Adventure activities are no longer a distant foreign concept like it used to be about 15 years ago. Today we have so many opportunities in various places all over India where adventure and outbound activities are conducted.


I have been associated with Breakthrough (a project of Sports Outreach India) since the year 2000 and have seen over the years how outbound adventure activities can have a lasting impact with significant learnings. These learnings are not only at the individual level but also at a team and organisation level. My experience and involvement in this field has not only been as a Program Facilitator but also in designing and building challenge courses like High and low ropes courses, walls, etc… My experience tells me that one of the key components that can make or break outbound programs is the selection and proper use of activity specific sports gear or equipment. The gear used can either be a ‘fit’ or a ‘misfit’ – the right one or the wrong one.


In the field of outbound and adventure activity oriented programs the gear used, fall into three categories: Activity operating Equipment, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and appropriate clothing and foot wear. The activity operating equipment is the equipment needed to set up and run the activity effectively and safely. It could be in the form of ropes, carabineers, belay devices, etc…PPE are safety gear like helmets and harnesses. Proper clothing and foot wear are very important to be able to do and enjoy the activity.


Activity specific professional gear has an impact on the outcome of any adventure based program by influencing three significant program areas – physical safety, emotional safety and learning impact.


Physical safety


The gear worn or the equipment used play a crucial role in the successful outcome of any ropes course or other adventure activities. The Accident Equation put forth by Alan Hale, Former President, International Safety Network, shows that accidents occur when human factors interact with environmental factors. However, there is a third factor – the gear or the equipment used. When all three factors interact there is a potential for accidents.
All three factors play a major role for the success of any program. However, the one that is easily compromised is that of the equipment – be it operating or PPE. The compromise can happen because of three reasons: economic reasons, not knowing where to source it from and the lack of knowledge (what to use and how to use it?).
At Breakthrough we have a philosophy where safety can never be compromised and in fact safety is not just a rule but a culture. It is always best to invest in proper sports gear and have no regrets later. If physical safety and success can go hand in hand then, quality of the gear should never be compromised. Yes, with quality equipment, there comes a big price. However the long term benefits reaped choosing the proper gear/equipment far outweigh the cost in terms of credibility, value add and repeat business. The losses incurred when there is an incident or accident due to equipment failure is much more than the cost of that particular equipment. Therefore, it can be said, that buying good quality gear is not an expense but an investment. So it would be wise to invest in good quality activity specific sports gear.
In today’s time and age of commercialism, you can get what you want and all you want if you just look in the right places or shed some ego and ask around. When we started Breakthrough in 2000 we used to get all our gear from outside India, even if it was available here it was more expensive. Today there are so many suppliers of adventure related gear, both online and offline. Just writing this, three reliable suppliers came to my mind – Allied Safety Equipments (PETZL), Decathlon and Wildcraft. If I put some thought to it there will be many more. If you make an intentional effort to source proper gear from reliable suppliers you could have the best gear suited specifically for your use.
Well, you must have heard of the sayings, “Do not give a rose garland to a monkey” or “Do not throw pearls to swine”. These sayings are so true in the field of adventure sports and outbound training. Many have the best of gear but do not know how to use them. When an accident happens, the equipment or the manufacturer is blamed. Lack of knowledge about the proper use of the equipment is one of the reasons for many unfortunate incidents. Today, thankfully there are many people who are knowledgeable and can train on request. In fact, there are equipment suppliers who not only sell good quality gear but also provide training on how to use it. One such is Allied Safety Equipments (PETZL). The other alternative is to get staff trained at credible places. Gear used in a proper manner by trained personnel, prevents accidents. Hence invest in Training.
Emotional Safety
Emotional Safety is a Psychological term used to describe an emotionally stable state where one is free to encounter new experiences without being in danger of physical, verbal or visual harm (looked at weirdly). In the ropes course and adventure world emotional safety is very crucial for persons to have a safe place to challenge themselves to reach new levels of trust that will have a significant learning impact.
Professional gear that looks safe and feels safe enables people to be emotionally safe. This enhances their journey from high perceived risk to a low actual risk by allowing them to take calculated risks in a safe environment. Knowing from where the equipment is got and seeing the specifications marked on it lends credibility and helps people make a decision on whether to participate or not.
Learning Impact
There is always something about encountering a challenge .The challenge could be physical, mental or emotional. It could possibly be alone or as a member of a group. Challenges heighten the anxiety factor. The Yerkes-Dodson learning curve shown below, illustrates that a certain level of anxiety promotes learning.
According to the above, moving out of your comfort zone promotes learning. But moving into the panic zone (Increased/Over Anxiety) could be detrimental to learning. The gear you wear or use influences the person’s anxiety level. If something is uncomfortable or if any equipment causes constant pain during an activity the person focuses on the painful experience rather than learning anything from the whole activity. She/he will go away from the program with negative learnings such as, ‘Never participate in an Outbound Program again’. Hence, close attention needs to be paid to the proper selection and right use of activity gear for all adventure based outbound programs.
To conclude, it would be appropriate to say, that it is of paramount importance that all those using adventure based outbound programs, see the significance of the huge influence that the gear used can have on the outcome of the programs.
If you are one of those who do, then check whether the gear you have is a ‘Fit’ or ‘Misfit’ for you. ‘Fit’ or ‘Misfit’ could mean the difference between ‘Fortune’ and ‘Misfortune’ for your organization.
-Timothy Connors, Program Director, Breakthrough.