Backshall's parents worked for British Airways, and he was brought up on a smallholding in Bagshot surrounded by rescue animals.
Backshall attended Collingwood College in Camberley and he also attended Salesian College, Farnborough for his 6th form life. He backpacked solo around Asia, India and Africa. After this he studied English and Theatre Studies at the University of Exeter, followed by biology at the Open University.
He studied martial arts in Japan for a year, gaining a black belt in judo and a brown belt in karate. He is also fluent in Japanese.
Backshall's first job after returning from Japan was as an author on the Rough Guides to Indonesia and South East Asia.
In 1997 Backshall attempted to walk solo across the western half of New Guinea, then known as Irian Jaya; he was in the rainforest for three months, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He then had an idea for a series, bought a video camera, and went to the jungles of Colombia, where he made a pilot which he sold to the National Geographic Channel, which employed him in 1998 as its 'Adventurer in Residence' and he spent five years as a producer and presenter.
For National Geographic International, Backshall presented the expedition series Game For It and the environmental series EarthPulse. For Bootcamp, he completed the Israeli special forces selection course, running 60 miles overnight to gain their red beret.
In 2003 he moved to the BBC's The Really Wild Show. In his first series he travelled up Australia's east coast from Tasmania to Cape Tribulation. In the next series, he travelled around Central America, the Galapagos, and then Southern Africa for the final series in 2006. He competed with fellow naturalist Nick Baker in a series of wildlife challenges, with long-standing host Michaela Strachan. After four years The Really Wild Show was axed so he joined the BBC Natural History Unit's expedition team.
In Expedition Borneo, BBC 2006, the team went in search of new species. He was the first person to explore the caves below a mighty sinkhole in the Mulu mountains of Borneo, and also to make the first ascent of the North Face of Mount Kuli.
He co-presented Springwatch Trackers (BBC Two) with Kirsten O'Brien which was broadcast live from the Springwatch farm in Devon between 28 May and 15 June 2007. Teams of boys and girls were set a series of Tracker challenges.
In 2008 Deadly 60 was commissioned, followed by the Live n Deadly offshoot, the aim of which was to inspire children to get outside and interested in wildlife and adventure; his live wildlife question and answer appearances attracted up to 14,000 people per event. In the "Deadly" programmes he searched for predators that were "Not just deadly to me, but deadly in their own world". He dived outside of the cage with great white, bull, great hammerhead, mako and tiger sharks, caught king cobras, black mambas and lanceheads, had a redback spider crawl across his hand and was bitten by a caiman whilst searching for anaconda in an Argentinian swamp. The programmes were transmitted on Nat Geo Wild, Animal Planet and BBC to 157 countries worldwide. The fourth season of the series, Deadly Pole to Pole was filmed in 2013–2014 from the Arctic circle to Antarctica, journeying south through the Americas. The scenarios included being hunted by a polar bear whilst kayaking in Svalbard, filming feeding sharks and eagles using timeslice technology, exploring flooded caves and the insides of a glacier, and catching dozens of species of snake and crocodile. He was bitten by a shark but was saved by a chain-mail shark suit. The finale was diving underneath Antarctic icebergs alongside predatory leopard seal.
In Lost Land of the Jaguar, BBC One 2008, he was part of the first expedition to successfully climb Mount Upuigma. On the summit they discovered an endemic species of frog and mouse, and also footprints of an unidentified mammal.
He filmed Extreme Caving, BBC One 2008, with Kate Humble, Secret Wilderness Japan, BBC Two 2008, and also presented Nature Reports for the BBC's The One Show.
In Lost Land of the Volcano, BBC One 2009, he led the first western expedition into the crater of the extinct volcano, Mount Bosavi, in Papua New Guinea, where they discovered new species of cuscus, frogs and a giant rat, one of the biggest on Earth. They also uncovered miles of passages in the Mageni cave system in New Britain.
In Lost Land of the Tiger, BBC One 2010, the expedition team travelled to Bhutan and filmed, via automatic cameras, the Bengal tigers above the tree-line in the Himalayas, higher than had been filmed before, although their presence at these altitudes has been known from reports from India, Nepal and Bhutan for several decades. They also made the first ever descent of the grade V white-water river the Drangme Chu.
In Supergiants, BBC One 2013, he sought to explain why species grow very large. It included diving with Nile crocodiles in Botswana, sperm whales in the Caribbean, and avoiding 2-ton elephant seals in California.
In 2013 he voiced Nature's Microworlds on BBC Four.
Backshall was a contestant on the twelfth series of Strictly Come Dancing from September 2014 on BBC One. He was partnered with former champion Ola Jordan. The couple left the series in week nine after dancing a jive to "Little Bitty Pretty One" by Frankie Lymon.
In August 2015, along with Matt Baker and Liz Bonnin, Backshall co-presented Big Blue Live, a series of three programmes for BBC1, featuring marine life in Monterey Bay, California.
In 2016 the BBC aired a series called Steve Backshall's Extreme Mountain Challenge, in which the explorer attempted to repeat a previous expedition (filmed in Lost Land of the Jaguar) by climbing one of Venezuela's remote and forbidding tepuis - sheer-sided flat-top mountains. In Episode 1 Backshall and his team tackle Amaurai Tepui in south Venezuela's Canaima National Park.
In 2017, BBC premiered another two-part documentary following Backshall's expedition to New Guinea called Down the Mighty River with Steve Backshall, a two-part series Japan's Northern Wilderness presented by Backshall and his wife Helen Glover and three-part series Wild Alaska Live, co-presented by Liz Bonnin and Matt Baker, that aired in July 2017.
In Venom Hunter, Discovery Channel TV, 2008, he travelled South America aiming to find out as much as possible about venom, including taking part in the bullet ant ritual where he was stung hundreds of times by the world's most painful stinging insect.
In Swimming with Monsters, Discovery TV 2013, he swam with large animals, including anaconda, hippopotamus, Humboldt Squid, and great white sharks without the safety of a cage.
In 2006 he filmed Inside the King Cobra for Sky One.
In 2017, Channel 5 aired one-hour documentary called Meet the Hedgehogs presented by Steve Backshall and Brian May.
Backshall began working as a writer for publisher Rough Guides, and is an author on their Indonesia guide. He continues to contribute to British newspapers.Venom: Poisonous Creatures in the Natural World, 2007, is a scientific analysis of venoms and poisons with an in-depth look at animals that use natural toxins.
Deadly 60 is the book of series one, and is a diary style breakdown of each animal and how they were found and filmed.
Wildlife Adventurer's Guide was published in 2009. It is aimed at young naturalists, and provides a guide to having adventures in the UK.
Looking for Adventure, 2011, describes his expeditions in New Guinea; his childhood and how he got into television.
Predators is an illustrated guide to predatory animals.
Deadly Diaries is a diary-style book of Series 3 of Deadly 60, released in 2012.
Deadly Detectives is a 'how to' book, teaching the skills of tracking animals by their signs, scat and prints.
Backshall stated "I was a big reader when I was a kid ... Fiction was a massive, massive part of my formative years, far more so than television ever was, and I always hoped that my future would lie with writing. When I was given the opportunity I absolutely leapt at it. It's an idea that I've had in mind for a long time, of these two youngsters on the run who become almost wildlife vigilantes, and it's one that I've had tremendous fun writing."
In May 2012 he published the first of a series of fiction novels entitled The Falcon Chronicles.Tiger Wars, 2012, is about the adventures of a young boy and girl on the run from a shadowy gang of assassins, set against the background of the war on tiger poaching. In 2013 it reached the selection longlist for the Branford Boase Award for debut novels for children.
Ghosts of the Forest, 2013, is set in the forests of Borneo and Indochina, with the same main characters battling illegal loggers.
The Wilds of the Wolf, 2014, features the same main characters travelling to the Yamal peninsula in Siberia, tracking wolves in the snow, and battling against the big oil and gas companies that are destroying the fragile Arctic environment.
Shark Seas, 2016
Backshall stated, "First and foremost I hope that the reader will be entertained," but added "I hope that some of the readers – and if it's a very small percentage that's fine – will come away and want to learn more and will want to go out and find out for themselves what they can do."
Backshall is a rock climber and mountaineer, does adventure races, fell runs and endurance sports.
In 2014, he summitted the highly technical granite Mount Asgard in Arctic Baffin Island, in one single 27-hour summit push. Ice and alpine climbing are described as being among his great passions, and he has climbed such peaks as Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 8201m, and Cholatse in the Himalayan Khumbu. He qualified as an advanced Himalayan Expedition leader from India's Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. He followed John Arran up the first ascent of Upuigma-tepui in Venezuela, and also the first ascent of the North face of Mount Kuli in Borneo.
In 2005 he ran the Marathon des Sables 243 km across the Sahara desert to raise money for the Wolftrust
Backshall has a black belt in judo, attained after a year living in Japan studying the martial art.
He is an experienced BCU four star sea and whitewater kayaker, and has completed the 125-mile, 24-hour, canoe race from Devizes to Westminster on the river Thames. He has competed in numerous triathlons, adventure races and fell running events. His best finishes include winning the 'Extreme' and 'Last Man Standing' events at UK Tough Guy, finishing 9th overall at Tough Guy and 4th in the Welsh 1000m peak marathon.
In July 2008, while attempting to climb a wet cliff face in the Wye Valley in the Forest of Dean, he fell 10 metres (33 ft) onto rocks. The impact sent his heel bone through the bottom of his foot, dislocated his ankle, and fractured two vertebrae in his back. He required twelve operations and several years of rehab to get back to fitness.
In 2011, Backshall won two BAFTAs; best Childrens' Television Presenter, and Best Factual series.
In 2009 and 2013, he was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Children's Television Presenter. Deadly 60 was nominated for Best Children's series. Lost Land of the Jaguar was nominated for Best Factual series.
Expedition Borneo was nominated for an Emmy in the US.
Lost Land of the Volcano won the 2012 Wildscreen award for best popular broadcast.
Blue Peter awarded him a Gold Badge, their highest honour.
In 2012 he was awarded an honorary PhD from the University of Exeter.
In 2012 he was awarded the Animal Carer Badge in the Scout Birthday Badge Awards. President (one of nine) - Young People's Trust for the Environment.
President - Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire The Wildlife Trusts
Vice-President - Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust
Patron - Bite-Back (shark and marine conservation)
Patron - Exotic Pet Refuge
Patron - Longridge UK
Patron - Manta trust
Patron - Sharktrust
Ambassador - The Scout Association and Cubs 100 Ambasssador
On 16 September 2015, Backshall and Olympic champion rower Helen Glover announced their engagement. On 10 September 2016, the couple married at Piskies Cove, Cornwall.