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Ed Stafford: TV explorer and author

Ed Stafford: TV explorer and author
23 Oct
Ed Stafford is a former British army captain who became the first person to walk the length of the Amazon River. His most recent book, Expeditions Unpacked, about the equipment used on some of the world’s most famous journeys, is out now

I’m a kit geek I’m the first to admit it. So any excuse to pour over the equipment chosen to conduct the world’s greatest expeditions was not to be missed. Furthermore there is something about the selection of kit that gives real insight into the way each explorer’s mind worked. Was she meticulous? Was he a bit casual? Was the entire idea a two-fingered salute at current conventional wisdom? The equipment choices reveal a lot.

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You only ever really appreciate something when its taken away from you. Water is so mundane that it comes out of the tap seemingly at no cost. Yet take it away and suddenly one is faced with a very different world of thirst, dehydration and of course eventually death. I value simple tools such as knives so much more than I did in the past – the sheer time a good tool can save me gives it huge value. At the same time I also learned that I wasn’t as handcuffed by gear as I’d previously thought. Getting a fire going simply using some sticks that I’ve just fashioned into a bow drill is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever experienced.

The point at which you have several bows and arrows trained on you and that every villager is charged with anger and ready to act with violence to defend their land. Each tiny inflection of your facial muscles is being scrutinised. I remember fumbling blindly through the scale of responses that were open to me. If I came across too cocky then I would be seen to be a threat and increase my chances of being killed. If I show weakness I could just be taken out. A smile might seem an obvious tension-cutting answer, but filter that through the eyes of a local and it could easily be misinterpreted as flippancy. Such knife-edge life-threatening moments stay with you for life due to the severity of the risk that you are holding in your hands.

After many years of mental battles and projected frustrations, I now meditate when preparing for an expedition. I have always found it hard to not get caught up in anxieties, worries and problems. For me attaining some degree of mindfulness is vital to making sound decisions. I practice at home and I take time out of the day to meditate even in survival situations. Nothing is too important that it gets in the way – and if it has then something has often already gone wrong.

My closest friends from indigenous cultures have been Australian Aboriginals. It’s the simplicity in ethos and approach to things that I love about Aboriginals. ‘The tree that you can use the leaves to wash your hands – what do you call that?’ ‘Soap tree.’ Why complicate it? But its the simplicity in navigating the tangles of the human mind that I’ve found the most enlightening. I live my life today through the Aboriginal concept of having three brains: the biggest and most important being your gut; the second being your heart; and the smallest and least important being the logical brain which is valuable only in the context of how it is used as a tool. The word that describes this smallest brain is also used to describe a fishing net that is tangled beyond repair. Put simply: ‘f•••ed’.

Bruce Parry had a big impact on me as I was leaving the Armed Forces and starting to go off on expeditions. Suddenly here was a face of anthropology and expeditions that wasn’t pompous and self-important. He was down-to-Earth and accessible and he made me realise the power of being able to connect with people in order to tell a story.

When I started exploring it was for my own ends. I wanted thrills and excitement; I wanted adventures and danger. But the very same activities seem to have evolved within me. What once was selfish and hedonistic, has somehow become wholesome and grounding. For me adventure is now about putting myself in a position where I don ’t have all the answers and I have to think on my feet. By definition this forces me to adapt and I continue to grow. This is why its such an amazing tool for personal development and why I believe in everyone having adventures.

Being the Discovery Channel’s ‘face of survival’ feels f***ing ace. I’m sure you’d prefer a more British feigned coyness but I’ve always been honest and I’ve had my sights set on having my own series for years and now that its come I’d like to enjoy it! Of course that means I have to try and stay on top of my game, but that’s a favourable position to be in and I like to be kept on my toes. I think the natural way to use this incredible job for good is to encourage others to get outside and explore too.

Being outdoors is good for the soul – we all know this. It reconnects us to a purer version of ourselves that we sometimes lose sight of amid the urban stress. But if you add a layer of adventure on top of that outdoor time (by getting people to take some calculated risks) then you start to create a crucible in which people can grow into better versions of themselves. Comfort zone are pushed back, ability increases, and character deepens.


1975 • Born in Peterborough
2010 • Becomes first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River
2011 • Stars in Walking the Amazon on Channel 5
2011 • Named European Adventurer of the Year
2011 • Awarded Mungo Park Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society
2013 • Presents Naked and Marooned for Discovery Channel
2015 • Presents Ed Stafford: Into the Unknown also for Discovery
2016 • Marries fellow explorer Laura Bingham
2017 • Presents Ed Stafford: Left for Dead
2019 • Presents Ed Stafford: First Man Out
2019 • Publishes Expeditions Unpacked

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