Precision and Survival, Why Explorer Mike Horn is Never Without his Panerai

By Martin Dean

After swimming the Amazon River, walking to the North Pole during the dark season and completing an unmotorised circumnavigation of the globe at the Equator, among many other things, Mike Horn is widely considered to be the world's greatest explorer. To stay alive, he relies on precision equipment, and is never without his Panerai watch. As Sotheby's sale, The Panerai Experience Online moves into its last few days, we ask Mike Horn a bit about what drives him to explore, and what it is about Panerai that makes it his watchmaker of choice.


You’ve swum the length of the Amazon River, travelled around the world on the equator three times and circumnavigated the Arctic Circle single-handed. What is it that drives you, and what keeps you going when things are difficult?

I’ve never liked to let things defeat me. I think the impossible exists only until we find a way to make it possible, and that if your will is strong enough, you can overcome anything. I suffered some significant losses in my life, my father when I was a kid, and then later, my wife and my sister within weeks of each other. It was very tough, but I couldn’t let the grief defeat me. You can’t sit down and feel sorry for yourself. Instead, get up, find the light, and start moving forward as quickly as you can.

What do you do in your downtime between expeditions? Or are you always planning the next expedition?

I spend time with my daughters, and I try and give something back, pass on whatever help or inspiration I can, and in doing that I honour the legacy of my wife. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to pass on my experience and inspire others including the Indian national cricket team and German football team, among others, who invited me to help motivate them towards sporting success.

I also set up the Pangaea Initiative a couple of years ago to encourage young people to get a taste of exploring, to see some of the wilder places that are out there and to learn a bit about biodiversity and how to build a world that’s sustainable.

What has travelling of this nature taught you?

That with the right frame of mind, you can overcome anything. But also, not to be afraid of temporary failure. Sometimes you have to turn back, so you can live to try again. It is always better to try and fail than fail to try at all.

I’ve also learned to respect and adapt to my surroundings. For example, at the poles where you have days of permanent darkness or constant daylight I was able to make better progress by adapting my biological clock and instead of operating on a 24 hour schedule I created a 30-hour day in which I would sleep for 5 hours, eat for 5 and walk for 20.

Tell us about more the Pole2Pole expedition?

Pole2Pole is one of the boldest expeditions ever undertaken, by anyone. It’s a 2 year, 24,000 mile journey circumnavigating the world via the two Poles and has included a ski crossing of Antarctica — that was tough. However, I’m thrilled to be ahead of schedule after making the Antarctic crossing much quicker than I ever expected. I’m also posting regular updates on Instagram @mikehornexplorer if you want to keep up to date.

What is it about the history and origins of Panerai that appeal to you?

Panerai watches originated as genuine tools for military divers and I appreciate that you can tell, throughout the entire history of the brand, form follows function. From their early use Panerai watches had to be clearly legible, reliable and to be able to withstand whatever conditions are thrown their way which is still true for my needs today - the striking design and remarkable craftsmanship also help.

Tell us more about your partnership with Panerai: tell us what brought you together, and what the partnership signifies.

Panerai have believed in me from the start, I was introduced to the brand after achieving the Laureus World Alternative Sportsperson of the Year Award in 2001 and I have been wearing Panerai watches on my expeditions since undertaking my journey around the Arctic Circle (Arktos) in 2002. Since then they have sponsored my North Pole Winter Expedition (2006) and Pangaea (2008-2012). The partnership works for me as Panerai and I share common values of adventure, awareness of the environment and of how important it is to defend our planet as well as a deep passion for the sea.

What would you tell anyone thinking of investing in a Panerai?

When I’m preparing for an expedition, I need to know that my equipment is up to the challenge, I have to be able to rely on my tools and it is very important to me that I’ve invested in not only the best kit, but the kit that’s right for me. That’s why I feel it is important to consider the emotional aspect of choosing a watch and what it means to you personally, whether it’s your first one or part of a growing collection. I feel a strong connection with my Panerai timepieces as essential pieces of equipment that have accompanied me around the world in the harshest environments and they now serve as a reminder on my wrist of all that we have been through together.

What is it about Panerai watches that sets them apart?

Panerai make precision timepieces that are built to withstand excesses of pressure and temperature. In the conditions I have encountered electronic displays wouldn’t work in the extreme cold and the strong magnetic forces can play havoc on unprotected devices, so Panerai have previously created a special triple-cased timepiece for me that was protected against the effects of magnetism with lubricating oils that wouldn’t freeze and clog the movement.

I’ve often used my Panerai as a way-finder, but it’s not often you can say your watch saved your life. When I was climbing Broad Peak (in 2010) I ran out of pitons during the descent. I had been at altitude for too long without oxygen and had no other choice but to lodge my Panerai into a crack, wrap my rope around it and abseil down. I could only do this because I trusted the quality of steel they use. It was a wrench to leave the watch there but the option was to do that or stay there and die.

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