What you first realise when you speak with Paul is his authenticity as an outdoor enthusiast. He simply loves what he does and embraces every chance he can to delve into a new adventure. This is not an athlete who has been training for years and living by every mountaineering rulebook, but someone who discovered a passion for exploring with his backpack later in life and has since taken small steps to impressive new heights. Fast forward a few years and he is now a bona fide adventure video creator with a legion of fans on his YouTube channel and an incessant desire to inspire and motivate others.
“I’m just an average bloke doing these things. I’m not an athlete. I’m just trying to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors”, he says with a smile. “With everything that has happened with Covid, spending time outside has increasing merits, and I just want people to know that anyone can try this, and hopefully enjoy it.”
The discovery came just after his 40th when he decided it was time to give up playing football, although he is still avidly supporting his team Sunderland.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking for a replacement hobby, he explains:
“but I somehow stumbled across some of presenter and woodsman Ray Mears’ TV series on bushcraft and survival, and I was initially intrigued, and then hooked. I started to become involved in some bushcraft groups and just followed my own path of discovery when it’s suited me. It’s kinda grown organically from there.”
Paul works as a health and safety advisor for the food industry sector but the more he has enjoyed outdoor pursuits the more time he has begun to dedicate to them, with now most of his spare time being used for camping or hiking or general exploring. A simple bet from a mate led to him picking up a camera and starting to record his adventures. Little did he know that these would become something of a phenomenon on YouTube.
Add into the mix an ongoing project of love with the restoration of a camper van and you just sense that every waking moment (when he isn’t working) he is itching to spend outdoors, and to try to inspire others to do the same.
“We bought the camper van as my fiancee Jo doesn’t climb mountains but does share my quest for adventure so we can now travel together to new places and explore. It’s taking a while but is now operational and ready for a drive out.
“I never thought that the video work would prove so popular and it was trial and error to start with, but the more I added content the more followers there seemed to be and I realised that actually people were enjoying seeing me out and about, and seemed to want more. What started as a bit of fun from a friend’s bet has somehow given me content creator status,” he chuckles.
There’s so much hype surrounding outdoor pursuits and mountaineering that it can almost seem unreachable for the average family who may never have camped before but as Paul explains this couldn’t be further from the truth. Nowadays there are routes and equipment for everyone, and the main thing is not to set too many goals but to enjoy the moment for what it is.
“Unfortunately, many people are put off by hiking, and camping in particular, by a previous bad experience. You know the kind of trip when you have a miserable time in a tent in the rain in April, and you think ‘never again!’ But I always say give it another go.
“Camping should be fun and convivial, so take the family, or meet friends, and if you are starting out then go with someone who has camped before and go when the weather is good!
Don’t be put off by creepy crawlies and bugs either. I’m not a fan at all, and I manage. You get yourself into the right mindset and just go with the flow and focus on the things you are really enjoying about the experience. I’m also scared of heights but I keep pushing myself so I can enjoy some incredibly views.”
Wait. Paul Messner is scared of heights?! This is the man that is regularly climbing up mountains and crossing narrow gorges and taking on great heights… We admit, we are suitably impressed, and we love the fact that this is someone who hates heights, hates bugs, snakes and all those creepy crawlies, and yet is famed for his outdoor adventuring videos!
It’s clear he is relishing his time now, but we can’t help wondering…what’s the dream?
“Ah I’d love to get to the Italian Dolomites” he enthuses. “There is funnily enough a museum there for the mountaineer Reinhold Messner, no relation at all, and I’ve always wanted to get there. Maybe now we have the camper van that will happen. For me, I want to get out in the van as much as possible and just enjoy life.
“We also now have a puppy, Reggie who is my new camping buddy, and he is already 12 weeks! Reggie will be with us every step of the way. He is going to melt hearts and steal the limelight for sure. Who knows… he might even need his own channel!”
Paul’s fans will be well aware that he has a penchant for carrying hefty steaks in his backpack. Steak and asparagus might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a campfire but for Paul it’s a staple. We must admit we tend to conjure up visions of marshmallows on sticks, a burger and a tin of beans, so we were pleasantly surprised with his recommendations, including his favourite chicken kebabs with mushrooms and peppers. Of course, there’s been some adventurous diversions along the way, with squirrel and rabbit, and nettle and spruce tea all mentioned, but at heart he is a steak fella and a fan of a can of Brewdog IPA no matter where he is.
“For me, it’s about the experience, the social element of congregating around the campfire, sharing stories and advice, and just seizing the moment, rather than focusing on what you are going to cook.”
Okay, so we are sold on the kebabs, not so sold on the creepy crawlies, but feeling totally inspired on his YouTube channels, and thinking, why not? But what’s it all going to cost? Camping or even just day hiking are going to have a price tag, with the type of investment that needs to be made into having the right equipment. So, we were pleasantly surprised when it transpired that even a £20 tent could do the job!
“There’s a misconception that you need to have the latest gadgets and the best, most fashionable equipment, but really you need common sense and some tactical choices”, he explains. “An inexpensive tent is absolutely fine if you have a good sleeping bag and floor mat in most basic camping scenarios. Ultimately, you can just sleep on a park bench if weather allows, so as tempting as it is to buy lots of kit, step back and ask yourself if you need it.
“Of course, you need to weigh up the circumstances you will be in. If you are climbing Ben Nevis that type of tent isn’t going to be strong enough. So think hard about where you need to invest, and why, and take it from there, tactically.
“My best advice is to look after your feet. Keep them dry and cushioned. And always have a waterproof. Layer your clothes so you can add/remove if you need to. The weather is always unpredictable. I have been out in the Lake District and experienced all four seasons in one day”, he points out.
So, make sure you can be warm and dry if you need to, and pack good fuelling snacks. I know everyone recommend trail mix, but I’m a peanut M&Ms guy! Just think dense calories and things like peanut butter and flapjacks are really good to keep you going.”
We are fortunate here in the UK to have some great locations to choose from for exploring, and to suit all different levels of fitness and challenge. Having watched a fair few of his videos it was clear that Paul is a fan of the Lake District in particular. In fact, during our chat he revealed that Striding Edge is by far one of his favourite memories up there, both as a challenge and for the views.
“I never thought I would manage it. The height, the narrowness, the whole scenario, so achieving that walk not only gave me the confidence to take on new heights. It was terrifying, but it has given me so many wonderful memories.”
For budding explorers, the hiking side of things is perhaps the first step if you are not ready to commit to a night in a tent. And you can build you distance and fitness levels over time to suit your own goals. We asked Paul the furthest he has gone on a hiking trip and it was of course a mere 55 miles! A three-day adventure in the Derwent Valley Heritage Way, following the Derwent River from Ladybower Reservoir.
“It’s a gorgeous walk with undulating terrain and varying landscapes, and you can do it in smaller chunks. For anyone starting out I’d recommend small local hikes until you build your fitness and then progress to somewhere new. Navigation is crucial. Have a map and compass and be confident in your bearings before you set off anywhere remote.”
We’re feeling the buzz already. We were also curious as whether his friends and family are also joining his adventures, off camera, and he admitted he is pleased that so much of his social life has evolved around his outdoor interests. We also thought we’d ask who he’d really love to join him, other than soon-to-be celebrity Reggie of course (!), and he came back with three great choices…
“Ray Mears has hero status in this house, so he’d obviously be there, Paul exclaims, and Gazza (footballer Paul Gascoigne) because I reckon, he’d have some great campfire stories, and… I know this will be controversial, but Boris Johnson. I’d just like to see what he’s really about in person, get the nitty gritty on him, and he always seems up for trying things.”
And talking of celebrities, we’re also keen to see what is happening with Paul’s new clothing range, which seems to be going from strength to strength…
“Ah, this was never part of the plan but has evolved as the YouTube has grown”, he explains. I was approached by a brand developer from Bolton, Tim Merner, a while back, who just loved what I was doing and the concept of making outdoors encouraging and accessible to people, and he offered me a brand design, and it just went from there.
“As my followers have grown, I thought it would be good to evolve with some suitable clothing. The kind of things I would wear. So, I have dipped a toe in this and it’s proving popular so far. The website is growing as we include more in the range.
I’ve seen photos of someone wearing my T shirt in Tasmania and even been asked to send clothing out to a fan in Denmark. It’s crazy but great!
“I’m working on some ideas for a ‘Leave No Trace’ design because I realised I can use the clothing and my videos as mediums for positive messages to large numbers of people, and I want to really drive home that going outdoors is the best thing, but you’ve got to keep our country clean and take your rubbish back with you.
“I’m always surprised that you can carry a can of beer up a hill, but you can’t crush it down when it’s empty and take it back down again! It’s a constant annoyance. So, you can expect something along these lines to rear its head in my slogans soon…”
As Paul looks towards new adventures in the camper van, growing his clothing range, his wedding to the lovely Jo next year, and accepting that Reggie is going to be the new star of the show, it’s clear that his adventures are only just beginning. We are staying tuned…
You can find all of Paul Messner's latest videos and amazing photos of his adventures on his YouTube channel and across social media too: