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Inspirational Advice from 23 Outdoor Role Models

Ed Stafford making a campfire

Want to take on an outdoor challenge or adventure this year but don’t know how? Read on for expert advice on how to get started.

Every January I jump right on board the new year’s resolution band wagon with as much vigour and gusto as the next person, setting myself unmanageable and totally unrealistic goals for the year ahead. So last year I decided to keep things simple. My aim was to sleep out under the stars on my own. Not in my backyard, but somewhere far from anywhere I know. And I did it! I cycled 70 miles through the mountains to the sea, slept on the beach, and cycled back the next day. And although it wasn’t a massive achievement or adventure in the eyes of some people, to me it was huge! It was scary, the cycling was really tough for my untrained butt, and I had no-one else to rely on except little old me. But I loved every minute of it and it was my biggest challenge of 2016, both physically and mentally.

So in thinking about what outdoor challenges I’d like to set myself in 2017, I decided to seek some inspiration from those who are constantly pushing the limits of their capabilities. Incredible people who are proving over and over what the human spirit is able to overcome, and what the physical body is capable of when ones head is in the right place.

These 23 adventurers, explorers, olympians, athletes and outdoor experts have all achieved some inspirational things over the years. And we’re lucky enough to have them share what they got up to in 2016: what their personal challenge was, how they adventured, and what they achieved. There’s something in these people that set them apart from the rest of us. Something that may seem like it is a million miles out of reach, but they all had to start somewhere right? And not all adventures and challenges need to be epic to be great. So how do they get started on the next thing whilst the rest of us seem to get left by the wayside?

Keen to know their secrets, I asked these wonderful people: What advice can you give to inspire us to take on our own outdoor challenge in 2017?

Here’s what they had to say.

Sarah Outen

Sarah Outen MBE

Adventurer, motivational speaker and author

My 2016 My biggest challenge for 2016 was writing my latest book Dare to Do, all about my most recent big journey ‘London2London: Via the World’. I have also started mountain biking and been improving my outdoor swimming.

Your 2017 The best advice is to keep it simple and clock the hours outside in whatever bit of space it fits into. Be it a few hours or a few days or a few months away – just get out and get going.

Kit Deslauriers

Kit DesLauriers

Professional Ski Mountaineer and member of The North Face Global Athlete Team

My 2016 In 2016 Kit released her film Like a Wolf, which tells of her journey ascending and then skiing the highest peak on each of the seven continents.

Your 2017 Trip planning is a tedious process and sometimes appears that it takes as much (or more!) time than the actual adventure does. But doing it well means greater success on your adventure, so dedicate the time to do your research, build a team of people you know that you like and will work well together, then add some space for serendipity because those are the moments you’ll remember forever.

Mikael Strandberg

Mikael Strandberg

Guide and Producer of documentaries, expeditions, photos, books and blogs

My 2016 Teaching my 4 and 6 year old girls rock climbing and bouldering.

Your 2017 Bring the kids, its more fun!

Al Humphreys

Alastair Humphreys

Adventurer, author and motivational speaker

My 2016 The biggest thing for me this year was my Grand Adventures book which is my attempt to encourage more people to think more boldly and ambitiously about their own adventures.

Your 2017 Start small! Acknowledge that EVERYONE thinks they are short of time, cash and expertise. The challenge is to go do something despite these hurdles. Start small, but do start.

Shawnte Salabert

Shawnté Salabert

Adventure-loving, curiosity-seeking outdoor writer

My 2016 I wrapped up a two-year project researching, hiking, photographing, and writing about section-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for a book that will be released in 2017 via Mountaineers Books.

Your 2017 Dream big, but also learn to appreciate the small stuff. While it’s important to keep your mind open (and your bucket list full), remember that adventure comes in every size!

Matthew Thornton

Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton

Speaker, author, mountaineer and paraglider

My 2016 I had a few challenges in 2016, I’ve spent 2/3 of the year living in Scotland, and have just moved to Oxford which has presented a number of challenges. But in terms of adventure, two come to mind. Firstly in June, I set out to climb Ben Alder in a single day from the nearest road. To my knowledge, this has never been done before due to the sheer distance and number of obstacles in the way. I opted to start from Drumochter Summit on the A9 and I took with me a small pack raft (inflatable dinghy), so that I could cross the 1km wide, 150m deep Loch Ericht. In the end, it took 12 hours 39 minutes to complete the 25.5 mile route and was possibly one of the hardest challenges I’ve ever had.

Your 2017 For 2017, I think the key for finding adventure is to throw away all the rules. There’s no need to listen to advice on what constitutes adventure and what doesn’t. If flying kites down the beach or walking over moorland is your thing, make sure 2017 is the year when you can really enjoy yourself and find joy in what you do. I think that really is the key for a good adventure – find out what you like, and then be creative with it. If you like water, why not buy a £20 rubber dinghy and paddle down a gentle Scottish river? If you also happen to like camping, take your tent or bivvi bag with you and make it a weekend trip away and get close up with nature. And if you like flying too? Take your lightweight paraglider and inflatable boat, head into the hills and get in a land, air and sea adventure all in one.

For those lacking inspiration, head over to the Lake District and walk the Cumbria Way from Langdale to Wastdale. Over the course of that famous trodden path, you’ll have thought up so many ideas and schemes for adventuring in 2017 that you’ll need to save some for 2018; I can assure you, this is a tried and tested inspiration identifying walk that works every time. And if you can combine it with a trip to the Grasmere gingerbread shop, even better!

Dan Gavere

Dan Gavere

Legendary kayaker and stand up paddle boarder

My 2016 For 2016 I would say the most significant challenge was the OUTDOOR MIX Festival in France and winning the whitewater SUP events. The event was early in the season so my training had to start earlier when it was colder requiring an elevated level of motivation for dark wet rainy days when you just want to stay inside with a cup of tea and watch a movie.

Your 2017 Explore a new place. Half the fun of exploring a new place is taking a friend or family member back to show them. I also take on motivation for an outdoor challenge by signing up for an activity when I don’t know anyone which is always rewarding because it’s the people who share with you their challenges and locations which can be very inspiring and possibly spur your next adventure.

Emily Downing

Emily Downing

Mountain-lover, guide and writer

My 2016 Finding time for rock climbing in my busy summer schedule has been my most significant outdoor challenge this year. I guide seasonally in Glacier National Park, which leaves little to no free time to work on my skills as a beginner rock climber. A greater amount of free time this fall has allowed me to pick up the slack a little bit, but I still got my butt kicked on a recent trip to Moab and the San Rafael Swell.

Your 2017 If you really want to get after it in 2017, take advantage of every minute. We get so hung up on big, crazy adventures that we forget the little adventures are just as important for our mental and physical well-being. While it doesn’t seem epic, a 15-minute run or bike ride is a heck of a lot better than nothing at all. Wouldn’t you rather say you had to bust out the headlamp on a short, post-work hike than complain about it being too dark for anything except for post-work beers?

Leon Mccarron

Leon McCarron

Adventurer, filmmaker, writer and motivational speaker

My 2016 It began in 2015, when I set off from Jerusalem to walk to Mount Sinai via the West Bank, Jordan and Sinai desert. The aim was to show another side to the Middle East.

Your 2017 Find a passion and a purpose – do something you love, and share it with those around you!

Adam Sklar

Adam Sklar

Adventure cyclist and bike builder

My 2016 My biggest adventure in 2016 was bikepacking the Colorado Trail – the 500 mile route from Denver to Durango. It was so much fun.

Your 2017 I would encourage people to start small by getting out in their back yards, but also not to be afraid of jumping in to something big and going for it.

Lael Wilcox on a mountain bike

Lael Wilcox

Endurance cyclist and co-creator of the Baja Divide

My 2016 Nicholas and I created the Baja Divide: a 1700 mile mountain bike route from San Diego to San Jose del Cabo

We spent three months in Baja last spring relentlessly investigating dirt roads to find the best route down the peninsula. We published a very informative website about the route this summer and we’re meeting 100 riders in San Diego in January to begin the Baja Divide together.

Also, winning the Trans Am Bike Race: a 4200 mile self-supported road bike race from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia on Adventure Cycling Association’s historical Trans America Trail.

Your 2017 Don’t wait and don’t make excuses. Get outside and do what you can as soon as you can. Outdoor challenges don’t have to be epic and you don’t have to enter a race to have a profound experience. Be creative, make reasonable goals and obtain them. Have some fun!

Gretchen Bleiler

Gretchen Bleiler

Olympic Snowboarder, ALEX Founder, Speaker, Writer, Teacher, Environmental Advocate

My 2016 I have a company called ALEX, which stands for Always Live Extraordinary. So in 2016, I really took that mission to heart, and how it played out for me (because it will look different for everyone since we’re all unique) is that I didn’t take on one big challenge or adventure, but rather committed to doing small adventures consistently. Whether it was skinning up Buttermilk Mountain, hiking the Highlands Bowl, road biking up to the Bells, mountain biking around Sky Mountain Park or hiking up to Snowmass Mountain – I really was conscious of bringing adventure into my everyday life because for me adventure is an integral element for my own balance, happiness and fulfillment.

Your 2017 To us at ALEX, ‘extraordinary’ isn’t just the incredible feats we achieve in life. We believe that those feats are a bi-product from living extraordinary every single day in our thoughts, speech and action. Having the courage to be true to that is what adds up to an extraordinary life.

Ian Sharman

Ian Sharman

Ultra runner and Head Coach at Sharman Ultra

My 2016
I took on a mountainous 100-miler, Western States 100, after a foot injury that stopped me training on trails. I’m used to the distance but doing it with less training than needed meant I didn’t have the coordination on the trails that I’m used to and tripped several times (I still have the scars). But it also made it even more fulfilling at the finish.

Your 2017 Try something new that maybe seems a little scary and out of your comfort zone. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish and it’ll mean so much more when you’ve pushed your boundaries.

Kim Dinan

Kim Dinan

Author, travel blogger, adventurer, wanderer

My 2016 In July my husband and I spent a week in Shenandoah National Park tent camping and hiking with our 9-month-old daughter. Babies are unpredictable but our daughter did great. She loved sleeping in the tent and logged over 60 miles in the baby backpack while we hiked on the Appalachian Trail.

Your 2017 My best advice is to always choose adventure, even if it isn’t the most reasonable or logical choice. Life happens when we get out of our comfort zone and our routine and explore. So always keep some room for adventure in your life.

Ed Stafford surviving on a beach

Ed Stafford

Explorer, adventurer, presenter and author

My 2016 Getting married has to be the biggest adventure of my life to date and certainly the biggest event of 2016 for me! From being the guy who made a name for himself being stranded, naked on uninhabited islands, to being married with a mortgage is a big jump (but one that I’m more than ready for!). Balancing the next six months of remote filming will be a trial of our unconventional marriage. (Ed is married to fellow adventurer Laura Bingham).

Your 2017 I think that the biggest thing that stops people doing something is belief and your own inner voice that says, “I couldn’t do that!”. If that is what you say inside your head, then that will be (or become) your truth; nothing will happen and you’ll prove yourself right. But, if you step back and decide that you’re going to re-write the next few months/years of your life and tell yourself, “not only can I do this, but I WILL do it!” then, as clichéd as it sounds, you are already halfway there.

I truly believe that we create and shape our own lives inside our heads.

Ash Dykes

Ash Dykes

Adventurer and extreme athlete

My 2016 My 2016 adventure was a world first Madagascar expedition. In February 2016 I became the first person ever to traverse Madagascar’s length, through its interior taking on eight of the highest mountains on the fourth largest island in the world, trekking 1,600 miles in 155 days.

I contracted the deadliest strain of Malaria, was held up by the military, had to avoid bandits, was bitten by a spider, had to build a raft using natural resources to cross a river, was almost washed away by a strong river infested with Nile Crocodiles on a night time crossing and had to hack through almost impenetrable jungle among much more.

I partnered up with the Lemur Network Conservation and met up with different conservationists along the way, in order to spread the incredible work being done to protect and preserve Madagascar’s unique biodiversity.

I also partnered up with the tourism of Madagascar, to help spread awareness of Madagascar’s unique beauty, and that it’s the place to go if you’re looking for adventure! In which this year I was announced as a UK Ambassador for Madagascar Tourism!

Your 2017 Whatever you do in life, if you do it with enthusiasm, you’ll go far! It’s a big world out there and there is still so much to explore, whatever your idea, dream or passion, go for it and allow nothing to stop you.

Emma-Kate Lidbury

Emma-Kate Lidbury

Ironman triathlete

My 2016 Ironman Texas in May was a great challenge for me. It was the North American Ironman Professional Championships and a tough race with insane weather conditions. Heat and humidity were through the roof for most of the marathon until the latter stages when crazy storms came in, forcing many competitors off the course. It was one of those races that took a long time to recover from and definitely forced everyone taking part to dig deep within themselves to complete it.

Your 2017 Find something that excites and inspires you and find fun, like-minded people to join in with you. Think about what it is you love about the outdoors and set yourself goals to get there.

Juliet Elliot

Juliet Elliot

Multi-discipline bike racer, journalist and blogger

My 2016 My most significant challenge was probably managing injury and my expectations and not letting the fact that my plans were derailed spoil my year too much. I just focused on enjoying what I was able to do, which was bike racing in several disciplines. The toughest challenge was actually not a race – it was trying to climb to the highest point on Gran Canaria when I’d been off the bike for six weeks – man, that was hard!!

Your 2017 My advice would be to pick something that scares you a little but to understand how exciting and motivating a little fear can be and not let the fear overwhelm you. I make sure I always remember that I’m there because I wanted to be and that I must take time to enjoy the experience. I also tell myself I’m only there to complete the race/challenge and enjoy myself, any good results are merely a bonus.

Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang

Adventure travel blogger and writer

My 2016 My most significant outdoor adventure in 2016 was probably hiking the Faroe Islands. This archipelago of 18 islands lies in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s largely covered by wilderness. I went hiking on four different islands, out of which, Mykines was the highlight for me. The hiking trail to the Mykines lighthouse revealed spectacular views and even led me through a large colony of puffins.

Your 2017 You don’t have to travel far to take on an outdoor challenge. Adventure is a state of mind. If you look hard enough, you can find adventure anywhere, including in your own backyard.

Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs

Cyclist, travel blogger and writer

My 2016 Cycling from Greece to England in 2016 was my most significant travel adventure, and an interesting experience on many levels. There was the physical side of the cycling itself, the excitement of visiting countries for the first time, and the comforting, familiar rhythm that life on two wheels brings. Albania was my favourite country, and has that rare blend of beautiful, challenging countryside, and super-friendly people.

Your 2017 My advice for 2017, is to simply ‘Get Outdoors’. It’s a lot of fun out there!

Alex Gregory

Alex Gregory

Olympic rower

My 2016 I can’t really talk about my 2016 without mentioning the Rio Olympic games where I managed to secure my second Olympic Gold in Rowing. The beauty of it for me though was doing it in a crew with three great guys who pulled me down that race track in the most incredible, weird and wonderful surroundings! Rio is an amazing city, beautiful but ugly, humans and nature well and truly intertwined.

Your 2017 If an opportunity arises to get out and do something unusual or something you wouldn’t normally do, just do it! You never know, it may change your life. Of course it may not, but it will give you an experience you won’t forget and you will talk about for years to come. There are endless opportunities out there but even the most simple thing can mean a lot to those who have done it.

Tim Moss

Tim Moss


My 2016 Crossing Ibiza. My wife and I crossed the island on foot, bivvied out and explored all the bits that don’t normally make the headline.

Your 2017 Write your idea down, share it with someone and make yourself accountable for it happening (or not).

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb

Adventure cyclist

My 2016 At the end of 2016, after a year of living in Chengdu, China, I packed up my apartment and bike and set off into the Tibetan Plateau in winter. Over the coming weeks I cycled the equivalent of about five Mt Everests, pedalled through snow storms, pushed my bike up some of the worst roads in the world and climbed as high as 4800m. The reward for the pain was a glimpse of some of China’s most isolated ethnic minorities living in the region’s must rugged and wild landscapes. The trip was also the beginning of my part two world cycle tour which will take me further into South East Asia and then across to Alaska where I’ll cycle the entire American continent.

Your 2017 Deciding to go is the hardest part, but setting a date and giving yourself a deadline to go helps. Make the commitment to yourself and your friends and family and then let the rest follow. Before setting off on a world cycle tour I was the kind of girl that loved my cosy apartment, steaming hot lattes every morning and lazy weekend brunches. Adventures seemed like the business of people made of different stuff to me and I was terrified of failing before I even took my first step out the door. I’ve since learned that absolutely anyone is capable of much more than you could ever imagine and you can get used to anything (although I still miss my steaming hot lattes). Before leaving I’d camped just a handful of times and never been anywhere more exotic than Thailand. I’ve since slept in ditches and abandoned houses, drunk tea with rebels under the middle eastern sun, climbed mountains on my bike and had the time of my life. You’d be surprised where the road can take you and you’d be surprised what you can see, do and experience if you just dare to take the plunge. And lastly, don’t wait for the right time, funds or gear, adventures can be had on a couple of dollars a day with a second hand backpack.

Huge thanks to all these wonderful people for sharing their stories and advice, and for helping us realise that adventure and challenge isn’t just for other, braver people. We really are all capable of much more than we realise.

So if you’re feeling inspired to do something awesome in 2017 but still don’t know where to start, then take a read of our adventure ideas that anyone can do. And then get out there and get adventuring!

About the author


Joey Holmes is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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