By: Sylvia Karcz, Contributing Blogger
Outdoor journeys come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s climbing a high-elevation peak, a 100-mile bike ride, or a short but potent bucket-list hike in your hometown, there’s no single parameter that defines the act of getting active outdoors. If you’re out in nature and moving with intention in a way that feels right for you, that alone is success and enough to be stoked about!
But: what if we ramped things up a bit? What if we pushed ourselves a bit further and a bit harder, past our comfort zone? What if we undertook something that redefined our relationship to challenge and tested our willpower on an entirely new level?
This short roundup of outdoor-centric films and documentaries shows the unwavering spirit of passionate, nature-loving folks who took on some pretty incredible feats. We hope that they’ll leave you with that heart-racing feeling that preempts a grand adventure idea, but also, with a certain affirmation that our bodies and minds are truly full of limitless potential. With the right attitude and the right training —or heck, sometimes even no training!— we can venture to places beyond our wildest imagination. And there’s no better time than now to say YES to that idea.
Release Date: 2013
Run Time: 110 minutes
During the late 1970s, 27-year-old Robyn Davidson embarked on a 1,700-mile voyage crossing the harsh Australian Outback in search of her own definition of freedom, accompanied by just a dog and four camels. Based on Davidson’s autobiographical book, this film largely flew under the radar upon its release, but is truly one of the most compelling adventure flicks out there. It shows the unwavering capacity of the human spirit in a relentless, remote environment, and how the power of any journey lies in weaving together a series of steps, one after the other.
A WALK IN THE WOODS
Release Date: 2015
Run Time: 104 minutes
Sure, it shows a more unconventional pairing of characters undertaking a long-distance hike —i.e., they’re not young or super fit and they’re not exactly prepared— but that’s the beauty of it! Based on the autobiographical book by Bill Bryson, the author and his longtime friend Stephan Katz take on the venerated 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States with equal parts humor and sensibility. It’s light-hearted, relatable, and ultimately shows that all those small movements and connections in the outdoors are worth just as much as the final destination.
Release Date: 2015
Run Time: 121 minutes
A creme-de-la-creme of adventure movies, Everest tells the story of one of the most infamous days on the world’s highest peak. An all-star cast portrays a few different groups of real-life mountaineers that encounter a harsh storm while attempting to summit Mount Everest in May of 1996, and the unfortunate events that made it one of the deadliest on the mountain. While it may seem like a distant, unapproachable world for most viewers, it does convey the importance of decision-making in the outdoors and knowing when to turn back. A cinematic, high-elevation ride that’ll leave you both awe-inspired and humbled.
Release Date: 2023
Run Time: 121 minutes
At age 64, long-distance swimmer Diane Nyad tackled 110 miles in the open ocean from Cuba to Florida- without a shark cage. This biopic chronicles the journey from the start, including the four unsuccessful attempts Nyad had over several years. It's a display of human perseverance at its finest, but also shows the value of having a solid support system to help achieve those
epic goals. Nyad is two uplifting hours well spent, and a film that reminds us that it’s never too late to see a dream to fruition.
Release Date: 2014
Run Time: 115 minutes
One of the most popular, poignant, and beautifully filmed movies of the past decade to feature the rollercoaster of long-distance hiking, Wild is based on the bestselling memoir by Cheryl Strayed (which is worth reading before watching!) It recounts the author’s inaugural thru-hike in the tumultuous wake of her mother’s death and does so in a way that truly emphasizes the humanity and self-discovery that come hand-in-hand with any outdoor voyage. It’s the kind of movie you won’t mind rewatching over and over, and perhaps just the motivation you need to commit to that grand adventure idea.
Release Date: 2021
Run Time: 92 minutes
This moving tribute to passionate, often-elusive climber Marc-André Leclerc gives audiences an intimate glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most skilled mountain athletes of recent years. Sure, it’s filled with its share of heart-racing, palm-sweating scenes of impossibly technical ascents in impossibly beautiful places, but more than that, the film embraces the notion of following your own unique path wholeheartedly, wherever it may lead.
I JUST WANT TO RIDE: LAEL WILCOX & THE 2019 TOUR DIVIDE
Release Date: 2019
Run Time: 38 minutes
2745 miles. Over 200,000 feet of elevation gain. One province, five states, and 18 days of persistent bicycling through various terrain, weather, and setbacks. The empowering sunbeam that is Lael Wilcow takes us along her self-supported journey bikepacking the infamous Tour Divide Race, and if it doesn’t make you want to get on a bike I don’t know what will! A fantastic glimpse into a grueling race, but essentially, one that advocates for and encourages human-powered movement from one point to another, no matter the distance.
4-WHEEL BOB: WHEELCHAIR HIKING ACROSS THE SIERRA NEVADA
Release Date: 2016
Run Time: 56 minutes
Bob Coomber has a dream to reach the 11,845-foot Kearsarge Pass in the Sierra Nevadas and refuses to let his wheelchair or physical challenges hold him back. The approach is scrambly, steep, and full of relentless switchbacks, but Bob’s passion and resolute mindset allow him to face the challenge head-on. An inspiring, unique perspective that’ll stay with you long after the credits roll.
THE RIVER RUNNER
Release Date: 2021
Run Time: 86 minutes
Not all outdoor accomplishments follow a defined or predictable path, and this engaging documentary about famed kayaker Scott Lindgren’s 20-year journey to paddle the four “great rivers” of Tibet shows just that. Highlighting the complexities of the sport just as much as the complexities of human beings, the film digs deep into mental health and personal struggles and shows how nature—and adventures within it—can be an invaluable catalyst for personal growth, change, and healing.