Type 1, 2 and 3 Fun

Running a waterfall - type 2 fun

Type 1, 2 and 3 Fun

Not all fun is created equal. Sometimes the word ‘fun’ really does mean that something is fun, and sometimes it means the very opposite.

It was the mountain climbing community that first started using the terms Type 1 Type 2 and Type 3 fun to describe their adventures. These same labels, however, can easily be used for other activities as well.  

The numbers from 1 to 3 describe a continuum where you’ve got pure hedonistic pleasure at one end, and life-threatening suffering at the other.

Let me explain… 

Type 1 Fun 

Type 1 fun is actually fun in the moment. While you’re engaged in a Type I fun activity you don’t want that experience to end, and you remember it fondly afterwards.

Imagine a tailwind carrying you across a lake underneath a warm blue sky… Listening to the serenading of loons as the campfire crackles at dusk… Playing in easy whitewater with friends ready to help you if you flip… these are some examples of Type 1 fun.

Easily gliding across what I thought was going to be a hard portage is another great example of Type 1 fun!

But the fun doesn’t stop here…

Type 2 Fun 

Type 2 fun only becomes fun in retrospect. It’s great after you stop, but in the moment it usually involves a lot of stress and suffering.

Imagine getting pummelled in whitewater and not being sure if you’ll make it to the bottom of the rapid or not… Padding against an unrelenting headwind for so long that your arms feel like they’re about to fall off… Sweating under a back-breaking portage load while branches lash your face and mosquitoes dine on our flesh. Welcome to Type 2 fun!

The intense struggle isn’t enjoyable in the moment; instead it’s arduous, difficult and painful.  

But as you mull over and digest the experience afterwards you become glad that you went it. It was a challenge but you persevered, it was difficult but you didn’t quit. 

Type 2 fun is the embodiment of what is often described as a ‘character building experience.’ It’s the ideal zone for personal growth, and it builds resilience, endurance, and mental toughness.  For me hiking 50 km in the mountains in a single day is a regular visit to Type 2 fun.

Portaging along an overgrown trail with the mosquitos and blackflies out in full force is another example of Type 2 fun…

This sort of experience fulfils a very deep need and makes you a more capable human being.

But you can overdo it. As a case in point let’s consider Type 3 fun…

Type 3 Fun

Type 3 fun isn’t fun at all. It involves a ton of suffering and a boat-load of risk.  When it finishes you swear you’re never going to do anything that stupid ever again.

Because you’re fairly sure that you could die it’s not uncommon to make deals with God and/or activate the emergency beacon on your GPS during Type III fun.  

Once upon a time, on the first day of a long solo trip into the Canadian arctic, I flipped my boat in the middle of a large lake on a windy day. I did end up getting to shore safely and recovering most of my equipment (chapter 1 of my book here), but this was definitely borderline Type III fun. 

Sorting out the my waterlogged boat and gear after flipping on a lake on a cold day…

Things could have gone very badly wrong and at no point in my entire life will I ever say, ‘Man, I can’t wait to flip my boat in the middle of a large lake without rescue nearby again.’  

On the other hand, as the passage of time dulls the of embarrassment and survivor bias confirms my decision making skills it does begin to turn this incident into a great story….