The Best Outdoor Reality TV

Out­door enthu­si­asts are typ­i­cal­ly too focused on pro­ject­ing their next climb, plan­ning a dis­tance hike, or camp­ing in the remote places to be both­ered with real­i­ty TV. In the past few years, chan­nels such as His­to­ry and the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel have actu­al­ly been turn­ing out some thought­ful, infor­ma­tive, and grip­ping real­i­ty tv shows focused on out­door liv­ing, home­steading and sur­vival. The major­i­ty of these shows are not over­ly sen­sa­tion­al­ized or dra­mat­ic, but many of them are pure­ly in it for the ratings.

Moun­tain Men
This His­to­ry Chan­nel favorite tracks the tri­als and tri­umphs of sev­er­al men liv­ing in var­i­ous moun­tain­ous regions through­out North Amer­i­ca. Some are trap­pers, oth­ers are home­stead­ers or tim­ber-smiths. All are rugged and utter­ly badass. When you watch Moun­tain Men, expect to see sweep­ing views of snowy peaks, long treks to find game, and a whole lot of grit. Full of prac­ti­cal sur­vival knowl­edge, emo­tion­al depth, and can­did humor, Moun­tain Men presents a more method­i­cal and old-school method for liv­ing in and enjoy­ing the wilderness.

The Last Alaskans
Instead of focus­ing on a sin­gle fam­i­ly try­ing to make it in the bush, this Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel show focus­es on sev­er­al fam­i­lies liv­ing in Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge and how they man­age to sur­vive in Alaska’s often harsh envi­ron­ment. One cou­ple, for exam­ple, runs traplines with their dog sled team. Anoth­er cou­ple are skilled hunters and trap­pers, uti­liz­ing a snow­mo­bile and often walk­ing dozens of miles through the snowy wilder­ness to har­vest small game and occa­sion­al­ly elk or moose. This show does an excel­lent job of show­ing the stark real­i­ties that peo­ple liv­ing a more prim­i­tive lifestyle face dai­ly and how their expe­ri­ences bring them clos­er to nature.

Anoth­er poignant aspect of the show—these fam­i­lies are tru­ly the last humans allowed to live with­in the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge since the gov­ern­ment banned new human occu­pa­tion in 1980.

Our per­son­al favorite, Alone, air­ing on the His­to­ry Chan­nel, is prob­a­bly the best sur­vival show out there to date. Expert sur­vival­ists com­pete for $500,000. To win, they must out­last all of the oth­ers, liv­ing off of the land and uti­liz­ing only the min­i­mal sur­vival items they’re allowed or items they find in the wilder­ness. The catch? They are, as the name implies, com­plete­ly alone dur­ing this time. Dur­ing the first 15–30 days of the show, most par­tic­i­pants are focused on short-term sur­vival, but as the days add up, many of the men and women start shift­ing into long-term sur­vival mode by refin­ing and rein­forc­ing their shel­ters, mak­ing sure they can find con­sis­tent food sources, and find­ing ways to enter­tain themselves.

Why is this the best sur­vival show on tele­vi­sion? It most accu­rate­ly rep­re­sents what it would be like to find your­self in a true sur­vival sit­u­a­tion. All of the footage is filmed by the con­tes­tants who are equipped with a satel­lite phone that can only be used if they are will­ing to “tap-out” and for­feit their chance at the prize mon­ey. The show’s edi­tors do a great job of show­ing the strug­gles the par­tic­i­pants face as well as the men­tal game that sur­vival becomes after your basic needs are met. Not to men­tion, you’ll learn a lot from watch­ing: edi­ble plants, wilder­ness med­i­cine, how to erect cer­tain prim­i­tive struc­tures, and even how to enter­tain your­self with noth­ing more than wood and a knife.

Dual Sur­vival
If you wan­na see two ful­ly clothed adept peo­ple sur­viv­ing in a vari­ety of remote wilder­ness areas, Dual Sur­vival is your best bet on TV right now. Also a Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel incar­na­tion, this show hinges on two male sur­vival­ists (cur­rent­ly Josh James and Grady Pow­ell) work­ing togeth­er to sur­vive after being dropped in an unknown area of the wilder­ness. They must cross rivers, build shel­ters, find food, and make their way to civ­i­liza­tion all the while, show­ing the audi­ence the best prac­tices for get­ting out alive. Occa­sion­al­ly, there’s some dra­ma when the two cast-mem­bers don’t agree, but gen­er­al­ly they are able to resolve their dif­fer­ences and work togeth­er for the bet­ter­ment of their sit­u­a­tion. Like Alone, view­ers typ­i­cal­ly learn a great deal when watch­ing this show, includ­ing ori­en­teer­ing prac­tices, for­ag­ing, har­vest­ing small game, and shel­ter construction.