Here are 10 Great Survival Documentaries, listed in no particular order. Some of these are TV documentaries, while others are an entire documentary series or documentary films. Each of them focus on survival in an extreme environment.
Man vs. Wild
Bear Grylls hosts a series of TV documentaries focused on surviving some of the Earth’s most hostile environment. Together with his camera man, Bear Grylls shows us exactly what to do if we’re stuck in the extreme wilderness. It’s important to remember just how we can use the nature around us to survive.
Bear travels to the coldest, the hottest, the wettest and the driest regions in the world. He even tries getting stranded on a deserted island and braves the ocean with a makeshift raft to get home. Overall, Man vs. Wild is great entertainment. It’s an amazing source for tips on what to do if you ever need to survive in an extreme environment. Though it also has its moments where the show obviously attempts to keep the viewer engrossed through shocking material. A good example of this would be eating gross stuff unnecessarily or Bear Grylls drinking his own piss on camera. This is where it becomes more of a show rather than a good educational program.
Les Shroud is Survivor Man. Much like Bear Grylls, he tries to survive in extreme environments all over the globe. The only difference is how Les embraces the wilderness on his own. With only a few tools and some cameras, Survivor Man shows how otherwise hostile environments can be made into a survivable home.
Survivor Man indicates how a trained survivalist can survive in harsh environments. However, often it depicts many situations as being “too” dangerous. This is, again, very typical of a otherwise educational documentary series milking the suspense to cater for the mainstream viewer.
Ray Mears: Extreme Survival
Survival expert Ray Mears takes to the field in the Extreme Survival documentary series.
Much like Bear Grylls and Les Shroud, Ray Mears explains what to do if you ever find yourself lost in the wilderness. However, unlike Man vs. Wild and Survivor Man, Ray Mears: Extreme Survival takes a more detailed view on how to survive. Rather than having the host drinking his own piss or jumping in cold lakes, Ray focus his effort on telling viewers how to survive, complete with live demonstrations. He shows each step to building an entire camp out of natural material, finding the right food to eat, and how to look for clues when guiding yourself through the wilderness.
Ray Mears: Extreme Survival documentary series is for those who enjoy a descriptive, realistic, viewpoint on how to survive – both in our own backyard nature and in extreme environments.
Nanook of The North
Nanook of The North is a silent documentary from 1922. Filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty takes one year out of his calendar and lives with an Eskimo (Inuit) family in the Arctic circle. Naturally, it’s one of the coldest parts on Earth and needs incredible survival techniques. Luckily Robert is in good hands. Nanook shows how to survive in the harsh cold temperatures by hunting, trading, fishing, migrating and building a home. Nanook of The North has been hailed as a great anthropological study of early filmmaking days, and is seen as a classic in cinematography history.
Surviving Alone in Alaska
VICE focus their documentary camera lense on the cold climates of Northern Alaska where Heimo Korth lives. Originally from Wisconsin, Heimo decided to move to the barren wastelands of Northern Alaska in his twenties. Gradually, by hunting and mastering the terrain over many years, Heimo survived the frozen north as a hunter and fur trapper. He now lives over 200 miles from civilisation together with his Eskimo wife and two daughters. Life is never easy in the cold north, so migration with the caribou is essential to their survival. Experiencing Heimo in his natural habitat makes an otherwise hostile environment almost normal. Just almost.
This is the full documentary.
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Werner Herzog films a remarkable survival story deeply ingrained in the mental psyche of German-American Dieter Dengler. Dieter is a Vietnam war veteran who was captured by the Vietcong in 1966. After facing numerous days of torture, he later escaped from the prison camp – braving the jungle deep inside enemy territory. Displaying an overpowering need to live, Dieter gave everything he had and focused on his survival. A brilliant, yet harrowing, tale of survival from real time war.
I am Alive – Surviving the Andes Plane Crash
I am Alive – Surviving the Andes Plane Crash traces the tragic happening of a plane crash in 1972. Carrying 45 people, the plane crashed in the Andes mountains. Several died from the impact and even more died from the extreme environment. In order to live, the remaining survivors had to eat those who had died. Taking matters into their own hands, they form a small rescue party and brave the Andes mountains to get help.
I Am Alive… is a harrowing tale of surviving in an extreme environment and doing whatever it takes to stay alive. Even that of eating your own dead friends and family.
Alone in the Wild
Ed Wardle is a documentary filmmaker who decides to film a survivalist documentary starring himself. He packs his survivalist gear and camera, and travels to Dog Pack Lake in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Here Ed takes a stand against nature and tries his best to survive in the wild. Rather than educating you on what to do in a survivalist situation, this documentary series takes a more humane stand. It delves into the psyche of a man left to his own, not only trying to survive in the harsh climate, but also trying to hold onto his sanity.
Alone in the Wild is a great reminder that it’s not only nature we’re fighting when left to survive, but also ourselves.
Alone in the Wilderness
Alone in the Wilderness is a truly enjoyable one-man journey into nature. Accompanied by a relaxed narrator, the film portrays Dick Proenneke and how he lives by himself in the Alaska wilderness. In the film, Dick builds his cabin, hunts for food and explores the nearby area. The documentary would later go on to inspire Ed Wardle with his documentary “Alone in the Wild”.
Touching the Void
In 1985 Simon and Joe climbed the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. On the way down, a tragic accident occurs and Joe breaks his leg. Faced with agonising pain and no help in sight, Simon tries to help Joe down the mountain. On the way down, Joe fall down an overhang with no way of climbing back up. Simon makes the decision to cut the rope. Joe falls into a crevasse and Simon, assuming him dead, continues back down. Here’s where Joe tells the story of how he got back down the mountain, alone.
If you’re looking for great story telling on surviving insurmountable odds, Touching The Void is what you’re looking for. This is a fantastic story, told with incredible detail and amazing flow. The reconstruction of scenes goes so well with the story that it’s almost like being there. A definite must see for any survival documentary enthusiast.