Even in the world of survival, there are celebrities and legends. From legendary adventures and soldiers who overcame frankly unbelievable odds, to everyday people who found themselves embroiled in a fight for their very lives, the people on this list run the gamut when it comes to experience and expertise.
Many are professionals who have passed on their skills to others in books, survival shows and even face-to-face through their schools and courses.
All of them have stories worth knowing, and no matter where you are in your survival journey, there are bound to be at least a few that can help you get to where you want to go.
Below is a list of 21 famous survivalists that you’ll want to know about, but more importantly, to study and learn from…
1. Bear Grylls
One of the most famous survival personalities in the world thanks to his prominent placement in many survival television shows, particularly Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls is nonetheless the real deal.
Formerly of the British SAS, and also a world-class mountain climber, Bear Grylls is no simple silver screen actor.
He has almost, actually, died several times on his adventures, most famously during a mishap while parachuting and a nearly fatal summiting of Mount Everest.
Engaging, highly personable, and truly expert in many aspects of survival, Bear Grylls is still one of the most popular survival personalities today.
2. Cody Lundin
Cody Lundin is perhaps most famously known for being the barefoot half of the survival duo on the Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival.
Well known for his tendency to employ primitive and ancient survival skills to the exclusion of modern technology wherever possible, Cody is a highly respected expert in all aspects of sustainability and survival, and teaches hundreds through his Aboriginal Living Skills School.
Don’t underestimate him because of his somewhat eccentric lifestyle; he knows more than many younger experts in the field have forgotten!
3. Les Stroud
Another survival instructor that became well known in the public consciousness through the hit television show Survivorman, Les Stroud’s claim to fame is that he would complete his adventures, and filming, totally alone.
He is a literal one-man show, at least when he was in the wild, responsible for demonstrations, direction and filming.
But, this was no gimmick and Stroud has extensive lived expertise and experience and all sorts of austere and hostile environments.
4. Les Hiddins
AKA the Bush Tucker Man, Major Leslie James Hiddins, formerly of the Australian Army, is famous for his extensive knowledge and experience, not to mention love, of the Australian bush.
His TV series, The Bush Tucker Man, saw him looking for food in the incredibly hostile Australian outback.
Known for a big smile and a cheery attitude, even in the middle of truly harsh conditions, he went on to appear in other television series and also authored many books.
5. Louis Zamperini
A true Renaissance man, Louis Zamperini was a World War II veteran, Olympic runner and Christian evangelist.
During his time in service during World War II his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean and he, along with other survivors, were made POWs and subjected to horrific treatment at the hands of the Japanese.
After American victory in the Pacific Theater, he was rescued and became an Olympic long-distance runner after his rehabilitation. His name and story are virtually synonymous with endurance and perseverance.
6. Dave Canterbury
Dave Canterbury is perhaps best known as the other half of the Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival alongside Cody Lundin, at least during the early seasons.
A survival expert of some repute and co-founder of the Pathfinder School, Canterbury has encyclopedic knowledge and experience in the practical application of all sorts of survival techniques and methodologies.
He’s also the author of several best-selling books regarding survival generally and outdoor living skills in particular.
7. Mykel Hawke
Another famous television personality, but one with a CV that more than backs up his authority on the subject matter, Mykel Hawke is a retired US Army Special Forces officer that has considerable expertise in all environments around the globe.
Aside from starring in such shows as Man, Woman, Wild among others, is also founded a dedicated survival school, SpecOps Global.
Hawke is known for combining the most current, best survival techniques and technology today with hard-earned ancient wisdom, producing a unique curriculum.
8. Creek Stewart
Founder of Willow Haven Outdoor, Creek Stewart is a television host, survival instructor and prolific writer, and is known for making survival skills approachable and accessible to everyday people no matter what situation they find themselves in.
Stewart uses a simple, common-sense approach to problem-solving no matter how seemingly complex a survival challenge might be.
Part MacGyver and part expert survivor, Creek Stewart is always engaging and is a wealth of information whether you are in the wilderness or in suburbia.
9. Ray Mears
One of the best-known and hardest-working survival experts of our day, Ray Mears is a British survival instructor and television personality who has appeared on dozens of television programs, many of them being credited with his name right in the title.
Emphasizing the importance of traditional survival skills while also demonstrating a genuine passion for the subject matter and the importance of oral tradition and passing on these skills, Ray Mears is one of a kind.
You can learn from him directly through his survival school, Woodlore.
10. John “Lofty” Wiseman
A living legend in the SAS, John “Lofty” Wiseman is perhaps most famous for being the youngest person ever to pass the utterly grueling selection process for that legendary Special Forces unit.
He’s also beloved among preppers, survivalists, and other outdoorsy folks for his first book, the SAS Survival Handbook which was first published in 1986.
Serving as a consultant for many projects both on and off the silver screen, Wiseman continues to instruct clients and personnel directly today.
11. Joel Lambert
Joel Lambert is a well-known survival expert and former US Navy SEAL, most notable for his work on the television series lone target, a show that found him being pursued by professional man trackers from around the world.
Definitely a different bent on the average survival show, Lambert demonstrates just how bad things can get when you’re faced with typical survival problems and also being pursued by dedicated, thinking human adversaries.
12. Tom Brown Jr.
Author and founder of the Tom Brown Jr Tracker School, Tom Brown Jr spent much of his early life being a professional adventurer of sorts, working to support his forays into the wild.
Eventually, he parlayed his skills into professional tracking, helping to locate the lost and missing as well as criminals on the run.
He’s written nearly two dozen books and many articles, and his school is still in operation today.
13. Dr. Juliane Diller/Koepcke
Another unbelievable tale of miraculous survival, Dr. Juliane Diller survived plummeting out of an airplane at cruising altitude into a remote and hostile jungle landscape.
After her plane was struck by lightning and broke up around her, she plummeted to the rainforest canopy strapped into her seat.
Surviving the impact and dreadfully injured, she managed to hang on for 11 days with no supplies and no training until she was rescued by locals.
Inspiring and harrowing an equal measure, hers is a tale of incredible perseverance when most of us would be happy to lie down and die.
14. Alexander Selkirk
The literal inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, Alexander Selkirk was marooned on a remote and uninhabited Island somewhere in the South Pacific in the year of 1704 after attempting to start a mutiny on the ship he was serving aboard.
Selkirk managed to survive for more than four years completely alone on this unknown and uninhabited Island before being rescued.
Tales of his exploits include learning how to hunt and safely gather food, building shelter, and even taming local, wild animals.
15. Ed Stafford
A self-imposed adventure, but one that’s no less a true survival situation, Ed Stafford is globally famous for being the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River.
Accomplished in 2010, this unbelievable feat took him 860 days from front to back. This is a story of incredible endurance and can-do attitude, and especially notable because every single other person that has attempted the same feat has died.
His story is so inspirational and amazing it made him a star in several TV series.
16. Ernest Shackleton
One of the most famous names associated with extreme survival, and something of a patron saint among those who are facing almost-certain death, Earnest Shackleton is known for leading the disastrous Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914 to 1917).
Once his ship, the Endurance, became totally stuck in ice, the crew was forced to endure two grueling years of unimaginably harsh Antarctic conditions prior to their rescue.
But it is Shackleton’s willpower and leadership that held the crew together, and many of the memoirs of his crew years afterward confirm as much.
17. Ricky MeGee
Ricky McGee’s story is the stuff of literal nightmares. In 2006, this man woke up inside his own grave after being drugged and then left for dead by hitchhikers- hitchhikers-turned-kidnappers who turned on him after he picked them up in the middle of the Australian outback.
So much for being a Good Samaritan! With his vehicle stolen and having no idea where he was, he survived for almost two and a half months subsisting on a diet of reptiles and insects, and collected rainwater.
I warn readers that McGee’s story is genuinely stomach-turning, but one that we can all learn valuable survival lessons from.
18. Chris Ryan
Another former member of the British SAS, Chris Ryan is a noteworthy author and survival expert, world-famous for his survival story coming out of the first Gulf War in 1991.
With his unit, on a mission to take out mobile Iraqi missile launchers, things went completely off the rails after their discovery and evasion into the deep desert.
Losing his comrades and forced to hike nearly 200 miles through unforgiving and deadly desert, Ryan showed superhuman endurance and real survival expertise. His story can be read in its entirety in his hit book Bravo Two Zero.
19. Salvador Alvarenga
A fisherman that was swept out to sea off the coast of Mexico by a freak storm, Alvarenga, together with his friend and partner, were facing the nightmare of being left adrift with no means of communication and no hope of rescue.
After his friend perished only 2 months into the ordeal, Alvarenga endured 438 days adrift eating nothing but raw marine life and drinking rainwater.
Unbelievably, Alvarenga was eventually rescued after washing ashore 6,000 miles away in the Marshall Islands. His remains one of the longest documented instances of survival at sea in history.
20. Dave McIntyre
The season 2 winner of the History Channel’s hit show Alone, Dave McIntyre, along with other contestants, were forced to survive completely on their own and the harsh and remote wilderness of British Columbia.
But Dave is no mere reality show contestant, having served for over a decade as a missionary in Brazil where he faced many challenges.
Today he is an author, public speaker, preacher, and instructor of bushcraft courses and credits his faith in God to his endurance and survival in all things.
21. Mors Kochanski
Recently departed, Mors Kochanski was a well-known and greatly loved Canadian survival instructor and bushcraft expert, and also a noted naturalist.
A prolific author, specialist in many outdoor subjects and a proponent of living naturally he was also something of a renaissance man who took on many jobs prior to settling into his lifelong career as a survival instructor.
Having left his mark across academia and the Department of National Defense, his legacy is woven everywhere across the survival sphere of Canada, and his loss is keenly felt.