Adventurer and TV survival expert Aldo Kane on being a ‘burnout-proof ninja’ and how fatherhood has changed him

How does a professional adventurer approach work-life balance? The former Marine tells Abi Jackson how becoming a dad has shifted his mindset.

Aldo Kane’s book, Lessons From The Edge, is out in paperback this summer
Aldo Kane in the woods, carrying a large rucksack Aldo Kane’s book, Lessons From The Edge, is out in paperback this summer

Like the idea of being burnout-proof? For former Marine-turned-explorer, adventurer, author and TV personality Aldo Kane, the key to this is quite simple – but easily overlooked in a world where hyper-productivity and constant screen use are the norm.

“I’ve always relaxed, but before there was never any delineation between what was relaxing and what was working,” says Kane, 46, known for shows such as Channel 4’s The Bridge and Expedition With Steve Backshall.

“Now I’m strict with what I do, and how much of it I do. Every day, I’ll do something which is recovery – and it’s not sitting in front of a television, because that isn’t actually rest. You’re physically resting, but you’re not resting your brain and all the pieces that you need to be resting to be a burnout-proof ninja!

“For me, saunas are good, and getting outside for a walk. Running, biking, climbing trees – just basically being outside. Not sitting still, but also not being frantically busy jumping from one thing to another.

“I want to be able to do high-consequence, high-risk jobs for years to come,” he adds. “But if I do them back-to-back without doing any work on myself, I’ll burn out, and then I won’t be able to do them.”

Adventurer Aldo Kane is also an ambassador for Bremont Watches
Adventurer Aldo Kane is also an ambassador for Bremont Watches

So far, these “high-consequence” accomplishments have ranged from setting a Guinness World Record as part of the first team to row the Atlantic east from mainland Europe to mainland South America in 2016, to being a go-to survival specialist for a host of adventure TV shows. Filming for epic-sounding docuseries OceanXplorers for the Disney+ National Geographic network has taken up a lot of his time in recent years (reportedly due for UK release later this year).

Kane, who grew up on Scotland’s south-west coast and is now based in Bristol, joined the Royal Marines at 16, becoming one of UK forces’ youngest ever snipers. After 10 years, he left an expert in handling some of the world’s toughest environments; deserts, jungles, mountains, the Arctic. Much of this is charted in his book – Lessons From The Edge: Inspirational Tales Of Surviving, Thriving And Extreme Adventure (released in paperback this summer).

But right now, he is also facing adventures of a very different kind…

Kane and his wife, TV producer Anna Williamson (they met while shooting on an erupting volcano in Ecuador in 2015), welcomed son Atlas three years ago, and a few days before we speak in May their second lad was born (going by “baby” for now, until they decide on a name).

The thirst for those “high-consequence” missions hasn’t waned, but fatherhood has made Kane more conscious of work-life balance – something he admits he previously “didn’t use to value at all”.

“I just had an effing amazing job. I was loving it and I was in it, you know? When I was in the Marines, I was a sniper, and that wasn’t just my job but was my identity. I’ve always been ‘the sniper’, ‘the adventurer’ – and it kind of blurs the lines between work, recovery, rest, being a dad.

“It’s something I’ve been working on for the last three years now, that separation between my spaces. So I have ‘Aldo Kane at work’, and I have ‘Aldo Kane the dad’, and then the space in between, when I transition from one to the other.”

He’s been putting in boundaries.

“I now have a load of ‘power down’ routines that I do when I finish a job,” Kane explains. “I definitely think a lot more about this stuff, instead of just coming home and going – right, what’s the next job?”

These routines might be unpacking as soon as he’s home (“for me, that’s like closing your laptop at the end of the day”), then shifting completely into dad mode.

“It’s part of the bigger picture of keeping your mental, emotional and physical health in check – having siloed parts of your life, so that you can deal with things, and you’re not bringing work home, and not bringing home to work.”

Not easy with the constant-connectivity of our smartphones, right?

“So, I now have zero notifications,” says Kane. “I have two bits of tech, a laptop and phone, and my screens are essentially black – I don’t have millions of apps jumping up at me. And I only use WhatsApp, email and social media in designated times of the day now, and then I’m off it again, so it’s not intruding on me anymore.”

Discipline often seems hardwired in former high-level military folk. But while he acknowledges he has a “high level of grit”, Kane’s had to learn from experience too.

When it comes to those phone boundaries, it was coming back from a job about eight years ago in Venezuela, where he’d been off-grid, that sparked it.

“I started to feel anxious and I didn’t know why, I just had this uneasy feeling,” he recalls. “But actually, it was the thought of coming back into GSM signal where you’re going to start getting all the messages, you know, what have you missed, blah, blah, blah. So now I’ve self-imposed that, so I don’t get interrupted at all.”

Something else he’s been reassessing is the importance of community – especially as new parents who, like many these days, don’t have extended family living close by.

“Anna does the hard yards of almost everything we do, because I’m away working and she’s looking after the kids and holding the house together and all that stuff,” notes Kane, who says his default mode is a bit “lone wolf” – harking back to his sniper days.

“I’ve just come back from the jungle from this new project I’m working on – and we’re living together, bathing together, eating together, we’re this little filming community. But when I come home, then I’m kind of isolated.”

So, he’s trying to rally more company on his bike rides and trips to the climbing wall – especially “now we know [community] is one of the biggest predictors of longevity”.

Kane adds: “I’m big into longevity now in health and fitness, mainly because I have my new kid and Atlas, and I’m 46 so I’m late compared to when people normally start a family. Social connection and belonging to groups is really, really good for us, so I’m trying to rebuild that up.

“It’s always been something I know the value of it, but it [can be] difficult because my life is so transient, when I’m back for three weeks, away again for two, back for a week, away for a month… That’s just part of what I do.”

Lessons From The Edge by Aldo Kane is published by Yellow Kite in paperback on June 6.