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Ray Mears vs Bear Grylls – The Showdown


I’ve always been fascinated with survival skills. From an early age I’ve loved the outdoors and the thought of having to survive on my wits and whatever natural resources are available. I’ve got a copy of the SAS Survival Handbook, I’ve spent many a night camping in the wilds of Scotland, can light a fire in a variety of different ways and reckon I’d do pretty well if I found myself in stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to survive (it’s not really optional to be fair). But if I could choose someone to be stuck with to increase our collective chance of survival and not turn it into an ordeal, then who would I want with me?

The way I see it, there are two choices. Ray Mears or Bear Grylls:

Ray Mears and Bear Grylls

Both of these gentlemen have popular TV series that show you how to survive in the wilds of far flung corners of the world. They show you how to navigate without a compass, how to find food where none seems available, how to light a fire, where to get fresh water, how to build a shelter and survive the night and pretty much all you need to know. The difference between them however is in the delivery style. These guys are polar opposites.

The Men

Ray Mears is a mellow, laid back sort of a guy. He’s from the south of England and grew up exploring the countryside where he learned an appreciation of his surroundings and wildlife. He’s a worldwide expert in bush-craft having spent most of his life learning his craft, has travelled the globe and even runs his own school where you too can learn from his vast experience. His programmes are always interesting and filled with the stories of the people whose skills he demonstrates and are always set to a relaxed and easy tone.

Bear Grylls on the other hand is a former soldier who spent 3 years serving with the SAS. He’s an expert climber and sky diver and has partaken in a string of extreme sports. Following a free fall accident when in the army he broke his back in 3 places and spent a long time recovering fearing he may never walk or climb again. However at the tender age of only 23 he became the youngest person to successfully climb Mount Everest. He’s been on numerous expeditions pushing the limits of human endurance and has starred in several TV shows pitting him against survival situations. I’m assured by my good lady that he’s a rather good looking guy too!

The TV Programmes

One of Ray Mears shows is quite relaxing to watch. The music in the background will tend to be of the chilled out acoustic guitar variety. He’ll find himself out in the woods somewhere, or the outback or some similar absolutely-miles-from-anywhere situation. He’ll take a bit of time to show you some of the local plant life, what you can eat and what you can put in soup. He’ll spend a while making a shelter – but it’ll be so well put together that it would look like a home from home. He’ll show you a neat way to start a fire then he’ll head out and get dinner.

To give an example from a recent show he caught a salmon. He then showed you how to fillet it, got some wood and made a smoking stand, spread the salmon meat out over it then rested it above the fire – slow fade out with acoustic guitar music. Fade back in to show Ray taking the cooked fish out from the fire – music fades out. He took a bite out of the salmon and clearly it was delicious. So delicious that he passed some to the camera man to eat. He then relaxed in his shelter, put his feet up and the camera panned around to show the beautiful scenery while he told a story of some survivors who’d been stuck there in years gone by. You’d give anything to swap places with him.

Bear Grylls takes a different approach in his shows. Firstly, he’ll be on a helicopter or a plane explaining that he was about to show you what it’s like to be a tourist stuck in some remote part of Mexico (for example). He’ll jump out out of the helicopter / plane and sky dive his way to the ground. From then on he’ll be going flat out in an adrenaline packed hour that’ll leave you exhausted just watching! It’s all about getting out as soon as possible and doing anything to survive. If he’s high up he’ll try to find the most direct way down (usually a cliff) and scramble his way down. There’s a huge waterfall? No problem – he’ll just leap off the top! Feeling hungry and need some energy? He’ll eat anything! From camel testicles to live scorpions (quite crunchy and taste like rotten cheese apparently) to various grubs he’ll describe as “like a small packet of puss”. You never see him enjoying a meal – he’s usually trying not to vomit.

In one memorable episode Bear actually caught himself a trout (that’s a very tasty freshwater fish). Now trout are delicious but rather than do the Ray Mears thing of cooking it he simply gutted it, washed it in the river and started eating it raw there and then. There ain’t no time to cook! Stuck on the wrong side of a Siberian river? Easy, just strip off, throw your kit over and dive in! Bear’s shows are great and you know that if you were in a tight situation with him, even including hostile people around trying to kill you, it’d be a safe bet he’d get you out alive. But after watching an episode my brother said he’d “hate to be the camera crew” because it would be completely knackering trying to keep up – he’s a machine!

Who To Choose?

So in a choice of which one of these guys you’d be stuck with, I guess it comes down to what sort of experience you want. With Ray you know there wouldn’t be any rush. You’d be chilled, calm and relaxed. You’d have plenty of time to watch sunsets, think about life and learn a thing or two about the world around you and how to survive in it. Even though there wouldn’t be any music, you’d swear that someone in the background was twanging an acoustic guitar…

But find yourself in a survival situation with Bear and prepare to be tested to the limits! The only time you get to lie down and rest is if you’re dead! You wouldn’t have time to think as you’d be battling to keep up with Bear as he bounds up a cliff face or a tree or over a river. At least you won’t have time to miss home or wonder how you found yourself in this mess – you’ll be completely single minded about getting out of there. While one version of yourself in style on gourmet cooked food with Ray Mears, the other is scraping the bark off a tree looking for grubs to eat or wrestling a stag to the ground to make it’s fur into a hang-glider. (Note: when it comes to wrestling stags, you’re probably best leaving Mr Grylls to that one).

So I think it comes down to a relaxing holiday or a flat out race-against-the-clock-once-in-a-lifetime endurance event. I’m still not sure so I’m thinking…

The TV Series Pitch (to be read in a husky voice)

Two men. Both expert survivors. Both at home in any environment, friendly or hostile. Both with the same equipment. Both with the same goal – stay alive and get home. Each will have a camera crew to track their progress. Watch the split-screen action and press your red button to go interactive and choose different camera angles, see action-replays of life-or-death situations and vote for your winner. Who will get out first? Who will lose the most weight? Whose clothes will be the most tattered and mud stained?

So how about it BBC? Does the show get commissioned? Come on – if you don’t do it, Discovery or somebody else will! Since I came up with the idea I’ll want Executive Producer credits…

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

134 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. That is true, not only is he a fellow Scotsman with a dry-cool wit but he’s as hard as nails. Maybe we could create another show called “Survival Presenters: Are You Tough Enough?”…


  2. I like the sound of that. I’d definitely watch Eddie Stone and his sidekick Johnny Mac vs Mears and Grylls! I think Mears might be the first to fall though; too laid back and the other three are all ex-SAS!


  3. Yeah, Eddie and Johnny are a bit too aggressive for the more chilled out Mears. But then again Mears and Grylls have got youth on their side so you never know. You see that’s why the BBC need to pick up on TV ideas like this!


  4. I recently bought my own wood so I could practice the dark art of bush craft a la Ray Mears. Enjoyed sap from my very own Birch trees this year!

    Like the idea of Eddie Stone!



  5. You can eat the sap from birch trees? Now that I didn’t know! All I need now is to be able to identify birch trees… 😉


  6. Well I’m sure bear grylls can take care of himself I think that most of the show is just a lot of put together crap and is nowhere near a real representation of how he survives. I mean check youtube for bear gryll and you’ll see a lot of footage showing how he’s ussually 10 meters from civilisation

    Where as I feel Ray Mears is acctually survivaling instead of trying to make an intense viewing experience. and ofcourse he doesn’t hide the fact that he has a camera team as bear grylls does.
    So I reckon I’d go with Ray Mears


  7. I don’t know. Without having seen the shows, I couldn’t say for certain. They both seem very capable of ensuring your collective survival, and they both come with risks.

    With his speed and reflexes, Bear would undoubtedly be able to fight off wild cats (or other dangerous animals), but Ray’s careful approach can keep you from killing yourselves accidentally.

    Yes, I guess it comes down to the kind of experience you want. If I had a choice? I’d want the adventure. I’d go with Bear.


  8. Yeah, the adventure options sounds like more fun! My current thinking is that if I were stuck for a potentially long time (like on an island) then the more laid-back pace of life with Ray would be better, and if it was stuck in a jungle somewhere looking for help where time is of the essence, Bear would be my choice. Unless of course I was stuck on the island Lost is stuck on, then Bear’s special forces training would come into its own!

    Actually, maybe I should bring them both along no matter what, I’m sure between them it would be a cross of chilled out vs. action.


  9. bear grylls is o COMPLETE FRAUD who gives no useful survival or bushcraft information to anyone. In fact your more likely to kill or injure yourself listening his advice.


  10. myself. i’d defo have to say ray mears. I have so much respect to the man not only because he knows HOW to survive but also because he TEACHES us to respect what we take from the Land. Just like in other cultures who take food and shelter from the land.
    another point i’d like to make out is that not only does ray mears teach us that bushcraft can be fun but also lets you know that you shouldnt put yourself in a survival situation…unless you know what your doing! (which he does)
    Bear on the other hand makes it look like fun to dive into a bog that can clearly kill you!


  11. Ha ha! The nerve of a professional journalist stealing my work! 😉

    You’re right though, I thought my post was more entertaining – I don’t know what they teach these people at journalist school! 😉


  12. Well, I’m with Ray on this one, but I’m a bit surprised no-one has mentioned all the recent revelations about Bear Grylls.

    You know…the staying in motels during filming, the crew making his raft for him, the wild stallion he tamed coming from a local ranch, his being in the Territorial army SAS – not the real version, his not being the youngest person up Everest, the severe criticism he’s faced from specialist exporers for his advice…

    He’s clearly got a sense of adventure, but I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. Just type “Mears Grylls” into google, you can find it all there.


  13. Bear passed and was badged to the SAS for the Territorial Army. He did 3 years part-time which equals about 7/9 months full-time, inc selection. I’m not knocking the TA but how could that compare with guys in (22) such as Lofty Wiseman, Any McNab with over 35 years between them full-time? Bear mentions that he did active service in N.Africa yet others who were there say it was an exercise in Morocco? I guess we will never know for sure? Especially because it’s Army policy to neither confirm or deny press reports re the SAS whether Regular or TA. Bear can say what he wants without contradiction.

    Bear milked the SAS connection for all it was worth to help build a media career. No TA guy would say he was ex SAS that’s just misleading; they always make it clear they were TA. For example David Davis (Con MP) could like Bear exaggerate his SAS career but he always makes it clear he was ex TA and to be fair he served for a much longer period than Bear.

    Any guy wanting to join (22) SAS from (21) or (23) (R) TA has to do full 6 mths selection just like any other squaddie (so does that even remotely say that are equal or even near?) there’s no fast track allowance (they rarely make it) Chris Ryan was a notable exception (ex B Squad.) Even if they pass, they are then sent away for 6 mths for basic Army training skills (unlike other squaddies) with the Para’s before entering F/T with (22). TA SAS selection takes place mainly over selected weekends during a year, so with ample time to rest and recover. Still hard but no way in the league of (22) SAS – 5/6 months continuous hard slog, so little respite regarding general tiredness or injury recovery not to mention quicker completion times required.

    So the integrity of Ray Mears wins every time for me, plus most importantly he actually knows his stuff!


    • You are talking absolute rubbish. Selection only on a weekend!!! hahahaha


  14. To be fair to Bear though, I’ve only ever heard him say the line “I’ve served with the British Special Forces”, which is quite correct.

    Ray does seem to be the winner so far though!


  15. John, Just one of many examples of him saying he was in the SAS, not “I’ve served with the British Special Forces” or making it clear he was TA.

    He thrives on half truths to hype his CV. For instance regarding his ‘flight over Everest’ claims:

    Nah Ray’s the man! No hype, no bull, no half truths, no spin!


  16. But if it was Ray against Lofty Wiseman, then it would be Lofty. Shame he’s getting a bit long in the tooth, otherwise he’d be the King of TV Survival Shows for sure. He’ll always be a SAS legend to me.


  17. I stand corrected!

    Still, at the end of the day I think Bear’s programmes are more for entertainment whereas Ray’s are more educational and therefore true to life and realistic.

    Yeah, Lofty is quite a character and has had a very interesting life! I wonder how many copies of his SAS Survival Handbook he’s sold over the years, must have been a hell of a lot…


  18. Yeah fair point John, I think Bear’s prog’s are produced with entertainment in mind to appeal to a certain type of audience and he’s a very big money spinner for Discovery, so there’s no way they’ll ditch him despite the bad press that constantly dogs him.

    I live in Hereford, as you’ll appreciate Bear’s none to popular here re the SAS issue, I always seem to get a lot of swearing if I play devils advocate and wind things up by saying Bear was in the SAS. That said an ex 22 guy has been employed by Discovery to advise on survival for S3 of Born Survivor. So it shows they can’t dislike Bear that much, or is it a case of money talks (the latter I think!)

    Re Lofty, yep he must have sold a fair few books! Although, I think all the pounding he gave his body while in the SAS has started to catch up with him. I don’t think he would do the jackass stunts Bear does but then again he probably wouldn’t see it as relevant. Ahhh if only Lofty was back on our screens!


  19. Survival expert Eddie McGee would have been my choice however Ray Mears is good and i would love to spend time with him as i did with Eddie in the late 70s .

    Ray has a real feeling for his craft and because of guys like him the art of bushcraft is kept alive .

    Bear is very knew school and charges off, leaping from helicopters or water falls not a good way to try and survive .

    Thank goodness for old school stay alive to pass on knowledge .


  20. Wow – the book that first got me into survival was ‘No Need To Die’ by Eddie McGee (which I’ve still got). My dad gave it to me when I was a kid and it fascinated me – particularly the sketches of the little man demonstrating all the survival techniques.


  21. In Agree Ray and BEar are awesome…I am a bigger Beaq fan though…How Bout a Survival show with 2 Girls and call it Survival Bitches.


  22. Is it too late to change my vote? Some convincing arguments there for Ray…


  23. ray wins hands down there is no one with more passion for nature than ray mears he doesnt claim to no everythin he is well respected by tribes all over the world


  24. To be honest when i watch ray mears i am inspierd to go out and do something good for the enviroment and something fun.

    when i watch bear i just am glad i’m not him jumping off those waterfalls. I don’t think he has any respect for his surroundings, or the native people.

    I love ray mears all the way!!


  25. eddie stone is a big blagger who hypes things up to much! Ray Mears is the man and wud take any of them on in a survival battle and bear grylls eats blueberry pancakes for breakfast in 5 star hotels while pretending to be out in the jungle and desert roughing it


  26. Really? I’ve always found Eddie Stone to be very understated and unassuming with not a bit of hype about him, not to mention having a very dry sense of humour. And I’ll bet Ray Mears could make blueberry pancakes in the middle of the desert such is his amazing versatility!


  27. I think Les Hiddins (Bush Tucker Man) or Les Stroud (Survivorman) ought to be considered. Only Survivorman travels the wilderness alone (no film crew)


  28. Les Hiddins is quite a character and he’d definitely be on the list – probably with Ray Mears as they’re such good friends, would be very entertaining!

    I’ve not seen Survivorman but will watch out for it as I understand it’s pretty good too!


  29. Les Stroud is the ultimate survivor man, and his show is for real. It has a bit of both Mears and Bear, he is a calm dude with the knowledge in his pocket like Mears but can quickly spring into action like Bears. I like the Rambo escaping machine style of Bears my girlfriend loves the scenery in Mears. So as a conclusion Les Stroud is the best out there from my point of view but since he is not in this debate I’ll have to go with Mears. I will also tell you why: I am a fat man, a smart, agile but fat man I can’t just go around jumping into rivers and frozen lakes and whatnot I have the urge to survive but as Les once put it if you get out in 2 days or in 30 you are still out, if you go too fast you can make a simple mistake and you are never getting out. (Les tried a survival mission with a bandaged hand and could not make it, keep in mind he is not fat 🙂
    So yeah if i need to get out grab Mears if I need to get out NOW make Bears carry me out it seems energy is his thing.


  30. well I agree with FireBath I too am a fat man with the need and want to get home but if it takes me 3 days to find my way then it takes me 3 days but I will have the stored energy to go without eating if I need and the need to find water is something learned from a person like Ray Mears but as I’m sitting my fat aass on the couch the entertainment Bear Grills is always better than Mr Rogers. PS Les is also my fav. from TV I can’t say I know too many other specialist but I find Les Stroud trying to compete with the more entertaining Bear. who cares if he is a circus bear you know he is trained but still scarry to touch I like to see anyone try to touch nature at that level of excitement and be honest and safe. oh well you could fight this any way about a thousand different times but it all comes down to will you remember to try it while your out on your own trying to survive the harsh bitter WILD. I think I have said my peace and good luck to those who try.


  31. I agree that there should be a program with a Competition of these 2 Great men , However i would go with ray, i am watching ray At the moment, He just said that a Bear tried to steal his salmon and he said “By the way that bear didn’t get away with it ” Leading me to beleave that ray is just as hard if not harder than Bear(LoL pun) but more to the point i would rather sleep in a log cabin made from spruce roots and mahogany carved from rays teeth, rather than camping inside a gutted camel


  32. Okay, folks. Think about this. If you were in a survival situation with Bear Grylls, admit it… you would have to worry that he might go all Jack from Lord of the Flies on you and EAT YOU the first time his stomach growled. On the other hand, Ray Mears is such a nice guy that not only would he find lots of food for you to eat, but he would also probably voluntarily live off his own fat stores rather than eat much himself.

    Add to the fact that if things really get dodgy, there’s alot more meat on Mears than on Grylls. Yes, I went there.

    In all honesty, I really like Ray Mears. Jokes aside, I really believe that he has the knowledge to survive in situations where I doubt others have, including Les Hiddins. Not taking away from Hiddins, it is just that Ray’s knowledge seems so much more diverse.

    Ray may be pasty and puddlely, but any man that can persist at trying to make a fire until he has caused blisters like in the Walkabout Cave Art show is definitely not soft. And to have the humility to admit failure rather than off-camera tricks says alot about his character.


  33. Come on, grylls is a spoof merchant, he’s the westlife of survivors, entertains but with no substance, Ray Mears has proven he realy has mastered the art.. It’s not who looks cooler or tougher on tv. Knowledge and the use of it….
    Wait up Ray don’t leave me here on my own…..


  34. I would say Ray Mears. In my opinion Bear Grylls is able to survive, as in live just long enough to make it back to civilisation. Whereas Ray Mears would be able to live. You could drop Ray Mears in the middle of nowhere and you would still find him there alive, healthy and living happily a year later. That’s the true bushcraft, not just survival.


  35. I live in the northern province (Waterberg) of South Africa and I hear what all the guys are saying, but I’ll tell you that as a part time Professional Hunter and full time bush lover, no one has given me more usefull information than Ray Mears. Ray draws people to the environment and outdoors, whereas I think Bear scares people away from the wild.


  36. This is a message for Mike, who commented about that he would like to see Lofty back on the screens… Well I can tell you that you will albeit on DVD. We’ve just finished this and it contains over 2 hours of tuition. Not just watch what I do, but this is how you do it. Lofty is still very much involved with teaching and as this production has taken almost 2 years to complete, I can assure you that it’s packed with great tips, facts, anecdotes and information – even the odd old SAS pic for anyone interested.

    There’s a standing mile between what we do and Ray and Bear. What you’ll see and hear about is the facts. Check us out if you want to know more about the DVD or read Lofty’s background info.



  37. I think that the World wide Scout movement should do whatever it takes to entice Ray to do something for the movement. To me, he is the ultimate Boy Scout, and every scout in the World, young and old, should hold him in awe and learn from him. If no one has done so yet, someone should grab him by the scruff of the neck, march him off to the nearest Scout troop, and invest him without delay. He would be the new role model which the movement so sorely needs, as its long long time since Lord Baden-Powell passed on.


  38. Bear Grylls always tries to shock people, and does some stupid things, like jumping into a river, with his clothes on, and worse, to keep them on,.. even when it is very cold,…NEVER DO THAT…you get hypothermia. Better to swim naked, and then put your dry clothes on.

    He is also very into drinking his urine ect. It contains harmfull body waste and to much salt. It’s so stupid and wrong to do that.

    There are numerous examples like these from Bear. I’ll bet my money on Ray Mears, he is not after to shock people, and why eat fish or meat raw when you can cook it? Bear is not chased during his survial, or is he…. by his own ego???


  39. Ray Mears all the way…

    He clearly knows what he is doing…I have tried many of the things the teaches on his show, and they work. Everything he does can be applied, and applied safely. Bear is a showman and thats it. I think he clearly sends the wrong message to people about survival. I think if a normal person tries allot of the stuff he does, they will get very seriously hurt. So no survival for them then, they will be in deeper trouble than they were in before.

    So Ray Mears all the way…


  40. I would def say ray mears!! I agree with sander its all about the bushcraft….. Bears program leaves me wondering if bear survival depends to much on luck. At any point when crossing ravines or decending waterfalls he could injure himself and never get out. His shelters are always so primative that he hardly sleeps making progress the next day even more difficult.

    Ray on the other hand could knock up a 5* hotel with a working bar, hot tub and a swimming pool if he really wanted!!! You know he’s got the skills to not only survive but to live and thrive off the land.

    I would go with ray and sleep each night with a full belly and a warm heart!!!!!!


  41. Hmmm.

    Long haul – winner Ray.
    Calm in a crisis – Ray.
    Stored energy – definitely Ray.
    Years of experience in many different kinds of terrain – Ray.
    Focuses on local knowledge – Ray.
    Retaining strength, focus, morale – Ray
    Geeky level of knowledge – Ray.
    Students taught – probably Ray.
    Not the son of a Tory knight of the realm and Lady whatshername – Ray.
    Man of the people and all round man you want on your side if the proverbial hits the proverbial fan – Ray Mears.


  42. thay are two difrent programes how can you compare the two one survival the other bush craft. plus no one has said about the amount of camping gear ray uses including a landrover he takes his hotel with him. both of them get my vote thay are equaly as good in there own feild.


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