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10 Best Adventure Documentaries

Even the most outdoorsy folks need a quiet night on the couch now and again. When you want to binge something better than stale sitcom reruns, these exhilarating documentaries will inspire you to chase adventures of your own—tomorrow, perhaps. 

1. Free Solo 

A true edge-of-your-seat story, this award-winning film follows free soloist Alex Honnold as he takes on Yosemite National Park’s 3,000-foot El Capitan without a rope. His climbing quest has the highest of stakes: Become the first to accomplish the feat or fall to his death on camera. The suspenseful documentary claimed more than a dozen awards, including an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

2. Into the Empty Quarter

Inspired by Wilfred Thesiger’s 1,000-mile expedition through the unforgiving desert of the Arabian Peninsula in the 1940s, Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron self-film their own trek through the Empty Quarter. The pair plan a last-minute, low-budget trip that leaves them pulling a homemade cart weighed down with 700 pounds of supplies across the world’s largest sand desert. 

3. Unbranded 

To highlight the plight of 50,000 wild horses in government holding facilities, four fresh-out-of-college cowboys adopt 16 wild mustangs and take them on a 3,000-mile journey from Mexico to Canada. The documentary showcases the value of these incredible creatures as the friends navigate danger, drought, and death in the wild American West. 

4. The Endless Summer

Nearly 60 years after its release, this Bruce Brown film is considered a cinematic classic and a major influence on modern adventure documentaries. It follows surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August as they chase summer up and down the world, demonstrating how unlimited time and money could essentially make surfing season endless.

5. The Great Alone

Shot in the Alaskan Arctic, this documentary tells the comeback story of champion sled sled dog racer Lance Mackey. Amid battles with homelessness, addiction, and cancer, he fights to secure his spot as one of the all-time greats and dominate the Iditarod’s 1,000 miles of brutal wilderness.

6. The Alpinist 

Packed with nerve-racking footage of risky solo ascents, this documentary captures the life and climbs of the late Marc-André Leclerc. This off-beat alpinist is a purist who couldn’t care less about praise or attention, and even the cameras struggle to keep up with his harrowing, icy pursuits that set the bar high for other free climbers. 

7. Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

An oddball ultramarathon inspired by an escaped felon, the Barkley comprises five loops through changing elevation and thick woods in Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park. Only 15 runners have ever completed the 100-mile course in nearly 40 years. This film profiles all aspects of the bizarre event, including the athletes just crazy enough to subject themselves to the torture that is Barkley Marathons. 

8. Limitless

After a canyoning accident in the Swiss Alps left Jezza Williams a tetraplegic, he was motivated to continue his extreme exploits and make adventure sports accessible to everyone. This short film spotlights his inspirational recovery, adaptive adventures and the Making Trax movement. 

9. Big World

Climber and chronic adventurer David Morton explores the tough parenting balance of keeping kids safe while also instilling a sense of risk-taking curiosity in their young minds. This brief documentary chronicles Morton’s week-long SUP trip down the Karnali and Bheri Rivers in Western Nepal with his 7-year-old son. 

10. Meru 

In this adventure that wasn’t, accomplished athletes Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk fail to summit Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas in 2008. Directed by Chin and his wife, the film documents that heartbreaking failure and the climbers’ personal struggles—and their subsequent second attempt to accomplish the first ascent via the“Shark’s Fin” route.

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  1. Kittie Aiudi

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