A little-known law of physics states that if you simply take any child’s plaything -- say a slide or rope swing -- and make it really, really huge, adults will go nuts for it. And ziplining, in particular, has blown up lately as operators are creating spans that run over a mile long and a thousand feet off the ground, allowing you to reach speeds over 60mph.
Special skills required: Ziplining requires about as much technical know-how as sitting on your sofa -- just hang there and enjoy the ride.
How to not die: Almost all ziplining accidents happen when people fall off the launch platform before even clipping into the line -- which is more embarrassing than tragic.
Best place to do It: The world’s second biggest zipline is Alaska’s Icy Strait, which launches you from a whopping 1,300 feet above the landing, with views of snow-capped mountains and Alaskan wilderness as far as the eye can see. Puerto Rico’s La Bestia -- or The Beast -- is one of the world’s highest ziplines, and the longest and fastest in the western hemisphere, whipping you through 4,700 feet of rainforest canopy at 65mph.
A sort of modern-day hang gliding, paragliding allows you to fly up to 10,000 feet off the ground, using a nimble parachute as a sort of giant pair of wings to swoop and soar like a bird. While thermals can deliver the odd boost upward, you’re essentially floating very slowly to the ground the entire time and a flight can last several hours.
Special skills required: Learning to fly a paraglider is almost as complex as learning to fly a small airplane. But for your first several flights, you’ll be sitting in the lap of an instructor, anyway. Don’t worry, it’s only awkward the entire time.
How not to die: Become an amateur meteorologist -- almost all paragliding fatalities are the result of an unexpected change in winds and weather, which cause the chute to collapse.
Best place to do it: Southern California has one of the highest concentrations of paragliding schools, with un-intimidating flights over the beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Up the intensity in Lake Tahoe, where paragliding flights take you over the second deepest lake in the U.S., and put you eye-level with the summits of the High Sierra.
One of the scariest experiences in the world somehow remains one of the safest and easiest thrills for the average Joe. After jumping out of that plane from around two miles up -- strapped to an instructor if it’s your first time -- you’ll freefall for up to 30 seconds, which is plenty of time to get GoPro footage of your cheeks doing that thing that makes your face look like a windsock. If all goes well once you pull the ripcord, it’s another several minutes of gently floating to earth. The big challenge is trying to look cool while sticking the landing, which is basically impossible with someone strapped to your back.
Special skills required: Be less than 250 pounds. Not sure that’s a special skill but if you’re right on the edge, we recommend skipping lunch -- most commercial chutes are not designed for your average linebacker.
How not to die: Listen to every word your instructor says, unless he starts muttering something about a malfunction -- then just do whatever it takes to zone out and go to your happy place.
Best place to do it: It’s all about the views, right? So why skydive over cornfields and flatlands? Instead, head to the island of Oahu, where you can skydive in shorts and a t-shirt, with a birds-eye view of the turquoise reef-rimmed Hawaiian Islands.
Originally used to prep astronauts for space travel, zero gravity flights simulate weightlessness by descending in a regular plane at such a speed that passengers float in the fuselage -- you’re essentially skydiving without a parachute, in an enclosed space. The planes themselves are actually just completely hollowed out commercial jets, with padding on the walls, and they do a series of terrifying 30-second nosedives that allow you to reach terminal velocity and float.
Special skills required: These planes are actually more commonly known as vomit comets so it’s pretty helpful if you have a high threshold for stomach-turning maneuvers. Though, floating puke does look pretty cool.
How not to die: Zero G flights are as safe as any commercial flight. However, fail to strap in when the plane transitions from its descent to the crushing gravity of the ascent and you’ll basically rag doll around the plane.
Best place to do it: While NASA itself used to offer Zero G flights to the public, they stopped years ago. The only company currently offering them in the U.S. is Zero G, which operates out of eight major airports across the country.
Believe it or not, the only thing more frightening than falling thousands of feet is falling hundreds of feet, seeing the ground come hurtling toward you alarmingly fast the entire time. A thrill that dates back to a time when tribes used to wrap vines around their ankles and jump from trees, the tech has come a long way, as more and more and more bungee operators try to outdo each other. It’s now possible to do a 764-foot jump, and calibrate the bungees to allow you to dip just your head in a river below.
Special skills required: Bungee jumping is essentially a high-dive and a few sessions at your local pool could help you dial in that perfect swan or double gainer.
How not to die: This is not the time to suck in your gut and shave a few pounds off your weight when filling out the waiver forms -- you do not want them strapping your 200-pound frame to a bungee cord built for a 180-pounder.
Best place to do it: Niouc Bridge in the Swiss Alps is the highest bridge jump in Europe (620 feet), in a stunning natural setting. For something completely different, take on the tallest bungee jump in the world from Macau Tower, 764 feet above the cityscape and freeways of China’s Las Vegas.
While the average person may not know that BASE is an acronym for Bridge, Antennae, Span, Earth -- the four things these adrenaline junkies launch themselves off of -- pretty much everyone knows by now that BASE jumping is about as safe as paddling a surfboard into a tsunami. The ultimate adrenaline sport requires jumpers to leap from relatively low heights and pull their chute before it’s too late -- it’s illegal almost everywhere, the margin for error is non-existent, and BASE jumpers themselves are disappearing faster than black rhinos.
Special skills required: It’s a complete toss up over which is more important here: the courage of a Navy SEAL or the IQ of an actual seal.
How not to die: Simple: the higher the jump, the more time you have to deploy your chute properly. But, too high, and it’s just a simple skydive.
Best place to do it: While there are more BASE jumping fatalities in Switzerland’s beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley than anywhere else in the world, its famous cliffs also happens to be a popular spot to learn -- two stats which seem somehow related. Here in the U.S., the 876-foot New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia is a popular spot, even hosting a legal jump for one day each year in October, which draws hundreds of BASE enthusiasts.
Wingsuit flying is the one freefall on this list in which just watching video of it can be a terrifying experience -- likely due to the fact that many of those videos end with a bone-crunching splat. Wingsuits basically turn humans into flying squirrels, offering the closest experience to actual flying without mechanical assistance. The hi-tech suits allow a jumper to not only freefall for longer, but also cover distance -- a flight can last up to nine minutes and cover over four miles. The technology in the suits themselves has been honed to such a precision that BASE wingsuiters are flying through natural arches, narrow gorges, and within inches of the ground going a hundred miles per hour.
Special skills required: Wingsuiters are typically expert skydivers as well as expert BASE jumpers, as training typically begins with normal skydiving freefalls before graduating to lower more technical jumps. In other words, start now and you should be ready for your first wingsuit flight in about 2020.
How not to die: Make sure the closest you ever get to wingsuit flying is watching it on YouTube. Even then, make sure your heart is in top shape.
Best place to do it: The European Alps and Yosemite National Park have been the site of many of the most famous wingsuit flights -- as well as the site of the sport’s most spectacular fatalities.