The podcast world, to make a sweeping generalization, is run by a bunch of nerds. To clarify: these are awesome nerds, the kind we aspire to be, who are changing the world, telling great stories, unearthing the interesting bits in this huge pile of dust and email spam we call modern life; and they do it all in a form that’s decades old but digestible in shiny new web-based form.
But they are nerds still. Which means their focus on stories not having to do with tech, pop culture, music, gaming, science and the rest of the graceful, wonder-filled nerd kingdom feels a little sparse. When you consider it, their seeming lack of interest in outdoor pursuits makes a lot of sense: this business is all about sitting in front of a mic in a small, soundproof room, which is about as far from nature as you can get.
And yet the quality outdoors-centric podcast, while rare, does exist. In fact more and more appear on the airwaves with hosts and guests sharing their love of fresh air found while hunting, fishing, hiking, biking and every other form of outdoor-based adventure out there. Just like the best of all podcasts, because they are forced to tell stories without the help of visuals, they delve deeper, think harder and seek out the most interesting minds on every topic.
Only a Game
NPR is the ruling empire of podcasts, but their sports program, Only a Game, is much less known than stalwarts like RadioLab and Serial. In it, Bill Littlefield, a lifelong college English professor and sports writer, examines sports news far outside the rehashed, rumor-mill style ESPN and other sports programs have proliferated. Recent topics on the weekly show (and its digestible short bites throughout the week) include taking on the pure legality of DeflateGate (and whether Tom Brady would be fired from his job if he were an average joe working as a pizza delivery guy), running back Arian Foster’s professed atheism, and the story of Japan’s first MLB player. In their words, it’s “radio for the serious sports fan and the steadfast sports avoider”.
You Bet Your Garden
It’s a shame podcasts don’t feature video, because Mike McGrath looks the part of an expert gardener. The bespectacled, white-bearded Philadelphian has worked the journalism beat since the 1970s and did some time as an editor at Marvel Comics; he brings this assorted blend of offbeat-ness to You Bet Your Garden, which makes talk of greening the thumb as interesting as any pop culture subject. OK, so this isn’t the general-interest show for a non-gardener to turn to as a break between Netflix binging — but if you have any interest in growing plants chemical-free, it’s great fertilizer for thought.
The Rich Roll Podcast
Rich Roll’s podcast combines a mix of endurance athletics, feel-good positivity and seriously in-depth interviews with big names in health, fitness, spirituality and endurance sports. Roll made his name by getting in shape and going vegan at 40 and then completing five Ironman races in a row in under a week. His podcast succeeds because it contains not an ounce of smarm.
Steven Rinella’s podcast follows the spirit of his TV show, in which Rinella hunts and kills, then cooks and eats. It’s a grounded look at the natural cycle, and Rinella does it well, with a funny little accent to boot. His podcast is in fact the better form of the show, since it better fits the show’s low budget, and highlights the host’s colloquial style and moderate position on wildlife and hunting — bounded by the limits of killing in order to eat. (Take, for example, his intelligent, angry dressing down of Cecil the lion’s killer in a recent op-ed as example.)
Travel with Rick Steves
The thinking man’s stories about travel. Rick Steves, an author, TV host and travel guru, takes on his subject widely, pursuing it through cerebral interviews with authors and travel celebrities, and stories on everything from the unofficial side of Disney World to the convent inns of Italy.
The First 40 Miles
The beginner’s guide to backpacking, in audio form. Its hosts, the Leglers, are a little cutesy, but the content is great, covering gear reviews, hacks, how-to’s, Q&As and interviews. There’s also great pairing of perspectives from Heather, who is new to backpacking, and her husband, Josh, a seasoned expert. Those looking for content aimed at veterans should check out Kings Canyon Outdoors (in-depth discussions about everything from camping stoves to outdoor photography) or Dirtbag Diaries (shorter-form storytelling).
The Recon Ride
The Recon Ride is bound to make cycle-racing fanatics extremely happy. Hosts Dane Cash of VeloHuman and Cosmo Catalano of Cyclocosm are excellent commentators on the sport — you might remember Catalano from his popular short video series, “How the Race Was Won“, which breaks down individual efforts to convey turning points in big races. Recon Ride brings that same focus to the pre-race-show format, with the same snappy, digestible result.