News, Culture & Society

Bear Grylls offers his ultimate survival guide

Bear Grylls, pictured, offers his top tips on how to survive disaster in his new book


Stop: Don’t make a bad situation worse by pushing blindly on and getting more lost.

Think: Your brain is your best survival tool, so control it and use it to think logically.

Observe: If you have a map, look for big, obvious features that you can’t mistake for anything else to orientate yourself. It might be a tall antenna, or a huge lake. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that a small stream is definitely the one you want it to be when there are loads of streams nearby.

Plan: Have a definite strategy that will force you to think things through clearly and, crucially, keep your morale up. Nothing is more dispiriting than not knowing what you’re doing or where you are going.


This is the most important thing you can do when lost. Don’t keep wandering blindly into the unknown. The chances of you stumbling across the right path are minuscule. If you can retrace your steps to the last point where you were sure of your location, then job done. Do it by looking out for landmarks that you recognise, or by re-walking an existing trail, or one you’ve made.

If lost, it is vitally important to retrace your steps and try to conserve your energy 

If lost, it is vitally important to retrace your steps and try to conserve your energy 


Here’s what you need to remember.

1. Conserve your energy.

2. Keep track of time. Trying to find your way in the dark is a bad idea. If you’ll have to bed down for the night, make sure there’s enough daylight to find or make shelter.

3. If you have a rucksack, always keep it on you. Don’t put it down then go to do a recce. If you can’t find it again, you’ll be worse off than before. Remember the Commando ethos: never get separated from your kit.

4. Head for water. Civilisations live near rivers. If you find a water source, follow it downstream.

5. Mark your trail. Even if you’re lost, it’s a good idea to mark your path so you can retrace your steps quickly and easily if needed. Ensure markers are distinctive.

6. Look back. So you know what your path looks like going the other way.

7. Get up high. If you can climb a tree or a hill, you’ll get a better idea of the topography of the area than you would at ground level. But don’t take unnecessary risks, and don’t stray too far to do this without knowing that you can retrace your steps.

Follow power lines, they will eventually lead you to somewhere

Follow power lines, they will eventually lead you to somewhere

8. Follow power lines. These can stretch across vast uninhabited areas. But eventually they will lead somewhere.

9. Light a smoky fire. If people are looking for you, a signal fire will give them something to head for.

10. Use a whistle. Shouting to get people’s attention is exhausting and you’ll soon lose your voice.

11. Work out your cardinal points; north, south, east and west.

why you must put your feet first

There’s an old Army saying: a soldier is no better than his feet. If they can’t do their job, little else matters. A blister might seem minor, but if you’re relying on your feet to keep you alive, it could be the death of you. Here’s how to avoid, and treat, them:


The most important aspect of foot care is preparation. If you can get your feet rugged and hard, you’ll be less prone to blisters. There’s only one way to do this. Get out there. Walk. Train.

The more you do it, the harder skin will become in all the places where it needs to be tough.

New walking boots are blister machines. I often see people with a shiny, new pair of walking boots at the start of a three-month trek, and I know they’re going to have trouble. So, it’s crucial that you wear your boots in first.

They need to soften up, mould to your feet and get wet and dry several times.

When walking, it is important to wear good quality socks and change them often 

When walking, it is important to wear good quality socks and change them often 

A good trick is to put them on, lace them up and stand in a bowl of hot water for a couple of minutes. Then walk around in them for a while and then let them dry off.

Wear good-quality socks and change them often.

Sweaty, damp socks increase your chance of a blister. Looking after your feet at the end of the day is essential. Take off wet socks and boots, clean your feet, and, if possible, apply talcum powder, and put on dry socks.

What if you get a blister?

In an ideal world you would never pop a blister, because the liquid over the wound is your body’s way of keeping it sterile. This isn’t always possible, especially in a survival situation when you need to keep moving. They’re probably going to burst anyway, so it can be a good idea to burst them with a needle, if you have one. Sterilise it first in boiling water or over a hot flame.

Massage the liquid out of the blister, but keep the dead skin in place as a layer of protection.

A blister can easily become infected, especially in the humid environment around your sweaty feet. So you need to clean a blister regularly, especially if it has burst of its own accord.

Clean water is fine. Antibiotic lotion or rubbing alcohol is better.

Be on the look-out for smelly pus, swelling, heat and spreading redness. These are all signs of infection. Once your blister is clean, you can cover it with a plaster or tape.

In extreme cases, squirt some superglue into the burst blister. It’ll hurt like hell, but will form a hard, protective covering for the wound.

clever way to pack your kit

Before thinking about what we need to put in it, we need to make sure it’s waterproof. You always need a liner of some sort. A proper rucksack liner is great. If not, a plastic bag will do. Inside that liner, you will need . . . another liner! One bag is never enough in water.

Grylls encourages everyone to carry a knife to save a life while out exploring 

Grylls encourages everyone to carry a knife to save a life while out exploring 


KNIFE: Carry a knife, save a life.

EMERGENCY RATIONS: At the bottom of your bag, always carry some emergency rations. A good stash would be a bag of nuts, energy bars and flapjacks. Put them in a bag and wrap it tightly with masking tape so it’s like a solid brick. Stow it at the bottom of your pack and forget about it, safe in the knowledge that if a day expedition becomes an overnighter, you’ve a solid lump of a thousand or so calories.

WARM CLOTHING: Clothing can be heavy and bulky. You don’t want to carry too much. The really essential piece of gear is a warm, waterproof jacket to give an extra layer of protection against the elements. Try to choose one with waterproof zips, Velcro cuffs and an elasticated hem. Above all, it needs to be lightweight.

WATER FILTERING SURVIVAL STRAW: These are plastic tubes with built-in filters. Put one end of the straw into contaminated water — be it in a bottle, a river, or even a puddle — and suck clean water through the top of the straw.

MAP: If you venture out into unfamiliar terrain without a map, you’re asking for trouble.

A COMPASS: Your best friend will always be a compass. It doesn’t need to be big, expensive or fancy — small and light is best.

A 2-METRE LENGTH OF CORD: This has so many uses. For example: building shelters, fishing, trapping, kit repair, as a boot lace, as an emergency tourniquet.

A HEAD TORCH: Even better than a head torch? Two head torches. And spare batteries. Many people get into dangerous situations because they slightly misjudge timings and end up in unfamiliar terrain with no light source. A head torch shows you the way and keeps your hands free.

When out an about, carrying a condom is very handy - but not for the most obvious reason

When out an about, carrying a condom is very handy – but not for the most obvious reason

A CAN OF SPRAY PLASTER: You only need a small one. It’s antiseptic as well as being able to seal small cuts or grazes.


CONDOM: I take these mainly for carrying water. A condom takes up almost no space but is very elastic and can hold up to two litres of water. Since they’re waterproof, they’re also good for keeping tinder dry. And you can use them as an improvised rubber glove if treating a wound to guard against infection.

think before you drink that water

Rivers, streams and lakes are obvious water sources, provided you clean and purify anything you collect. Two rules for collecting water from rivers and streams:

1. If you are going to risk drinking direct from the water source, the safest water is that which is moving fast over rocks. Avoid water from slow-moving pools.

2. If collecting river or stream water in a bottle, don’t let the opening face upstream — it funnels in small debris such as twigs. Turn it the other way round.


IF morning dew has collected on vegetation, it’s easy to collect. Wrap towels or absorbent clothing round your feet, then walk through the dew. When the fabric is saturated, you can wring it into a container, and repeat the process until you’ve collected as much water as you can.


I always carry purifying tablets in my survival kit. If my water is not too dirty I use one. If it’s honking, two or three. It won’t taste great, but it’ll do the job. Alternatively, boil your water.

People tell you to boil water for ten minutes. If you’ve only a limited amount of water, the more you boil, the more you lose in evaporation. So once it’s come to the boil, drink it: 99.9 per cent of pathogens will have been killed.


Reduce the amount of water you need to take in by cutting the amount of water you excrete.

1. As far as possible, stay out of the sun and in the shade.

2. Keep out of the wind: it evaporates moisture from your skin and makes you sweat more.

3. Eat less. Your body uses water to help digest food.

4. Keep your mouth shut and breathe through your nose — you lose much more water vapour through your mouth.

5. Move less and more efficiently.

6. If you come across undrinkable water, use it to dampen your skin and clothes. Cooling your body will mean less sweating.

7. Urinate less — the longer your body can hold water, the better.

With undrinkable water, use it to dampen your skin and clothes to reduce your sweat rate

With undrinkable water, use it to dampen your skin and clothes to reduce your sweat rate


When a tyre punctures at a high speed it can be terrifying. But there are ways of handling them that will keep you alive.

You massively reduce the chance of getting one if you keep tyres properly inflated, and avoid kerb-mounting in general driving.

If a blow-out happens, your instinct will be to slam on the brakes. Don’t. If you have a front puncture, it moves the weight of the car to the damaged wheel. This will make you swerve badly, or will dig the rim into the road surface and flip you over.

If you have a rear puncture it will increase the drag and cause the vehicle to fishtail, possibly sending you into a 360° spin.

Keep a cool head, your foot away from the brake, and grip the steering wheel firmly with both hands and correct any swerve.

Do not yank it hard in either direction as this can cause a flip. Just try to keep the vehicle straight.

Keep your foot on the accelerator. If you feel yourself losing control of the vehicle, accelerate slightly until you regain control.

Put your hazard warning lights on. Now ease off the accelerator to bring the speed down.

Only change down a gear (in a manual car) if you can do so in a controlled manner. No jerky gear changes or clutch movements that cause sudden drops in speed. Keep a firm hold of the steering wheel until you come to a natural halt.

Indicate to the left when your speed has reduced enough for you to have more control of the vehicle. You’re aiming to come to a halt on the hard shoulder or the side of the road.

Extracted from How To Stay Alive: The Ultimate Survival Guide For Any Situation by Bear Grylls is published by Bantam Press, price £20. To order a copy for £16 visit or call 0844 571 0640, p&p is free on orders over £15. Offer valid until November 11, 2017.