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Interview with a Bear: Grylls on Survivalism, Knives, and Rabbit Snares

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You know him from Discovery’s “Man vs. Wild” television show. But did you know Brit survivalist star Bear Grylls, 37, once crossed the North Atlantic in an inflatable boat, or that he circumnavigated the United Kingdom on a jet ski? Grylls, who served three years in the British Special Air Service, has more recently worked with Gerber Legendary Blades on a namesake line of knives and survival products. We caught up with Grylls late last month to talk machetes, snare wires, and the debate around serration on blades built for survival situations in the jungle or woods. —Stephen Regenold

Grylls shows off the ‘Ultimate Knife’ from his namesake Gerber line; photo © Gerber Legendary Blades

Gear Junkie: Okay, we should start this by talking about a machete. Your Parang machete in the Gerber line is a serious tool!
Bear Grylls: It is based on a tool given to me by Embera Panamanian tribesmen who are really the ultimate guardians of jungle survival. It is to the Embera tribe that NASA turned to for their original jungle training for astronauts if they got stranded on re-entry. The blade is the product of all those years of the Embera learning the exact tool that works well in an aggressive jungle environment and I am so proud to base the Parang on their gift to me.

Where have you deployed the Parang?
I have used it in Borneo extensively and Special Forces teams now use it in their jungle training as well. I have some great photos but sadly can’t share them!

Parang has 13.5 inches of branch-hacking edge!

What is your favorite product in your namesake Gerber line?
My personal favorite is the Survival Series Ultimate Kit. It really is the one kit that has it all if you were in the ultimate survival situation. It is based on what we carried as our survival essentials in the Special Forces and we have designed it to be light but totally comprehensive, and that is a hard balance to strike well. I am proud that it has had a huge uptake from ex-military colleagues of mine from the British SAS and that means a lot for me.

Bits and pieces: The Bear-curated Survival Series Ultimate Kit

There are just 16 small items in the kit?
The pieces are all based on the word “resourcefulness” — in each of the kits are enough clever and well-thought-through items to mean that with ingenuity and a little guidance there are almost no survival tasks that cannot be accomplished. I worked with bushcraft specialist buddies to get this one absolutely right. My motto is “know more, carry less.”

Give me an example of where a survival kit like your Gerber product has saved the day?
Most recently it was to use the waterproof case to keep some of my tinder dry in a jungle downpour. [The Survival Series Ultimate Kit comes in a small water-tight case.] It isn’t just about the kit inside, you got to remember that even the case can save the day! I then used the same case to collect rainwater as well once I had the fire going!

Of all the kit’s little pieces, which two or three items are most crucial in real-world survival situations?
Actually snare wire would be in there. Along with the knife and the firesteel, these three items give you the basics for survival: To hunt food, make fire, and carve tools for water collection. With the snare wire I have caught lots of food, ranging from squirrel, rabbit to even a possum! You gotta take the time to make the traps camouflaged, scent-free and well-placed.

Survival Series Ultimate Fixed Blade Knife

Let’s talk knives. Which one knife in the line would you recommend as the most useful in a survival situation?
Probably the Ultimate Knife as it is the one that I have relied on so heavily in so many tough swamp, jungle, mountain and desert situations around the world. It has proved itself worthy of the name and I don’t say that lightly.

The Ultimate Knife is serrated, and for some people who are passionate about knives and survivalism serration on a knife is a no-no. What is your opinion?
Everyone has an opinion on serration and the purists tend to like a clean blade. This is undoubtedly best for gutting and carving, but often in dynamic survival such as on “Man vs. Wild” I need to cut something and fast. The serrated blade allows me to do this the best and often my life will depend on that speed. It is a tough compromise always but I find with the half serration I can do all tasks adequately. Ultimately, though, this debate was why we brought out a total fine blade as well! Horses for courses!

Trading some enamel for illumination: Grylls shines a flashlight from his Gerber line to complete a task outside; photo © Gerber Legendary Blades

Were there other products you were hoping to develop with Gerber that never came to market?
There continue to be so many great ideas from the team, but for me it is all about quality and thorough testing first. The motto is “Tested, proved.” If it survives the field trials of me and my core team of bushcraft and military survival experts then it goes through. We have covered the basics now and I am excited for the lineup for next year.

What can we expect to see in the future from Bear and Gerber?
Think canteens, lights, survival multi tools, belts, and much more. In truth all we have done so far is tickle the surface!

—Read more about Bear Grylls at BearGrylls.com. His namesake product line is seen on Gerber Legendary Blades’ site under the “Survival” category.


> Review: Bear Grylls Knife

> Bear Grylls ‘Ultimate Fine Edge Knife’

> Full Line: Bear Grylls Gear

“Everyone has an opinion on serration and the purists tend to like a clean blade,” Grylls said. Here he is with a new knife developed serration-free; photo © Gerber Legendary Blades

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