9 Best Adventure Travel Documentaries To Watch

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With many people still stuck indoors across Europe, North America, and Asia, travel plans are on the backburner…at least for the time being. But it doesn’t mean the end of wanderlust. If anything, now is the perfect time to dream.

Now is for piecing together your next bucket list and pining for destinations to come. It’s for indulging the nostalgia and thinking of beaches, snow-capped peaks, and misty jungles.

No wonder, then, that adventure travel documentaries are undergoing something of a renaissance. Transporting you to the wild Himalaya, the llama-speckled cloud forests of the Andes, the lush pastures of the Dolomites, and beaches lining the Pacific and Atlantic oceans alike, it’s perfect for those wanting to travel from the safety of their sofa.

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9 Best Adventure Travel Documentaries To Watch

So, you’re on the hunt for an awesome adventure travel doc? Look no further.

This list runs through some of the very best ever made. There’s a heavy focus on the high mountains of the world, but you’ll also catch frothing surf waves and ski fields thrown in for good measure.

1. Mountain (2017)

Ever wondered why we humans are so drawn to the high reaches of the world? Want to understand the allure of Everest? The pull of Kilimanjaro? Mountain, exquisitely filmed by Renan Ozturk and wonderfully narrated by Willem Dafoe, is the one you’ve been searching for.

It will take you to some of the most altitudinous reaches of the earth, with glimpses of technical climbing feats and seemingly impenetrable summits across Asia, South America, North America, and Europe.

2. McConkey (2013)

Buckle up for this one – seriously, it’s a ride. High-octane and without regard for the 9.8 meters per second of acceleration due to gravity, the film is a biographic look at the life of one Shane McConkey.

Considered to be the father of BASE jumping and a skiing hybrid sport, he was known for throwing himself off perfectly good cliffs, bridges, planes – you name it. The compelling narrative is driven by McConkey’s own unruly character and his ever-increasing desire for something more.

3. 180° South (2010)

What could be more of an armchair adventure than a documentary that relives the steps of the now-legendary expedition taken by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins (founders of Patagonia and The North Face, respectively) back in 1968? This time it’s the turn of surfer Jeff Johnson in 180° South.

He follows the route down across the Americas to the wilds of southern Argentina and Chile. There, he sets his sights on the snow-mantled tops of Corcovado Volcano, a monstrous summit of 2,300 meters in the Chilean lakes region.

4. Magical Andes (2019)

From the depths of ice-caked Patagonia all the way to the rainforests of the Amazon, the Andes represent one of the world’s most superlative mountain chains. This straight-to-Netflix documentary aims to capture their essence in one fell swoop.

Spread over a series of episodes, Magical Andes takes viewers on an immersive journey through the dagger-like Torres del Paine and the beautiful Argentine lake districts. As you go, you’re treated to exquisitely finished drone footage, and learn all about the earthy, outdoorsy lives of the people who live between the summits of the region.

5. Meru (2015)

Stay in the mountains, only hop halfway around the globe, by selecting Meru for this evening’s viewing. It whisks you to the depths of the legendary Himalaya, where the so-called Shark’s Fin peak of Meru spikes skywards.

Its summit is the aim of the game on this hard-watch documentary, which encompasses emotional highs and some seriously low lows. You get a glimpse at the sort of mettle needed to go toe to toe with the world’s most technical climbs, along with some gorgeous high-altitude photography in the mystical Indian mountains.

6. Free Solo (2018)

Academy Award-winner for the Best Documentary Feature and a truly well-deserved one at that is the spine-tingling tale of Free Solo. Expertly filmed by the accomplished adventure photographer Jimmy Chin, it focuses on an attempt made by veteran climber Alex Honnold at conquering Yosemite’s El Capitan.

The film is a series of hair-raising episodes that chronicles the hardships, the near-misses, and the technical accomplishments of what’s now considered one of the greatest ascents in the history of the sport, all wrapped up with thought-provoking vignettes that reveal the more peculiar side of Honnold’s determined character.

7. The Dawn Wall (2018)

The Dawn Wall is a Yosemite-based documentary that prefigured Oscar-winning Free Solo (see above) with shots of death-defying climbs on the great granite cliffs of the Californian Sierra Nevada.

The tale follows the trials and tribulations of expert free climber Tommy Caldwell, who sets himself the audacious task of scaling the famous 3,000-foot-high front face of El Capitan. There are moments of gasp-inducing daring on the stone with visions of the idyllic Yosemite Valley spreading from pine forests to peaks in the background.

8. Lhotse (2019)

First, there’s Everest. Then there’s K2. Then there’s Kangchenjunga. Fourth comes Lhotse at a whopping 8,516 meters. The climb to this ice-capped peak in the depths of the Himalayas is actually considered to be one of the most technically difficult on earth. But what about skiing back down?

Well…it had never been tried before until daring duo Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison made the attempt back in 2018. This is their story, produced by The North Face.

9. The Call of the Wild (2007)

Follow in the footsteps of the famous Supertramp, Christopher McCandless, with help from filmmaker Ron Lamothe.

Tracing the travails of the great vagabond across the USA, the piece lurches from well-to-do Virginia to the sun-baked planes of Nevada to the icy northern wastes of Alaska. It tries to chronicle his life and philosophy, while also ironically coming into contact with the Hollywood production of Sean Penn’s own biographic of McCandless, Into the Wild

Actionable Steps


1

Where are you dreaming of the most?

Mountains, seas, waves, ice caps – there are adventure documentaries about all sorts. Choose the thing that stokes your wanderlust the most to get a-viewing.

2

Check out free-to-watch options

Some of the adventure travel documentaries above were made as promotion videos, so you can often find them for free on services like YouTube.

3

Get the right streaming service

Virtually all of the films listed here are available for online streaming. Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime usually have the best selections of adventure travel documentaries.

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About the Author


Rich Francis

Rich Francis

Endless Traveler

Since bagging his English and Ancient History degree, Rich has traveled from the canyons of Mexico to the surf-splashed bays of Bali, done five interrails, toured India, Indonesia, Thailand, and New Zealand, hiked in Italy and France, skied across the Alps, and lived in countless countries for a month or more at a time. Now at five continents and upwards of 50 countries (gaining a TEFL certification along the way), it’s safe to say he is a seasoned traveler.
Full Bio | Connect With Rich | LinkedIn


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