What is it that makes a survivor?
This profound question demands a complex answer. Gear is one piece of the puzzle, since the tools and supplies at your disposal dramatically affect your chances of staying alive under adverse conditions. Physical fitness also plays a major role — strength, endurance, agility, and injury-avoidance help keep you safe. But there's a third element that's often overlooked: the mind. Without adequate mental fortitude, even someone in peak physical form with the best gear money can buy will fail to survive.
Megan Hine is well aware of how the rigors of survival affect the human mind, but she's no sedentary philosopher. In her career as a celebrity expedition guide and behind-the-scenes consultant for TV shows such as Bear Grylls: Mission Survive and Man vs. Wild, Hine has forged her psyche in some of the most hostile environments on Earth. From the Norwegian Arctic Circle to the deserts of the American Southwest and the jungles of Borneo, she's found joy in overcoming the challenges of nature.
"I feel like I'm at home when I'm outside and I'm moving," said Hine. "I need to be moving all the time and testing my limits."
Even after pushing her body to the breaking point while suffering partial paralysis due to a severe case of Lyme disease, she found herself yearning to keep going. "My doctor said to me, 'You're going to have to stop. You're going to have to take a break, otherwise you're going to kill yourself.' I just couldn't — I just couldn't stop."
Hine developed this unrelenting love for the outdoors at a young age. "I grew up in a place called Malvern, which is a small town in the countryside in the U.K. I had an idyllic childhood in the fact that I could go outside and could run around, and I was encouraged to get outside as much as possible — falling out of trees, getting muddy, and things."
As she progressed through school, Hine didn't struggle academically, but frequently found it difficult to sit still and concentrate. "I was always staring out the window just waiting for the lessons to end so I could get out on my mountain bike and go off exploring."
Even today, at age 33, Hine is driven by that same adventurous spirit. Her recently published book, “Mind of a Survivor,” expresses how her survival mentality has helped her stay motivated and overcome a variety of obstacles. "When things go wrong, it happens so fast. Thinking — whether it's thinking through your actions or being alert to the environment around you — could potentially save your life."
We spoke with her during a rare break in her globe-trotting schedule, and discussed each component of her survival repertoire — critical gear, physical fitness, and mental adaptability.
Bear Grylls said, "My best friend Megan is the most incredible bushcraft, climbing, and mountain guide you'll ever meet. She's stronger than 99 percent of the men I know." That's quite the endorsement, how did your friendship with Bear begin?
I started working with Bear about 10 years ago on the original Man vs. Wild show. I still do a lot of work with him now — I work on other shows as well — but he's got a lot of work going on at the moment, so I spend a lot of time working on his shows. When I'm working with him, I'll go off and initially scout locations. I might spend weeks on my own out in the country for his show — and for other shows, as well.
Once we start filming, then I'm doing the crew safety on the shows that he's doing. I'll head that up because he's going through the environment really fast with a celebrity in tow. And he doesn't do lots of takes; he's a phenomenal presenter. [Laughs] He does everything in one take, and he's moving through the environment. It's really key that we've got the cameraman and sound guys safe, so they're all on short ropes as we're running trhough the environment.
The mental aspect of staying positive and focused is a big factor in these difficult scenarios. What are the key elements of your survival mindset?
It's interesting what you said about positivity. The book is less about remaining positive — I think it's more about being realistic. Because as much as you try to be positive, it can actually take a huge amount of energy just to stay positive. Trying to be realistic with the situation and be accepting of the situation is more necessary.
I was really interested by the questions, what it is that makes a survivor? Why in a survival situation, do only a few people make it out alive? What are the traits that those people have? It was something I thought about as a child when I was reading about Shackleton and Oates and stuff about the Antarctic, and even things like The Lord of the Rings as well.
In these books, they always talk about the physicality — how they overcome the physical dangers, and how the body reacts to the environment. But very, very rarely did they talk about how they dealt with the emotions that could potentially be overwhelming. Things like fear and anxiety are natural survival mechanisms. They are there from our animalistic brains to help keep us alive, to protect us from predators, neighboring tribes and things.
So, it was really fascinating to have a look at, actually, what are the traits [of a survivor]? The traits I looked into were things like creativity, initiative, intuition, adaptability, and the ability to be sort of playful. I believe these are all traits that lead to somebody being resilient.
Another trait I found while researching resilience — not just in the wilderness, but across all aspects of life — was leadership.
Leadership is not necessarily about being the big alpha male who's in the center of attention all the time. I have found through my own experiences, they're usually the ones who crumble first, because they haven't got the strong foundation beneath them.
The ones who tend to do the best under true pressure are those who don't feel the need to be the center of attention when things are going smoothly, but have the ability to step up to the mark when the s**t hits the fan and things go terribly wrong.
What are five items you'd never go on an adventure without?
Well, the right footwear is absolutely key for any adventure. You should see my closet, it's — [laughs] it's full of boots for various different environments.
I always take with me some form of cutting tool, depending on which environment I am going to. If I'm going to areas that have got much softer woods, I'll be taking a machete and a knife, whereas if I'm going to areas that have harder woods, I'll probably be taking an ax and a knife. Also, some sort of sharpening tool.
If I am camping out, I always carry two ways to make fire — normally a lighter and a striker, just because I find lighters always break.
I bring a pot as well. It allows me to be able to collect water, because people kind of forget about that one. Whether you're in a survival situation or you just want a cup of tea, if you don't have a pot or metal canteen, what are you going to boil your water in?
Obviously, if I'm looking after other people, I've got a medical pack with me and some form of communication device, like a satellite phone or a tracker.
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