Spending weekends and vacations hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting in the great outdoors is an excellent way to reconnect with nature, make lasting memories and learn new skills. There are plenty of great tools to fill a tactical backpack with when heading into the woods, from paracords to surival knives. But what about actually having to survive off the land with limited resources? For that kind of scenario, we’ll opt to watch a survival show and live vicariously through others from the comfort of our own couch.
Survival shows are a great way to get your heart rate up without actually putting yourself in danger. Filmed in some of the harshest climates in the world, these series teach viewers a variety of survival skills while also showing how much a person’s mental health can affect their performance. In some cases, the power of teamwork is examined in detail, while in other shows, learning how to rely on yourself and keep a calm demeanor can literally be the difference between life or death.
From forming alliances to forming a pair of grass pants to cover your twigs and berries, surviving freezing temperatures alone or with a partner, these survival shows are educational, entertaining, and help us remember to appreciate the finer things in life, like running water and central heating.
As noted in this clip from Season 6 of the History Channel’s Alone, people don’t live in the locations featured on the show for a reason. The survivalist series features groups of self-declared wilderness experts who are dropped in unlivable conditions with nothing but a few tools, some clothes, and camera equipment. The competitors must survive completely alone for as long as possible, or at least until all the other competitors have tapped out. Having a time frame can help a person survive mentally in extreme conditions, but in the case of Alone, competitors must be willing to take on the wilderness solo for up to a year. We would be back on the helicopter before the first commercial break.
Finding a reality show that has been on TV as long as Survivor is as difficult as making a shelter in the Alaskan outback with no resources. We assume. The reality competition and survival show has aired around the world for years and in the US alone, it’s on its 40th season. Light on survival techniques and heavy on drama, the show is more focused on the psychology of surviving in the wilderness and forming alliances, but there are still some lessons to be gained by viewers in addition to 27 ways to wear a bandana. For example, it is possible to hook up with a competitor even if you haven’t showered in two weeks. See! Dating is easy when there’s literally nothing else happening.
3. Naked and Afraid
As if being dropped into a harsh climate with limited resources and a complete stranger wasn’t terrifying enough, the producers of Naked and Afraid decided to add one more twist to their show. It’s right there in the title and yeah, the competitors are really naked. The series has shown people at their breaking points while trying to make it to the end of their stay in the wilderness. Later seasons upped the ante by going from pairs to groups of people naked and afraid. Once you’re starving, sleep-deprived and covered in bug bites, the naked thing probably doesn’t seem that bad.
4. Running Wild With Bear Grylls
BEST CELEB TIE-IN
Is there another career option other than ‘survivalist’ when your parents name you Bear Grylls? Maybe there’s an alternate universe with a Bear Grylls who is a chiropractor, but in this universe, the British adventurer takes a different celebrity into the wild in each episode. We can’t imagine what the insurance costs are like on this survival show, but the reactions from some of Hollywood’s biggest names being forced to eat dirt and bugs to stay alive is pretty entertaining. Grylls has one of the most extensive filmographies when it comes to survival shows, but Running Wild is one of our faves thanks to its ability to shine a light on who is relying on stunt doubles and who is actually using their glamor muscles for real.
5. You Vs. Wild
BEST CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books you read as a kid? Well, Bear Grylls has turned that scenario into a real-life survival show. The survivalist launched his series You Vs. Wild on Netflix as a family-friendly show for kids who love the outdoors. Or, just kids who love the chance to tell an adult what to do. We get the appeal of both. Bear engages in several dangerous and difficult stunts and lets viewers use their remote to pick his next move. The show is fun for kids and adults to re-watch and choose a different option each time because Bear has done them all.
BEST SOLO SERIES
Canadian survivalist and filmmaker Les Stroud wants viewers to know that when it comes to filming a real deal survival show, his Survivorman is the one to watch. The outdoorsman, who likely isn’t spending downtime watching competitors, helped usher in the survival TV genre and prides himself on shooting episodes that capture what it’s really like to fend for yourself alone in the wilderness. That includes the debilitating boredom that comes with no creature comforts … just lots of creatures. The survivalist films his show mostly on his own and is known for testing survival skills that work and ones that don’t, which helps viewers understand the difficulty of adapting to different landscapes. With his long-running series, Stroud hopes to get rid of many of the myths perpetuated by Hollywood movies and other survival shows as a way to ensure people are learning useful tactics. Number one — don’t go into the wilderness unless you know what you’re doing. We have definitely learned that from Stroud.
7. Mountain Men
BEST LIFESTYLE SHOW
Most survival shows are about people who are either dropped into a terrain unlike anything they’ve ever seen or arrive after years of preparation. But what about those who live in a harsh climate year-round? That’s where Mountain Men comes in. Nine seasons and counting of the History channel show have shone a spotlight on people living all over the US in areas that require a very specific level of grit and toughness. Real-life mountaineers in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, and beyond take cameras along with them as they engage in the fur trade, protect their land, and prepare for winter. Contrary to the name, there are some women in the series as well. Women are tough, y’all.
8. Out of The Wild
NON-EXPERTS IN THE WILDERNESS
What would happen if a regular person with no survival skills was dropped in Alaska or Venezuela and told to find their way to civilization? According to three seasons of Out of The Wild, some will fare much better than others. The series followed groups of nine people from across the US with varying degrees of survival skills as they worked together to try to survive in the wilderness. Some tap out early and must be rescued, while others manage to survive a month in the harsh climate where they must make their own shelter and follow clues to reach civilization. Think Survivor, but with a lot less skin showing.
9. Win The Wilderness
BEST COUPLES COMPETITION
Win The Wilderness stands out for its unique premise among the survival show genre. Six couples compete for the chance to win a beautiful home in Alaska. The winners are chosen by Duane and Rena Ose, who built the home and are looking for an outdoorsy pair to take over its legacy. Like the Amazing Race but in Alaska, the couples must work together to prove they are worthy of the log cabin. The series only lasted one season and there’s been some ensuing drama between the Ose’s and the winning couple, but hopefully, there will be more log cabins worth winning in the future.
10. Dual Survival
Another survival show that lets survivalists bring a friend is Dual Survival. The series features two survivalist experts placed in different scenarios. The pair must work together to survive and demonstrate skills that are pertinent to their current location. The series features plenty of tense moments between the pair, with the survivalists changing between six couplings over nine seasons. Unlike most survival shows that keep the same location for the entire season, Dual Survival moves to a daunting new area for each episode, making it easy for viewers to decide where they should, or more importantly, should not vacation.