Last Updated: 7/27/23 – Top Outdoor Adventure Movies to Watch This Winter
There is nothing better than snuggling up next to a warm fire on a cold winter night with those you love and watching a good movie. If you are like me, you can’t get enough of outdoor adventure movies. Nothing gets me more excited about planning my next trip than watching a great adventure. If you are looking for the top outdoor adventure movies to watch with your family and friends, then you have come to the right place. In this article, I am going to review some of the top adventure documentaries on my all-time list.
My iTunes library is filled with the top outdoor adventure movies and TV series, and I have picked my favorites for you. I hope these top adventure documentaries inspire you as much as they have inspired me. Let me know which are your favorite and whether I left any of your favorite top outdoor adventure movies off this list. If you have some extra time on your hand between trips, you may also want to take a look at my list of the Top 15 Books for Adventurers and Explorers.
|Top 15 Books for Adventurers and Explorers|
New Editions to the List
It had been a few years since I created this list of my favorite outdoor adventure films, and in that time there have been a number of incredible films released that absolutely deserve a place on this list. If you have seen all of the classics on my list and are looking for a new film to watch to be inspired, try one of these amazing options listed below.
If you follow the climbing world at all, then I am sure you are familiar with legendary climber Conrad Aker and climber and photographer extraordinaire Jimmy Chin. This film tracks their quest to summit the very difficult to climb Mount Meru. Seeing just how much goes into planning and executing an expedition like this was really cool to see. You know that a climb is difficult when Conrad Aker is having to battle thru adversity. This has easily become one of my favorite outdoor adventure movies since watching it.
The Dawn Wall
Sometimes there is an achievement by an athlete that is so profound and impressive that it shocks the entire world. This film tells the story of climbing legend Tommy Caldwell and fellow climber Kevin Jorgeson’s quest to climb the virtually featureless face of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. This is a feat that seemed so impossible that no one before Tommy had ever even tried. You will be amazed at what Tommy and Kevin have to overcome to make this dream a reality. This movie quickly became an instant classic and is considered to be one of the best climbing movies to come out in some time.
If you aren’t plugged into the climbing world, then you likely first heard about legendary climber Alex Honnold near the end of the show Valley Uprising. That movie chronicled the legendary climbers that made Yosemite Valley the climbing Mecca that it is today. At the end of the film, the up-and-coming climber that was set to take the reins was none other than Alex Honnold. Needless to say, Alex is no longer an up-and-coming climber, and this movie absolutely cements that. His attempt to free climb the jaw-droppingly huge El Capitan solo without ropes instantly shot Alex into the celebrity stratosphere. So much so that it is pretty difficult to find anyone who doesn’t know who Alex is today. If you haven’t seen this film, it is an absolute must for any outdoor adventure enthusiast.
If you are looking for an outdoor adventure film like none other to inspire your next big outdoor adventure, then I can think of none better than the incredible film 14 Peaks. In this film, Nepalese combat veteran and climber Nimsdai Purja embarks on a seemingly impossible mission to climb all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks in the world in just 7 months. To put that into perspective, the infamous alpinist Reinhold Messner became the first person to summit all 14 of the peaks and it took him 16-years to do it. Up until Nimsdai, the record for summiting all 14 peaks was still over 7-years. To say that Nimsdai is a man on a mission is an understatement and this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
This movie seemed to come out of nowhere and it has quickly become my absolute favorite outdoor adventure movie of all time. Not only because of the insanely incredible climbing that the movie features but also because Marc-André Leclerc, the star of the movie, is a person that I completely identify with. His love for the mountains and for climbing is absolutely contagious. The incredible solo climbs that he does on ice, rock, and mixed-surface are mind-bogglingly difficult, and he does them without ropes. When you have a guy like Alex Honnold talking about the difficulty and danger of your climbs, you know you are in rarified air. And yet, Marc-André doesn’t seem to care about any notoriety. I could not recommend this movie anymore to anyone who loves outdoor adventure films.
The River Runner
The final film on my list of new outdoor adventure movies that I would recommend watching to inspire your next big outdoor adventure centers around one of my other favorite outdoor activities. If you follow my blog closely, then you know how much I absolutely love to kayak. Well, this film has quickly become one of my all-time favorite kayaking movies. It features the historic kayaking career of famed kayaker Scott Lindgren and his 20+ year quest to be the first person to paddle the four great rivers that originate from Tibet’s sacred Mount Kailash. The amount of adversity that he has to battle thru to see this dream to fruition is remarkable and inspiring. If you are into kayaking and would love to be inspired, then I cannot think of a better movie for you to watch.
If you are looking for one of the top outdoor adventure movies to watch to inspire your next big adventure, I would suggest starting with one of these classic films or TV shows. These are the shows that made me the outdoor adventure fanatic that I am today.
Departures (TV Show)
This is my all-time favorite television program. The show centers on 3 friends who put everything on hold for a year to travel the world. That year turns into 3 years and 3 glorious television seasons of adventures. What I especially love about this show is the fact that they don’t focus on doing the touristy things while traveling. They make the effort to get off the beaten trail to learn about other cultures and customs.
If you want to watch a movie about strength, bravery, and determination, then this is the movie for you. It is probably my favorite of the top outdoor adventure movies I have seen. Desert Runners follows a group of ultra marathon runners who are attempting to join the elite group of people who have run all 4 of the desert ultra marathons (the Atacama, the Sahara, the Gobi, and Antarctica) all within a year.
Tell it on the Mountain
If you have ever dreamed of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail like I have, you will love this documentary. It is amazing to listen to some of the stories from the trail from those who have experienced it. Listening to PCT hiking legend Scott Williamson talk about his experiences on the trail had me mesmerized. It is no mystery why this movie is so revered by hiking enthusiasts and is widely considered one of the top adventure documentaries of all-time.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to follow the surf with your family, teaching your children about other cultures and letting them learn first-hand how many amazing things this world has to explore and teach them? I’m not a surfer, but I am definitely envious of how rich and fulfilling this family has made their life by simplifying things. For those who are looking for a top outdoor adventure movie that is a feel good story, this is the one for you.
Sailing is 14 year-old Laura Dekker’s passion, and becoming the youngest person to sail around the world is her dream. Follow along as Laura first fights for permission to be granted to make her trip, and then her quest to conquer the world’s oceans. You will be amazed at Laura’s passion and determination, which almost single-handedly makes this one of the top adventure documentaries of all-time.
Conquering the World
I absolutely love this movie and consider it one of the top adventure documentaries that has come out in recent years. Conquering the World is a documentary about Richard Park, an ex-rugby player with no mountaineering experience, and his epic quest to climb all seven summits and reach all three poles in seven months. Granted, he is an amazing athlete, but to take on this quest with so little experience took a great deal of bravery and determination.
Myanmar: Bridge to Change
This top adventure documentary tells the tale of the 2013 expedition by seven climbers, five Americans and two Burmese climbers, who set off to be the first people to summit Southeast Asia’s disputed highest peak, Gamlang Razi. From the beginning, this was unlike most other climbing expeditions as the climbers had to traverse miles of humid jungle just to reach the base of the mountain. Seeing how much this expedition meant to the Burmese climbers, and how the group had to work together to overcome obstacle-after-obstacle inspired me.
180 Degrees South
This was the first of the top outdoor adventure movies that I ever watched, and it is mostly responsible for my unwavering desire to one day visit Patagonia. The film documents surfer, climber, and adventurer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the 1968 journey of Yvon Chouinard (of Patagonia fame) and Doug Tompkins (of North Face fame) to Patagonia. The movie teaches us the importance of following our dreams and of conserving this beautiful world we all share for future generations.
Mile, Mile and a Half
This top adventure documentary tells the story of five close friends who drop everything for a month to hike the famous 211 mile-long John Muir Trail in California. Share their trials, tribulations, and conquests as they embark on their adventure during one of the snowiest years on the trail in recent memory.
Alone in the Wilderness
This documentary absolutely fascinates me. I have to watch this movie at least once a year because it is so inspiring. The documentary tells the story of Dick Proenneke who, in the late 1960’s, embarked on building his own cabin in Alaska, in what is now Lake Clark National Park. Not only does he build his own cabin with only hand tools, including a fireplace, a door with locking mechanism, and such, but he even crafted the handles for most of his hand tools. Simply amazing and definitely one of the top outdoor adventure movies of all-time.
A documentary about the efforts of nature photographer James Balog and his mission to document and publicize the effects of climate change. The way James uses time-lapse cameras to visually document the effect of climate change on the world’s glaciers is moving and powerful. If you are interested in learning about how we are effecting our environment and what is being done to save it, then you will definitely consider this one of the top outdoor adventure movies to watch.
This moving picture tells the story of Robyn Davidson, a young woman who sets off to trek 1,700 miles across the Australian Outback with just four camels and her dog. Based on the bestselling book written by Davidson by the same name, Robyn overcomes adversity to follow in her father’s exploration footsteps and “find a sense of herself”. Davidson, and her journey, were featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1978. It’s a touching movie that I consider to be one of the classic top outdoor adventure movies and I highly recommend watching.
As it Happens
This documentary follows the epic adventure of two friends, both bored with the monotony of everyday life, as they set out to hike the 2,500 mile Pacific Crest Trail. If you have ever felt like dropping everything and setting off on an adventure, this is definitely one of the top outdoor adventure movies you should add to your watch list.
Lost Diary of Dr. Livingstone (TV Episode)
Ever since I traveled to Tanzania, I have been obsessed with Africa. Everything just feels so alive in Africa and everything about my trip was an adventure. I read the book “Into Africa” on the plane ride there, and I was fascinated to learn more about the adventures and trials of Dr. David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley.
I would absolutely recommend reading that book when you have the time, but I would also highly recommend watching this episode of the TV series “Secrets of the Dead”. In this show, you learn so many fascinating things about the story of Livingstone and Stanley that weren’t reported before. Dr. Livingstone’s story was far more complex than I ever realized. While just a TV episode, I would still consider it one of the top adventure documentaries for travel adventurers to watch.
I feel in love with this movie the first time I watched it. Not only because it is a harrowing story of perseverance and survival, but the story takes place in the canyon country of Southern Utah. This movie tells the story of Aron Ralston’s quest to survive for six days after his arm gets trapped under a boulder while canyoning in Southern Utah’s slot canyons. This movie will keep you on the edge of your seat and will quickly become one of your top outdoor adventure movies to watch to inspire yourself.
I happened to stumble across this movie while looking thru Netflix and wasn’t really sure what to expect as I began watching it. It did not disappoint. “The Way” tells the story of a father coming to terms with the death of his son while hiking the El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage thru Southern France and Spain. He sets off to complete his son’s journey and discovers a great deal about himself and his son along the way. While heartbreaking at times, this movie is also incredibly inspirational. I have seen it many times since first watching it and still consider it to be one of the top outdoor adventure movies of all-time.
Walk in the Woods
Robert Redford and Nick Nolte are great in this fun story about two older gentlemen struggling to find their purpose as they enter old age. After not speaking for decades, the two friends, both inexperienced hikers, set off to hike the Appalachian Trail together. It’s a nice, light comedy that will pick you up on a tough day.
Touching the Void
This suspenseful story about Joe Simpson’s and Simon Yates’ nearly fatal attempt to summit Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes will have you on the edge of your seat. In a truly epic story of survival, the two men overcome unthinkable hardships in surviving what should have been a fatal climb up one of South America’s most challenging climbs. This story is a classic and the movie does a fantastic job of telling it. Without a doubt, it is one of the top outdoor adventure movies to add to your watch list.
Into the Wild
I read the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer before I watched the movie, and I would definitely recommend reading the book as well as watching the movie. Krakauer does a remarkable job of telling the inspiring, yet ultimately tragic, story of a young and spirited Chris McCandless. Krakauer first wrote about McCandless and his adventures in the January 1993 issue of Outside Magazine, shortly after McCandless’ tragic death in the woods of Alaska. It’s a heartbreaking, yet inspiring, story that really makes you think about what is important in life.
Wild is about the true story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman pushed to the edge by the tragic death of her mother at an early age, the dissolution of her marriage, and subsequent substance abuse issues. In a valiant move to turn her life around and find herself, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The movie takes you along thru all of her trials and tribulations as she deals with the raw pain of the loss of her mother. It’s a very moving story and Reese Witherspoon does a fantastic job portraying Strayed.
The Way Back
The Way Back is arguably the ultimate true story of survival. The story centers on a man named Janusz, who is sent to a Siberian work camp in 1939 after the Nazis coerced his wife into denouncing him as a spy. He is determined to escape so that he can reunite with her and finds willing companions in a handful of other prisoners. Watch as they battle starvation, the elements, possible capture, and each other as they cross a continent on foot to find freedom.
This movie is the true story of the disastrous day in August 2008 that cost 11 climbers on K2 their lives. Told thru first-hand accounts, the documentary paints the picture of what it was like on the mountain that fateful day, and what events triggered the tragedy that unfolded. This is a powerful movie about the thrills and perils of mountaineering. I definitely recommend it.
Expedition Africa – Stanley and Livingstone (TV mini series)
In a brilliant attempt to retrace the steps of Henry Morton Stanley in his quest to find Dr. David Livingstone in the heart of Africa, an African adventure guide, a survivalist, an anthropologist, and a journalist head off into the wilderness of Tanzania. This is a remarkable television program that really puts into perspective just how difficult of a quest it was for Stanley to locate Livingstone. I could watch this series over-and-over again.