Back in 2018, we ranked our top ten hiking and outdoors podcasts of 2018. In 2019, we changed the format, listing our five favorite hiking and outdoors individual podcast episodes of 2019. We consume a lot of podcasts, and those focused on being outdoors seem to have proliferated exponentially since we started listening. That’s why, in 2020, we are trying something new. This year, we will attempt to pick out the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes each month (or at least our favorites).
March 2020 saw a seismic shift in what we knew to be normal, with all conversations dominated by a global pandemic. The outdoors became an escape, and then, in some cases, an impossibility, due to localized rules. This “best of” list took awhile (yes, it’s almost mid-April), due to the disruption of routines. But podcasts can help us process all these changes and share ideas, or simply let us escape for a few minutes. Hopefully, we struck a good balance between useful advice and outdoor escapism (and humor). Below are the five best hiking and outdoors podcast episodes we listened to in March 2020, with a brief description of each podcast.
A warning – playing podcasts or music on external speakers while hiking is basically a capital offense. Playing podcasts or music through headphones/earbuds while hiking is somewhere in the spectrum of inadvisable to mortally dangerous. Just from a common sense standpoint, why would you want to have your hearing and attention somewhere else if you want to maximize the benefits of being immersed in the outdoors (or, more basically, fail to hear the bear you just startled)? All that being said, hike your own hike.
Rich Roll’s prolific, wide-ranging podcast explores the outdoors and the inner self, and Roll generated a podcast episode a week for seven straight years without a vacation. Roll then took his own advice, and took December 2019 off, prior to appearing on the cover of Outside Magazine in January 2020. This episode contains audio from Outside’s interview of Roll, in which Roll tells the story of his journey.
Rich Roll, a competitive high school swimmer, was first introduced to alcohol during college recruiting trips. Roll describes how his relationship to alcohol stunted his growth as a college athlete, then an attorney. A 100 day stay in rehab began Roll’s journey, giving him the tools he would eventually use in recovery. But Roll’s realization of his own poor health then resulted in big changes, as he overhauled his diet and returned to swimming and running. One day, a planned, routine 5-6 mile run kept going, and Roll, trusting a faint but life-altering whisper, found his calling as an ultra-endurance athlete. This episode contains great insights and anecdotes about Roll’s journey to self-actualization, and the help he received along the way (53 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: Lessons Learned & Empathy Earned: The Story Behind The Story
Each Foot Stuff Podcast episode begins with the phrase, “A comedic deep dive into . . . ” In this case, the crew begins with a review of their own outdoor activities since last podcast, consisting of running, skiing, and ice fishing in and around the Adirondacks. A funny discussion of lesser-known collective nouns (“prickle of porcupines, raft of ducks, parliament of owls”) then precedes detailed advice on navigating a slide in winter, including training, equipment, and going as a group.
The meat of the podcast is a discussion of Denali, North America’s tallest summit, as climbed by podcast guest Chris Lang. Lang describes his introduction to winter mountaineering, starting with a winter ascent of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, and quickly accelerating to a twenty day guided trip with Alpine Ascents to Denali’s summit. The comedic deep dive includes both the soaring highlights and the less glamorous parts of this adventure, including a (shared) (disappearing) poop bucket, in-tent smells, extreme weather, heavy gear, substantial expense, and rigorous training. “Dave,” a fellow traveler, is the big loser in this story, based upon numerous unforced errors and violations of unspoken outdoor ethics (“Suck it, Dave”). This story about what it takes to summit Denali, and the entire light-hearted podcast, may be just what you need right now (1 hr 33 mins).
Apple Podcast link: Denali with Chris Lang
Rudy Giecek’s hiking and backpacking interview show covers much more than just the Cascades. In this episode, Rudy interviews Kindra Ramos of the Washington Trails Association (WTA), for a timely discussion of how to help people get outside safely. Ramos focuses on social distancing as common sense – staying closer to home, not putting a strain on rural communities or first responders, and exploring lesser-known trails.
This description of trail management in Washington, from an area that took a heavy initial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, is a good analog for Maine and the Northeast, with positive, practical advice – pick trails with less trail reports/activity. Stay with existing family/household members. If you are in the backcountry, take extra precautions, and be fully prepared. Busy trailhead? Have a second plan, and move on. Ramos closes with a point that will affect all of us – how can we help build sustainable trails for the future, and what role can the people now getting outside play in being future advocates for the outdoors (18 mins)?
Apple Podcast link: Socially Distant
Evan Phillips’ Alaska-based podcast explores the lives of mountain climbers. This listener-centered episode is a check-in with The Firn Line community during the Covid-19 pandemic, featuring interviews and clips gathered from March 22 to March 28, 2020 in Canada, Scotland, and the US.
People, particularly those used to the freedom of the outdoors, respond in different ways to isolation. There are ideas here for connection with family, for donations, for community service, for exercise, for “play.” Topics include gratitude, getting to know neighbors, and how communities are supporting each other in different places. Listeners also discuss self-care and lowering expectations for productivity, while maintaining connection during isolation, including a comparison to Alaska’s winter darkness, and resultant cabin fever (48 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: In It Together
Australian trainer Rowan Smith’s podcast normally focuses on practical tips to train for hiking and mountaineering. In this episode, Smith presents ideas for staying motivated and moving forward across a variety of circumstances and pandemic-imposed limitations. Smith’s great introduction draws on his childhood and his imagination to provide an example on how to immerse yourself in an activity, even when there are barriers.
Smith explores the ‘micro-adventure’ – doing what you can. He recommends books to keep adventure in mind if you cannot be outside (I would wholeheartedly endorse his suggestion of “Breath” by Tim Winton), as well as movies. Smith closes with two more ideas for keeping the adventure alive – use the time to refresh or find new skills like navigation or first aid, and/or plan and research your next big adventure in depth, to be ready when this strange time is over (15 minutes).
Apple Podcast link: Keeping The Adventure Alive
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