Three-Time Guinness World Record Holder Ian Adamson Shares His Love of the Outdoors

Adventurer Ian Adamson

Have you ever met a person in your entire life who moves from place to place because that’s his work? Well, meet Ian Adamson, an itinerant traveler born in Australia. His life is so exciting that you stop, realize and ask yourself: Should I quit my boring office life and embrace the outside world? Let’s find out!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a genetic and cultural mutt and itinerant traveler. Born in Australia with grandparents from England, China, Singapore and the middle east. I went to school in Australia, England and the US. My first major adventure was 3 months backpacking through Europe in 1981 after 11th grade, followed a year later by 12 months sailing the great barrier reef on a small yacht with myself sister and friends. Being half Chinese, I spent most of 1986 traveling overland across China, Mongolia, Tibet, Pakistan and ultimately through north Africa to Europe. This included a few harrowing weeks in the eastern block on my way back through Asia to Australia.

I’ve been traveling for work my entire adult life, originally as a biomedical engineer and later as a sports professional. As an amateur athlete, I spent a decade trying to qualify for the Olympics. This started with football (soccer), then cycling, sailing and canoe/kayak. These attempts were a failure, as I never made it beyond national teams. I had some success on Australian and US Canoe teams, but only enough to realize I would be unlikely to make an Olympics medal.

Adventurer Ian Adamson

In the process, I kept adding sports and distance until arriving at adventure racing. It seems if you go long enough and with enough sports, eventually no one is left! I ended up with Gold, Silver and Bronze X-Games medals, 7 world champs, plus anther hand full as an age group WCs in other sports after retirement, oh plus three Guinness world records for distance kayaking.

I’m the President of the International Obstacle Sports Federation, working to meet the requirements as specified by the International Olympic Committee to be a recognized sport.

I just got back from the middle east working on an event and sports governance, but based in Boulder CO in summer, driving distance to my US office at the US Olympics Training Center in Colorado Springs. I’m based on the central coast of CA in winter, great running, riding, paddling and wine!

My sports and hobbies include anything in or on water: Sailing, swimming, paddling; plus anything in the mountains, hiking, biking, skiing, climbing. Obviously, obstacle sports since that is my work and just pure fun. I love to cook (probably because I love to eat), and photography / videography.

Adventurer Ian Adamson

Why do you like being outside?

I like being outside because it feeds the soul, and clears the mind.

My parents were field scientists, so we got to tag along from early childhood. That included lots of travel, navigating through wilderness, climbing, caving, exploring, different countries, etc. This has been my world since about the age of 4 in 1968.

I’m game for pretty much anything as long as it doesn’t involve bat shit in caves!

My preference is going alone or with friends and family. I’m quite happy going solo and love to play with my wife, Leah. We are very well matched mentally, athletically and philosophically. She was a pro mountain bike racer, North American Champion and raced all over the world, so we understand being competitive and not going slow. We refer to really slow, unaware people on trails as “Meander-thals.”

I believe it’s important to get outside, understand and connect with nature to realize 1. that we are not alone and 2. that we are royally f…g it up the environment! Touching dirt has many physiological benefits, such as keeping our bacterial load healthy (resistance to infection), electrically grounding (our nervous system is electrical), breathing natural air into our lungs.

Adventurer Ian Adamson

What has been your best outdoor experience so far?

Tough question. The year I spent sailing around the great barrier reef in 1983 was an endless series of adventures that lead to an understanding of responsibility and how small and insignificant we are.

We had a small family sailboat. 36ft 1952 wooden racing yacht that me and my younger sister lived on, with friends joining us for some of the trip.

It was the best experience because it was formative in who I became as an adult. Sailing the high seas and weathering storms in a little wooden boat is being 100% self-reliant, knowing that a mistake can be fatal.

A runner-up experience was a year walking and hitching across Tibet, China, Pakistan and eventually through Europe and north Africa in 1986. This included seeing and the effects of the Afghan conflict in Kashmir, Chernobyl in Russia, the eastern block and Turkey before it was cool.

How do you carry your gear?

I use a small backpack, ideally 15L or less. My preference is ultra-light hiking: Running shoes, minimal gear and food, map and compass. I still use packs we designed for racing with Nike and GoLite about 15 years ago. My teammate Mike Kloser has a company that makes packs very similar to the ones we raced with.

My approach is that the established routes may not be the best, so novelty in where to go and how to get there is important. This means traveling light so one can have flexibility on an adventure.

One luxury I like when choosing in gear for a trip is a bottle red wine.

Adventurer Ian Adamson

How do you prefer to sleep in the wild?

Warm, horizontal and dry is the best way to sleep! I prefer a tiny tent of bivy sack with a hoop to keep it off your face. I have various of tents, mostly very light weight, including a couple of GoLite tents, no longer made.

For sleeping bag and pad, I have various, depending on temperature. My preference is a very thick inflatable sleeping pad, one thing I’m not going to compromise on. This can be as big as a small backpack.

For staying comfortable in the camp and staying warm the whole night would be a big sleeping pad and down bag. Heat conduction will cool you really fast. Also, a fleece cap so you can have your head out of the bag.

What about eating and snacks?

High fat, very low (or no) carb and moderate protein. I like to eat, so will take foods I would normally eat at home. No sense in suffering.

I like all natural jerky, nuts, olive oil potato chips, Justin’s Nut Butters, various cheeses, extra dark or bitter sweet chocolate. Kind Bars are pretty good for a pre-packaged food. Mostly identifiable ingredients!

The kind of stove I use is a MSR WhisperLite.

Where do you prefer going?

High mountain, desert or tropical islands. My kind of nature is anything pristine. I love day, weekend, and longer trips but rare these days. My goal is a day off each week, but it is typically more like one day a month and a vacation (a week off) every 2 years or so.

I also love going to Virgin Islands, from Puerto Rico through BVI. South Island of NZ, especially the lakes region, SW deserts of US, Mountains of Northern Italy, Basque area of Spain. I love these locations because of food, history, culture, physical environment, and climate.

Adventurer Ian Adamson

How do you make time to get outside?

That’s tough! I have to say, prioritizing. Goal is at least a few minutes a day, but this is often difficult with a global community across all times zones, so have a standing desk. Global business is 24/7 so there is no off period. I can be on a call at 2 am (US time) with London or 11 pm with Beijing in the same day.

We have no children, pets or house plants. Being on the road all year precludes this. I fly up to 130,000 miles (200,000 km) a year for work, which is about 10 work weeks a year of sitting in planes and airports.

My wife and I go on streaks of 16+ hour work days for weeks at a time, so lack of sleep catches up and we have a goal of one full night every week.

What are your favorite outdoor gear?

Adventurer Ian Adamson

What will the future bring?

I’m not very optimistic about the future of our planet, so I’d love to circumnavigation of the world on a catamaran. I want to see the Maldives before they disappear under the rising oceans and various sea life before we kill it all off. I’ve experienced the devastation of the Great Barrier Reef between 1983 and 2013 first hand. Absolutely, horrifying changes and destruction, the canary in the coal mine for the oceans.

If everyone in developed countries would get outside, ideally overnight away from human light sources, sounds, smells, paths and structures, they might connect with nature and gain a healthy perspective on our planet. I think people need to travel more, especially in wilderness, to see what the world used to look like and what it can be….


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3 Comments

  1. A great insight to a man ive known for a couple of years now. He’s done a lot and wants to do more, write a book Ian, great work.

  2. Ian proud to know you and learn from your life’s adventures

  3. This is the most well rounded member of our species I will ever have the privilege of knowing. Physical mental and emotionaly perfectly balanced. Let’s sail away. Not that much time left.

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