Adventure racing for cheapskates

Adventure racing, while being the coolest sport on the planet, can present some obstacles to the budget-minded athlete. Prospective racers first face the hurdle of acquiring basic gear, but it doesn’t stop there. Unlike camping, where most expenses are incurred at the start, after gear is accumulated racers still have to pony up for entry fees…which don’t necessarily come cheap.

Now, my definition of “cheap” may be different than yours, so let’s clarify that. In my brief adventure racing career, I’ve paid between $100 and $225 for most races. Compared to the $130 registration fee for a Rock’n'Roll series half marathon, of course, or $675 for an official Ironman race, adventure racing looks like a bargain!

It's definitely a great value, especially when you consider the cost in terms of time on the course. Calculated that way, the LBL Challenge cost me $6/hr — far cheaper than even a small, local 5K. Even so, it’s a big chunk of money to lay out at one time, and with additional expenses of nutrition, travel, and race-specific gear, the cost can be downright prohibitive for someone on a tight budget. Caught between a love for adventure and a need to pay the bills, what’s an adventure-hungry cheapskate to do?

Happily, there are some things you can do to remain on the AR circuit and safeguard your credit score. Financial barriers crop up in three main areas: gear, race fees, and travel expenses. We’ll look at each category.

Save on gear:

My beloved (bargain) Osprey pack and trail shoes ready to race
  • Research. Know what you need and what features matter to you. The most expensive gear is that which sits in the closet unused because it doesn’t suit your needs.
  • Hit up sales. Outdoor stores have great seasonal sales. Watch for these like a hawk. Alpine Shop at REI both have annual gear swaps/yard sales where you can get huge deals.
  • The internet is your friend. Often you can find better prices for new items on than in-store, and TheClymb has great bargains. You can also check out sites like, where people sell new or gently used outdoor sports items at a discount. I got my AR pack there for about half of what it would have cost new. Of course, there's always Craigslist and ebay.
  • Beg, borrow, or steal: you’ve built your Personal Adventure Network, now work it. The endurance community is full of amazing, generous people. Maybe you can borrow an item from a friend who’s not racing. Just make sure you return things in good condition.
  • Gift list: Remember when your birthday list stretched for miles? Welcome back to those days. You’ll never again groan, “I don’t knoooooow,” when asked what you want for Christmas. Be specific. If your loved one isn’t an adventure racer, they won’t know what qualities are important in a pack/compass/headlamp.
  • Prioritize (part 1): You probably have a full closet. Dedicate the money you would have spent on that cute new pair of shoes to your adventure fund. My wardrobe has gotten a little stale, but bushwhacking through backcountry is way more fun than fighting mall crowds, right?
  • Make do. I’m still packing a bulky Target fleece sweatshirt while saving for the Patagonia shirt I really want. It’s a pain to fit into my pack, but it fulfills the requirements until I can afford better.
OK, you’ve checked off every item on the required gear list, but there’s nothing worse than having a bunch of great gear taking up space in your garage because you can’t afford to race.

Save on race fees:
chill vol
Working gear check at the 2014 BonkHard Chill
  •  Volunteer – You can receive valuable swag and discounts on race fees as well as feeding your AR habit by being a part of the race and meeting new people. Just don’t take it personally if they’re too busy punching their passport to shake hands.
  • Volunteer your family – You’re involving them in something you love, and if they don’t want to race, you get their coupons. Win – win.
  • Prioritize (part 2): Cut back on events. Unless you’re independently wealthy, there’s only so much race money to go around. The year I started adventure racing I paid for 17 running / biking races. The second year: 7. Sometimes it stinks to miss out, but it’s worth the trade-off.
  • Make your own adventure – Adventure races don’t always have to be something you pay for. You can have a blast at non-races, virtual races, hike/bike adventures, or practicing at local orienteering courses.
Climbing barbed wire fences for FREE at the 2012 Carnage at the Creek non-race

Once your garage looks like an outfitter’s warehouse and your registration has been sent off, all that remains is getting there!

Save on travel:

Perfect 10
A cozy ride to the Perfect 10 orienteering race

  • Carpool – Ride with friends is more fun anyway, and you can share the pain (or switch drivers) on the way back when everyone is wiped out from that long race.
  • Race locally – Limiting yourself to events within driving distance eliminates the cost of plane fare and the hassle of shipping bikes and gear. What constitutes “driving distance” can be determined by the team.
  • Share your hotel room – My team crams as many people as the hotel will allow into our room. It gets cozy, but if you can’t tolerate each other in close quarters you shouldn’t be racing together under pressure for the next 24 hours. Plus, being the only girl on the team I get the guaranteed perk of a bed to myself.
  • Camp — It’s even cheaper than filling your hotel room like a clown car, and while you’ll still hear the snores, at least you won’t be smelling what 24 hours of Ensure can do to a stomach.
  • Take advantage of local friends/family: I’m slightly notorious for my love of the Acquaintance Motel. If we’ve met (sometimes if we haven’t) and I’m traveling near you, you’ll probably get a phone call. Don’t worry, though. I’m comfortable on the floor, I’ll be gone most of the time, and I can get my own breakfast…probably an Ensure.


  1. Good stuff! Mmmmmm Patagonia. I've never owned a single piece but I sure covet it.

  2. Smart and interesting list.
    About sharing the hotel room I have some doubts: I prefer to stay alone because I need to sleep well the day before the race, mainly if the race is tough.

  3. Great how-to post! Have you checked out

  4. I also save wherever I can. Trail running here in SA can be very expensive. We camp for away races as other accommodation is just too expensive. I do invest in proper gear though.

  5. Ha ha ha..."the smell of ensure"...nice one....and I'd probably get kicked out of the hotel room cuz rumor has it I snore pretty good!

    Great post..thanks for the ideas!!

  6. Patagonia has an outlet in Maine. Just in case you come east for a race!

  7. Great tips Kate! Maybe we need to create more home grown races. They are fun and cheap.


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