If you’ve seen any sort of disaster movie or reality TV show in which the characters or contestants miraculously figure out how to survive in the wilderness, you’ll probably have made a mental note of what it is they did in order to last until the end of the show.
Well forget it, a huge amount of what you see on TV or in movies is pure myth, and if followed is actually like to get you killed rather than help you survive. Here are a few survival myths that you should quickly remove from your head.
I wrote a whole book about survival myths. Don’t hesitate to take a look at 99 Survival Myths That Could Get You Killed.
Myth #1: The most important thing to do is find food.
WRONG! While it won’t be pleasant and you’re bound to feel hungry and tired, food should not be your first priority. In truth you can survive for several days without eating (just ask anyone who’s ever done one of those lemon water juice cleanses). You may not be the friendliest of people after a few days, but you’ll still be alive.
It’s much more important to find shelter and to stay hydrated. Remember the rule of 3: You can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Again, you wouldn’t be happy about it, but you could do it.
Myth #2: Shelter means a roof over your head.
All you need is a roof over your head right? WRONG! What really constitutes as shelter is a bed, a way to stay warm and rested. The cold hard ground is much more dangerous than a cold wind so prioritise making a bed from dry vegetation in order to keep you insulated and retain as much body heat as possible.
Myth #3: Conserve your water.
You need to make your water supply last as long as possible right?
You’re body doesn’t care about how thirsty you’ll be later if it’s thirsty now. Plenty of hikers have died with water still in their canteens because they were trying to conserve it. You don’t have to guzzle it down, but if you’re thirsty then you need to drink water and use that time to search for additional water sources.
Myth #4: Drink your own urine to stay hydrated
It’s liquid and there will be water in there to keep you going right? You guessed it… WRONG!
When you’re struggling against the effects of heat stroke, drinking urine actually overloads your body’s cooling system and will make matters much worse. Plus it’s gross and could cause you to vomit up what precious food and water you have in your system.
If you’re still keen to use your pee for something, try peeing on a bandana and wearing it to help keep you cool.
Myth #5: You need to suck the venom out of a snake bite
We all now know this is crap right? Cutting the wound open and attempting to suck the venom out would be more likely to just spread it even quicker rather than remove it from your system. If you’re bitten by a snake just try and remain calm and still in order to prevent the venom from spreading and get help as quickly as possible.
Myth #6: Wild animals are one of the biggest threats
There are on average approximately 200 cases of people being killed by animal attacks each year in the United States, and this is out of the millions who backpack or trek through the wilderness. If you’re stranded you’ll be hard pressed to even find a wild animal, let alone one that is out looking for humans to eat.
(Side note, of those 200 killed the greatest killer was bees, not lions, tigers nor bears).
Myth #7: You can get water from a cactus
While it is technically possible to get liquid from certain forms of cacti and that the flesh is actually edible, it’s still not the best idea. Moisture stored within cacti is often very acidic and some contain toxic alkaloids. Its moisture is acidic due to the cactus’s variant form of photosynthesis that keeps carbon dioxide stored as an organic acid. Ingesting too much of this, especially on an empty stomach, can cause nausea, diarrhea and even temporary paralysis. Not much fun when you’re stranded in the desert.
Keeping hydrated is the most important factor when stranded and ingesting plants and their various unknown liquids could cause your to vomit or otherwise lose valuable water. It’s best to conserve your energy by keeping cool, rather than trying to hack away at various plants to see if there’s any water you can get from them that won’t make you crap your pants.
Myth #8: Don’t drink mountain water otherwise you’ll get sick
OK this one is in partly true. Even the clearest looking mountain spring could be carrying a host of unseen pathogens that could make you sick. However if that’s your only source of water then drink it. There’s a much greater risk of death by dehydration than by a stomach bug. If you do risk it and end up getting sick you’ll likely still live long enough for help to find you. A doctor can cure illness, not death.
Myth #9: Walk your way to safety
Many people (and I’m sorry to say this fellas but it’s usually us guys) will believe that they’ll be able to find they way back if they just start walking. If you don’t have a good idea of where you’re going, walking off in a random direction is just likely to drain your water and energy reserves and could result in injuries by walking over unstable terrain. If there’s a chance of rescue, as there will be in most national parks and hiking trails, then the best option is to sit tight and wait for help. If you do have to move around in order to find/make shelter, keep to the shade and breath through your nose rather than your mouth to conserve fluids.
If you find yourself stranded it’s better not to move for about 30 minutes. This will allow enough time for the initial adrenaline rush to wear off and allow you to begin thinking rationally again. It also gives you time to properly assess any injuries to yourself or your group that you may not have been aware of.
Myth #10: Build a fire straightaway by rubbing two sticks together
Unless you’re a fire building genius, rubbing two sticks together will just drain your energy and leave you with two slightly warm sticks. In any case a fire needn’t be a priority, only do so once you’ve constructed a form of shelter and found enough water. Then if you’ve got matches or a lighter by all means start a fire, if not just concentrate on keeping warm, hydrated and calm.
Want to learn about more myths? Click on the picture below!