If you need a rugged role model for your next outdoor trek, you won’t do much better than the hirsute explorers of old. They blazed trails, broke ice, and of course, rocked a groundbreaking gallery of wild and wooly facial hair. From Antarctic icons to far-west pioneers, here’s an array of the finest whiskers to traverse the great unknown.
Few men have enjoyed a clearer purpose in life than American Robert Peary. He began his career as an engineer and naval officer, but resolved at the age of 29 to become the first man to reach the North Pole. After several failed attempts, which nearly cost him his life, he claimed to have reached his goal in 1909. If his post-expedition whiskers are any indication, we’re inclined to believe him.
Take note: If Robert Peary did end up reaching the Pole, it was because of Matthew Henson. A long-time companion, and the first African-American polar explorer, Henson accompanied Peary on seven expeditions over the course of 23 years. He also took after his friend in his choice of facial hair, wearing a strapping mustache that grew especially bushy during drawn-out voyages.
A physician, ethnographer, and lifelong polar enthusiast, Cook challenged Robert Peary’s claim to fame, declaring that he reached the North Pole one year earlier in 1908. Though his assertion was ultimately refuted, his mountain-man beard (and thousand-yard stare) implies that he put in an honest effort.
One of the earliest—and greatest—of his adventuring pedigree, Nansen inspired an entire generation of globetrotting explorers. He began his career as a champion skier and ice skater, which gave him a vital edge as he led the first successful crossing of Greenland in 1888. He went on to serve as a noted diplomat (and Nobel Peace Prize laureate) but his trailblazing feats (and impressive Van Dyke) have remained his most striking traits.
While countless American voyagers have explored the frigid North, John Wesley Powell made it his mission to go West. His greatest achievement was the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition: A three-month trek down the Green and Colorado rivers that marked the first official passage through the Grand Canyon. He’s also known for his remarkable facial hair, which ranged from double-wide mutton chops to a full John-Muir beard.
As the bona fide Achilles of 20th century explorers, Amundsen must not have been satisfied with reaching one pole—because he decided to go for both. In 1911, he became the first man to reach the South Pole, and made an undisputed trek to the North Pole 15 years later. Though he spent much of his career clean-shaven, he was also the owner of one history’s most impressive goatees.
Copywriter, cold brew advocate, purveyor of handcrafted birthday haikus since 2009.