Bear Grylls – Women in the Woods

Bear Grylls has a new show in the making and it’s got women a bit hacked off.

The Island Of Lost Blokes will see 12 hardy souls join Grylls in trying to survive on a desert island using just their instincts and ingenuity.

12 Hardy Man Souls that is. Channel 4 didn’t quite think women would be up to the challenge or be willing to participate.

And it has Sarah Outten hacked off. For those who don’t click links? She’s like a female Bear Grylls. Only she doesn’t do dangerous things on TV and promotes it as survivalism. Another woman who is irritated about the whole deal is Lisa Fenton who is a product of the Ray Mears School of Bushcraft.

A word here? I like Ray Mears and am not a fan of Bear Grylls. See the difference in attitude is what I like. Bear Grylls leaps off helicopters into terrain with no idea of what’s there (or that’s what his show implies). Ray? Ray walks in with sensible equipment and then talks to people who live in the region.

The difference is what they call their adventure. Bear calls it Survivalism.

Ray Mears calls it Bushcraft. One of the most touching moments was Ray working with the Native people from an Amazonian tribe. When he realises they lost the ability to make fire from scratch due to matches, he speaks to the oldest in the tribe who learnt the technique but never got to use it because of matches and helped them with his knowledge of other culture’s bushcraft redevelop the skill. Bushcraft is walking into a place with minimal equipment knowing you can use that to build elaborate shelter and enjoy the act of sleeping wild using those techniques.

To me? Survivalism is preparing for a zombie apocalypse. To me? Survivalists are people with excessively fancy knives.

Bear leaps into unfathomed water, he routinely gets soaked in his shows with no fear of hypothermia or exposure. He regularly eats animals raw without emphasising the dangers of food poisoning.

Ray on the other hand? Tells you the first thing you do to survive is to build a fire. That alone has saved countless lives. The heat, warmth, light and safety of fire has kept humanity alive for generations. The mere act of fire building has kept survivors from doing stupid things.

Any person who comes from his ethos of bushcraft is a good person to listen to on the issue in my book. Ray has never been about punching the elements but living in harmony. Ray Mears is the only man to go into the Kalahari and come back fatter.

Our bush and camp craft are a product of thousands of years of ideas. Most of us don’t “need” to understand how to make fire from scratch or learn to clean water or learn to build things from scratch. There are two attitudes to this, Bear is more popular across the USA but Ray Mears rules the UK and I suppose it’s our relationship with nature.

Nature is to be enjoyed, not murdered at knife point. So the genteel bushcraft of Ray Mears calmly hunting with the San of the Kalahari appeals to us more than Ray Mears eating snakes.

In addition? I think Bear is a bad influence. Nature should be respected. In trying to make his show exciting he does dangerous things. Those may be safer when he does it because he “checked”, but one day some kid is going to think he knows what to do in a situation and do a “Bear Grylls” and end up on some rocks. All that will happen if you emulate Mr. Mears is you meet some new people and learn their tricks to live in harsh climates. Everything he shows is a skill that can be learned. The most dangerous thing he teaches you is constructing bows and arrows, making fire and eating mushrooms (which to be fair he warns you with disclaimers on how he knows his mushroom hunting and what to avoid and that it is a skill to be learned elsewhere)

And these are people who survive in these places of both genders. Bushcraft and survivalism both owe their existence to learning from both men and women. Ray himself has gone and learnt from women who live in these harsh climates because both genders need skills to survive in the wild.

Ruth England, Sarah Outen and Lisa Fenton all have said they would be game to show us that women can do it too.

Channel 4 however have a different idea.

“The series sets out to examine modern masculinity and how traditional skills and ideas of manhood have changed over generations. For that reason men were invited to take part in the series to be stripped of modern day comforts and their skills put to test.” – Channel 4

Which is daft since the same situation of survival was a tradtional skill for women too. Women didn’t just lie around in caves waiting to be ravished by burly cavemen who brought home the mammoth.


  1. chigau (違う) says

    Ray is right.
    Fire first.
    Modern masculinity will be dead before the first coffee-break.

  2. Menyambal says

    I saw that Grylls clown go under a glacier to get water, all while talking about how very dangerous it was. And that is all that I have seen of him.

  3. kraut says

    My wife and I spent almost a year during two trips with packhorses in the Canadian Rockies of BC, living off the land, crossing rivers, sometimes seeing nobody for several months. We knew how to survive, also we had equipment not to get us in to stupid situations. later one I went for decades on yearly hunting trips for moose and bear, always prepared against getting lost or into dangerous situations in the first place
    I find the Bear thingy guy one thing only – odious in its macho idiocy.

  4. lochaber says

    huh. about two decades ago, I picked up a survival skills book on the sale table outside of a used bookstore.

    Got it for like, a dollar or two. Was written by Raymond Mears. I didn’t really know anything about him, but recognized the name when I read your post.

    I liked the book quite a bit. While it’s not as thorough as some, it’s one of my favorites. Lots of simple, sensible advice/projects.

    I’ve gotten the impression that ‘survivalism’ tends to have a military/combat angle. Not sure if that’s just me, but I tend to associate it with people who build bunkers and have way too many firearms.

    I also like the stuff labeled as ‘primitive’ camping/living/skills. All good stuff to learn, and it can come in handy, even outside of emergencies. Lots of that stuff can be useful when camping, and even on just day trips.

  5. says

    If you haven’t read Jack London’s “to build a fire…” I recommend it. But wait – I was a kid, so it might not actually be that good. But as I read your comment about matches, I flashed back to the story…

  6. says

    I also associate survivalism with camo creeps and atv weenies. The guys whose idea of a wilderness challenge is carrying all their ammo (instead of a brick of .22s, which could give you protein for a year or two if used with care) I guess you can eat raw food if you know you’ll be back in civilization with some ivermectin for the parasites in a couple weeks.

    Survivalists actually want to kill YOU and take your stuff. And they’re huge optimists that assume 99% of the population will die off but they’ll be otherwise OK. In a sense they are the “1 percenters” clown school.

  7. gfr says

    “Ray Mears is the only man to go into the Kalahari and come back fatter.” – laughed my socks off :-)

  8. Holms says

    Doesn’t Bear fake or dramatise a large amount of his show? Rendering him more of a stuntman than wild survivalist.

  9. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ Holms :

    Yep. Think I recall something like that too. A wikicheck later finds :

    The show (‘Born Survivor / Man vs. Wild -ed.) caused controversy after a programme consultant revealed that Grylls actually stayed in a motel on some nights – including an episode in Hawaii in which Grylls was ostensibly stranded on a deserted island – and that certain scenes were staged for him.[43] In one example, Bear was portrayed lassoing a wild mustang in the Sierra Nevada, but it was claimed that this was in fact a tame animal from a nearby pony-trekking centre.[25]

    There’s also the case of a dubious balloon adventure :

    The expedition provoked some controversy. Grylls initially reported on his blog to have broken a new world record by flying over Mount Everest, when in fact – though reaching a height greater than Everest – he did not actually fly over the top of the mountain* but was in fact some miles away from it.[25] Some explorers have cast doubts on the veracity of other aspects of the flight, such as its purportedly record-setting height, which would have put him into the “death zone” where the amount of oxygen in the air is insufficient to sustain human life.

    OTOH Mr Grylls has doen some good charity and raising awareness of environmental issues :

    His 2005 attempt to para-motor over the Angel Falls was in aid of the charity Hope and Homes for Children.[55] In August 2010, Grylls continued his fund-raising work for Global Angels by undertaking an expedition through the Northwest Passage in a rigid inflatable boat. Many of his expeditions also support environmental causes such as his Antarctica expedition and his circumnavigation of Britain which tested a pioneering new fuel made from rubbish.

    So as usual the situation here is more complicated than many may first assume.

    * Apparently because of permit worries over China.

  10. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @6. Marcus Ranum :

    I also associate survivalism with camo creeps and atv weenies. .. (snip) .. Survivalists actually want to kill YOU and take your stuff.

    Hmm .. From my admittedly minimal~ish knowledge and experience here I’d suggest that probably applies to some but not all “survivalists and there’s a pretty wide range of people who would all themselves that -some matching your description and many others not at all.

    Didn’t Louis Theroux do a doco ep featuring some survivalists once who weren’t all that bad?

  11. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Second the self-proclaimed survivalists mostly being (dangerously) paranoid and opportunistic fanboys/fangirls of the zombie/jeebus/fema apocalypse (my dad is a bit of one) that would not actually survive long if left alone. Not to unduly disparage the occasional doomsday preppers that actually build/buy shelters and learn some useful medical/nutritional/survival skills (not quite bushcraft, but a damn sight better than the survivalists).

    As for Grylls, one of the only episodes I caught a bit of, during the commercial breaks of an actually interesting show, involved him going down a not-terribly turbulent river, maybe with a piece of wood for flotation. Douchebag had a full camera crew and was wearing a life preserver under his clothes, yet made a lot of noise as if he were some big, brave, manly man facing certain doom. Les Stroud is a lot less shitty human with a survival show who scouts the area and consults with locals beforehand, but not sure if it makes it quite to the level of Ray Mears’ bushcraft.

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