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Bear Attack: Q&A with Bear Grylls

The star of "Man vs. Wild" talks gear, luxury items, and survival advice.
bear grylls"Man vs. Wild" star Bear Grylls. (Ben Fullerton)

Ramping up for a live stage tour in May, the star of Discovery Channel’s “Man vs. Wild” sat down with BACKPACKER’s Anthony Cerretani to discuss what it takes to design durable gear, his favorite luxury item and the survival advice he gives his kids.

BP: You’ve gone from TV show star to complete brand. What’s been the biggest challenge?
BG: The main thing has been saying “no.” You can go out there and endorse all sorts of rubbish. For five years, all I did was say no to everything. Now the stuff I’ve done, I’ve tested. That’s why the range of all the survival packs and the knives have been so successful.

BP: Now that you’re developing gear — most recently, for the new Craghoppers apparel debuting at ORWM — are you more cognizant of how well it works? Does it change the survival experience for you?
BG: I’m never scared to be wrong, and I’m never scared to ruin or trash stuff. If I could have another slogan out there, it would be “It’s not about the gear.” Give yourself the best chance and get the best gear you can. But ultimately, the best tools are your ingenuity and your spirit. That’s what keeps people alive. I design good gear, good knives and good clothing so I don’t have to think about it. Hopefully, the gear and kit stands up to the job. And when it doesn’t, you change it and you refine it. Every time, you learn. I always say to the crew, complacency kills, and that stands as much for your kit as it does for your attitude.

BP: Is there one type of gear you wished functioned better for you while out there in the wilds?
BG: It’s hard to get good jungle clothing: stuff that’s quick-drying, isn’t going to rip, isn’t going to break. The jungle stuff [we’ve designed] I’m especially proud of. I use it in loads of different environments, but the extreme end of that is in the jungles.

BP: Is there anything that you always bring with you that’s not part of the standard survival kit?
BG: I always bring a laminated photo of my family tucked under the sole of my shoe, and I always have a satellite phone. Each night — I have three boys — I try to say goodnight to them before I go to bed wherever we are in the world. That’s a bit of a ritual for me. I’ve done it from some crazy summits and crazy storms, huddled down in snow caves. That’s my connection with home.

BP: When it comes to your kids, what’s the first survival skill you taught them?
BG: Always have a backup plan. The other day, I saw my eldest halfway up this tree, really high up this thing, hanging off by one hand. This branch is dead. I said, “Stop. What’s your backup plan?” He says, “Papa, you never have a backup plan.” I said, “I always have a backup plan.” That’s why I’m still doing this show so many years later.

BP: You seem very good at handling situations when they go awry. What’s your secret?
BG: I love it. That’s my zone. I love the quote, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” I love it when it starts to go wrong. You have to think fast and with ingenuity. And then you have to commit yourself. I love that the wild rewards commitment.

BP: How do you stay calm in those types of situations? Is it just a mental shift for you?
BG: I do it because of the alternative. Panic never helps you. I’ve learned from experience: You thrive when you keep calm in a crisis. Calm in the storm. I’m interested in team guys, expedition guys who, when it’s all going to rat shit can be nice, can be kind, can be calm. Nobody talks about nice and kind, but if you’re stuck in a tent with someone for three months, you don’t want the ego and the selfish person. You want the person who’s going to make you a cup of tea first.

BP: For someone who’s never been in a survival situation before, how can they process that fear?
BG: Don’t rush in. The instinct when something goes wrong is blind panic. Just stop. Step back. Breathe. Time spent in preparation is good time. Sometimes you need to make a split decision one way or the other. But if your life is going to depend on it, take an extra five seconds and look at it. Think things through.

BP: What’s next for you?
BG: I’m doing a live stage tour in of the U.S. in May. I’ll be telling all of the “Man vs. Wild” stories, behind the scenes, past expeditions, all the SAS stuff, all the military stuff. Lots of swinging from the rooftops, snakes and fire. So, a fun evening!

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