What is it about watching people pit themselves against mother nature that pleases something primal inside us? Whatever it is, I like it. This list includes my 5 favorite shows that gave me the same satisfaction as watching Bear Grylls climb a waterfall and skin a rabbit. They all have a combination of wilderness survival and educational moments that make watching feel like you’ve accomplished something. Now, if I’m ever trapped on a mountaintop or the arctic tundra…well, I’d still die. But it’s nice to imagine I’d make it! I’ve noted if each show can be found on either Hulu or Netflix, though many of these are still available on cable.
1. Life Below Zero – Hulu
Found on the National Geographic Channel, Life Below Zero follows several different people/families who live near the arctic circle. You’ve got Sue Aikens, who lives alone 197 miles NORTH of the arctic circle. That’s near uncharted territory, but Aikens has the stones to handle it. Not even being mauled by a bear can keep her down for long. The rest of the cast contains Erik Salitan – the solo huntsman, Andy and Kate Bassich – the dog sled couple, Chip and Agnes Hailstone – the native couple with all those kids (who seem to be the best at this whole Alaska thing) and Glenn Villeneuve – the philosophical hermit. It’s a power line up that means the story lines never stagnate. This show is still on cable and going strong.
2. Port Protection – Hulu
Port Protection, by the same producers as Life Below Zero, was just picked up by Nat Geo and set to have another season. This time you’re in the rain forest of Alaska (yeah, that exists) and revolves around the 100 resident town of Port Protection. The cast is larger but no less interesting. The handful of central characters keep you watching just to find out what crazy thing they’ll attempt next. Like go hunt black bears. This show makes me want to pick up and move out there, if just for the stunning scenery.
3. Dead End Express – Hulu
Oh Nat Geo, you never do us wrong. Think UPS meets cowboys. These haulers may not wear brown short-shorts, but I think the hats look better. From using horses to cross mountains to dog-sled teams over icy rivers, I never knew package delivery could be so exciting! This show features a few different locations, Alaska (as always), but also Hells Canyon in Idaho and the mountain peaks in Montana. All the stars of this show are simply good people looking to help each other out.
4. Mountain Men – Netflix
Mountain Men is on the History channel, but Netflix has the first 2 seasons. The setting changes between the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, to the Yaak River in Montana, to the northern range of Alaska. I found this show to have a slightly different tone than Life Below Zero and Port Protection, but still the same general flavor. These Mountain Men are a mix of adorably competent old men, like Tom Oar, and crazy guys like Rich Lewis, who hunts mountain lions.
5. Alaska State Troopers – Hulu
Alaska State Troopers rounds of this list because it gives a different perspective on this genre. We’re back to the Nat Geo channel, where a crew follows several police bureaus within the Alaska State Troopers. You’ve got big city shootouts, hermit gun hoarders, drunk teenagers in boxer briefs, and moose in the town store. It’s a look into how a comparatively small police force can possibly protect people scattered over thousands of miles. What happens when there’s a stabbing and you’ve got to take a bush plane just to find the crime scene?
These shows are some of the best out there (of which there are many), but there is always room for more. Here’s hoping we all gather a little perspective about our own lives by watching these amazing people battle it out for survival.