Man Vs Wild – Dangerous Advice?

There are some who say that the star of the television program Man Vs. Wild, Bear Grylls, is a fraud. I am not one of them. I think he has a lot of skills and training. He probably can climb and swim better than most of us, and more easily chokes down scorpions and worms for food. But he also sets a terrible example in almost every program, doing things that nobody in a survival situation should do.

For examples, I’ll refer to just one program, the one in which he parachutes into the Montana wilderness. He starts by dropping into a lake because there are supposedly no other open areas to land, other than the grassy stretches the camera can’t quite exclude. Obviously this is done for show, and choosing to get wet in a survival situation in the mountains of Montana would almost always be a bad idea.

To get to lower ground where it will be warmer, he then runs down a slope of loose  rock. Scree-running may be fun, but if you are truly lost in the wilderness, the last thing you want to do is risk injury. This is just plain foolish.

The Waterfall

Grylls then follows a stream, which isn’t a bad idea. But when it becomes a seventy-foot waterfall, he assures us that the best way to proceed is to climb down the slippery dead tree leaning against the cliff between the two parts of the falling water. The tree doesn’t quite reach the bottom, so a ladder of sticks and para-cord is made, which still doesn’t quite get him to the bottom.

I missed the last part (right after a commercial), but it is safe to assume that Bear Grylls did his trademark jump into unknown water to finish his descent. All you have to do is imagine a sharp point of a stump or rock just under the surface, right between where your legs will go into the water, to understand why this is a bad idea. Don’t jump into water when you can’t see what’s there.

Of course, soaked again, Grylls must start a fire to dry his clothing. Now you have to ask it the time spent building a ladder, descending a slippery dead tree, swimming out and drying off for hours really saved time versus finding a safe way around the waterfall. In fact, I can tell you from experience that it is very rare to find a waterfall that doesn’t have a relatively quick and safer route around it versus climbing down it.

The Rest of The Story

Bear finds a lake that is several miles across, and decides, without really explaining why, that it’s important to cross it rather than follow the shore. As in many episodes of Man Vs Wild, he runs into the water fully clothed, ignoring the common sense rule to keep clothing dry when in a wilderness with cold nights. He finds a broken canoe in the muck and cleans it out, patching the holes poorly.

Almost across the lake using a kite made from the remains of his parachute, the canoe is full of water and capsizes, soaking him for the fourth time that day.

Later in the program things get really ridiculous when Bear decided that rather than finding a safe way into a deep gulley (which he thinks he must enter), he’ll create a “zip line” and slide over to a tall tree. I won’t get into all the details, but he uses a grappling hook made with a deer antler, and a cable he found by an old homestead. Hooking onto a tree with an uncertain attachment and climbing out over a deep gulley on a thin cable is clearly reckless and unnecessary, to say the least. Anyone with modest abilities could have found a safe route down and been waiting for him at the bottom long before he completed this asinine maneuver.

Along with other reckless actions I probably forgot, he eats uncooked grasshoppers, risking parasites while standing next to a perfectly usable fire. He later climbs at least 100 feet up a train bridge over a meadow, in order to follow the train tracks, rather than simply walk along them below. He even throws a chain over the lip at the top and swings out into space to climb up, with no idea what he hooked the chain on. Of course he probably knew, had safety crews up there, etc, but that wouldn’t be the case in a real survival situation.

Did I mention the death-run out of the narrow train tunnel by the whole film crew, ending in them jumping to safety just as the train came through? Man Vs Wild is entertaining.  Bear Grylls is fun to watch. But it seems likely that people will be hurt if anyone in a true wilderness survival situation follows his advice or example.

Copyright Steve Gillman. Get the ebook “Ultralight Backpacking Secrets” (And Wilderness Survival Tips), as well as gear recommendations, and a new wilderness survival section, at: