Bear Grylls vs. Les Stroud

November 11, 2008

OK. Just for fun…What’s your type? The dashing, risk-taking Brit, or the unassuming, steadfast Canadian? Personally, I love to watch both, as either one has a lot of good stuff to offer.

From Les Stroud, I’ve learned a lot of really cool and useful skills. From Bear Grylls, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to shriek, “YOU’RE FREAKING KIDDING ME!”

Bear’s show is certainly entertaining, but from the first I’ve always been horrified by the choices he’s made on his program. In most survival situations, it’s best to stay put when you’re lost, or at least stay put where you find a safe spot near a good water source. If you have reasonable confidence that civilization is downstream from that water, then go for it…carefully. But leave sign of your direction.

In the first “Man vs. Wild” episode I ever saw, as soon as he found water he jumped right into it, risking serious injury, hypothermia and drowning in order to save time descending to lower elevations. I believe he was in the Sierra Nevadas, an area with which I’m familiar. Having traveled downriver in even the most commonly rafted Sierra rivers, even I know better than to risk unknown whitewater without a PFD. And jumping in without even testing the water? No way. A jump from a high rock, like the one Bear made, risks that involuntary intake of breath one takes when hitting ice-cold water.

Taking unnecessary risks in a survival situation is a bad idea. Even a scratch can become your downfall, as you have little means of staving off infection.

Running off in the middle of the night because you MAY have heard a bear in the area was another move I found laughable. Especially in an area with lots of cliffs. Bears rarely attack people, but hikers frequently kill themselves falling off cliffs or breaking their legs when no help is in reach. Do the math.

Maybe I’m of a certain age when I’ve learned my lesson about rash bad boys. Les Stroud’s approach–slow and steady–doesn’t make for the best entertainment, but pound for pound (or frame for frame) I put more value on the lessons he imparts. Sure, it’s great to know that you can drink the water squeezed from the dung of a Savannah ungulate, but I’d prefer to learn the more likely–and safe–alternatives.

Les Stroud

Les Stroud

Plus, there’s something sexy about bald guys.


One thing I do cluck my tongue at when watching either show is the lesson that both boys have repeatedly ignored: Never leave home without a basic survival kit that will provide you with (or provide the means to obtain) fire, food, water and shelter. The TSA may not allow us to carry our Becker BK7 aboard our flight to New York’s Fashion Week, but the rest of the time we can carry a small kit that would include the basics.

What I do find interesting is that both Bear and Les seem to always have their knives with them, and little else but improvised tools. That improvisation is exactly why both shows are so great, and valuable, but they present less-than likely scenarios for the average Jane.

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls

Doesn’t matter who’s better, more realistic, more of a showman, which one pronounces “glacier” in a manner that makes me want to shoot the widescreen, or who looks the best wearing his pee-soaked tighty-whiteys on his head. What really makes me happy is that these two shows are on Discovery Channel, and both have a good following. The more people who are interested in self-reliance, survival and preparedness, the better we’ll all be when the excrement hits the oscillator!


Learn Skills for Cheap Thrills

November 9, 2008
Learn to use a real field compass, and to read a topo map.

Learn to use a real field compass, and to read a topo map.

Bored, but too broke to hit up the latest chick flick? Challenge yourself to learn a new skill each week. Pick something that will save you money, augment your fitness goals, aid in survival or preparedness, or all of the above. Bring a friend on board, or even plan an outing with friends to attend a workshop or simply learn together.

Skills I’ve really enjoyed, especially in the company of friends, include knot tying (get your mind out of the gutter), survival fishing, making snares, identifying and preparing wild edibles, survival signaling and old-school orienteering.

Geocaching with a GPS unit is another great way to get friends and family out of the house and on the trail.

Household frugality skills that have become rusty for many of us include bread baking, intensive gardening, soapmaking, candlemaking, knitting, basic home improvement & maintenance, and medicinal herbs.

Many community colleges or county recreation departments offer inexpensive classes on the above topics. Online resources and printed guidebooks can allow you to learn a new skill in the time it takes to drink your morning coffee.

Learning with friends is the way to go. In my old home city, my girlfriends and I took turns planning outings in which we’d either learn something new, or attend a lecture or reading that broadened our own horizons. In addition to learning something new, you learn more about the people in your immediate lives. A favorite activity was an outing to a rock climbing gym, when one buddy earned my respect for the hard-earned skills she’d built in a few short months of training.

Another was a CPR class I took with my family before we embarked on a three-month boating trip through Alaska’s inland passage, by way of Canada’s San Juan Islands. (After that, I learned to suture pickled pigs’ feet and administer insulin injections into oranges, woo hoo).

My general philosophy is to make preparedness and self-reliance a natural part of my life. Never be ashamed to admit you know how to field dress a rabbit, make glue from pine pitch or change the oil on your Subaru.

Building good skillsets benefits your self-confidence as well as your self-reliance, and makes you more interesting at social gatherings. You may be tempted to demonstrate bushcraft firestarting at your cousin’s wedding reception next summer, and I’m here to let you know that that’s a bad idea. Knowing how to use your emergency suture/fishing kit to fix the bride’s bussle, on the other hand, will make you the belle of the ball.