Famous 20th Century Explorers

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary
5
Famous As: First person to climb Mt. Everest
Birthdate: July 20, 1919
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Auckland, New Zealand
Died: January 11, 2008
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to reach the top of Mount Everest, as part of the British expedition led by John Hunt. Hillary also reached both the poles. He later served as an ambassador to Nepal and founded the Himalayan Trust to help the people of Nepal.

 2 Jacques Cousteau

Jacques Cousteau
14
Famous As: French Explorer
Birthdate: June 11, 1910
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Saint-André-de-Cubzac
Died: June 25, 1997

Jacques Cousteau was a French explorer, naval officer, filmmaker, conservationist, scientist, photographer, researcher, and author. Renowned for his exploration of various forms of life in water, Jacques Cousteau is credited with pioneering marine conservation and co-developing the Aqua-Lung, the first underwater breathing apparatus to achieve popularity and commercial success.

 3 Ranulph Fiennes

Ranulph Fiennes
9
Famous As: Explorer, Writer, Athletics competitor
Birthdate: March 7, 1944
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Windsor
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 4 Chris McCandless

Chris McCandless
11
Famous As: American adventurer
Birthdate: February 12, 1968
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: El Segundo, California, United States
Died: August 18, 1992

Chris McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp, was made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which was later made into a movie. The adventurer had hitchhiked through Alaska, and later took shelter in an abandoned bus, where he eventually died of starvation and poisoning, cut off from civilization.

 5 Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer
4
Famous As: Journalist, Explorer, Writer
Birthdate: April 12, 1954
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brookline, Massachusetts, United States

Best known for his bestselling novels such as Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer is not just an author who writes about the outdoors but is also a mountaineer himself. He was part of the 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest which witnessed 4 of the team members dying in a storm.

 6 Scott Fischer

Scott Fischer
4
Famous As: Explorer, Rock climber
Birthdate: December 24, 1955
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Michigan
Died: May 11, 1996

American mountaineer Scott Fischer was known for scaling the highest peaks of the world, including Mt. Everest and K2, without using oxygen cans. He later became a mountain guide and co-launched his own adventure travel company Mountain Madness. He died in a blizzard while guiding a group of clients to Mt. Everest.

 7 Robert Falcon Scott

Robert Falcon Scott
8
Famous As: Explorer, Naval officer
Birthdate: June 6, 1868
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Plymouth, Devon, England
Died: March 29, 1912

Robert Falcon Scott was an explorer and Royal Navy officer. He is remembered for leading two expeditions to the Antarctic regions, the second of which was the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. Although Scott and his companions died during the second expedition, they helped discover the first Antarctic fossils, which proved that the place was once forested.

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 8 Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen
4
Famous As: Explorer, Polymath
Birthdate: October 10, 1861
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Oslo, Norway
Died: May 13, 1930

Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian polymath who won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his post-war efforts after the First World War. A well-known explorer, humanitarian, and diplomat, Nansen achieved international fame for his attempt to reach the geographical North Pole during his Fram expedition. His techniques and innovations influenced a generation of succeeding Antarctic and Arctic expeditions.

 9 Alfred Wegener

Alfred Wegener
4
Famous As: Polar Researcher
Birthdate: November 1, 1880
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: November 1, 1930

In the early 1900s, meteorologist Alfred Wegener did not find too many takers for his theory that all the continents of the world had initially been a single mass named Pangaea and that continental drift had caused them to split apart. Wegener died on his fourth expedition in Greenland.

 10 Richard E. Byrd

Richard E. Byrd
4
Famous As: Naval officer
Birthdate: October 25, 1888
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Winchester, Virginia, United States
Died: March 11, 1957

American naval officer Richard E. Byrd is remembered for his pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, using airplanes. Though he was awarded a US Congressional Medal of Honor for completing the first flight over the North Pole, it was later revealed that he had returned when he was 150 miles away from the destination.

 11 Michael Rockefeller

Michael Rockefeller
6
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: May 18, 1938
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, United States
Died: November 19, 1961

The youngest child of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, Michael Rockefeller shunned his family’s legacy and decided to become an explorer. He went missing while on an expedition to the Asmat region of southwestern Dutch New Guinea and was declared dead 3 years later, raising speculations of cannibalism.

 12 Reinhold Messner

Reinhold Messner
4
Famous As: Explorer, Politician, Writer, Mountaineer
Birthdate: September 17, 1944
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Brixen

Italian mountaineer and explorer Reinhold Messner teamed up with Austrian mountaineer Peter Habeler to be the first to climb Mount Everest without using oxygen cylinders. He is also the first to complete a solo ascent of Everest and the first to climb all the 14 mountain peaks that stand above 8000m.

 13 Colin Baker

Colin Baker
5
Famous As: Actor, Explorer, Film actor
Birthdate: June 8, 1943
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Waterloo

Born in a Waterloo hospital during an air raid, Colin Baker grew up to initially study law, before he discovered his love for theater. The LAMDA alumnus initially worked as a taxi driver. He is now known for his performances in the series The Brothers and Doctor Who.

 14 Conrad Anker

Conrad Anker
3
Famous As: Explorer, Writer
Birthdate: November 27, 1962
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: California

A passionate mountaineer and rock climber, Conrad Anker led The North Face for 26 years. He almost died of a heart attack while climbing the Lunag Ri on the borders of the Nepalese Himalayas. He is now also associated with various charitable trusts, such as the Rowell Fund for Tibet.

 15 Steve Fossett

Steve Fossett
5
Famous As: Businessman
Birthdate: April 22, 1944
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Jackson, Tennessee, United States
Died: September 3, 2007

Apart from being the first solo balloonist to circumnavigate the world, Steve Fossett also competed the first non-stop solo flight across the world. The adventurer also owned a securities company. His plane went missing on a 2007 mission in western Nevada, and he was declared dead on the discovery of the wreckage.

 16 Peter Freuchen

Peter Freuchen
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: February 2, 1886
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Nykøbing Falster
Died: September 2, 1957
While one of his existing photos shows him dressed in the fur of a polar bear he killed himself, Peter Freuchen was a man of many skills. With a towering 6’ 7” frame, he rode across the Arctic and also fought against the Nazis after losing a leg to frostbite. 

 17 Ed Stafford

Ed Stafford
5
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: December 26, 1975
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England, UK

Ed Stafford is a British explorer who became the first person to walk the length of the famous Amazon River in 2010. Walking the Amazon is widely regarded as the longest jungle trek in the history of mankind and the feat is also recognized by the Guinness World Records. He currently hosts shows for the Discovery Channel.

 18 Jordan Romero

Jordan Romero
3
Famous As: Explorer, Writer, Mountaineer
Birthdate: July 12, 1996
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Redlands

At 13, Jordan Romero became the youngest person to scale the Mt. Everest and had to opt for the Tibetan side, as he wasn’t old enough to get a permit in Nepal. At 15, he became the youngest to scale the Seven Summits. He has also penned a book on his experiences.

 19 Laura Dekker

Laura Dekker
5
Famous As: Dutch sailor who became the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly.
Birthdate: September 20, 1995
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Whangarei, New Zealand

 20 Aleksandr Kolchak

Aleksandr Kolchak
3
Famous As: Admiral
Birthdate: November 16, 1874
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: February 7, 1920

 21 Aloha Wanderwell

Aloha Wanderwell
2
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: October 13, 1906
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Winnipeg, Canada
Died: June 4, 1996

Aloha Wanderwell was a Canadian-American explorer, aviator, author, and filmmaker. In 1927, she became the first woman to travel around the world in a Ford 1918 Model T, at the age of 21. When she was 16, she undertook a journey, in which she traveled across 80 countries. Wanderwell is also remembered for making films like My Hawaii. 

 22 Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle
15
Famous As: Marine biologist
Birthdate: August 30, 1935
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Gibbstown, New Jersey, U.S.
Sylvia Earle is known for her research on marine algae and she was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Earle held the world record for the deepest untethered dive and was named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet, in 1998. She also featured in Netflix Original documentary Seaspiracy.

 23 Ellen MacArthur

Ellen MacArthur
4
Famous As: Sailor
Birthdate: July 8, 1976
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Whatstandwell, England

 24 Jean-Michel Cousteau

Jean-Michel Cousteau
5
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: May 6, 1938
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Toulon

 25 Wanda Rutkiewicz

Wanda Rutkiewicz
3
Famous As: Explorer, Sportsperson, Q20683322, Mountaineer
Birthdate: February 4, 1943
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Plungė
Died: May 12, 1992

 26 Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia

Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia
3
Famous As: Military personnel
Birthdate: April 13, 1866
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Tbilisi, Georgia
Died: February 26, 1933

 27 Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle
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Famous As: Explorer, Television presenter, Writer
Birthdate: November 3, 1973
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London

 28 Junko Tabei

Junko Tabei
4
Famous As: Explorer, Mountaineer
Birthdate: September 22, 1939
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Miharu
Died: October 20, 2016

 29 Tippu Tib

Tippu Tib
3
Famous As: Businessman
Birthdate: 1832 AD
Birthplace: Zanzibar, Tanzania
Died: June 14, 1905

 30 Robyn Davidson

Robyn Davidson
3
Famous As: Explorer, Writer
Birthdate: September 6, 1950
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Miles

Robyn Davidson is an Australian writer best known for her book Tracks, in which she wrote about her 2,700 km (1,700 miles) trek across the deserts of Western Australia using camels. As a teenager, she lived a bohemian life and has since traveled across the world. Her book Tracks won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 1980. 

 31 Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Philippe Cousteau, Jr.
3
Famous As: Environmental Advocate
Birthdate: January 20, 1980
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Santa Monica, California, U.S.

Known for the documentary Ocean's Deadliest, which he co-hosted with Steve Irwin, oceanographer Philippe Cousteau Jr. also earned an Emmy nomination for his work in Awesome Planet. The grandson of naval officer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Philippe had lost his father, sailor and filmmaker Philippe Cousteau, 6 months before his birth.

 32 Joshua Slocum

Joshua Slocum
3
Famous As: Seaman
Birthdate: February 20, 1844
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Mount Hanley, Canada
Died: November 14, 1909

Joshua Slocum was a seaman who became the first person to sail single-handedly around the world. He was also a noted writer and wrote a book about his journey, Sailing Alone Around the World; the book became an international bestseller. He disappeared in November 1909, during one of his sailing adventures. He was declared legally dead after a few years. 

 33 Philippe Cousteau

Philippe Cousteau
7
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: December 30, 1940
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Toulon
Died: June 28, 1979

 34 Charley Boorman

Charley Boorman
10
Famous As: TV presenter
Birthdate: August 23, 1966
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Wimbledon, London, England, UK

 35 Alexandra David-Néel

Alexandra David-Néel
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: October 24, 1868
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Saint-Mandé, France
Died: September 8, 1969

 36 Mike Horn

Mike Horn
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: July 16, 1966
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Johannesburg

 37 Gavin Menzies

Gavin Menzies
4
Famous As: Explorer, Submariner, Historian, Writer
Birthdate: August 14, 1937
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London

 38 Frederick Cook

Frederick Cook
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: June 10, 1865
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hortonville, New York, United States
Died: August 5, 1940

Apart from being a qualified physician, Frederick Cook was also a passionate explorer. He was initially the surgeon on explorer Robert E. Peary’s team. He later created controversy by conflicting with Peary, saying it was him and not Peary who had first explored the North Pole, though his claims were denounced.

 39 Freya Stark

Freya Stark
4
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: January 31, 1893
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: May 9, 1993

Freya Stark was an Anglo-Italian travel writer and explorer. One of the first non-Arabs to explore the southern Arabian Desert, Stark penned down over 24 books on her travels in Afghanistan and the Middle East. She also wrote many essays and autobiographical works. In 1968, Freya Stark embarked on her last expedition to Afghanistan at the age of 75.

 40 Walter Bonatti

Walter Bonatti
3
Famous As: Mountaineer, Explorer, Photographer, Mountain guide, Writer, Journalist
Birthdate: June 22, 1930
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bergamo
Died: September 13, 2011

Walter Bonatti was an Italian explorer, mountain climber, and journalist. He made a solo climb of a new route on the southwest pillar of the Aiguille du Dru in August 1955, among other achievements. He retired from mountaineering at the age of 35 and pursued a career as a reporter. He also wrote several books on mountaineering.    

 41 Albert I, Prince of Monaco

Albert I, Prince of Monaco
3
Famous As: Prince
Birthdate: November 13, 1848
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: June 26, 1922

 42 Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Vilhjalmur Stefansson
3
Famous As: Known for exploring the Arctic
Birthdate: November 3, 1879
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Manitoba, Canada
Died: August 26, 1962

Vilhjalmur Stefansson was a Canadian-born Arctic explorer. He studied anthropology at Harvard University and set off on extensive travels. He did archaeological research in Iceland and went on an Anglo-American Polar Expedition with Ejnar Mikkelsen and Ernest de Koven Leffingwell. He organized and directed a major Canadian Arctic Expedition in the 1910s. He had an affair with novelist Fannie Hurst. 

 43 H. Saint John Philby

H. Saint John Philby
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: April 3, 1885
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Badulla, Sri Lanka
Died: September 30, 1960

 44 Mary Kingsley

Mary Kingsley
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 13, 1862
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Islington, London, England
Died: June 3, 1900

English ethnographer and traveler Mary Kingsley was the daughter of renowned physician and traveler George Kingsley and the niece of Charles Kingsley. Unlike girls of her era, she was well-educated and later ventured on an exploratory trip to West Africa, becoming the first European to enter remote areas such as Gabon.

 45 Sir Francis Chichester

Sir Francis Chichester
3
Famous As: Aviator
Birthdate: September 17, 1901
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Barnstaple, England
Died: August 26, 1972

 46 Roy Chapman Andrews

Roy Chapman Andrews
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: January 26, 1884
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States
Died: March 11, 1960

Roy Chapman Andrews was an American adventurer, explorer, and naturalist. He is best remembered for his association with the American Museum of Natural History where he also served as the director. Andrews is credited with bringing to the museum the first-known fossil dinosaur eggs. His life and career are said to have inspired George Lucas' famous character, Indiana Jones.

 47 Knud Rasmussen

Knud Rasmussen
2
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: June 7, 1879
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Ilulissat
Died: December 21, 1933

Knud Rasmussen was a Greenlandic–Danish polar explorer. He was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled. Also an anthropologist, he is often referred to as  the "father of Eskimology." As a young man,  he pursued an unsuccessful career as an actor and opera singer before embarking on his major explorations. 

 48 Edward Whymper

Edward Whymper
3
Famous As: Mountaineer
Birthdate: April 27, 1840
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
Died: September 16, 1911

 49 Frederick Selous

Frederick Selous
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: December 31, 1851
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: London, England
Died: January 4, 1917

 50 Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza

Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza
3
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: January 26, 1852
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Castel Gandolfo, Italy
Died: September 14, 1905

Born into an Italian noble family, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza had had his first taste of exploration when he traveled to Algeria aboard a ship in his early days. He later explored Africa, eventually founding French Congo, now the Republic of Congo, and the city Brazzaville, while also becoming a French citizen.