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How a former Special Forces Green Beret became a survival instructor, TV personality and knife designer . . . with Mykel Hawke

How a former Special Forces Green Beret became a survival instructor, TV personality and knife designer

This is episode 3 of the Hardest Kit on the Planet Podcast brought to you by Heinnie Haynes. In this podcast we try and extract as much knowledge and ideas as possible from some of the hardest people and companies on the planet. Our aim for the podcast is to continually provide you with some great knowledge and information from a wide range of people and companies who are actually out there doing the business.

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The Show Notes

In this episode I (Ben Roberts) talk to Mykel Hawke, who is a former US Special Forces Green Beret turned Survival instructor, TV personality and knife designer. In this conversation we talk all things survival, prepping and the gear and skills you should have to help survive in as many situations as possible.

Some of the topics of conversation include how Mykel got into the Special Forces, and what he learnt there to help him set up his own survival school. He also talks through some of the gear, kit and skills you need to be able to survive in as many situations as possible. Once again this is a really good conversation with a really awesome guy!

Click the link at the top of the page to listen or download. The full transcript as always is below . . .

How a former Special Forces Green Beret became a survival instructor, TV personality and knife designer . . . with Mykel Hawke

Who are is Mykel Hawke? and what does he do?

Mikel is a retired US Special Forces Green Beret and a survival instructor.

He retired in 2011 from the Special Forces. He got into the army through complete accident. He came from a poor background and became a leader of a gang. As part of this before he has even joined the army he had been both shot and stabbed, and had friends that had even been killed. That was the realisation that education was his way out of the poverty cycle.

So, he decided to join the army and get his education through there. He’s now go a degree in biology, a masters in psychology, and a couple of black belts. He’s also been involved in conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

How did this lead into your survival school?

Well there was a period that i grew up homeless after my parents split. I had to sleep behind buildings and fight rats off my head. It was during this tie that I realised I knew nothing about survival, and I needed to learn.

In the military survival skills aren’t like those for bushcraft and shelter building they are more like escaping hostile situations. This lack of ‘primitive’ survival meant that there was still loads I didn’t know. I wanted to learn, and I love teaching so I had to learn it, so I could teach it.

When did you start teaching primitive survival?

Started back in 1994 with his ‘spec ops’ school. This then turned into an adventure school.

How did this lead to you becoming a TV presenter?

It was as part of my ‘spec ops’ school that I got picked up by the TV channel MTV in about 1988. They wanted me to essentially help teach kids basic skills, they liked that, then they offered me a job. I eventually became a producer and moved to the channel ABC. That’s where I was when 9/11 happened. So I went back to the Green Beret’s for a few years.

When I got back then I was asked to be on a number of shows as a subject matter expert, a fair number were actually in the UK.

You’ve done a fair bit of presenting in the UK right?

My wife Ruth is from the UK. I actually met her on a show in Jamaica, then when we were dating I met her family in the UK. She knew some people and I was then asked to make a show myself.

Again this all happened completely by accident.

What about your book?

I had actually written a book and made a knife before I was ever approached for TV. Which actually helped with being on TV because I could legitimately be called a survival expert.

That did lead to some problems though with show producers, as they wanted more drama, but I wanted to keep it as realistic as possible and make sure all the survival principles were sound. O yeah, the books called ‘Hawkes Green Beret Survival Manual’.

I loved writing this book as I got to address some of the things that other survival books were addressing. Things like, amputations, field surgery, cannibalism, different survival situations from a war zone to a doomsday scenario.

Talk a bit about your teaching style

My principles from my Green Beret days, take a lot from the British SAS. The SAS in my opinion are the best guys around. From them I learnt that survival has to be taught in a way that the average person can understand. It’s not about always teach people to be the best, just to get over that mountain.

I want to teach people to survive with honour, but to still get home to their loved ones. My brand os survival is how can you actually do what you need to do, and still get home. I teach a form of survival ethics that allows you to survive without feeling any guilt. It’s about keeping us human, not to become animals.

How a former Special Forces Green Beret became a survival instructor, TV personality and knife designer . . . with Mykel Hawke

What skills do you teach that can help with the ‘ethical survival’?

The principles remain the same no matter where you are or who you are with. It all depends on the given scenario. Like making a fire, is always making a fire, but do you make it big enough, well enough for others to survive with you. Or are you skimping on parts to save time or energy.

I always get people to try their best, and to take your time. Think through what you are doing.

I usually teach people to imagine a survival scenario i.e a plane crash. Imagine your injured, and have nothing. What do you need to survive?

One of the biggest killers is illness. So prevent it as much as you can by taking your time, and learning primitive first aid skills and basic first aid.

Start with nothing. Learn that first aid is essential. Then master your basics.

What are the differences in being outdoors from the UK to the USA?

In the UK laws are a lot stricter, such as knife and gun law. Also in the US, there are more apex predators and enough wilderness that you could actually get lost for days in. I  often found my vast experiences in jungle environments only helped so much in the UK, because of things like wood types and the cold/wet climates.

Because of this i’d always say, learn how to survive your own environment first, by practicing at home. This is going to put you in much better stead than learning abroad.

Any other tips for bushcraft and survival?

Fire is probably the most important skill. On one of my programmes i looked at 22 ways to start a fire. This gives people options. Learn how to make things like a bow drill. This is a great tool for survival, but it takes hours and hours of practice to master. The same applies shelter building. PRACTICE!

Ask yourself do I have all thing things I need to survive? Such has tools, comms, medicine, navigation and things like that.

What sort of kit and gear can you use for these sort of situations then?

Firstly guys love gear in general, but I think women can add a real different thought to things.

Back to the gear, I always say you need a baseline of stuff. When you get something don’t put it in your bag brand new, instead ,test it , take it apart and see how it works.

There are loads of situations where i’ve had kit which just didn’t work, even things like magnesium strikers.

I have 3 set-ups a small one that’s always on me, a medium sized one for my car and a big set-up at home for me and the family.

Step 1 -Food, Fire, Water, Shelter. The four basics of survival. Beef Jerky and bottled water. Fire, carry a lighter. There is no need to rub sticks together, just carry a lighter. Shelter, space blankets are ok, but can tear easily. I recommend, a large, strong trash bag. The reason is they are incredibly versatile.

Step 2 -Signal/comms, Navigation, Tools and medical. I always carry knife. I also have a cell phone. and a radio in case of no cell coverage. For medical a simple scarf is a basic thing that can be used for so many applications. Navigation, always carry a compass, be it a stand alone compass or part of a technical watch.

How can the guys at home out more about you and what you do?

Website: or the



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