In order to become a true survival expert, you can’t wait for a few accidents to come your way. You have to go looking for wilderness adventure. Which is exactly what Grylls, 38, did for seven seasons of Discovery’s popular show, Man vs. Wild. And this came after countless serious scrapes while training for, and then serving in, the British Army’s ultra-elite SAS.
More creds: He’s climbed Everest, explored the Arctic and Antarctic, and faced off against deadly wildlife. In other words, our guest editor for this issue knows his survival skills–because he’s had to use them. You’ll find his field-tested advice in the following pages. But first, Deputy Editor Anthony Cerretani checks in with Grylls about living through the unexpected, learning from mishaps, and what it’s like to make a career out of life-or-death epics.
BACKPACKER: Has there ever been a moment when you actually thought, “This is it. I think I’m going to die.”? Did anything change for you after that moment?
BEAR GRYLLS: I’ve had too many of those. I almost died falling down a monster crevasse collapse in the Himalaya, in a big Class V whitewater river in the Malaysian jungle, in a Himalayan slab avalanche, a rockfall in Canada, a parachute malfunction in Africa, a frozen lake in Ireland. Oh, and I almost drowned in quick mud as a kid. They have all taught me the same things: You gotta respect nature, never get complacent, and always have a backup plan.
What keeps you motivated to seek out the sharp edge between safety and disaster in the wilderness?
It’s the only place that I feel totally at home and calm—I find everyday life quite hard sometimes. For me, a switch kind of flicks when I am in the wild, especially when things start to go a little wrong. That is always my time. I am not as totally reckless as people sometimes think, but I know what I can do and have a good instinct for danger. I always give myself a 20-percent margin of error in the wild. (It used to be 10 percent, but I’m improving.)
What’s your most important piece of survival advice?
The heart of great survival is all about spirit—having that spirit of dogged determination to never, ever, ever give up. The rest is detail.
What’s the worst advice you’ve heard?
Bugs taste like chicken.
You’ve mastered knife skills, foraging, firestarting, and other lifesaving techniques. Which is the most important?
All are important: Ultimately, knowledge is power and the more you know, the easier your escape should be. Ingenuity is an under-appreciated but vital skill to develop. It means you can work out smart ways of doing things with very little. This ingenuity is the part of survival that I love the most.