Ever since TV shows like Survivor Man and Man vs Wild took to the airwaves there has been a surge of interest in wilderness survival. Although most of us will never find ourselves in such situations, it doesn’t stop people from dreaming. Who wouldn’t want to go on an expedition through the jungle and live to talk about it? And then there’s the conspiracy theorists who think that the nuclear holocaust is going to happen at any moment and they need to stock up on toilet paper. Whatever your position, survival is built into our genes and we will try to do it at any cost. Surely your body is capable of far more than you think, just take a look at these 25 unbelievable facts about the human body. In all likelihood you could go for weeks without food or sleep. You could break numerous bones, lose a limb, and still keep on moving. What you’ll realize after reading through this list is that survival isn’t just about what you know, because much of what you know might be wrong. It’s more about your will to live and pure old fashioned common sense. So whether you are a survivalist or just a dreamer, these are 25 survival myths that could actually hurt you.
Featured image by Lwp Kommunikáció via Flickr
You need to find food right away
Your body can actually survive for weeks on your body’s fat reserves. By that point in time you are likely to die of numerous other causes including injury, exposure, poisoning, or illness. In fact, people usually do not die of starvation in survival situations.
All you need to start a fire is 2 sticks
Starting fire this way is incredibly hard, even under the best of conditions. Your best bet is to pack stormproof matches from the get go.
Watching survival shows will prepare you for survival
Those shows are fun to watch, but heavily scripted. While you may be able to take away some general tips, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security just because you’ve watched every episode of Man vs Wild.
You should suck the venom out of a snake bite
Clinical field trials done at the University of Arizona have shown that more damage is done to the surrounding tissues if you apply suction devices. Furthermore ice, tourniquets, and compression wraps all do more harm than good. Your best best? Wash the wound site, cover it with a bandage, and try to get to the hospital as fast as possible.
Remember: a dead rattlesnake can still bite you! The bite reflex sticks around for a few hours after death.
You can outrun a bear
No you can’t. Not even Usain Bolt can run fast enough. There is no conceivable situation in which you should try to outrun a bear.
You should play dead if you meet a bear
So if you shouldn’t run you should just play dead right? Well, it depends on the bear. If it is a grizzly then your best bet is to stand your ground (even if it charges you) and when it makes contact drop down, cover your vital organs, and play dead. If it is a black bear, this won’t work. You need to make yourself seem big and threatening by opening your jacket, screaming, and stomping. Either way, don’t make eye contact and try to carry bear spray.
The best way to stop a shark attack is to punch it in the nose
While this would work, you are underestimating how hard it would be to hit the nose, especially underwater while you are being attacked. More than likely you will end up sticking your hand in its mouth. Instead, try going for the gills or the eyes. They are easier targets.
You need to find water in the desert right away
It’s better to sit in the shade and try not to sweat much during the day. If you want to move around, it’s better to do it during the night when it is cooler. Some people have died of thirst after only 4 hours of taxing their body to find water, while others have survived 2 days by conserving what they already have.
You should drink your urine to quench your thirst
While you can drink your urine at least once with no significant consequences, it will tax your body and potentially cause it to overheat a bit more. It’s a tradeoff that you’ll have to decide on. A potentially better use of your urine (with no side effects) would be to use it on a bandana to cool off.
You can drink from a cactus
Chances are that you’ll just make yourself sick. Similar to urine, your body has to work extra hard to process out all of the poisons which can potentially push you closer to heat stroke. There is, however, one cactus you can drink from – the barrel cactus. Well, only one of the five types – the fishhook barrel. So, as you can see, unless you are a cactus expert your chances of being poisoned are pretty high.
You don't need to worry about survival on short trips
Any 10 year old boy scout would shout at you for this. Be prepared. Always. If you are going into the wilderness then bring a small kit with you depending on where you are going.
A helicopter can rescue me
In many cases, it can’t. There are numerous places that helicopters can’t fly, especially if you are high in the mountains.
Boiling water makes it 100% clean
Boiling water only kills germs and bacteria. If there is dirt or muck in the water it would need to be filtered as well. Boiling will not get rid of such things. You can create a makeshift filter by running the water through a fabric such as a shirt, and then boil it afterwards.
Eating snow is a good way to rehydrate
Eating snow will require your body to expend valuable energy in order to heat it up. It is better to melt it first and then drink it.
Shelter means having a roof over your head
Most people think that the first thing you should do is build some sort of hollywood style teepee. As survival experts will tell you, it’s the ground you need to worry about, not the sky. It’s better to have a bed and no roof than a roof and no bed. Your first order of business when it comes to shelter should be constructing a bed that will prevent you from losing valuable heat into the ground. Then, if you have time, focus on the roof.
If you are impaled by an object, pull it out
Most people probably know this one by now, but never ever pull out an impaled object. It will only cause the wound to bleed faster. Instead, dress the area around the wound and seek help immediately.
Use a tourniquet if you are bleeding
Of course, tourniquets can save your life, but only use this as a last resort because it is very likely that you will lose your limb. Also, once you apply the tourniquet, do not remove it under any circumstance! This can release toxins back into your blood stream that your body won’t be able to handle. It needs to be removed in the hospital.
Pro tip: mark the time that you applied the tourniquet. Doctors will need this information when removing it.
If there is an earthquake then you should stand in a doorway
Depending on the age of the building this may be terrible advice. In the past the doorframe was extremely sturdy but in modern structures there are much better places to hide, like under a sturdy table or desk. Keyword: sturdy.
Eating plants is a safe bet
Not really. Unless you have time to perform the universal edibility test (something good to learn about), there is a good chance that you will ingest something poisonous. Besides, even if you do find plants that aren’t poisonous, they probably don’t have many nutrients anyway. It would be a waste of your time.
Moss only grows on the north side of trees
This is false. In the northern hemisphere it may sometimes grow better on the northern side of the tree only because that side is less likely to receive direct sunlight, but it can grow anywhere if there is shade or moisture. Do not depend on this to give you accurate directions. The sun would be a better source.
Drinking alcohol keeps you warm
This myth is actually quite dangerous. Alcohol only makes you feel warmer but it in fact decreases your internal body temperature.
If it is cold on the valley floor, move to higher ground
While it is true that inversion layers and rising hot hair can make it a few degrees warmer on the slopes of the valley than on the valley floor, it is not always a good idea to move to higher ground. Remember that there is a higher wind chill factor and it may be harder to start fires. You’ll just have to use your discretion.
Always swim parallel to the shore if you are caught in a rip current
While this is true for rip currents that pull directly out to sea, not all rip currents do that. Some are diagonal and some are longshore. The basic rule is that you should swim perpendicular to the rip in the same direction as the prevailing wind or ocean current. If at any point you feel like you are swimming upstream, then you are not moving in the right direction.
You will suddenly find yourself in a survival scenario
Survival situations do not usually happen suddenly. They are typically the result of a series of bad decisions. Many times it is our pride or stubbornness that gets us there. If you are out fishing on a lake and you see lightning, get off the lake. Don’t be macho and most likely you will be ok.
Survival is about knowing what to do
No. As any survivalist will tell you, survival is much less glamorous than just having the right skills. Sometimes it is about that, but usually it is simply about prevention. As we just mentioned before, don’t be foolish and use common sense. The best way to survive a deadly scenario is to not get yourself into a deadly scenario.