Culture Notebook

The Best Podcasts of 2016

Great audio took over the outdoors world this year, and not just because Outside launched a show of our own in March. Now it's time to take a look back.

The Best Podcasts of 2016
The shows and episodes that stuck with us in 2016. (littlehenrabi/iStock)

Let's call 2016 the Year of Audio. We know this makes us sound out of touch—“Have you guys heard of this thing called a podcast? Great stuff!” But in our world, the medium really did come into its own this year, with great new general-interest shows about the outdoors, smart stories, and yes, the launch of the Outside Podcast (we're only a little biased when we say it's a truly worthwhile listen). Here are the episodes you should revisit and the shows you should make sure are on your 2017 playlist.

Best Podcast of the Year

There are technically several problems with our naming Outside/In, a production of New Hampshire Public Radio, the best new podcast of the year. Clearly we think the Outside Podcast is the best podcast ever made, right? That's true, but we're not too selfish to share the love. Even if the name is pretty darn close to our own. 

Our favorite episodes: 

Best Episodes of the Year

We polled Outside editors and Peter Frick-Wright, host of the Outside Podcast, on the shows that inspired them and stuck with them. 

Outside Podcast: “Struck by Lightning”

[Editor's note: We made Frick-Wright tell us his favorite episode.] “This story kept surprising us and finding new ways to surpass expectations as we were reporting it. First, Phil's ex-wife gave us an amazing and non-sugarcoated look at their lives before and after the lightning strike. Then Phil was about as open and honest and real with us as anyone we've ever talked to. Our hearts broke for him. Then we talked to the woman who rescued Phil from the second lightning storm. I'm still getting emails from people saying, ‘What are the chances...?’ ” —Peter Frick-Wright 

Sound Matters: “The Sound of Life Itself”

“Tim Hinman's laconic writing and aired-out style of narration is an antidote for quick edits and frantic pace of a lot of American shows, and he's masterful at using sound to hold your attention without rushing the story. In this episode, Hinman talks to Bernie Krause about natural soundscapes and how the natural world runs on sound. I was going to do a very similar piece for Outside, but this one is so good it pretty much convinced me that there wasn't anything left to say.” —PFW

Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything: “A Light Touch and a Slight Nudge”

“Benjamen Walker is a writer's writer. He just happens to write for the ear and put out a podcast instead of publishing stories in print. And the stories are wacky and gonzo and you never quite know what's fiction and what's not until he's done telling them. This episode happens to be true. I think. I had a lot of fun wondering.” —PFW

Love+Radio: “A Girl of Ivory”

“This is the best kind of audio; a plot that twists and turns like a David Grann story, but wouldn't have worked in print and wouldn't have worked on video. There's a moment partway through where I texted [co-producer] Robbie Carver just to say, ‘Holy shit!’ and if you listen you'll know exactly where it was.” —PFW

Code Switch: “Made For You and Me” 

“Representation in the outdoors is a huge issue that we’ve only just begun to touch on in our coverage. This episode of the Code Switch podcast—which launched earlier this year and focuses on race and culture—tackles what it means to be “outdoorsy” as a person of color.” —Molly Mirhashem, online fitness editor

Ultra Runner Podcast: “Jim Walmsley Interview: July 29” 

“When ultrarunning historians (let's just pretend those exist for a moment) look back on 2016, they'll remember it as the year that the sport transformed from a slow, methodical, tactical affair to one dominated by young, fearless speed demons. They'll say that Jim Walmsley, a then practically unknown 26-year-old runner from Flagstaff, Arizona, ushered in this new era during the 2016 running of Western States. While Walmsley ended up placing 18th in that race after accidentally taking a wrong turn at mile 93, he, by ultrarunning standards, sprinted through the course, running well ahead of course-record pace. In this episode of Ultra Runner Podcast, host Eric Schranz talked to Walmsley about this incredible run, how he trained for, and how it felt to have history slip through his fingers. Walmsley would go on to win every race he subsequently ran that summer, setting multipule course records in the process. His interview with Schranz was, for all intents and purposes, his coming out party.” —Wes Judd, online fitness editor

Science Vs: “Fracking”

“It's not just that Science Vs doesn't take sides, it often manages to make both sides of an argument—and itself—sound totally silly. The Fracking episode is just as hard on the environmentalists as it is on the natural gassers, and host Wendy Zukerman is so totally committed to her constant jokes that it creates a safe mental space to listen and question topics that you thought you already understood.” —PFW

99% Invisible: “The Green Book”

“Did you know that for much of the 20th century people of color relied on a publication called The Green Book to guide them to places where they would be served at restaurants and could safely spend the night? I didn't. And I never thought of the interstate highway system as a racially charged, potentially dangerous place until I heard this story. 99% Invisible is mostly about architecture and design and history, but everyone who cares about the world around them should be listening.” —PFW

The Memory Palace: “Artist in Landscape” 

“I like the Memory Palace quite a bit. Nate DiMeo does a quick history lesson, but makes the story super interesting. Like this one on how Audubon bird collection came to be... but not really, it's a love story. A sad one.” —Charlie Ebbers, editorial fellow

To the Best of Our Knowledge: “The Edge of the Run” 

“I’m absolutely a self-proclaimed running nerd, but this episode approaches running from a wide variety of angles—including doping, a self-transcendence race, and all the varied reasons to run—so you don’t need to also be a running nerd to enjoy it.” —MM

Honorable Mentions: The Shows You Should Subscribe to in 2017

These podcasts have made a strong showing this year, but we're already looking ahead to the shows we expect to get even better in the year ahead. 

She Explores: A welcome newcomer with thoughtful interviews and stories about women and the outdoors.
Recommended episode: “Diversity, Beyond the Buzzword

The Dirtbag Diaries: An old standby that only gets better with time.
Recommended episode: “The Suffer Vest” 

VeloNews Fast Talk Podcast: Shockingly made roadies’ concerns interesting even to non-cyclists, making it our niche pick of the year.
Recommended episode: “How much speed can $2,000 buy?

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