Red Bull X-Alps

Going Vol-Biv

It’s the ultimate freedom and an essential component of the Red Bull X-Alps race – flying and hiking cross-country, camping where you land and repeating the following day. Here, in the first of two stories, some of the race’s top athletes explain why nothing beats a successful vol biv trip. In part 2 they give the expert tips that will let you plan your own.

© zooom / Kelvin Trautman
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“To be able to travel under your own power for big distances is the perfect mode of transport,” says Australian athlete Che Golus, who made an unsupported vol biv traverse of the western alps in 2015. 

“It gives you such a unique perspective of the landscape, one that you really don’t get through any other type of travel. Making your own path is something very special.”

For the uninitiated, vol biv (literally ‘fly camp’ from the French) is a multi-day self-supporting cross-country journey. There are no fixed rules: for some, hiking is an integral part of the adventure while others view vol biv as a purely a flying concept. 

The idea of vol biv lies at the heart of the Red Bull X-Alps race in which athletes follow their own course between Turnpoints, hiking, flying and camping where they stop. This ‘simplicity’ of a race format was one of the things that make it so appealing, the late race mastermind Hannes Arch used to say. 

One of the world’s top vol biv specialists is the indomitable Gavin McClurg, whose traverse of the Alaska range last year with fellow Red Bull X-Alps athlete Dave Turner made headlines around the world. Before that he made a bold traverse of the Rockies with Will Gadd, which focused exclusively on flying as the only allowable means of transport. 

“For me it is the ultimate adventure,” says Gavin. “Cross Country paragliding by definition means you don’t know where you’re going to end up, and vol biv is that kind of unknown day after day after day. You have everything on your back that you need to survive and only skill and weather and your own creativity are the deciders of what’s possible.”

Watch the documentary of the Rockies Traverse here on Red Bull TV

“It can be extremely intense,” he adds, “but of all the sports and things I’ve done there is nothing more enjoyable that is so totally immersive.” 

That’s a feeling that resonates with Benoît Outters. The Frenchman may be competing in the Red Bull X-Alps for the first time as an athlete (previously he was a supporter), but he’s also a big vol biv fan, having made a 1,300km out and back traverse of New Zealand with Antoine Girard over December and January of 2015-2016. 

“Moving only by walking and flying is already perfect,” he says. “But what I prefer is terrain or nature [that is] wilderness such as in New Zealand.” The best thing he says about it is ‘the freedom’. 

New Zealand is a popular destination for vol biv. Four years ago the veteran athletes Tom de Dorlodot and Ferdinand van Schelven completed a traverse of South Island in 27 days, camping wild, eating fresh fish that Tom had caught.

It’s also where Canadian Red Bull X-Alps athlete Richard Brezina has just been making some ‘epic flights’, according to Nick Neynens.

Neynens, who is writing a guidebook on vol biv, says it’s a natural progression for paraglider pilots looking for adventure. (You can read many of his vol biv tips on his blog here). 

“Paragliding is perfectly suited to vol biv with light equipment you can easily carry and the ability to land almost anywhere, opening up huge potential for exploration,” he says. “Flying distance is great but the paraglider is the slowest aircraft – its real advantage and the most rewarding moments are when you are in an otherwise inaccessible place discovering something unexpected and unique.”

In Part 2, we look at the tips and advice for making your first vol biv trip, from adapting your gear to choosing the perfect destination.