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My list of the greatest adventurers

A wall of expeditions

When I decided to compile my own list of greatest adventurers in response to Tarquin Cooper’s selection in The Telegraph I pondered briefly about criteria, categories etc. Then I decided instead to merely rattle off some of my heroes, in no order and with no justification.
Disagree with my choices? Have your say in the comments.

Ranulph Fiennes
Benedict Allen
Bill Tilman
TE Lawrence
Scott, his team, and an honorary mention for Cherry for showing what level expedition writing could achieve
Roald Amundsen
Wilfred Thesiger
Ibn Battuta
Fitzroy Maclean
Marco Polo
Freya Stark
Miles and Beryl Smeeton
Thor Heyerdahl
Ferdinand Magellan
Wally Herbert
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins
Mallory and Irvine

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  1. I’dd have to add Shackleton to my personal list, a real expedition leader who always put his mens lives ahead of his own goals, something which unfortunately cannot be said about many other adventurers.

  2. Great list! If we are talking about personal heroes then Mike Horn with his 27 month circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle among one of his great feats is high on my list.

  3. Great list! Personally i’d include Col. John Blashford Snell and Karl Bushby

  4. I became the first person in history known to have followed the 13,000 mile (20,000 Km) journey of Marco Polo from Venice, Italy to Israel, across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all of China to Beijing. My new book “The Marco Polo Odyssey” tells the story.

  5. emailed suggestions from Tom Lloyd-Smith:
    “Reinhold Messner
    Robert O’Hara Burke & William John Wills”

  6. Interesting list. Nice to see a few lesser known names in there. Alongside Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins I would add all the Russian cosmonauts and US astronauts that flew in space prior to the end of the Apollo program, with a special mention of Yuri Gagarin.

  7. Paul just emailed me to ask if I’d change “Russian” to “Soviet” on his comment. A good point – I’m not sure the Uzbek Uri Gagarin would take to kindly to being called a “Russian” these days…

  8. A great list, but it needs to have Fridtjof Nansen on it (first crossing of Greenland – got close to the north pole in the Fram – did some great science and became a diplomat). All round top bloke!

  9. Hi Alastair,

    Surprised not to see Heinz Stcke on your list

    Well he is my hero anyway :))

    All the best

  10. good afternoon,
    I wonder if you could give me some advice. I am working on a project to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee and would like to include information on great British Adventurers during the Queen’s reign. Having read the Telegtraph’s top 20 and your blog, I realise that this is an area that needs careful consideration. I would hate to leave out anyone who has achieved so much. Would you be happy to give me guidance? I would really appreciate it.
    Many thanks Jan

  11. fredmunro Posted

    What about Joshua Slocum or Captain Cook?

  12. Mike Horn is not on the list!? :O
    Shocking… he would in the top of mine for sure!

  13. What about Ffyona Campbell – walked around the world
    Ellen MacArthur and Naomi James both great sailors and Raymond Rallier Du Baty who set out for what might be called the ultimate microadventure.

  14. Kar3nlj Posted

    Definately Shackleton. And what about Douglas Mawson? Sir Edmund Hillary?

  15. Jackson Griffith Posted

    Robert Swan has to be near the top of my list, not only for what he achieved in the polar regions over the last 20+ years, and continues to achieve today, but also, possibly more importantly, is the way in which he continues to lead and inspire the next generation through his “2041” range of projects. I’ve met a few explorers and adventurers in my time, Robert has inspired me to action more than any other.

  16. What about Robert Swan?

    First person to walk to both poles, now working towards crossing Antarctica using only renewable energy.

    I have huge respect for his pioneering work towards making the future of global expeditions more sustainable and his drive to inspire a generation to be strong positive leaders for the environment and preservation of Antarctica.

  17. Al,
    Agree with Kyle re Shackleton, he was a man more or less built for adventure who struggled to find his way when not actually engaged in exploration. He also had the crucial strength of character to turn back before endangering his party on his first S pole attempt (he was a bare 200 miles short).
    Would also vote for Sarah Outen, currently somewhere between Japan and Canada in her rowing boat ‘Happy Socks’. She is attempting to go round the world by human power.

  18. Tilman but no Shipton? Sven Hedin?

  19. How about the early Viking explorers who ‘found’ Iceland, Greenland and North America or Zheng He…

  20. Devavrat Mujumdar Posted

    Hey. Great List. Though, i think you should have included Reinhold Messner and Heinze Stuke, both being as good as legends in their respective fields.
    anyway, I have read both ‘moods of future joys’ and ‘ thunder and sunshine’ loved them!! inspiration for me 😉
    Great work!! 🙂

  21. Jennifer Tobey Posted

    OSA & Martin Johnson!! You missed them. I love their book 4 yrs in Paradise.



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