate.

9 Replies to “What is an ‘adventure with a purpose’?”

  1. I’ll get you started with something that I fear will sound fluffy and liberal – but my definition of adventure with a purpose has widened massively over the last ten years of working in the expedition industry.

    The word expedition itself is defined as a journey with a purpose – so that opens us up to a huge range of things which claim the title – generally to the disapproval of others from different areas of the expedition spectrum…

    Extreme solo adventurers may think schools expeditions – aren’t expeditions – others would say that if an expedition doesn’t inform or educate somebody – then its not justified…

    For me its as simple as being an adventure with a purpose – if everyone is honest about that purpose – and all involved agree it – be it for personal challenge, education, just for fun, for science – I think these are all good purposes and who are we to judge any of them.

    Liberal and fluffy enough for you?!


  2. The first line of demarcation is whether or not an “adventure” is envisioned as a non-profit or profit making enterprise. Those who make their livelihood,market their slideshows, books, lectures, endorsements, etc. by engaging in adventures are in the later category. Once you are doing something with a financial return in mind, it brings with it a great responsibility to be and STAY honest with yourself about your purpose. On the other hand, if it’s a one-off, youthful lark, come out in the red financially kind of thing done just for fun or satisfaction, you deserve a lot more leeway from the sofa bound critics and “purpose” is as flexible as you want it to be.

    IMHO the first filter to determine whether an adventure has a valid purpose should be with gear sponsors. How many gear manufacturers have process by which a request for sponsorship is “peer reviewed”, not just by other professional adventurers, but by people knowledgeable (academically, in government, etc.)about the region, landscape and culture? If someone proposes to moonwalk across the Okavango Delta, doesn’t it make sense to call the appropriate consulate and run the idea by them? Or Google “Okavango culture” just in case moonwalking is a local taboo? Too often sponsorship decisions are made purely on the basis of the quantity of media exposure alone. The adventurer who succeeds gets the follow up coverage so it was a good investment for the sponsor, the adventurer who flops disappears from view, so no net loss except the wholesale value of the gear. There are no repercussions for the sponsors for being lax about vetting the recipients. But what if, through some gentleman’s agreement in the industry, there was an annual listing of exactly who was sponsored and what the outcome was? That might lend itself to more diligence on the part of sponsors who want to see lasting results from the adventure, even if it isn’t a complete success. That’s where integrating local partners, local cultural issues, environmental issues, etc. can and should become an important part of the formula for sponsorship.

  3. A very interesting idea R Martin, but you might need to spell out to me how making an annual list of all sponsorship would ensure further integration of local partners and concern for cultural, environmental issues etc….

    It is indeed sad but true, and probably inevitable, that most sponsorship deals revolve around the media and finance. I am sure there are certain brands who are more strict and careful with who or what they sponsor than others. Is it likely we could arrive in a situation where all sponsors demanded more of their adventurers than simply fulfilling an extreme challenge, and the ‘purpose’ was heavily questioned first. This could and would add extra value to the brand placement and exposure achieved by the sponsorship too.

  4. Sponsorship is an “enabler”. It lends respectability, even if the sponsor has not done any due diligence. And in many cases, the event would be impossible without the largess of the sponsor. It makes sense that sponsors raise the bar on who they support as it reflects better on the company and its ethics and ultimately on the gear.
    There is a “trophy mentality” epitomized by “firsts” that needs adjustment in the modern world. When sponsors start weighing “purpose” equally with “first” we’ll see a shift towards adventures with a durable legacy. IMHO those are the adventures which have a valid claim as the basis of books, lecture tours, etc.

  5. My view is that the ‘trophy mentality’ and expedition go hand in hand.

    All that has changed is that it has become seemingly more selfish as time has seen state sponsored exploration – Drake, Columbus, turn into business sponsored expedition.

    Nothing however has changed they are all expeditions with a purpose.

    What i find interesting in this discussion is our reaction to any given purpose.

    For example, I applaud the expedition leader that supports scentific groups working to monitor climate change in the antartic. If the same explorer goes and climbs all 8000+ m peaks, fair play to her, what an achievement, but i have no particular reaction to her initial goal. If she leads a group up everest in order to paint a company’s logo, i find that a distastful purpose. If she gives support to one country looking to invade another through a dangerous terrain, I find that abhorrent.

    My point is that we cannot claim an expedition has no purpose just because we do not like it, but we have every right to comment on that purpose.

  6. Mr. Davenport of “Walk across Mongolia” notoriety is back safe in Denmark. He stopped short of his goal and simply declared “success”! Now you have to ask yourself… is this ok if it’s just a guy quietly noodling around for fun. Sure, IMHO. Is it ok when you’ve touted this as a great achievement and linked the trip to a larger narrative that will be educational to children around the world and provide inspiration, etc.? No, IMHO. This reminds me of the Richard Nixon ploy of just declaring victory in Viet Nam and going home.

  7. Thanks R. Martin, I do see your point, but suggest the analogy with Vietnam is probably not the best! Completion or not, walking 1000 miles unsupported across Mongolia is still a fantastic personal achievement in anyones book, and you only need to look at his facebook page to see that many have indeed drawn inspiration from his expedition. The expedition may be over, but time will tell how this fits into the wider goals of the trip, fulfilment of which has only just started…

  8. My point is that Mr. Ripley moved the goalpost, just like Nixon did. If he had walked 900 miles before giving up, would you have applauded the fantastic personal achievement? 800, 700? At some point there has to be some diligence from the larger audience. Or do we approach expeditions like those schools where there are no grades given and no score kept in football matches because we want everyone to feel good about themselves? Mr. Ripley, like the Emperor.. has no clothes.

  9. It has become very apparent the word adventure has been neutered into meaning just about anything. Adventure by definition involves risk and unknown challenges. A solo paddle across Quetico or a trek to Everest base camp can technically be an adventure. Incorporating a purpose, whether it be for personal growth, a cause that needs exposure or new discoveries redefines the adventure as an expedition. The involvement of sponsors and whether or not there is a monetary profit to be made is secondary as long as the expedition is true to the cause. .

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