ArticlesTent Bound

The Adventure Matrix: Ranking Trips on a Graph

Tandem kayak on an Expedition

Last week, I wrote about the difference between an expedition, adventure and a trip. After many comments, I still don’t know if I have the perfect criteria for determining if a trip is an expedition, but I do think that we figured out that expeditions don’t necessarily need to be adventurous. In the comments of that thread, Roman Dial, author of Packrafting! An Introduction and How-To Guide, suggested that we could rank trips on a two axis chart. One axis would run between expedition and jaunt and the other between adventure and routine. I drew up the chart to see what it would look like.

Expedition adventure axis chart

On the chart, point “A” is something like a walk to the store, and point “B” is something like climbing K2. I find this chart interesting, because you can use it to figure out exactly what your trip is. If it has features of an expedition more than a jaunt, move point “C” towards expedition. If it’s routine, move point “C” downward. If it’s adventurous move the point up. At some point, you can determine what you think your trip is. It could be a routine expedition, an adventurous expedition, a routine jaunt or an adventurous jaunt (Or as William Latham and Roman Dial pointed out in the last thread, it might be a jaunty adventure).

Even more interesting to me is what kind of trip rests on the center intersection at point “C.” Logistically it might be expedition-esque, but it’s also has features of just a jaunt. Parts of the trip are routine, but it probably also has adventurous moments. It seems to me that seems like the perfect description of a long-distance trip, something like circumnavigating a large island or one of the Great Lakes or hiking a long-distance trail, such as the Appalachian Trail. Those trips have serious logistical challenges such as getting to the starting point, figuring out resupply on the way and living in the woods for months at a time. But, day-by-day they feel just like a day-long jaunt. There may be adventurous moments, such as getting caught on the water during a squall, but much of the trip is routine; you wake up, cook breakfast, break camp, paddle all day, set up camp, cook dinner and do it all over the next day. Then months later you succeed at your goal.

That intersection at point “C” is exactly the types of trips that I love to do. I think the appropriate term/category to call this trip type is a long-distance trip. I’d also venture that most of the trips that we have called “expeditions,” such as Freya Hoffmeister’s trip around Australia and South America or Renata Chlumska’s kayak and bike around the United States or many of Verlen Kruger’s trips, are actually long-distance paddling trips instead of expeditions.

Subscribe! Get PaddlingLight in your inbox. Enter your email address:


  • A very interesting article but you are leaving out the whole aspect of personal subjectivity. My week long family canoe trip in Maine following the Northern Forest Canoe Trial may be a ‘C” trip for me. For some of my co-workers it would be an “B” trip even if I did all the logistical planning. For other folks I know it would be much closer to an “A” trip.

    • I don’t buy that the definition of expedition is subject to personal subjectivity, but adventure certainly is. I, personally, think that an expedition can be specifically defined. I attempted to define it in What’s the Difference between an Expedition, Trip and Adventure. My proposed definition was:

      * a journey or excursion undertaken for a specific purpose.
      * a journey on which you do everything possible to achieve the purpose.
      * where achieving the purpose is in question, dangerous and difficult.
      * serve a cause beyond personal enrichment.

      I dropped the third point, because there are routine scientific or exploration expeditions. Under my definition, a week-long family trip probably wouldn’t qualify as an expedition. That doesn’t belittle the trip, because it very well may be an adventure for your co-workers and routine for you.

      Perhaps changing the jaunt/expedition axis to trip/expedition and the adventure/routine axis to adventure/jaunt would better capture the essence of trips.

  • […] Bryan Hansel of Paddling Light, has also written extensively on this subject, with infographics! […]

Comments are closed.