As a young girl careening across the Southwest in my parents’ minivan on cross country adventures, I had a clear understanding of how the radio worked: a quartet of miniature creatures stood tucked behind the cassette player, playing instruments or narrating talk segments. Tiny mice, or sometimes shrunken little bears, jamming to my dad’s favorite Yes album. I was sure of it.
Though I still love a good classic rock throwback, my preferred road trip audio these days comes in podcast form–and I know now that the sound pumps from a magical concoction of iPhone and wireless technology, not a pocket-sized band of animals. Nothing helps miles of desolate driving or commuting to the crag pass quicker than a good story. Here are a few of the podcasts you’ll find bumping through my speakers:
From the creators of Duct Tape Then Beer, Safety Third is equal parts hilarious and inspiring. Hosts Paddy O’Connell and Elizabeth Nakano interview–and mercilessly heckle–everyone from mountaineers and environmental leaders to O’Connell’s own parents. Come for the compelling stories, stay for the way Paddy says “flippity floppitys” during the Chaco commercial breaks.
Anything True Crime-Related
This entire genre earns a top podcast ranking, because there is nothing that helps long road trip stretches fly by like a gripping murder mystery–unless I’m on my way to camp solo in the woods, then it’s just terrifying. Start with a classic like S-Town, which explores an expletive-laced Alabama man, hidden treasure, and a wheels-off family feud. Then refine your crime palette with A Killing on the Cape or Dirty John, two storylines centered around affluent crimes on opposite coasts. (Bonus points: Dirty John is now a TV series you can watch on Delta flights when you fly instead of drive.) When you blow through all of those in a listening haste and still have a few state lines to cross before reaching your destination, try on Dr. Death, Up and Vanished, or Happy Face.
Remember the Oregon wildfire in summer 2017 that left 150 hikers stranded on a trail and burned more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge? This REI-produced series dives deep into the Eagle Creek Fire with six episodes that combine powerful storytelling and first-person testimony with scientific and political perspectives that help listeners gain understanding on the impacts of wildfires and how we can move forward in managing them.
Watching the news is depressing–and staying up to date on current events via social media is like diving headfirst into a perennial dumpster fire–but we need to keep tabs on what’s happening in the world around us, right? Cue Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, my all-time favorite audio delight. This NPR show turns the weekly news into a side-splitting gameshow where the points don’t make sense and panelists constantly interrupt to mock everything from the White House to pop culture.
These sister shows are the holy grail of podcasts for women, by women. She Explores started with host Gale Straub, who has produced over 100 episodes profiling outdoor women on topics like solo hiking, motherhood, entrepreneurship, diversity, conservation and more. The success of She Explores helped birth Women on The Road, hosted by Laura Hughes. WOTR examines “life on the road from a feminine perspective.” Both shows are highly recommended for your next ladies’ trip or soul-searching solo adventure. I listen to these podcasts when I need to be reminded that being a woman in the outdoor space is a powerful gift.
Alright, I’ll say it–I live for NPR. I think public radio is one of America’s finest institutions, and though we could argue over the semantics of whether or not NPR segments count as podcasts, it’s undeniable that Science Friday is a worthy listen any day of the week. Expand your brain with hourlong shows that get nerdy on everything from unisexual salamanders and how black holes work to renewable energy on the Navajo Nation.
A true outdoor industry classic that has earned a place on any proper list of podcasts. Another Duct Tape Then Beer production, this series led by Fitz Cahall and his rockstar team is a favorite not just for the way they profile humans–it’s the way Dirtbag Diaries brings stories of place to life that keeps me coming back for more. I wept in my car while listening to tales from endangered spaces in Alaska, and felt a fire explode in my chest during the episode about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. If you want to ignite your advocacy, listen to Dirtbag Diaries.
Hosted by Adrienne Keene and Matika Wilbur, All My Relations delves into modern topics facing Native American communities. You’ll learn about Native fashion, appropriations, food sovereignty and more. The hosts and their guests craft a lively balance of directly addressing tough topics, hilariously laughing through awkward moments, and sharing a sassy sisterhood that reaches through the speakers to make you feel good about how good they feel in each other’s company.
The thing about podcasts is, once you start curating a library, it starts to grow exponentially–and this list is a mere peek into my collection. Whatever you’re into, there’s a podcast for you. Love creepy and lore history? Check out American Hysteria, which examines urban legends, conspiracy theories, and moral panics. Need a boost of inspiration? Play an episode of REI’s Wild Ideas Worth Living with Shelby Stanger. Want to nerd out on marketing? I listen to Jenna Kutcher’s The Goal Digger Podcast religiously. When all else fails, This American Life always delivers. Pack your rig, turn up the volume, and hit the road. And if you pass me on the highway blaring NPR with my windows down, give me a honk.