Humans work, rest and play in immensely varied extreme environments. The term ‘extreme’ typically refers to insufficiency or excess of one or more stressors, such as thermal energy or gravity. Individuals’ behavioural and physiological capacity to endure and enjoy such environments varies immensely. Adverse effects of acute exposure to these environments are readily identifiable (e.g. heat stroke or bone fracture), whereas adverse effects of chronic exposure (e.g. stress fractures or osteoporosis) may be as important but much less discernable. Modern societies have increasingly sought to protect people from such stressors and, in that way, minimise their adverse effects. Regulations are thus established, and advice is provided on what is ‘acceptable’ exposure. Examples include work/rest cycles in the heat, hydration regimes, rates of ascent to and duration of stay at altitude and diving depth. While usually valuable and well intentioned, it is important to realise the breadth and importance of limitations associated with such guidelines. Regulations and advisories leave less room for self-determination, learning and perhaps adaptation. Regulations based on stress (e.g. work/rest cycles relative to WBGT) are more practical but less direct than those based on strain (e.g. core temperature), but even the latter can be substantively limited (e.g. by lack of criterion validation and allowance for behavioural regulation in the research on which they are based). Extreme Physiology & Medicine is publishing a series of reviews aimed at critically examining the issues involved with self- versus regulation-controlled human movement acutely and chronically in extreme environments. These papers, arising from a research symposium in 2013, are about the impact of people engaging in such environments and the effect of rules and guidelines on their safety, enjoyment, autonomy and productivity. The reviews will cover occupational heat stress, sporting heat stress, hydration, diving, extreme loading, chronic unloading and high altitude. Ramifications include factors such as health and safety, productivity, enjoyment and autonomy, acute and chronic protection and optimising adaptation.