Growing up in the 90’s reading Goosebumps books and watching shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark or Rescue 911 has made me the kind of adult who feels nothing pairs better with a campfire than a creepy story. With the advent of podcasts and the ability to download them en masse before leaving the grid I no longer have to rely on my camping companions to regale me with their own personal ghost stories or creepy pastas. So, if you are slightly twisty like me and enjoy a good true crime, paranormal, or survival story to accompany that glow and crackle, these are some epic fireside podcasts.
Number one on my list and in my heart are the murder comedy queens of My Favorite Murder. Hosted by a pair of hilarious and witty women, Karen and Georgia manage to discuss dark topics — ranging from serial killers to theme park accidents — in a way that is deeply respectful of the victims but, somehow, is seamlessly spliced with humor that will continually make you LOL IRL.
What I love about My Favorite Murder is the tactful way the hosts discuss the worst things that can happen to humans in a way that focuses on honoring the victims without glorifying the perpetrators. Often the most graphic details are omitted. Inclusiveness and respect for all walks of life are highly valued. Plus, the hilarity throughout keeps it light enough that I have no problem listening to this podcast completely alone deep in the dark woods. Just be ready for long intros and to ignore their tagline that encourages listeners to stay out of the forest.
There is something hauntingly fascinating about listening to a podcast about how/ why outdoor enthusiasts survive climbing accidents, avalanches, poisonous snake bites, and devastating injuries in remote places while you are also in a remote place.
Out Alive by BACKPACKER features survival stories told first hand by the survivors themselves. The story tellers are raw and open while recounting their tales. The editing and narration lay out what happened so superbly that it enhances the impact in a way that truly moves the listener. Tragic losses and heartwarming moments highlight the best parts of humanity. More than once it has moved me to tears and made it hard to believe there wasn’t something bigger at work. Nuggets of wisdom are imparted in each episode, and if you have ever wondered how you would react in an emergency, you will likely enjoy this podcast as much as I do.
For those looking for absolutely fear-inducing campfire ghost stories, few podcasts will leave you as chilled, with hairs on end, like Spooked. Each episode contains several true-life supernatural stories told first hand by the people involved who can hardly believe it happened themselves.
The deep octave of the host’s voice sets a creepy stage and the rich details within the stories make it hard to claim any of it is being made up. Additionally, the sound engineer warps voices and adds sound effects at key moments to level up the creepiness. This one is too scary to listen to alone so save it for group settings composed of your most unflinching and bravest friends.
The perfect podcast for the morbid outdoor enthusiast, National Park After Dark is a clever combo of everything I love about the podcasts above. Hosted by two women who share a love of the outdoors and mutual fascination with the macabre, each story takes place within national parks. Topics cover disappearances, tragic accidents, murders, the paranormal and survival.
Although the duo is just gaining popularity, so the equipment and sound quality aren’t quite as high as other podcasts on this list, the content is fantastic. Listen to this one in the dark at a national park and it will surely have you looking over your shoulder.
If more varied topics along these lines are what you’re after, This is Actually Happening just might be your new favorite podcast. Presented in first-person, short-format storytelling with episode titles like, “What if you were an alcoholic at age 9?” or, “What if your boyfriend lit himself on fire?,” this podcast looks at the chaos of extreme human experiences.
With 163 episodes to date, there is no shortage of captivating true-life accounts. Listen to one man’s experience with ayahuasca or a woman's story of growing up in a cult. They might not be the most fear-inducing stories on this list but they are no less engrossing and plenty of episodes will still leave you with serious heebie-jeebies.
The terrifying first-person accounts in this show are written in and then read by the host. The narratives do lose something without the author’s own voice but the cringey experiences described make up for it.
Accounts depict being robbed while sleeping, camping horror stories, and stalkings. Each story is relatively short and easy to skip if it isn’t your cup of tea. The topics are broad and varied with each tale ending with an invitation from the author along the lines of, “guy who has been staring through my windows, let’s not meet.”
Lastly, for those looking for something with much less creep factor but no less fascination or entertainment, there is Invisibilia. Expertly produced with all of the resources of NPR, this podcast takes deep dives into the unseeable forces of this world.
A flawless combo of narrative storytelling with factual science will leave you questioning things you always thought true. For example, a study on a man without eyes, who learned to echolocate well enough to hike and ride his bike through town unassisted, used MRIs to map the activity of the visual cortex of his brain, demonstrating that you don’t always need eyes to see. Don’t believe me? Give it a listen and be ready to question what you thought you knew.
While there is something to be said about enjoying the peace a campfire offers, there are moments when some off-grid entertainment is a welcome change. Do yourself a favor and download some of these podcast episodes to your phone before your next adventure. A solid mix of these podcasts will offer lots to learn, lots to think about, and lots to enjoy. Happy trails, stay sexy and don’t get murdered.