Youtube has a surprisingly rich archive of quality documentaries for outdoor and adventure enthusiasts. You just need to know where to look, or rather, what to specifically look for.
Consider this list your dud filter; our way of saving you from that wasted half an hour where you search for something to watch, find something, gradually realise it’s shoddy, bail after five minutes and then repeat the process.
We’ve already given you our best adventure films on Netflix, and best adventure films on Amazon Prime. Now it’s time for some of the best freebies you’ll find. From ultra running documentaries starring top level athletes to ultra budget documentaries starring a man with a beard, this is an eclectic mix of short films, but trust us, they’re all worth watching.
How To Run 100 Miles
This 30 minute film by Brendan Leonard, the guy responsible for some of the best hiking-related diagrams around (like this), is an ultra marathon film that’s perhaps more about friendship than running. Can two lifelong mates with no real long distance running experience complete a 100-mile race? You’ll have to watch and find out. Outdoor and adventure filmmakers can often take themselves a bit too seriously but Brendan is the opposite. Humble, hilarious and surprisingly touching, this low-budget film is some quality Youtube content.
Last Woman Standing
The Barkley Marathons is a race like no other – even the entry process is a challenge in itself, quite literally. Those who do get to the start line then have the small task of running 100 miles within 60 hours. It’s a merciless course, one designed to replicate the jailbreak attempt of James Earl Ray, assassin of Martin Luther King, who only managed to get 8 miles through the surrounding woods after 55 hours on the run. If you enjoyed the popular film about the marathons on Netflix you’ll love this one as well. It follows Lake District farmer, cancer survivor and living legend of fell running Nicky Spinks in her quest to become the first ever woman to complete the race.
The Road From Karakol
If the ‘spirit of adventure’ ethos of Into The Wild struck a chord with you, then you need to watch this self-shot film by Kyle Dempster. It documents his attempt to cycle through the abandoned back roads of Kyrgyztan while also stopping to climb some of its remote peaks along the way. What starts as a somewhat happy-go-lucky adventure turns into something more serious, as Kyle finds his path home blocked. Given Kyle’s tragic accident in 2018, it’s a melancholic but still, in some way, uplifting watch.
Run The Line
This quirky and surprisingly immersive short film follows a life-loving Australian chap called Beau as he attempts to retrace the route of an old 43km train line that once ran through his neighbourhood. It all turns out to be a tricky task considering the route is now blocked by suburban homes, farms and, in many cases, jungle-like bush, but Beau is committed to sticking right to it.
Into The Empty Quarter
Follow full time ‘adventurers’ Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron on an expedition inspired by Wilfred Thesiger’s great journeys through the Empty Quarter of the Arabian peninsula. It’s an eye-opening look into that part of the world, with the pair struggling through the brutal landscape but encountering some touching acts of kindness from local people.
It’s The People | A Pacific Crest Trail Film
This is one of our favourites on this list, an ultra low-budget film that’s beautifully shot and edited. It shows one New Zealander as she journeys on foot from the Mexican border to Canada on one of the world’s most famous thru hikes, discovering the amazing spirit of the trail along the way. If you didn’t already want to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, you’re going to after watching this.
Hooks: A Walk Through Britain
This, you could say, is a cult film in the UK hillwalking scene. It’s a few years old now and that shows a little with the filming and editing, but still, the concept and the character behind it make it such a quirky, easy and engaging watch. Follow one man as he decides to step out of his front door one day to walk to every single bothy in England, Scotland and Wales. The reason? To erect a simple hook in each one for people to hang their kit on.
A September To Remember – 30 Nights: London
OK this one’s on Vimeo, not Youtube, but it’s still free. It’s a short film by Trefor Jones from Essex, self-documenting the month he spent sleeping in London’s various different parks. The rules of the challenge were simple – a different park every night, six of the eight Royal Parks had to be slept in, parks had to be located within zones one to three of the capital’s public transport system, no tents (even if it rained), and no going back to the same park.
“Incredible. Felt a bit wrong that it’s free to watch,” writes one person in the comments underneath this film on Youtube. We have to agree with them, because the quality of production here is right up there. Watch Lake District climber Leo Houlding and his team attempt to ascend the vertical 1,200m face of Mirror Wall, a longer climb than Yosemite’s El Cap and with the added challenge of its eastern Greenland location.
Here’s a short but fun video to finish on. While we’ve all seen those glitzy ski films full of overly dramatic narration, this one offers a breath of fresh air, showing one comedian in the ski industry who wants to see what it’s like being one of the sport’s stars. She spends a ‘day in the life’ of three big name skiers, including Christina “Lusti” Lustenberger, Leah Evans; and Diny Harrison, discovering the graft that’s required to get to the top and stay there.
Main image: Matt Pycroft / Coldhouse Collective / Berghaus