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Life According to Bear Grylls

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Life According to Bear Grylls

Your guide to becoming a well-rounded adventurer.

By Stillman Brown

He’s eaten maggots, worms, snakes, and goat testicles and traveled hundreds of miles of remote backcountry on foot. In one memorable moment, after hours on the trail during a trek in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, he fashions an Indian throwing stick with his knife, practices for an hour, and then stalks and kills a rabbit for dinner. The muffled tunk of the stick striking the rabbit is audible on camera, and you can’t help but feel unambiguous admiration – It’s a remarkable feat of dexterity and outdoor know-how.

Welcome to the World of Bear Grylls.

In the last two years, Man vs. Wild and it’s enthusiastic, bug-guzzling host have become a hit in America, attracting urban couch-dwellers and outdoor enthusiasts alike with natural vistas, daring stunts, and common-sense survival advice. He’s inspired a cultish internet following that debates the finer points of his knife choice in each episode and plenty of Youtube sendups, but for many he’s an inspiration to get outside and make fires, climb big rocks, and perhaps even do some naked pushups.

A big part of Bear Grylls’ appeal are his credentials as a badass. At 19 Grylls joined the British Special Forces (SAS) and according to his official bio, served as a sabre soldier, “trained in unarmed combat, desert and winter warfare, combat survival, medics, parachuting, signals, evasive driving, climbing and explosives.” In 1996, Grylls broke his back in three places during a parachuting accident and a mere eighteen months later he summited Everest, briefly becoming the youngest Briton to have done so. He wrote about his harrowing adventure in the gripping (and poorly written) memoir The Kid Who Climbed Everest.

Since then, Grylls has performed stunts for charity, like having a three-course meal suspended from a balloon at 25,000 feet, and circumnavigating England on a jet ski. Most recently, he flew around Everest in a paraglider. His impressive records, along with his energetic style – part self-improvement guru, part excited child – made him a natural for TV.

Grylls has not escaped criticism, however, and in the summer of 2007 a scandal flared when The Times of London revealed that many of the show’s stunts are carefully choreographed and vetted by local survival experts. Furthermore, instead of a strict policy of no contact with the camera crew (as Grylls claimed in the show’s intro), he may have stayed in a hotel during a shoot. The blogosphere took up the brouhaha and a wikipedia page has since exposed some of the show’s dramatic editing tricks (find a good summary here).

Many fans (this writer included) were disappointed but not shocked. As one blogger said, “after all, I’m watching it for entertainment purposes, not for learning how to survive in the wild. If I wanted that, I would grow a beard, move to Montana, and befriend a grizzly bear named Ted.” In a real survival situation, it would be suicidal to try some of the stunts Bear Grylls pulls off (Ice bath? No thanks.), but that’s why we are watching him. He’s an inspiration not to be followed too literally.

There is a lot to learn watching Man vs. Wild, from the basic (hang your food at night and camp upwind of your cooking fire to avoid a midnight encounter with a grizzly) to the profound (In survival situations, simply visualizing your family or loved ones can give you the burst of willpower you need to survive).

Photo by Stillman Brown

Here are five lessons, Bear Grylls style, that are key to surviving in your environment, wherever you are:

1. Be in Shape

As a member of the British Special Forces, Bear Grylls had to endure the rigorous training designed to make SAS soldiers some of the most fit, mentally tough, and savvy soldiers in the world. In one of the last phases of the SAS selection process, the candidate is given old, unserviceable gear, turned loose in rough terrain, and ordered to evade hunting parties (usually soldiers from other regiments) on foot for several days in order to learn evasion and guerilla warfare tactics. It’s no wonder he makes three days of foot travel in the backcountry look so easy.

Grylls’ website gives a brief outline of his training regime on his website, saying, “Bear trains 5 or 6 days a week with a mix of different disciplines. This includes alternating cross country runs, circuit training and yoga. He also does Ninjitsu, gymnastics and acrobatics, and of course his climbing, skydiving and paragliding.” While it’s not necessary to be Bear Grylls-fit to enjoy the wilderness, it does act like an insurance policy against injury and discomfort. It can also save your life.

Primer can get you started on a fitness plan, whether you want to safely enjoy day hikes or go peak-bagging in the Sierra Nevadas.

2. Make Informed Decisions

An essential part of survival in the wilderness is decision-making. As Grylls is fond of saying, when you stop making decisions, you die. Survival literature is littered with examples of people who beat back despair by keeping busy with specific tasks – building a shelter or a signal fire – and lived because they maintained a sense of control in chaotic circumstances.

This lesson applies perfectly to life in general. When you relinquish your power to make choices, virtually any situation becomes a nightmare of insurmountable challenges. The same tools that can save your life in the backcountry are transferable to weekly meetings at work: research local conditions, assess risk, formulate a plan of action, and put the full weight of your willpower behind it.

A good starting point for outdoor survival info is the SAS Survival Handbook, but nothing beats one-on-one instruction. Go camping with a buddy who knows his way around the woods or find a local survivalist school. Confidence in the backcountry, as in the boardroom, comes from a series of informed decisions.

3. The Wild is Your Playground

A majority of America lives either in the suburbs or a handful of mega-urban population centers. As a result, most people have never been hunting, never floated down a river in a canoe, never had a connection to the outdoors. The backcountry can be, without question, a dangerous place, but with some knowledge and common sense you can enjoy the outdoors safely.

Your local state park is the perfect place to start. State parks may not have much in the way of amenities, but that’s ok, because fancy lodges and flushing toilets are for sissies anyway. The important thing is to get out in the woods and comfortable with your surroundings. Start by picking up a pair of quality hiking boots or trail shoes (Grylls wears Merrell Chameleons, a good day hiker), a compass, and a day pack for carrying water and sandwiches. For expert advice, REI has a good introduction to gear and planning a successful hike.

A weekend hiking trip is an excellent classroom for learning basic orienteering, building dexterity on the trail, and paying attention to weather changes. And you’d probably be surprised at how many outdoor opportunities are in your own backyard – There is even an active bouldering community in New York’s Central Park!

Photo by Stillman Brown

4. Get Religion (Or Something Like It)

Though he doesn’t mention it much on Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls is a devout Christian and his faith is a big part of his coping strategy when under stress. I’m not privileging one denomination over another, or suggesting that you need to pray or light incense at the alter of some twelve-armed god. Very much the opposite: Direct contact with the outdoors often leads to a spiritual or religious feeling that can give your adventure a rich dimension beyond physical exertion, scenery, and counting miles. As a friend of mine remarked, “What was Jesus doing in the wilderness for 40 days? Hanging out?” More likely, he strapped on his sandals and went trekking; he understood the spiritual value of traveling miles in the outdoors.

In a survival situation, faith can be a life-saver. Imagine yourself stuck midway up a mountainside in a freak, unseasonable storm. You’ve become separated from your buddies and don’t have much food except a Powerbar and some water. You start to panic and can’t seem read your compass correctly – in short, you’re truly alone. Relying on faith, some understanding of God, or a comforting spiritual practice can give you the presence of mind to find shelter and wait out the squall instead of wandering until hypothermia sets in. In this way, religion can be profoundly practical.

5. Find Your Sources of Support

The trite phrase that only ‘real men know how to cry’ turns out to be true. No man is an island and men who don’t think they need help with anything risk meltdown or, worse, pulling a Hemingway (hint: the shotgun always wins.) Many of the finest moments of Man vs. Wild come when Bear grabs the camera by himself and admits to wanting a bath, missing his family, and being sick of the jungle; Suddenly he isn’t a TV personality, but a regular guy doing extraordinarily difficult things that cause him to want comfort, support, and guidance

Whether you’re interviewing for a new job, in the middle of a grueling workout, or actually stranded in the wilderness, finding your sources of support are important. It can be a partner, girlfriend, or even the old standbys: mom and dad. Tell them about the challenges you face and let them help you plot a course to success. It’s not only acceptable, but smart to know when to rely on your friends

A final word: My own love affair with the first season of Man vs. Wild culminated in a four-day, 35 mile backcountry trip in the mountains of Montana’s breathtaking Glacier National Park, where I got a taste of the kind of beating Bear Grylls takes to make the show. I had all the creature comforts of home in my backpack (stove, tent, sleeping bag, food & even a portable chair), and the heat, altitude changes, and thin air were punishing. I often wished I had Bear Grylls’ outdoor know-how and could travel with less gear – he’s the embodiment of “light & fast” backpacking!

I learned, painful mile after painful mile, that simply being in shape or knowing your gear isn’t enough. The truly well-rounded adventurer draws on a sound physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual bedrock for strength and competence in the outdoors.

 
  • http://returntomanliness.com Kevin (ReturnToManliness)

    Great post. He can definately teach us a lot about life adn your post touched on it. Everythign else he teaches is fine, but most will never have a need for it. Good to know, but if we were ever in that situation where we needed the survival skills, we would crap our pants and most likely forget what he told us.

    That being said, the more you watch the guy, the more you get the stuff ingrained in your head. Many of the skills can be used in all different kinds of situations.

  • Wayne

    Great post! I love Bear Grylls. He’s one bamf.

  • joe

    Cool profile. Never watched the show, but might start now.

  • scott

    I heard about how some of the stuff was fake, but I don’t think that really matters. The point is still the same.

  • Jason

    Awesome article

  • carla

    This is very cool. I really enjoyed watching the show long time ago when it started and I had a TV. The summary of tactics is a very useful distilled essence of good hiking advice.

  • Rocky

    Awsome.

    Bear Grylls is some one special.

    Coz he teaches you the practical techniques and it needs efforts and the will power.

  • Noraini

    I enjoy and love the show very much.He’s so brave and adventurous person. You have done a good job Grylls.:)

  • http://lifeacordingtobeargrylls christopher

    I thank you are the most coolist survivore man,even thouth i get piked on about you.

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  • Michael C.

    Here’s the issue for us, the viewing public:

    [From Merriam-Webster] Fraud: an act of deceiving or representing; Trickery; Intentional perversion of the truth.

    The production company deliberately misled viewers of its program. Edward ‘Bear’ Grylls appears to have been complicit in the fraud, vis a vis his many voiceovers for the show which he had to know were deceptive and untrue. That’s on top of the literal acting which he had already done for the camera, knowing full well, for instance, that the production crew had brought in a domesticated rabbit for him to “happen upon” and then kill. Or the tame horses masquerading as “wild mustangs” which the production team trailered in to also “happen upon”. Or the raft which was built for him by on site survival consultants, then disassembled so that he could be seen to “build it”. Not to mention “deadly gases” from a volcano coming from a smoke machine the crew had brought along, etc, etc. Unfortunately the list goes on and on. You can read about the deceptions, episode by episode, here:

    http://www.daughtersoftiresias.org/bearwiki/Evidence

    As to a previous poster’s assertion that “This show clearly states that it is meant to inform viewers…” well, yes, NOW the show has a vaguely worded “disclaimer” which in my opinion is designed to, itself, be intentionally deceptive. Since your post was made in Feb, 2008, The Discovery Channel had by then already added the disclaimer and re-edited the episodes and the voiceovers. You can read about the re-edited versions here:

    http://www.daughtersoftiresias.org/bearwiki/Edited_show_revelations

  • Michael C.

    [continued]

    The point is not how prudent WOULD it be to spend the night in the Sierra Nevada mountains, or to try to mount a “wild mustang” in a survival situation, or swim a river without a hidden wetsuit, or climb a waterfall without a hidden climbing harness, or be “a genuine Robinson Crusoe, stranded on an island in the South Pacific” (when in reality you are on a beach in Hawaii, not 200 yards from a golf course), or raft the ocean without production crew divers pre-swimming the area for sharks, etc. The point is, rather, that this IS what the production company and Mr. Grylls TOLD us he was doing — when in fact that was not the case at all. In other words, they were lying. About a lot of things, it turns out. And my guess is they would still be lying if several insiders had not apparently become disgusted with the charade, and the really bad advice being given by the show purely to enhance the drama, and blown the whistle on them. The only conclusion I can come to is that they were doing this to enhance the allure of the show, to boost viewership, and therefore make more money. Which as a fellow Christian REALLY disappoints me about Mr. Grylls: that he would intentionally deceive people, apparently, to make more money.

    It makes no difference, re: his veracity and integrity, how many mountains Mr. Grylls has climbed (btw, he was nicknamed ‘Teddy’ when he was young because of the teddy bear he carried around, the nickname later becoming ‘Bear’). A liar, is a liar, is a liar. And you may not, but there are many people who have a problem with that. My problem with liars has always been: how, then, do you know when they’re telling the truth?

    I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, until they give me reason not to. And Mr. Grylls, his production company, and now The Discovery Channel have all given me reason to no longer trust them, or ‘consume’ their product for that matter.

  • pinky

    i love Bear Grylls,he is adventurous,he is strong as well as he entertains,i simply don’t care whatever hell his critics have to say about him

  • http://www.birminghamhumanists.org.uk litesp33d

    I like to watch Bear do his stuff on TV.

    It was a little disappointing to find out that some of the stuff that he does is fake but I am confident that he could do everything for real but probably sometimes TV time doe not allow for this.

    However the fact that he is a christian probably explains how he manages to do and say two contradictory things at the same time. How does thous shalt not kill tie in with joining the military as a soldier whose prime job is to kill? In the same way he uses his survival skills whilst staying in a hotel. Imaginary friends help people believe imaginary things so he probably imagined what it would be like to have to do that particular survival stunt.

  • James

    I’m very impressed with Bear’s show. Unless you live in a cave around the tora bora mountian range you should thank a solider and a Christian as well. Freedom doesn’t come free. Last time I checked oh bout 5 minutes ago Iran is about to go into a civil war. I know, I know it’s George W. Bush fault, right???

  • Sarah

    Bear Grylls is one of the strongest,brave, adventurous and a real survival, very impressive show . i just don t care about the critics

  • http://www.getexbackclub.com Matt

    Thanks, now I don’t have to watch the show :)

    Paul (Get Ex Back

  • Aaron

    Bear Grylls is a fake, and most of his techniques will get people hurt or killed in a survival situation. Learn from real survivalists, teach yourself and practice regularly. His knife is shit and costs $300, get a mora, cheaper and better.

  • Aaron

    This advice is good, though.

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    nice blog and good article,I hope it can bring you huge earning.thank you very much.

  • Charlie

    THis is very informative. It is a great show and he is a very entertaining guy. You do have to remember that it is still tv and entertainment. So, good he has these awesome skills and no doubt knows how to use them, but remember he is still on tv, not really trying to escape death.

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    A very nice article, I will be in follow

  • http://beargrylls uvaraj

    this is bear wrold really amazing this show .man vs wild, bear kinfe very smart
    bear advise to tell life save really .

  • http://www.menshikingbootsreview.com hiker

    What an incredible person. He defines the line “WE CAN”, I can’t imagine how he is still alive after all of that.

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  • http://celltvphone.blogspot.com/ paul

    Hi Bear grylls I really apreciate your life style. It is really a exciting life I hope I could follow you as well. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= paul´s last blog ..Cell TV Phone Is It Fun =-.

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    great post

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    Bear is such a hero for me and my friends, we are all huge fans of survival techniques

  • http://www.dccondoboutique.com/logan-circle.php Mark Washburn

    Good luck on your adventure. Here is my gear list for a 270 mile thru-hike: http://markwashburn.wordpress.com/gear-list/

  • http://en.hribi.net Hiking

    Good post. Thanks.
    .-= Hiking´s last blog ..Tek =-.

  • http://sophiacastellofan.com Sophia Castello

    I Love bears!

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    Very informative post. Bear you the man.
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    The great outdoors and bears. Awesome combination.
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    Great article. Looking forward to reading more posts by you. Awesome pic. Thanks.
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  • http://www.yahoo.com Swapnil jangam

    Its thrilling ,he is real hero

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    I love him, incredibly brave, wonderful man.

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  • http://www.primemagazine.com Ansy

    I agree. My hubby got me hooked and when i wanted to see Bear ‘live in perth, aust’ he told me ‘I cant be bothered hearing him bang on about religion’ i immediately said what??! Why in earth do u find him entertaining with his ‘adventures’ if u find no depth in the reality of his aired ‘what would u do’ extremes. Surely a lack of faith of some kind in a person/ and or lack of survival instinct is not a pre-requisite for a ‘male’s’ interest in this ongoing series? Am i only getting one ‘males’ perception and not a majority?? It makes me wonder about the ‘joy’ of marriage & our children (as a mother & wife) that is

  • http://www.mielecanistervacuum.org venny lee

    I watched the first episode of Born Survivor on Channel 4, excited that a new survival expert had come along to go with Ray Mears.

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    I’m really interested in Mount Everest and have been researching the subject for a while. I’m impressed with British expeditions and especially the legendary story of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. I’d love to read Bear’s book on his climb. He’s a leading name in outdoor adventure and I’m sure his story is excellent.

  • Ben

    It doesnt really matter if Bear Grylls has maybe once or twice stayed in a hotel on a show. He is teaching us how to survive in the situations, does he really need to be filmed sleeping? He shows us how to make the place that he will be sleeping in, and most of the time he does sleep there, but even if he doesnt he still shows us what to do, he DOESN’T need to be shown sleeping after all, he is showing US how to survive. He is amazing and if you were faced with the situations he was faced with im pretty sure you will not complain about the “stunts” Bear does. Just shut up and watch.

  • http://www.bestbabymonitorreview.net/ Jenny

    Just got down watching season 3 and it was great. I love the outdoors, camping, fishing etc. This dvd makes sense in a lot of ways, maybe I won’t kill a alligator or a python but he does have some good ideas on survival. I found all dvd’s to be entertaning and fun to watch. Bear looks like he can adapt to any situation and he is not afraid of anything, maybe because he is trained?

  • Careylucy953

    i love Bear grylls and he teaches you about allot of cool things but i don’t lisen  to those people who say he’s a fake and stuff he’s awesome

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