The 7 Best Documentaries About the Outdoors

One of the things that’s so great about outdoor adventure is that the stories people tell of their real-life experiences are often just as, if not more, exciting, dramatic and engaging than those made up by Hollywood. Outdoor documentaries—whether they are about dangerous events gone wrong or simply the wonder that is our natural environment—at once inspire and entertain.

Not quite sure where to start? Here are some favorites:

Touching the Void
Kevin MacDonald

Based on the book of the same name by Joe Simpson, Touching the Void uses a collection of interviews and reenactment footage to tell the story of Simpson and Simon Yates’ disastrous and nearly deadly 1985 attempt to climb Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. It’s not one of the faint of heart. No, really, if this film doesn’t scare the hell out of you, it’s likely you’re soulless.

touching the void (trailer) from Patrick Bill on Vimeo.

First Ascent
Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen

If there’s one thing First Ascent does an excellent job at, it’s that it shows great climbing footage without falling into the traditional sports-action trap. Check out who’s pushing the limits on climbing and follow the world’s best climbers as they race to be the first to ascend “Cobra Crack.”

National Parks: America’s Best Idea
Ken Burns

Wait? Seriously? You still haven’t seen Ken Burns’ National Parks: America’s Best Idea? Watch the series. Now. With awesome cinematography of some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes and great trivia questions, this 6-film series (each one is a couple of hours long) will keep you entertained for days.

Encounters at the End of the World
Werner Herzog

The title says it all. In Encounters at the End of the World, director Werner Herzog heads to Antarctica not for your typical penguin movie fluff, but to capture the stories of the people who choose to live there and the barren desert landscape itself.

Grizzly Man
Werner Herzog

If you haven’t seen Grizzly Man, you should. Chronicling the life and death of self-proclaimed grizzly guru Timothy Treadwell, it’s an interesting insight into one of the scariest animals you might confront in the wild. Composed of Treadwell’s own footage, it also includes the brutal scene of him and his girlfriend being eaten—so be ready for that.

The Conquest of Everest
George Lowe

This 1953 classic features awesome old footage of the 1920s British Mallory failed attempt of Everest side-by-side with the more successful (and more famous) historical climbs. It’s a great contrast and this 78-minute long documentary doesn’t have a dull moment.

Vern Moen

You may’ve heard of the Plastiki in the last couple of years when the boat, made out of 10,000 reclaimed plastic bottle set sail. Sound familiar? Well this film, directed by Vern Moen, captures the incredible journey and tells the story of how plastic is destroying our oceans.

The Plastiki – Project Trailer from Long Beach Film Company on Vimeo.

By Sarah Esterman