If the best thing in the world is getting out into nature, the next best thing is curling up with a bag of chips and watching a movie about nature, right? Well today I thought I’d put together a hiking movies list – only I didn’t stop there. I added in adventure documentaries and outdoor movies too, bringing you 22 outdoor films you’re sure to enjoy.

Some are iconic backpacking movies, meanwhile others are shorter independent documentaries. But don’t worry – there are plenty of recommendations for movies like Into the Wild.

For the most part, I’ve embedded the trailer for all of the trail movies / adventure documentaries listed below. I’ve also done my best to specify where the movie can be watched (though with licensing changes with the streaming services, this is subject to change).

Okay, without further ago, here are the best outdoor movies ever!

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New Here? Hello and welcome to Voyageur Tripper! I'm Mikaela and I'm the voice behind all the posts on this site. I used to work as a wilderness guide in Canada and now I create resources to help others get outside more.


Best Trail Movies

Below you will find, what I believe to be, the best hiking movies (like Wild and A Walk in the Woods) and the best backpacking movies (Tracks and The Way). Together I’ve loosely categorized this section as Best Trail Movies.

These outdoor movies are often inspired by true events or based on true stories, though they are not backpacking documentaries (that’s the next section).

Into the Wild

I’m going to start with Into the Wild, as it’s easily one of the best backpacking movies on Netflix. Into the Wild is based on the true story of Chris McCandless, a man in his earlier twenties who throws away all his possessions, abandons his family and hitchhikes to Alaskan wilderness. It’s a remarkable story and demonstrates the challenge that comes with setting off on your own and leaving behind the material world; Chris works odd jobs just long enough to give him the funds to make the next leg of his trip.

The movie culminates in the remote Alaska bush where Chris is faced with survival challenges beyond his skills and ultimately learns the true meaning of a life worth living. Trust me, this is easily one of the top backpacking movies and will leave shivers down your spine when you finish it. (It doesn’t help that it’s one of the only hiking movies on Netflix, meaning almost everyone has seen it.)

Where to Watch: Netflix


Wild

Wild is inspired by the life of Cheryl Strayed who hiked the 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail alone in the 1990s. Cheryl’s book Wild, and then later the movie by the same name, have contributed to the explosive popularity of the Pacific Crest Trail.

What I love about Wild is that it’s not just a backpacking movie. This is a movie about overcoming personal challenge to accomplish more than you thought you were capable of. It’s about facing your demons – most notably your past – head on. Sometimes the best way to heal is to pack our pain into our backpack, through it on our shoulders and walk until things make sense. I don’t know whether it’s the amazing hike or the relatable heroin, but Wild has easily become one of the most well known trail movies ever made.

But whatever it is, Wild one of my personal favourites hiking movies, so I strongly recommend it.

Where to Watch: Disney+


Wildlike

To be honest, Wildlike was nothing like what I thought it would be, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. In Wildlike, a 14 year old girl named MacKenzie is sent to live with her uncle in rural Alaska, following the death of her father and the hospitalization of her mother. Her uncle proceeds to sexually abuse her and MacKenzie runs away. She meets an older widowed backpacker and embarks on a journey through Alaska.

The contrast in this movie is striking: teen angst with Denali National Park as a backdrop. And with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, this would easily be one of the top hiking films.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


The Way Back

This movie is based on another true story: in 1941, four men flee communist Russia after imprisonment in a Siberian gulag. In search of freedom, the men trek 4,000 miles across dessert and mountains to reach India.

Where to Watch: YouTube (Rent) or Google Play (Rent)


A Walk in the Woods

Based on a true story, A Walk in the Woods tells of Bill Bryson (my favourite travel writer) and his experience on the Appalachian Trail. But this hiking movie is nothing like Wild – farthest thing from it. I read the book, A Walk in the Woods, and loved in as Bill is a hilarious writer and both he and his companion make for an entertaining journey (hint: neither of them are good at hiking).

Bill Bryson’s humour doesn’t translate as well on the big screen, so the movie isn’t nearly as good as the book in my opinion. That said, unlike the movies above, this is a lighthearted movie that laughs at the challenges all of us face when getting outside for the first time. So for that reason, I’m keeping A Walk in the Woods on my list of best hiking movies.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


Tracks

Tracks is an incredible adventure movie and unlike most of the other outdoor films on this list. Based on a true story, Tracks brings us into Robyn Davidson’s incredible journey in the Australian outback – a journey that covered more than 1,700 miles over 9 months. But don’t worry, she has company – four camels and a dog to be exact.

As is the case with Wild, Tracks emphasizes the emotional and spiritual development of its heroine. Robyn is forced to overcome some brutal conditions – sand storms and snakes are the least of it. But it has a really uplifting energy, making it one of the best backpacking movies. You know what, I think Tracks is one of my favourite trail movies that doesn’t actually have a trail to follow. Hiking 2,000 miles on a beaten path is very different than forging your own.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


The Way

Here is another hiking movie not set in the US. The Way is about the Camino de Santiago, one of the most popular backpacking trails in Europe. Technically it’s the site of a Christian pilgrimage, as the ending point is supposedly where saints are buried. However many non-Christians do the hike as well, simply to take in the beauty and rich history.

In The Way we follow a father who travels to the Camino to recover the body of his estranged son, who died on the trail. The father, who never understood why his son couldn’t just live a conventional life, takes up the pilgrimage himself. While the film doesn’t have the same caliber of filming and dramatic landscape scenes as many of the backpacking movies above, it offers a wider breadth of emotion.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video


Best Backpacking Documentaries

Here are the Best Backpacking Documentaries. All of them take place in the US, so if you’re aware of any backpacking documentaries that take place outside the US, please let me know! I’d like to geographically diversify this list.

Mile… Mile and a Half

This was one of the first adventure documentaries on Netflix (at least in Canada) and my first introduction to the John Muir Trail (which now sits at the top of my bucket list). In this film, a group of creatives hike the 210-mile length of the John Muir Trail.

This is an amazing backpacking documentary simply for the footage alone. Fun fact: The film was funded through a Kickstarter campaign! Filmed by the hikers themselves, the California scenery is striking – the mountains, the valleys, the rivers – and the adventures had along the way are entertaining too.

One caveat I will call out is that this isn’t among the particularly thrilling adventure documentaries. It’s beautiful and nice to watch, but I wouldn’t exact call it exciting.

Where to Watch: Netflix


Do More With Less

If you’re considering hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, this will be one of the most helpful hiking documentaries you watch. In Do More With Less, the filmmakers interview over 100 thru-hikers on the 2,660 mile trail that connect the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders.

The hikers discuss the trail and its wonders (and challenges), and what it takes to be off the grid and live a like of adventure.

Where to Watch: Do More With Less (Free)

Do More With Less | A Conversation About The Pacific Crest Trail from Do More With Less on Vimeo.


The Long Start to the Journey

This is a documentary about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ve included it in the list to try to balance out how many trail movies I’ve included about the Pacific Crest Trail, but I haven’t actually seen this one yet. It looks like it’s tricky to find online. Man, I’m really selling it, aren’t I? The films gets great reviews for beautiful scenery and an entertaining narrator.

Where to Watch: Theat Movie (Rent)


Best Outdoor Movies

The Best Outdoor Movies category is for any outdoor movies that aren’t specifically about hiking / backpacking, and thus left out of the Trail Movies category. Here you’ll find stories of mountain climbers, surfers, bikers and paddlers.

Touching the Void

If you’ve read my list of the best outdoor adventure books, you’ll already know that Touching the Void is my favourite outdoor book. This outdoor movie is a serious cliff hanger (pun intended). Touching the Void tells the story of Joe Simpson and his climbing partner who attempt a first ascent of a mountain face in the Southern Andes. Running low on fuel and with a storm on the horizon, the two climbers attempt a speedy descent down the mountain. But then Joe breaks his leg, gets lost in a depths of a crevasse and his partner is forced to leave him.

This movie will have you going “This is the end. No way he survives this.” But then you remember that Joe wrote the book, so he obviously survived. But HOW does he survive? Now that’s a story.

While it may not be one of the best outdoor movies in terms of cinematography, I think it’s easily one of the best in terms of story.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video (Only in the US)


127 Hours

Do you subscribe to my weekly outdoor education email? If you do, you’ll know I am constantly referencing 127 Hours, as I regularly remind my readers to always leave a route card for their trips so they can avoid running into an experience like that of Aron Ralston.

Based on a true story, 127 Hours is the story of how Aron Ralston finds himself trapped in a canyon in the middle of Utah. With no food, no water and an arm pinned by a rock, Aron survives 127 hours before he is found (more or less of him, that is). One of the best outdoor movies for the lesson it embarks (and the frequent “oh my god I can’t believe this is real” disbelief): always leave a note with where you’re going and when you’ll be back!

Where to Watch: Disney+


Revenant

I’ve tried hard to keep this list free of Hollywood blockbuster-type movies, but I felt I had to include Revenant. This movie takes places in the 1820s follows a trapping party, guiding by Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), through the territory of present-day North & South Dakota. The trapping party is attacked by Arikana (a Native American tribe); many die and a few escape by boat. Here’s where things get interesting. Leo’s character is mauled by a bear and is badly injured, sparking debate among the group about whether they should mercy kill him. Ultimately he is left for dead. But Leo doesn’t give up that easily. From here the film follows Leo’s brutal self rescue.

One of the reasons I’m including it on the list is that Revenant has gotten some surprisingly positive reviews about its portrayal of Native Americans – something of which Hollywood has always done a terribly racists job. It’s not a Native story, of course, and there is some controversy about the portrayal. That said, I think it’s worth watching.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video (Rent)


Deliverance

Final Hollywood movie I promise. I actually haven’t seen Deliverance and I have no plans too. I already get anxious hiking / paddling alone – I don’t need the story of a canoe group getting attacked in my subconscious. But if you like both thrillers and outdoor movies, this is right up your alley.

In Deliverance, four friends set out to paddle the Cahulawassee River in Georgia, before it gets dammed. The trip starts well, but soon takes a turn for the worse – due to a set of unforgiving rapids and some… unfriendly locals.

And that’s all the summary I’m going to offer. If someone would like to watch the movie and let me know if it’s actually that scary, I would appreciate it. Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion….

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video (Rent)


Best Adventure Documentaries

Finally, we have the category for the Best Adventure Documentaries. While hiking and backpacking are definitely adventures, this category is for the adventure documentaries that aren’t about hiking and backpacking. We’ve got skiing and surfing and climbing and more in this list.

180 Degrees South

This is easily one of my favourite adventure documentaries on Netflix. In 180 Degree South, Jeff Johnson follows in the footsteps of his heroes Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and Doug Thompson and retraces their journey to Patagonia, South America. There are a few mishaps along the way (say, getting shipwrecked on Easter Island) and some unexpected encounters (“‘Sup Yvon?”).

In addition to being a great story, 180 Degree South has incredible cinematography and an amazing soundtrack (I’m actually listening to the soundtrack on Spotify as I write this).

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video (Only in the US)


North of the Sun

You know I’ll try any outdoor movie with the word “north” in the title, and this one was no exception. In North of the Sun, two friends stay nine months in a remote cabin in Norway surfing the chilly, arctic waters. They build the cabin from driftwood and other washed up materials, which in and of itself is impressive.

While they have virtually no possessions, they do have their surfboards – and the little nook in the high arctic has secretly incredible waves. I don’t like surfing movies all that much, but I do think this one was impressively shot and was an interesting alternative to the usual mountainous thru-hiking movies I watch.

Where to Watch: North of the Sun (Rent)


Free Solo

Despite the controversy, of course I was going to put Free Solo on this list – I believe this is the only adventure documentary on the list to have an Oscar win. Free Solo follows Alex Honnold as he prepares to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park – a 3,000 ft sheer granite cliff – without the use of ropes.

The controversy comes around Alex’s degree of risk taking. Some of his sponsors dropped him ahead of the climb, as they deemed it an example of reckless and unnecessary risk taking. I don’t disagree. I also think Alex Honnold is a bit of a narcissist, but I think that’s part of the reason he’s achieved what he has.

Almost equally as impressive as Alex’s climb is the filming of the movie. Filmed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the shots are absolutely stunning (and nerve racking). Seriously, if you’re afraid of heights I don’t recommend watching Free Solo – even if it is one of the best outdoor documentaries – it’ll make you sick.

Where to Watch: Disney+


Pretty Faces

This adventure documentary is super different than the others on my list, but I feel the need to include it for two reasons: 1. It’s amazing to watch, and 2. This is one of the few documentaries that features a woman-dominated cast. Pretty Faces is a stunning compilation of professional skiers and snowboarders tackling the most insane mountains. It’s beautifully shot – one of the most beautiful skiing films ever produced, though admittedly I haven’t watched that many skiing movies.

Where to Watch: Vimeo (Rent)


Rivering

This is a super cool adventure documentary about whitewater paddlers in New Zealand. They talk about the rivers of New Zealand, whitewater paddling, risk taking, the river lifestyle and more. An independently produced firm, this one doesn’t have the cinematic quality of the other documentaries on this list – but considering they aren’t professional filmmakers, I was really impressed with the quality.

Where to Watch: Vimeo (Free)

RIVERING from RIVERING on Vimeo.


Waterwalker

Bill Mason is the father of modern canoeing; a canoeing god, you might say. During his life he paddled more of Canada than just about anyone else, producing art, books and films about the land. A naturalist by training, Bill Mason takes us through the beautiful province of Ontario in Waterwalker. He talks about the land, its history, our relationship with it. He also has a really smoothing voice; even when he tipped his canoe in huge swells in Lake Superior, I felt calm.

I may take a moment to get used to the film quality and format – this was produced in 1984 – but push through it. You will not regret it!

Where to Watch: Youtube (Free)


What’s your favourite Trail Movie / Outdoor Movie / Adventure Documentary?

I hope you’ve found this post helpful and know what backpacking movies on Netflix to watch this evening. If I could make a quick recommendation, it would be either Tracks or 180 Degrees South – those are less popular than some of the classics, but still very good movies.

Did I leave your favourite outdoor movie off the list? Let me know in the comments and I’ll put aside some time to watch it and update the list.



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