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.
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.
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.