This paper reviews the concept of adaptation of human communities to global changes, especially climate change, in the context of adaptive capacity and vulnerability. It focuses on scholarship that contributes to practical implementation of adaptations at the community scale. In numerous social science fields, adaptations are considered as responses to risks associated with the interaction of environmental hazards and human vulnerability or adaptive capacity. In the climate change field, adaptation analyses have been undertaken for several distinct purposes. Impact assessments assume adaptations to estimate damages to longer-term climate scenarios with and without adjustments. Evaluations of specified adaptation options aim to identify preferred measures. Vulnerability indices seek to provide relative vulnerability scores for countries, regions or communities. The main purpose of participatory vulnerability assessments is to identify adaptation strategies that are feasible and practical in communities. The distinctive features of adaptation analyses with this purpose are outlined, and common elements of this approach are described. Practical adaptation initiatives tend to focus on risks that are already problematic, climate is considered together with other environmental and social stresses, and adaptations are mostly integrated or mainstreamed into other resource management, disaster preparedness and sustainable development programs.