Surviving the world with Bear Grylls


By Sarah Sekula, published on

When it comes to chowing down on frozen yak eyeballs, fending off salt-water crocodiles and navigating Class V rapids in the lower Zambezi (without a raft), former SAS trooper Edward Michael “Bear” Grylls is your go-to guy.

As the onetime host of “Man Vs. Wild” and the author of “A Survival Guide for Life” (Bantam Press), the 38-year-old, up-for-everything British aristocrat knows a thing or two about thriving in the world’s harshest environments.

1. How to survive a bear
“Bears are most dangerous when surprised or disturbed with their young, eating or fornicating,” Grylls says. “So be aware and make your presence known by talking loudly. If you come across a bear then slowly back away and find a different route.”

The most important thing to remember is not to run; running may evoke a chase response. Bears can run faster than 50 kph, according to Kris Fister with Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska; so even Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt couldn’t beat them.

Stand still. If the bear makes contact with you, play dead and cover your head. If the attack is prolonged, fight back vigorously.

2. How to survive quicksand
Quicksand has snuck up on Grylls time after time, and he’s seen plenty of animals get trapped, too. “They tend to die from fatigue,” he says.

Fortunately, a human has a much bigger brain. “So use it and think smart,” Grylls says. “Move steadily, even if inch by inch. Above all, keep calm. Panic fatigues you and pulls you lower.

“Try limb by limb to get onto the surface horizontally and then crawl or swim to safety. You are better heading back the way you got in rather than pressing onwards. Use your backpack or a stick to help maneuver yourself onto the surface if you can.”

3. How to survive a plane crash
Fine dining and steaming hot hand towels are nice. But when it comes to survival rates, Grylls says, sitting in first class may not be the best option.

Instead, “sit in either the tail or the wing area of the plane,” he says. “The rear and middle are statistically the safest place to be.”

If you survive the impact of the crash, then the priorities of survival are protection, rescue, water and food. Think about protection first, he recommends, by keeping yourself away from leaking fuel and finding shelter; await rescue and make a safe visible base camp near the wreckage.

“Remember metal is a bad insulator so you might be safer making camp in the snow or trees rather than the wreckage,” Grylls says.

It is tempting to try walking to safety, but resist that urge unless it is clear after several days that rescue is not coming.

4. How to survive a fall through ice
First, keep your wits about you. “The gasp reflex of shock means many drown quickly by breathing in the water,” Grylls explains.

So control your breathing, shed your backpack and try to make your way back to where you fell in since that ice was solid enough to hold you initially.

Get rid of any excess clothing that is stopping you from getting out, and if you have ski poles use them as claws if needed. “Keep a low center of gravity,” Grylls says. “Wriggle like a seal until you are far enough back on solid ice to be able to get clear.”

5. How to survive the jungle
While Bear has stomached raw alligator brain and camel intestines, he says that if you are stuck in a jungle, eat grubs and bugs rather than bigger kill.

“Worms are easy to find and very nutritious; boil them up to kill any bacteria then suck them down,” Grylls says.

When it comes to hydration, set up a water collection system (a large leaf will do the trick) and always boil it first, he says. Fire is key; keep it burning day and night. “Make yourself visible from the air if you can,” Grylls says. “Have a smoky signal fire ready for passing planes.”

Lastly, if you suffer any injuries, clean wounds immediately. “Infection can kill you faster than most animals will,” Grylls says.

6. How to escape a sinking vehicle
Whammy #1: You are in a car crash. Whammy #2: Your car is now sinking. “The first minute is vital,” Grylls says.

“If you can open the door before the car starts to sink, it can save your life. After a few minutes the car will fill up and start to sink engine down. The pressure of the water can make it almost impossible to open a door. If this happens, make sure your seat belt is off and you are ready to swim out before smashing the window.” (Use the metal points of the headrest if you don’t have a heavy object.)

If your car has already sunk to the bottom of the body of water, he says, you can wait for the car to fill up with water so the pressure is equalized, then hold your breath and open the door to swim free.

7. How to survive a parachute malfunction
In 1996, while serving in the military in southern Africa, Grylls hurled himself out of a plane during a routine exercise.

His parachute tore upon opening and before he knew it, he smashed into the desert below and crushed two vertebrae. “I was lucky not to be paralyzed and after 18 months in and out of military rehab rebuilt my strength again,” he explains.

“The lesson is: if there is any doubt of your ability to land a malfunctioning parachute then look, reach and pull your cut-away handle, then look reach and pull your reserve.”

This may all sound easy, but when you are under huge G-force from a spinning chute or in the dark or cold, it can be hard to do.

“Too many have died with perfectly functioning reserve chutes but have ripped their jackets apart in panic thinking it was their reserve handle,” Grylls says.

8. How to survive a shark
Not many people can say they’ve landed on top of a shark and lived to tell about it. Grylls can.

“I was on a raft filming and had just been diving with reef sharks, which are quite harmless,” he recalls. “I dived in for one more shot and landed on top of a five-meter-long tiger shark at the very moment it emerged from underneath my raft.

“It was as shocked as me and darted off giving me a few seconds to get back on my raft before it came back very aggressively circling me and hitting its tail on the raft!”

Luckily, it got bored eventually and swam away.

Just remember, you’re in its territory, so respect it, Grylls says, and don’t take one on unless you have to.
“If you have no choice, remember that confidence sows doubt in a shark’s mind and instinctively it will often reconsider an attack,” he says.

“Swim confidently and don’t thrash and panic; panic shows it you are prey. Shout loudly underwater, and if it attacks, then strike it on the nose, gills or eyes.”

9. How to survive an avalanche
Grylls was buried in a mock avalanche once and had to be rescued just before he passed out.

If you are caught in one, try to get out to the side of it. Ski hard diagonally away from the avalanche. If you do get swept up, “fight to stay on the surface using a swimming motion and as soon as it stops work hard to get a limb out in fresh air,” he says.

Keep in mind: “Ice sets in seconds so the first minute is vital to create an air pocket around your face at minimum,” Gylls says. “Punch your way clear if you can. And if you aren’t sure which way is up, then dribble saliva.”

10. How to survive a house fire
Fire can be very tricky, and more often than not, it’s the smoke rather than the direct flame that can do you in.

With that in mind, “the best way not to breathe in smoke is to stay low, cover your face in a wet towel and cover any exposed skin,” Grylls says. The air closest to the floor will be less filled with smoke and fumes. This makes breathing and seeing easier.

Feel the door with the back of your hand. If it’s hot, or even just warm, there may be fire on the other side. Test the handle, too, before trying to exit.

If necessary, try breaking a window. “Be careful smashing windows as it can add oxygen to a flame,” he says. “Make sure you have a way out and down before you break a window.”