Blame Serial (I do), but podcasting has changed the way a lot of us hear and tell stories. Audio that you can take anywhere is intimate in a way that almost no other media is, and there are more quality shows than ever doing just that, from big sweeping mysteries to drilled-down interviews. The outdoor world is no different. These are all the best podcasts about nature, public lands, and adventure—the ones that have held up to the ebb and flow of the podcasting trend, that teach us something new about the outdoor world and the people in it.
This is the OG of outdoor-storytelling podcasts. Fitz Cahall started the Diaries in 2007 as a digital representation of campfire tales about backcountry adventures. More than a decade later, that’s included river trips gone wrong, treks on endangered land, and finding clarity on solo horse-packing adventures. The outdoors can inspire all kinds of feelings, and Dirtbag Diaries has covered an astounding amount of them.
In 2014, Gale Straub started telling stories of women outside to amplify the voices of people who weren’t being heard. Ever since, she’s been asking incisive, thoughtful questions about diversity, bodies, and unspoken challenges in the outdoors—and She Explores has turned into a community and connection point.
In this 2017 seven-part series, Leah Sotille takes a balanced look at the Bundy family’s fight with federal land managers and its ultimately fatal occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. In the process, she illuminates the complicated history and charged future of public-land management in the American West. And it’s back with seven more episodes as of July 15.
Why is it so hard to prove that Bigfoot exists… or doesn’t? After discovering a relative who was obsessed with just that, Laura Krantz spent a year asking Sasquatch experts and hunters about the myth of the woods. In the process, she stumbles onto some surprisingly deep questions about why we want to believe in the unknown, especially in a world where you can answer almost any question by asking the internet.
Outside/In describes itself as “a show about the natural world and how we use it.” Host Sam Evans-Brown and the folks at New Hampshire Public Radio cover that in all sorts of surprising and delightful ways, including the validity of ghosts, the challenges of storm chasing, and the importance of being outdoorsy while online dating.
Are climbers the nerdiest of outdoor nerds? That point is (only a little) debatable, but Enormocast is a safe space to dork out about hand jams, the home lives of dirtbags, and all kinds of other topics. Host Chris Kalous goes down a wormhole with your favorite climbers’ favorite climbers, like Adam Ondra and Alex Honnold’s mom, and the results are insidery and gossipy in the best sense.
The Firn Line
Just kidding, climbers aren’t the nerdiest of outdoor nerds—mountaineers are the ultimate dorks. In The Firn Line, Evan Phillips talks about why people are drawn to the brutal beauty of high peaks and what they give up to get there. Through interviews with people like Conrad Anker and the late David Lama, he looks at obsession, creativity, and risk.
30 for 30
Like the in-depth ESPN documentaries that gave way to this spin-off series, 30 for 30 goes deep into the untold backstories of sports. We particularly love “On Thin Ice,” an episode about the first all-female attempt at the North Pole, and “Yankees Suck,” about the eponymous, scandalous T-shirts of Red Sox fandom (so, not adventure sports, but a masterful piece of storytelling), both from season one.
The Powell Movement
The comedy world has Marc Maron as bombastic, button-pushing podcaster. We have Mike Powell, a former action-sports athlete manager who’s a lovable loudmouth. He also has a talent for asking tricky questions to luminaries, like mountain biker Casey Brown, skier Glen Plake, and skater John Cardiel.
One of the best things about podcasting is that it self-sorts the audience, giving the host agency to outline the minutiae of a sport or pastime. (Apparently people listen to hours of talk about the NBA draft?) Nowhere is that clearer than on the Ultrarunner podcast, which covers the nutrition, gear, racing, and athletes of ultrarunning in hyperspecific detail.
The Tim Ferriss Show
We’ll be there when life hacking is canceled, but until then, Tim Ferriss will continue to be the go-to voice for optimization. He’s gotten as famous as he is because he’s not scared to ask people who are the best at things—LeBron James, for instance—weird, probing questions about how they got to be as good as they are.
The First 40 Miles
It’s been off-line since the end of 2018, but The First 40 Miles is a long-standing resource for anyone who wants to get into backpacking (or really any kind of hiking). It’s full of tips, stories, and secrets that are never pedantic and always surprising, from inspiration for backcountry pizza parties, to ideas on how to fight posthike ennui, to flat-out basics like how to pack your bag.
What is the wilderness, really? And how do we survive when we’re in confined, stressful environments? Those were questions that NASA was asking when it put six volunteers into a constructed habitat on a remote Hawaiian island. And the fallout might feel familiar if you’ve been trapped in a bad backcountry situation before.
Podcasts often succeed on the charisma and chemistry of their hosts. Safety Third certainly does. The show pings between Elizabeth Nakano’s straight-faced sarcasm and Paddy O’Connell’s giggles during interviews with people like fishing-boat captain McKenna Peterson and Aspen’s vice president of sustainability, Auden Schendler. It’s a funny, not-too-earnest platform to get into the reasons why those people have shaped their lives around adventure and what they ultimately learn from it.
We may be biased, but we can’t help including this one—the Outside Podcast is right up our alley in every way. Listen if you’re looking for variety of topics—on any given week, we’ll be talking about the brain benefits of nature, investigating the science behind snake venom, or imagining in excruciating narrative detail what it would be like to get attacked by a relentless swarm of bees.
Lead photo: Getty Images/REDA&CO/Peter Dazeley/Art by Petra Zeiler