How to Plan a Multi-Sport Weekend

group of bikers on a multi-sport trip

Courtesy of Eric Phillips

 

Across the world, people are turning to their own backyards for recreation, and activities like hiking, biking, backpacking, climbing, and camping have never been more popular. And because of that, another sport is on the rise: the multi-sport.

"Multi-sport" means traveling via multiple, generally human-powered methods. You could kayak down a river until you reach a trailhead to start an overnight hike, or you could carry your gear on a bike for half a day before setting off on foot through the wilderness.

While multi-sport adventuring can be more intimidating than a one-day activity—after all, it requires additional self-reliance, more planning, and an extra amount of physical ability—it's more than possible for beginner athletes to enjoy a multi-sport weekend.

Here are the basics of planning a multi-sport weekend to help you feel more prepared for your next weekend in nature.

Guiding and Assistance

You have a few different options for how to arrange your trip. Some are easier than others. The easiest way to participate in a multi-sport trip is to go with a company or outfitter. They'll usually supply your gear, provide route guidance, arrange all the logistics, and have a support vehicle on hand if your muscles need a break.

Find a certified multi-sport guide on the 57hours app, go with an experienced trip outfitter like REI Adventures or G Adventures, or do something in the middle: find a company to offer support if needed. Companies like Colorado Backcountry Guide Service (serving western Colorado) can provide bike support to athletes exploring the state's most popular routes. It's not a full guide service, but they can help move your gear or pick you up in a pinch. Most outdoor-focused towns should have a similar service; try checking the town's tourism page to find local companies.

The next easiest way is to plan a route that isn't totally self-supported. That could mean staying in motels or hotels each night, or perhaps planning your route through towns with restaurants, stores, and gear outfitters. Doing this can reduce the amount of food you have to carry and provide a chance to unload some of your gear you'll no longer need by returning it to a store or mailing it to your home from a local post office.

The most challenging type of multi-sport trip is one in which you're totally self-reliant, carrying your own supplies, camping, and leaning on no one else for guidance or support. You'll have to do more planning on this type of trip, as you'll have to prepare your route, which may involve securely leaving large items like mountain bikes or packrafts at strategic locations along your route. If this is the type of trip you're interested in, consider a one- or two-night trip if it's your first foray into multi-sport travel.

a packed bike for a multi-sport trip
 Courtesy of Eric Phillips

How to Pack Your Gear

There's one primary key to packing: use gear that can pull double-duty. That might mean biking in hiking shoes, or using a puffy jacket as both an outer layer and pillow at night. To figure out what you'll need, look at the equipment lists associated with any sport in your itinerary, and see where you can double up.

You might consider renting your gear if you're new to these sports and not ready to invest in the equipment. An advantage of choosing a destination where multi-sport travel is popular is that the stores will have suggestions on what you need, and might even be able to pick up and drop off gear for you along your route.

In terms of actual gear, using items from companies specifically made for outdoor travel is best—you don't want to use your childhood sleeping bag on a cold-weather camping trip. Look for tents and cooking gear from MSR, sleeping bags and pads from Thermarest, and insulated, packable clothing from brands like Stio and Mountain Hardware. Those brands are all specifically designed for extreme adventures and work with multi-sport athletes like Eric Larsen and Hilaree Nelson. You should be able to rent most expensive pieces of gear, like bikes and tents. For smaller items, break in your shoes before your adventure, and try to pack quick-drying fabrics. Don't wear cotton. 

Choosing a Destination

For a beginner trip, choose a destination where multi-sport recreation is popular, as they'll have plenty of established routes and guiding companies to choose from. For a first-time multi-sport trip, consider something within driving distance to make packing easier and ensure you'll have your own vehicle.

In the west, consider Crested Butte, Colorado. The charming mountain town is all about the outdoor lifestyle, with plenty of outdoor stores, guides, and routes of various difficulty levels in the region. For a lower-elevation (and slightly warmer) Colorado alternative, head further west towards Gunnison or the Western Slope.

If you're in the midwest, consider Michigan. The state is an outdoor wonderland. With more than 3,000 miles of coastline, it's easy to find coastal routes, excellent fall foliage, and towns based around outdoor recreation, like Munising and Marquette.

And if you're on the east coast, consider Tennessee or Vermont—the latter is especially stunning if you're envisioning gentle cycles through covered bridges. 

group of tents and a bike at a campsite on a multi-sport trip
 Courtesy of Eric Phillips

Planning Your Route

Planning a route – and thinking through a few backup plans – is imperative for beginners.

If you aren't experienced in multi-sport travel, don't plan your own route. Either look up multi-sport routes online or use a multi-sport app like TerraQuest where other users can map and share their trips. Download a map of your route and have a paper map handy so you're able to find your way without cell service.

Beginners should consider a circular route instead of a point-to-point route. Use a campsite or town as your starting and ending point each day so you can store all your gear in one location. If you want to do an overnight trip, arrange for a local guiding company to shuttle you to the furthest point, then hike or bike your way back to your basecamp. Doing that ensures you're never too far from assistance in an emergency.

To make planning easy, consider using two campgrounds a reasonable distance apart. You can hike, paddle, cycle, or between the campsites and use them to securely store your sport-specific gear (for example, bikes) when not needed. Many campsites are available to reserve in advance on Recreation.gov, which will also show you maps of which campgrounds are in easy hiking or biking distance of one another.

Safety Tips

Err on the side of caution: choose easier routes and distances than you might normally pick, and have a few backup plans in place in case you get slowed or overly exhausted. Packing time, flat tires, blisters, or taking a wrong turn can cost precious time, and you don't want to end up unexpectedly caught in the dark.

If you're traveling unescorted, be sure to have a way to stay in touch with the outside world. Consider buying or renting a Garmin InReach, which allows you to communicate via a satellite system, or a Somewhere Satellite Hot Spot, which lets you use your own device like a satellite phone. You'll also want a solar charger or backup power source to ensure your devices are always juiced up.

Before you go, know who to call for help. That could be anyone from a taxi service to search and rescue to a local bike shuttle service who can return your gear to a rental shop. Have these numbers in your phone and written down somewhere in case your devices die.

Finally, remember to pace your travel: don't push yourself so much on your first day that your muscles are too sore to hike on your third day. A good technique is to pace the entire group based on the slowest person. This will both keep your group together and ensure no one is pushed beyond their comfort limits.

Final Thoughts

Research and planning are the keys to a successful multi-sport weekend. And if planning seems too intimidating, go with an outdoor guide or company—having an escort is a great way to learn the basics of multi-sport travel. Though it may seem intimidating, the goal of a multi-sport weekend is to have fun and experience nature. And as long as you do that, it doesn't matter if you cross five miles, 50 miles, or never leave your hometown. It'll be an epic adventure no matter what.

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