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The Ultimate Backcountry Freedom
Adventurers around the world are discovering a combination of sports that brings new heights and perspectives to the thrills of backcountry travel.
It is the ultimate freedom combined with spirited adventure and deep contemplation of the majesty of nature.
Combining the worlds of professional paragliding, with classic outdoor hiking, the sport is called vol-bivouac in French which literally means camping.
Mixing the best of both paragliding and hiking, it frees travelers to explore both the land and the skies allowing participants to traverse rugged and stunning landscapes with style and flair. Without paths or roads to restrict their movement, these adventurers enjoy great freedom of travel.
Although still on the fringes, the sport has a growing presence in the European Alps where paragliders flock with lightweight equipment to cross mountainous terrain by foot and wings of fabric and rope.
Selecting suitable places to both launch and land makes the sport an exercise in both physicalities as well as planning. Mountain terrain and ever-changing weather mean that experienced alpine pilots are required to lead the journey. Often groups of two or more make these journeys, yet there are some solo adventurers that take the risks alone. A deep understanding of alpine conditions, as well as having skills in outdoor survival as well as piloting, are a vital necessity for this sport.
Outside the sport of European origins, it is starting to spread across the world. There is a growing presence in the North American Rockies, as well as in New Zealand in the Southern Alps. Some, more adventurous explorers, are starting to traverse more remote areas in Asia such as the Himalayan ranges for the ultimate backcountry expedition. The sport is expected to start making inroads in the mountainous areas of Japan, Taiwan, and China shortly, extending the worldwide diversity of this unique activity.
These adventurers hike often early in the morning to reach a suitable and ideal launching area. Once airborne these pilots fly as far as they can riding thermal currents and suitable breezes. After landing, additional hiking may be required to position the adventurers closer to their next landing position. As for sleeping, the lengthy lightweight nylon makes a good sleeping bag and tent combination to keep dry and warm before the next day adventures begin.
Planning such dangerous routes is made possible and achievable through modern tools such as GPS and Google Maps. For experienced paraglider pilots that wish to take up this sport, starting off in a modern first-world country with support structures, such as rescue operations, hospitals, mobile networks, is highly recommended.
A variant not nearly as lightweight has also emerged combining powered paragliding with the idea of exploration and camping. This has the advantages of the same spirit of adventure as traditional vol-bivouac, with a less restrictive requirement on equipment and provision weight. The trade-off is in the noise and less physical, exploratory restrictions of suitable landing and take off sites with the advantages of being possible in the less-mountainous backcountry.
The spirit of this sport has led great adventures from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic, across the face of Africa, through the countries bordering the Himalayas and across the southern islands of New Zealand. New itineraries are being planned, year-by-year and groups of pilots are finding each other through adventure blogs and meet up groups to create a network of support.
This sport may be fairly new and obscure for now, yet with newer lightweight camping and flying gear and the inspiring tales and photos from the early pioneers scattered across social media and blogs, it can be assumed that this sport is likely to grow to bring a new level of adventure to the human experience.