My Favorite Outdoor Documentaries

Sometimes you just can’t get out on the weekends. Maybe it’s the weather, not enough gas money, sinus infection hits you hard, or you’ve been running yourself ragged every weekend and just need a break. (or you’re car poops out on you every minute of every day so you’re legitimately stranded - that’s me.)

If you’re in one of these frustrating boats, why not keep the adventurous spirit alive by watching an engaging documentary?

There’s a million docs out there to choose from so it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you first open your streaming service of choice. On top of the sheer volume of media to consume, it’s hard to tell if a documentary is going to check all the boxes of what makes a good selection just from the cover poster. I like my films to check these three boxes before I press play:

  • A compelling story or topic
  • Interesting characters that you enjoy following along with as they learn about the topic at hand
  • Beautifully made

My recommendations checked all three of those for me, so hopefully they will for you too!

Chasing Coral (Watch on Netflix)

This one has probably been screaming at you from the front page of Netflix so if you haven’t taken the plunge (ayyyyyyyy), this is your sign. This film simultaneously brings you immense joy at seeing the incredible underwater world and meeting people who feel strongly about saving its wonders, while also making you feel heartbreaking sorrow at how quickly the Earth’s corals are bleaching. Seriously, get the tissues handy because this is going to rock your emotional stability. 
Side note, if you don’t believe in climate change after watching, I will fight you....

Damnation (Rent on Vimeo)

I have probably seen this documentary seven times. It got me FIRED UP about deadbeat dams. I had no idea how many dams we had in our country that served literally no purpose. They are sitting there clogging up ecosystems that were doing just fine before humans decided they needed to build stuff everywhere. There was a time where dams were crucial to our infrastructure and the power grid, but that time has come to an end for many of these structures. This film also sheds light on the fish hatchery industry. It’s gross. Oh, and this film has incredibly beautiful animations/artwork/music.

Valley Uprising (Watch on Netflix)

Warning, this film has some unsavory language. Moving on, this is a great film that takes a look at the golden age of the climbing scene in Yosemite Valley. For newbie climbers like me, it’s so cool to see how the original "dirt bags" took over the valley and conquered all the routes that are famous today. I also love that it melds the “greats” of climbing with the newcomers dominating the climbing circuit today. Also you get to learn about the infamous “weed plane”. It’s a wild ride for sure.


180 degrees south (Watch on Netflix)

This film follows the travels of a young man retracing a trip that his heroes Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face) took in 1968. This one is filled with gorgeous landscapes, mountains, oceans, and trees. It’ll have you wanting to quit your job and hop on the nearest sailboat to South America.

The Barkley marathons (Watch on Netflix)

I had never heard of the “Barkley Marathons” before I saw this pop up in my netflix queue. It’s wild and it actually takes place not far from me in Tennessee. The gist of this insane test of physical and mental endurance is that you run 100 miles through some of the roughest trails in Tennessee. Seriously this will make you want to become a trail runner and also die at the same time. You follow along with the competitors who make it through the rigorous entry process and get a glimpse into the eccentric life of the creator of the marathons, Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell.

Meru (Rent on Amazon for $2.99)

One of my favorite adventure photographers is Jimmy Chin. This doc was created by him so you can obviously expect it to be beautiful. This follows Jimmy and his climbing companions on their multiple attempts at climbing the Shark’s Fin route on Mount Meru in India. They overcome all kind of obstacles including one of the climbers suffering a major medical issue while on the mountain. Get ready to feel completely obsolete in all your outdoor endeavors.  


Now that you have six killer docs to fill up your lazy weekend, here’s a bonus one to guilt you into trading the potato chips for  some carrot sticks while you couch it up.

That Sugar Film (Watch with Amazon Prime)

This film follows a dude that has an extremely healthy lifestyle. He eats plant based, never eats excess sugar (except what is in fruits, etc.), and exercises regularly. He is the picture of health. He decides to start eating like Americans normally do. Americans who are eating a “healthy” diet. Our yogurts, flavored waters, juices, cereals, etc. All things advertised to us on a daily basis as healthier choices. He starts out by taking blood samples and having an in depth physical so he can compare his starting and end point. It’s seriously insane to see what all that junk does to your body. Read the labels people.

Now that you’ve filled up a whole weekend with adventurous documentary goodness and then a kick in the pants to be healthy, you’re ready to launch into your week with renewed vigor.

Get moving!