There is no adequate substitute for spending time in the great outdoors. Anyone who enjoys hiking, camping, climbing, or any other activity that involves passing long hours or, better yet, multiple days out in nature knows that the wilderness is both restorative and addicting. But unless you want to become a park ranger or a professional hermit, you can’t spend all your time out there in the fields and forests.
When you’re stuck inside, you can at least get a bit of that wild charm by indulging in a fine film that puts the natural world front and center. Today, we’re looking at five hiking movies that anyone who loves a good trek will thoroughly enjoy. Unless living vicariously through these on-screen adventures backfires completely and you end up more frustrated than before. If that happens, then man, you really need to get outside.
If you want to watch a movie that does a pretty good job of showing the hiking experience as it is instead of as Hollywood imagines it, this is a fine choice. This small indie film from 2005 is free of A-list stars and wasn’t plagued by much of a budget, but it’s still by turns compelling, amusing, and engaging. It tells the story of a woman who sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail alone in search of some answers, but ends up finding friends and new questions along the way. Yes, that summary is a bit heavy on the cheese, but it’s accurate, dammit.
If you ever wondered whether or not you would enjoy being in a Soviet prison camp and then hiking across hundreds of miles of Siberian wilderness and across a few mountain ranges, then watch the 2010 film The Way Back. You will quickly come to the conclusion that, no, you would not like those things. The movie is based on a gripping biography of a Polish man named Sławomir Rawicz. It later came to light that Rawicz had wildly embellished the stories he told his biographer; while he was a prisoner in a Soviet gulag during part of WWII, he did not escape from the camp and did not hike from Russia to India. Still, the movie is gripping, exciting, and at times quite brutal. It shows how cold and harsh nature can be, yet also showcases the indomitable human spirit.
The 2014 Reese Witherspoon movie Wild seems like a pretty hackneyed idea on its surface: A woman’s life falls apart following the death of her mother, a divorce, an abortion, drug use, and more, so she sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in hopes of finding herself. Well, here’s the catch: it’s based off the very real memoir of the same name by author Cheryl Strayed. The movie is full of stunning Western scenery, a few laughs, and some pretty heavy moments. Witherspoon got an Academy Award nomination for her acting in the movie, which was generally well-liked by audiences and critics alike. If you head for the PCT, watch this film first, and plan things out better than its protagonist did.
I’ve hiked the Camino de Santiago a few times myself, the first when I was sixteen, and have always felt strangely protective of this walk, which is ridiculous, I know, because people have been making the pilgrimage for centuries and I have no claim to it whatsoever. But I’ll wager anyone who has completed a trek to Santiago de Compostela knows what I mean. Anyway, this film, starring Martin Sheen, manages to be highly respectful of this ancient, reverent hike across Spain. The Way (as the pilgrimage is often called) serves as the backdrop to a story of a man coping with the death of his son, but the scenery and the spirit of the Camino de Santiago end up serving almost as characters themselves.
If you and a group of your hiking buddies got together and made a documentary about hiking the Appalachian Trail, this is what it would probably look like. And then people would be like: “Hey,what gives? You guys just ripped off Appalachian Impressions.” This engaging doc covers everything from the history of the trail to the right kind of boots to wear to what you can expect along the way as the seasons change. It has footage from all fourteen states the AT touches and much of that scenery is gorgeous. This 2004 film can be enjoyed by experienced through hikers and those just considering an Appalachian adventure for the first time.
For an even longer Netflix binge session, move away from the outdoors and into the education with the best documentaries streaming on Netflix now.
Article originally published on August 28, 2017.