These exhilarating, spine-tingling and incredibly inspiring adventure documentaries are for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts and adrenaline chasers out there, and those who live vicariously through them. Whether you love hiking, camping, cycling, running, surfing, climbing, or sailing, etc., these top outdoor adventure documentaries will get you pumped for the next experience. Be ready to feel your heart racing and have shivers slithering down your spine in excitement, disbelief, nerves, and awe. Here are our Top Outdoor Adventure Documentaries.
Directed by: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Let’s begin with a bang with National Geographic’s Free Solo, documenting a feat that will astonish just about everybody. If you haven’t already watched it, then we strongly suggest seeing this film that set the climbing world on its ear and repopularized the sport. The adventure documentary bagged a well-deserved Oscar as it captures a daring, monumental achievement in climbing history.
Premier climber and adrenaline junkie, Alex Honnold, wowed the world as he became the first man to free-climb the daunting El Capitan, Yosemite National Park’s 3,000 feet granite monolith and considered the most impressive wall on the planet. He did this attached to no safety ropes, just a guy in a red shirt with a bag of chalk, attempting to do something no human has ever done before (or ever dared to, really) and succeeding in it!
This adventure documentary is not just about climbing but it also sets out to analyze Honnold himself and the character behind one of the greatest rock climbing achievements of all time.
The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young
Directed by: Annika Iltis and Timothy James Kane
The Barkley Marathons is a race that’s inspired by a prison break, need we say more? This outdoor adventure film is a hilarious documentary that details the captivating madness of the Barkley Marathons in a way that runners and nonrunners alike will thoroughly enjoy.
Ultramarathons are hard, said to test a person’s utmost endurance and dig deep into their physical and mental strength. The Barkley Marathons are designed to be the hardest in the world. It’s a notoriously mad race with an almost cultish vibe and infamous founder, a race geared to defeat its participants. It’s difficult to enter, to begin with, because of the limited number of participants, getting lost in the track is practically a certainty, the 100-mile distance is allegedly a blatant underestimation and the obstacles are such that participants are pushed to the edge of human suffering. Getting back alive to camp is probably achievement in and of itself. With just 10 finishers in its 25 years, we dare say, the Barkleys rightfully gained its cred as an almost impossible race to finish, even for the best of the best and the maddest of the mad. This documentary is fun and incredibly inspiring.
Losing Sight of Shore
Directed by: Sarah Moshman
The word’s longest flight is 19-hour, nonstop, 10 thousand plus mile trip from New York, USA to Sydney, Australia. Now, imagine rowing 8,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean from America to Australia on a 9-month trip at sea.
That’s exactly what four brave women from Britain did, and they made history. Losing Sight of Shore chronicles the extraordinary journey of these four women on the long and grueling trip throughout struggle through horrible blisters, unforgiving sun, sickening repetitiveness, devastating storms and many more. The film, which can be streamed through Netflix, tells a story of bonding, effective group dynamics, fun, fulfillment and friendship through adversity. Add to that, Losing Sight of Shore also advocates breast cancer research and awareness, and successfully raised thousands for the cause.
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
Directed by: Lawrence Schiller and Bruce Nyznik
This Oscar-awarded classic adventure documentary chronicles an expedition that is said to have set the bar for all other adventure documentaries to come. It all started in 1970 when Japanese daredevil Yuichiro Miura determined that his dangerous stateside black runs weren’t challenging enough and decided to head to Nepal and ski down the tallest mountain on Earth.
The film weaves excerpts from Miura’s account of the climb with actual footage of the attempt and scenic climbing scenes up Everest. The journey was composed of 600 people ascending the mountain, it took two months, with six Sherpas tragically losing their lives. Miura also takes a 1,300-foot fall, barely saved by his parachute. Mind, this was during a time when Mt. Everest was not as popular and ascents carried way more risks than it does today.
National Parks Adventure
Directed by: Greg MacGillivray
Narrated by the only Robert Redford himself, National Parks Adventure is a captivating adventure documentary that takes you along with a trio of adventurers as they explore some of the US’ most treasured national wonders.
This documentary is a mix of rich national parks history and breathtaking footage of the great wilderness, historic sites, and dazzling landscapes. National Parks Adventure revisits the history of how the U.S. National Parks Service saved our national parks from unmonitored public use and the inspiration for the creation of the national park system. This film is sure to give everyone feelings of nostalgia, back to childhood or not-so-far past of hiking, exploring, camping and becoming one with nature. Fancy a trip back? What are you waiting for? Go!
If you have an RV or travel trailer, this guide will be indispensable in planning a trip to some of the US’ biggest national parks. *(insert website link: )*
The Dawn Wall
Directed by: Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer
If you liked Free Solo, then you shouldn’t miss Netflix’s The Dawn Wall which is just as compelling and astonishing in a similar but different way. This is the story of unending endurance and two men’s dedication to one outstanding goal.
It took Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson six years, unbelievable grit and undaunted tenacity to find and make a completely new trail in a route up El Capitan that was heretofore thought of as absolutely impossible. More than half a decade of training and preparation, while the actual climb itself was 19 hours of arduous struggle. But they made it. The Dawn Wall is a story of the amazingly relentless pursuit of man to make a path where no one has been before.
Directed by: Bryan Fogel
Icarus is an Oscar-winning movie documentary exposing the scandalous doping program sponsored by the Russian government for its athletes on major sporting events, including the Olympics. This documentary is a tense thriller that innocently starts with an amateur cycling race in Colorado and then stumbling upon—what many calls—the biggest defrauding infamy in the history of all sports.
The filmmaker of Icarus, Bryan Fogel, initially sets out to shed light upon the ease with which one can get away with enhancement drugs in the world of professional sports. While creating the film, he stumbles upon a gold mine when he was connected with a Russian doctor who was going to help him with doping for an amateur cycling competition. Grigory Rodchenkov will, later on, become the whistleblower to a decades-old, state-supported doping practice in Russia.
Birdmen: The Original Dream of Human Flight
Directed by: Matt Sheridan
Ever heard of BASE jumping? It’s a recreational sport for jumping from a high point (B – building, A – antenna, S – span, E -earth), then using a parachute to descend slowly to the ground. In and of itself, BASE jumping is terrifying. Wingsuit flying is a radical new sport, an offshoot of BASE jumping that allows humans to fly like birds.
Flying like birds is such a futuristic concept but such a dated, classic fantasy. Step off into nothingness, extend your wings, and fly—that’s what wingsuit flying is and Birdmen is a documentary of the past, present and future of this sport for adrenaline junkies. This informative film will take you on a thrilling ride that covers the history of the sport, its revolution in recent years and offers a deeper understanding and exceptional advice if you’re ever interested in flying like a bird.
Directed by: Jeff Orlowski
This adventure documentary about one of the most beautiful, bleak and most threatened landscapes on this planet is the only proof you need on how the world is changing, and not for the better. It also shows us the passion, dedication, struggle, and daring of filmmakers and photographers in order to give their best contribution to the craft.
James Balog is an environmental photographer whose mission is to capture three years’ worth of film of the largest glaciers in the world and how quickly they are disappearing. He and his team caught truly wonderful footage of the beauty of these cold giants. The film even captures one of the biggest ice calving events ever recorded. But it’s awe-inspiring yet sad at the same time. Chasing Ice is a tragic outdoor documentary on how quickly and largely the glaciers are melting. Balog wanted proof of climate change and sadly, he found what he was looking for in this project.
Directed by: Jillian Schlesinger
What have you accomplished when you were 14? It’s probably safe to say that it isn’t as impressive as Laura Dekker’s, which was to set out to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe…alone.
She isn’t doing it for the fame, no. Fourteen-year-old Laura had a dream and she turned it to reality. Throughout the film, Laura records in a vlog fashion showing us footage from the Galapagos, Austalia, and Africa, to name a few. The film is not just about the remarkable achievement of an adolescent girl, it’s also about enjoying the journey towards finding one’s self. Laura begins her trip as a child but ends it as a young woman, and she takes us along for the ride.
The Great Alone
Directed by: Greg Kohs
This award-winning film features the fatal beauty of Alaska’s harsh winters, deadly wilderness and unforgiving climate in the backdrop of the life and career of one of the greatest dog mushers of all time, and probably the greatest champion of the infamous Iditarod Trail—Alaska’s yearly long-distance sled dog race.
Lance Mackey came from a line of elite sled dog racers. It’s in his blood, he grew up in the sled and he always comes back to the sled. The Great Alone tells the story of Mackey’s family legacy, the unique culture he grew up in and the battles he fought in his life and career. This film is the telling of Mackey’s passion for the sport of dog sled racing and his fight against addiction, cancer, and personal trauma. It also tells of his self-discovery, triumph, and come back from the brink.
Directed by: Darcy Hennessey Turenne
They rode anything and everything, even the seemingly impossible. The Moment is a bold and startling adventure documentary featuring crews of Canadian mountain bikers in the early 1990s whose aim in life is smoking pot and going biking all day, in that order.
But this is no ordinary pedaling, these bikers rode, jumped, and smashed their bikes and their bodies so thoroughly to the point that one concussion too many resulted in the death of one rider. With lots of great actual footage from the 90s, this was the birth of freeride biking as we know it today.
Directed by: Chris Malloy
In this environmental and adventure documentary, Jeff Johnson follows the footsteps—or tire tracks—of Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face and Esprit). Jeff retraces the path paved by his childhood heroes in their Ford van from California to Chile. The film includes footage from the 1968 expedition and Jeff’s journey, adding his own epic surfing, sailing, and climbing adventures and humbling encounters with nature.
Instead of taking the route by land, Jeff traveled by sea from Mexico to Chile. His mission didn’t have a shortage of challenges and hardships but it’s also full of stories from people he met along the way. It also tells the tale of Chouinard’s initial inspiration for Patagonia, the history of the company and the entrepreneur’s story himself. And perhaps, the most relevant in today’s vastly changing world, is how the film interlaces a story about Chouinard’s rise to becoming a prolific and important environmental advocate and a call to raise concerns in preserving our natural world for future generations to experience.
Directed by: Jennifer Steinman
Come and witness as four amateur runners try to complete what is possibly the most difficult and grueling ultramarathon race series in the world. They are not professional athletes but they will attempt to run a thousand kilometers in four different deserts in Chile, China, Egypt, and Antarctica.
Ricky is a 33-year old from the United States. He decided to take up running because he noticed that he was out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs. Samantha is 25-years from Australia. She admits to being a control freak, but in the desert, there’s a lot of unknown factors, a lot you can’t control. Nature defies control. Dave is a 58-year old and hails Ireland. He strongly believes that having a passion in life is an important lesson to teach his kids. He’s doing the race to prove to himself that he can do it. Tremaine is a 41-year old from the United Kingdom whose grieving process includes finishing the 4 Deserts race series in one year.
Directed by: Keith Malloy
In this powerfully bold adventure documentary by Patagonia, you will explore the unique lives of 6 people who live closely connected to the waters of the world. Surfers, long-distance open-water swimmer, freedivers and spearfishers, photographers, fishermen—you’ll get to them and they’re love affair with the sea.
Kimi Werner is a freediver, spearfisher, and ocean explorer who grew up in Maui, Hawai. She left the world of spearfishing competition to focus on her cause: sustainable hunting and marine conservation. Ray Collins is a seascape photographer and former coal miner. Ray discovered a love for capturing moving and striking images of the sea after being unable to surf because of a coal mining injury. Dave Rastovich, a world champion surfer, believes that wave riding is all about having fun. Dave has since shed the rules that govern competitive surfing in favor of artistic freedom.
Eddie Donnellan is a surfer and youth worker who believes in the therapeutic magic of the sea. He helps kids in high-stress youth and families to the healing properties of Mother Nature. Lynne Cox has swum to Antarctica, she has also swum the Strait of Magellan, the Bering Strait, and the Cape of Good Hope. Swimming long distances in the cold and dangerous ocean have helped Lynne connect communities and rebuild people’s relationship with nature. Matahi Drollet a young surfer and fisherman from Tahiti. His life of simplicity and tradition is an inspiration in this fast-paced world.
Directed by: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Yes, it’s another climbing film but a list of top outdoor adventure documentaries won’t be complete without Meru (2015), one of the most-watched and loved climbing documentaries, along with Free Solo (also directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi), and The Dawn Wall. While both of these more recent films are located in Yosemite in favorable weather, Meru Peak has one of the harshest climate conditions in the world. Climbing on ice brings a whole different manner of difficulty.
Meru Peak is a mountain in the Indian Himalayas. Himalayan walls are extremely dangerous and often fatal, and Meru Peak’s Shark’s Fin Route was described as one of the last few remaining challenges to big wall mountaineers. Meru (2015) follows the struggle of three elite climbers as they risk life and limb to conquer Shark’s Fin.
Directed by: George Butler
Ernest Shackleton is an English explorer who set out to cross the Antarctic continent for the first time. The ill-fated trip in 1914 did not succeed after a string of life-threatening misfortunes.
Having failed in traversing the Antarctic, Shackleton now fights to return home with his 27-man crew without losing a life, and he was dedicated to this goal. it became a tale of incredible resilience and courage. The documentary cleverly weaves black and white footage from the actual expedition interspersed with present-day color reels in the original location. There are audio clips of survivors’ radio interviews, as well as accounts of their descendants who all said that the men don’t really talk about their ordeal in the Antarctic.
This film may be a bit harder to find but it’s definitely worth it. Another version is Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance (2002), also very good.
Under an Arctic Sky
Directed by: Chris Burkard
When someone says they’re going surfing, the extreme sport probably invokes images of charming palm trees, warm sand, and beautiful sunny beaches. Then, there’s this group of six surfers who traveled to the north of Iceland in the middle of winter. Who can beat surfing under the Aurora lights? Beautiful, yes, but there are no palm trees nor sunny, cheery beaches here.
In search of the perfect, cold-water waves, they reach the most remote and diverse places in Iceland. Then, the worst storm in more than two decades turns the trip from dangerous to life-threatening. The has some of the most breathtaking visuals of outdoor adventure documentaries.
There you have it, folks. 12 of the most life-changing outdoor adventure documentaries of all time. Do you feel like you haven’t lived life right, yet? Let us know in the comments what you thought of these brilliant films and feats. Do you have a favorite? What new experience have you decided to try after watching? If you know a movie you think should be on this list, don’t hesitate to share it with us!