“Looking back, I must have had a stubborn drive. I am so proud of that young woman.”

As part of National Geographic's Women of Impact special, meet Megan Hine – climber, survivalist and the woman who safeguards some of the biggest survival shows on TV.Tuesday, 5 November 2019

“‘We’ – ‘we’ being all genders – are going through an evolution in terms of gender roles.“ Megan Hine.
“‘We’ – ‘we’ being all genders – are going through an evolution in terms of gender roles.“ Megan Hine.
photo by Stani Groeneweg
This article is part of National Geographic's Women of Impact special – celebrating the women around the world who fearlessly push boundaries. The November issue of National Geographic is the first issue in which all written and photographic content has been created by women contributors.
This article is part of National Geographic's Women of Impact special – celebrating the women around the world who fearlessly push boundaries. The November issue of National Geographic is the first issue in which all written and photographic content has been created by women contributors.

Megan Hine is a producer, consultant, location scout and expedition leader for some of the biggest adventure and survival shows on TV. During her career she has survived a snakebite, Lyme's Disease, being shot at and hunted. She is the author of Mind of a Survivor, an ambassador for Scouting UK and worked on the upcoming National Geographic series Bear Grylls: Running Wild.

My job entails researching and putting forward environments and places relevant to the content we will be creating. I will then be deployed into a country, usually with a local fixer and often with my partner Stani – we met on the job – to find the exact locations and create the journeys which will be filmed. Once we start filming I will then head up crew safety. The shoots I work on tend to involve running around in technical terrain (steep rock or dense jungle) with the director of photography attached to me by a rope. We rarely shoot in scenes, rather instead make continuous journeys, and once we start we don’t stop for breaks, so it is essential to stay switched on and constantly think ahead. 

I also own an expedition company that caters to high performance individuals and teams. We run discreet, bespoke expeditions for people who would like a gnarly trip but also require privacy. Through this I have also provided training for actors who are portraying roles in survival or adventure movies. 

I did okay at school, though I found it difficult to sit still and concentrate within the four walls of a classroom. Outside I found an arena where I could express myself and explore limits which I found highly addictive. After finishing my A-levels, I ended up working in an outdoor centre on the South Island [of New Zealand] and training as a raft guide and trekking/climbing leader. This was the start of it all.

“I had always been the only girl out climbing with the guys. I never thought it was weird, I was just doing my thing, passion drove me. ”

Megan Hine

In my early twenties, I read a book by climber Lynn Hill. I suddenly felt I had found a kindred spirit, someone who was not just ‘one of the best female climbers’ but one of the best climbers in the world. Up until this point I had always been the only girl out climbing with the guys. I never thought it was weird, I was just doing my thing, passion drove me. And it was a bit of an eye opener and refreshing in an unexpected way reading her book and realising there were indeed other women out there also just doing their thing.  

I spend 10–11 months of each year travelling all over the world to countries and cultures often well off the beaten track. Every country, and on a smaller scale every region, has their own specific culture or belief system. Because I am usually away from the tourist trails and embedded fully into a country I come across these sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring differences in how I am perceived or treated within my job role as a westerner, or as a woman. 

A large part of my job is thinking through worst-case scenarios, and being prepared to react to them. The environments we work in have an inherent risk. Although I’ve been shot at and hunted by large predators and various other incidents which are part and parcel occasionally of operating in these areas, the most scared I have been is due to illness. 

"In my early twenties, I read a book by climber Lynn Hill. I suddenly felt I had found a kindred spirit, someone who was not just ‘one of the best female climbers’ but one of the best climbers in the world." Megan Hine.
"In my early twenties, I read a book by climber Lynn Hill. I suddenly felt I had found a kindred spirit, someone who was not just ‘one of the best female climbers’ but one of the best climbers in the world." Megan Hine.
photo by Stani Groeneweg

I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in my early twenties. It was caused by an infection from a tick bite. Not all ticks carry this, and with immediate treatment it can be quickly resolved. I had been working instructing for a bushcraft company all summer and had been pulling ticks off me. I had a month off and went climbing in the Alps with some friends. At the time, I climbed hard and was obsessed. I developed the tell-tale bullseye rash around a bite site a few days into the trip. I started getting migraines and would find myself curled at the bottom of a crag in agony – and then it would pass and I would climb. Although I knew what I had, I didn’t realise how serious it was – and this behaviour pushed it into my central nervous system. Thankfully my family doctor at the time specialised in tropical diseases and took a real interest in my case, taking me seriously. At the time Lyme disease was little heard of in the UK.

At this time I was training incredibly hard. I carried on through the Lyme – but found my work started suffering due to the brain fog. My doctor told me I had to stop working or I would kill myself. I finally slowed down when I experienced Bell’s palsy, paralysation in half of my face. The hardest thing was having to stop training. I came the closest to experiencing depression I have ever been. My whole identity was tied up with my physical capabilities. I had always trusted my body; it was terrifying coming face to face with a black void of what felt like nothingness and questioning who I was.

‘We’ – ‘we’ being all genders – are going through an evolution in terms of gender roles. This is an exciting but confusing time for many of us no matter which gender we associate with. I believe we also need to be very careful that we don’t use our gender as an excuse. I always question, ‘are they responding to me differently because I am a woman or because I am not the best person for the job?’ It is incredibly important to self-check from time to time. 

"Outside I found an arena where I could express myself and explore limits which I found highly addictive." Megan Hine, on location.
"Outside I found an arena where I could express myself and explore limits which I found highly addictive." Megan Hine, on location.

There are however definitely a few ways in which I am treated differently in my field because I'm a woman. Any show of authority when I have to crack down to get the job done can gain me the term of being ‘cold’, when a male colleague on my level would be considered ‘authoritarian’ and ‘direct’. However, if I laugh and smile whilst enforcing what I am asking can be self-undermining, this can be confusing for the recipient and can potentially lead to further problems down the line. Expressions of anger can be referred to as ‘being on my period’ – again, a nod to how women are seen as more emotional beings. Male colleagues would not receive this title.

Working in different cultures where women are not equal most definitely has its challenges. In these environments, I have to place my own ego aside to get the job done. This often means working closely with a trusted male colleague to help me get across what I need to happen. I also at times have to take extra precautions with my personal safety and be far more aware of other people’s energy and to trust my intuition. This has kept me safe on various occasions. 

The adventure arena is still seen as very male orientated. Plus, I work in the TV industry a lot of the time, which reveres the Hollywood ideal of the white, ex-military male hero saving the world and the girl. My very existence in these realms in the position I hold subliminally undermines the manliness, as I am neither male nor ex-military. I have worked very hard to get to this position.

“Outside, I found an arena where I could express myself and explore limits which I found highly addictive.“ Megan Hine.
“Outside, I found an arena where I could express myself and explore limits which I found highly addictive.“ Megan Hine.
photo by Stani Groeneweg

“Taking charge of your life will be one of the loneliest but single most empowering things you can do. ”

MEGAN HINE

What is your greatest strength?

Empathy and the ability to read others. I never wanted to claim this early on as I thought it made me too girly, and I wanted to lead more like my male colleagues. However, I am coming to own these skills, and have developed my own working method using them. Empathy allows me to understand how people may feel, react or interact in the dangerous environments I operate in, and be able to build a rapport with someone. Being able to read what someone isn’t saying helps me keep those in my care safe. Ultimately these two things help me help my clients achieve their goals and enables me to maintain ultimate control over the potentially dangerous situations I work in.

What is the greatest hurdle you’ve overcome?

Making my lifestyle work. Looking back on my early years I must have had a stubborn drive and refusal to ever give up the risks I took in the outdoor arena, as well as in life. I am so proud of that young woman who now seems a lifetime ago. Living in a van with no money for years, to work on guiding qualifications, although I wouldn’t change this for anything, is not as romantic as the van life hashtag will tell you on social media. I also do not view the work I do as a job, if I did I wouldn’t be able to maintain it. I have just wrapped a six-month scouting and filming schedule bouncing all over the world with maybe only a couple of days off. It is a lifestyle, I compromise and have had to forfeit certain things most people would consider a normal part of life to live it.

"I do not view the work I do as a job, if I did I wouldn’t be able to maintain it. It is a lifestyle, I compromise and have had to forfeit certain things most people would consider a normal part of life to live it." Megan Hine.
"I do not view the work I do as a job, if I did I wouldn’t be able to maintain it. It is a lifestyle, I compromise and have had to forfeit certain things most people would consider a normal part of life to live it." Megan Hine.
photo by Stani Groeneweg

What was your breakthrough moment?

Confidence wise, starting to lead expeditions on my own when I was in my early twenties. After having shadowed some incredible individuals and hard grafting for years as an assistant, stepping out on my own gave me huge confidence in myself and my abilities to look after myself and others. TV career wise becoming one of a team of three attached to a presenter, this allowed my career to progress outside of pure safety and into the producing realm, which challenges me mentally as well as physically.

Somedays however, I still feel as if I am waiting for a breakthrough. You’d think the higher up the ladder you climb the easier it gets, but the reality is within my industry it actually gets harder as there are less jobs, more competition and it’s more ruthless. Thankfully I love dangerous adventures so I try to see this as I would an expedition into unchartered territory.

What is the most important challenge that women face today?

We are still up against the subtleties of society’s programming, ‘that’s not ladylike’, ‘good girls don’t behave like that’, ‘she must be sleeping with the boss to be in that role’ etcetera. How do we combat this negative talk?

Also, there is the challenge of how to have it all. How do you live up to traditional expectations of being the perfect wife, daughter, mother and still follow a career you are passionate about? How, when we have been taught our whole lives to put others needs before our own, do we achieve this balance? It is no surprise that statistically women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men.

What is the most important change that needs to happen for women in the next ten years?

A greater understanding of learning differences. A changing of the culture in schooling and in the work place to eliminate stereotypes, and creating career paths that allow women or men the ability to have a family and a career. Space in society for the roles of motherhood and career – or indeed fatherhood and career – to be synonymous. 

What advice would you give young women today?

Taking charge of your life will be one of the loneliest but single most empowering things you can do. Most of us have been programmed throughout our lives to put others first. The easiest route is to just go with the flow, but this will lead to frustration and your needs not being met. It is time to reprogram yourself – and give yourself permission to take charge of your life. You are the captain of your own ship.

Follow Megan Hine on Instagram.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Explore National Geographic's Women of Impact articles – and get access to our landmark November 2019 issue here. 

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