Discovery Channel star lives off the land in loin cloth, tells all in new book

"The picture shows the focus in the instant the arrow is released," writes Graham in his new book, Epic Survival. Photo: Ace Kvale.
“The picture shows the focus in the instant the arrow is released,” writes Graham in his new book, Epic Survival. Photo: Ace Kvale

Matt Graham ran all 1,700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. He’s raced against Arabian horses on foot for three days, wearing nothing by handmade sandals. He’s climbed 2,000-foot technical rock faces without a rope, and once came face to face with a mountain lion.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about him? He’s been an REI member since he was 17 years old.

Why so shocking? Because Graham, the star of survival competition series “Dual Survival” and “Dude, You’re Screwed” on the Discovery Channel, spent two decades shunning modern tools and amenities in favor of a life in the wild, often with nothing but a loin cloth and a primitive stone knife to help him do it.

His new book, Epic Survival: Extreme Adventure, Stone Age Wisdom and Lessons in Living from a Modern Hunter-Gather outlines a handful of stories from a period when Graham spent half a year alone in the wilderness.

"This is the ideal, all purpose-bush knife that I have used for many years." Photo: Courtesy of Graham.
“This is the ideal, all-purpose bush knife that I have used for many years.” Image: Courtesy of Matt Graham

“There came a time for me where cutting the umbilical cord and understanding human interaction with nature on a more direct level felt like being born again,” he explains. “When you learn to live with the land that way, it offers a sense of security.”

Graham is as close to a modern-day hunter-gatherer as they come, often living in bare-bones shelters on the edges of civilization, hunting animals for food and crafting the soles of his sandals from old VW tires.

Graham on a walkabout in the southwestern U.S. Photo: Courtesy of Graham.
Matt Graham on a walkabout in the southwestern U.S. Photo: Courtesy of Graham

“I walked out into the wild with just a Tarzan-style breechcloth, a stone knife, one or two pounds of pine nut/Pinole mix and a small piece of cloth around my waist,” Graham tells GrindTV. “I realized survival is such a mental game.”

And if it’s a game, it’s one Graham has come close to losing on more than one occasion. He’s faced hypothermia and starvation, near falls off sheer cliffs and dangerous wild animals. Which, as you might expect, makes his family a little nervous.

Matt Graham on the cover of Wilderness Way. Photo: Courtesy Wilderness Way.
Matt Graham on the cover of Wilderness Way. Photo: Courtesy of Wilderness Way

“When you trade making money safely for frolicking around in nature without food or water, a certain amount of questioning is expected,” he laughs. “There are some things best left unsaid!”

So, why do it? Why risk your life to survive in a world filled with grocery stores and Holiday Inns?

“Pure enjoyment. I enjoy that kind of connection with nature. I’m a little bit of a kid at heart; I knew I could never be Superman, but maybe I could be a little more like Tarzan,” Graham says. “Minus being raised by monkeys.”

In the Panama jungle, filming Dual Survival. Photo: Russell Fill.
In the Panama jungle, filming “Dual Survival.” Photo: Russell Fill

Besides, Graham insists, a certain amount of fear is healthy — it’s why he learned to rock climb without ropes.

“I felt like free soloing would force me to be more focused and climb easier routes even though I inherently could see that climbing with a rope appeared much safer. I just had a strange fear about falling and trusting the gear to protect me. I guess in some ways that sums up my wilderness journey: trusting nature on its rawest terms, but not fully trusting the tools man made to protect me.”

So, what could possibly still scare this modern day Tarzan?

“Definitely women and relationships!”

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