The modern world has made life pretty easy for most of us. When’s the last time you had to worry about a bear eating you? Or dying of dehydration in a desert? It still happens, sure, but not to most of us. But what if it did happen? Would you know how to survive if something unexpected happened? The internet is full of survival tips to help you if you ever find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, but it turns out that those tips aren’t always so reliable.
10. Never Drink Your Own Urine
Infamous survival “expert” Bear Grylls recommends that people who may be dying of dehydration in the wild can drink their own urine to stay alive. This is flat out terrible advice and the man just keeps doing it.
So, to state the obvious, this is not a good idea. Drinking urine can actually dehydrate you faster. Drinking urine is pretty similar to drinking sea water. It’s waste from your body and is full of things like sodium that your body was trying to get rid of. Putting it back inside you won’t help you. It will dehydrate you faster, lower your blood pressure, and potentially accelerate you losing strength and dying.
Grylls assures you that urine is sterile, and that’s a very common rumor. It’s not true. How could it be? Why would one single part of your body be sterile when the rest of you is swimming in bacteria all the time? In fact, urine can hold numerous different kinds of bacteria, not to mention your urethra and the rest of your non-sterile anatomy that make contact with it.
You could distill water from your urine and drink that, but it takes time. Still, it’s far less dangerous than what Grylls recommends. Have people survived after drinking their own urine? Of course. But they survived more despite what they did, not really because of it.
9. Don’t Swim Parallel to the Shore in a Rip Current, You May Float Back Faster
The sea is a dangerous place, what with all the deadly animals and crashing waves and so on. Dangerous rip currents can appear suddenly near beaches and pull you out to sea, making you feel like the water itself is trying to steal you away and drown you. Many survival sites recommend that you swim parallel to the shore if you find yourself in a rip current. There are signs on the beach where rip currents are commonplace that advise you to do so. But that’s not always a good idea.
Rips can form almost anywhere. The current is narrow and very strong, flowing back out to sea. A swimmer is typically no match for the force which can drag you a good distance away from shore. Swimming against it has never been advised, so people began to think the parallel plan was a good way. Just sidestep the current. It sounds like it would work, right?
Rip current expert Jamie McMahon believed parallel swimming was the best course of action and used to swim in rip currents for safety videos just to prove it. Problem is, he noticed it was easier in one direction rather than the other.
McMahon spent years studying rips and noticed over 80% of them travel in a circular pattern. If you can relax and not fight the current at all, it will pull you out to sea, turn you around, and then send you right back again. He says it takes around three minutes, which might feel like forever if you think you’re being swept out to sea, but if you can stay calm, you can ride the current right back to shore in these cases.
His research also shows that swimming parallel is potentially as deadly. If the current is a circle, you have a 50/50 chance of swimming against the current when you go parallel. He says while just floating may not work every time, it’s worth trying at first to see if it does work out before trying to swim parallel.
It’s worth noting that many organizations don’t support this viewpoint, including the US Lifesaving Association.
8. Don’t Try to Outrun a Brown Bear or Play Dead with a Black Bear
About 40 people are attacked by bears in any given year, so it’s not a big danger relative to most problems we face. More people are killed by lightning every year in the US alone. But a bear attack sounds dramatic, so when one does happen, it’s big news and survival experts can get a lot of clicks by telling you how to survive a bear attack. Most people are probably well aware of what to do in case of a bear attack, despite how rare such things are.
Popular thinking states you need to either run from a bear, or play dead. Bear Grylls is again to blame for that first point, having recommended it on an episode of his show. Playing dead is a recommended plan when encountering bears, but not all bears, and it can make things much worse if you do it wrong.
Playing dead is a plan of action when you encounter a grizzly bear. A grizzly bear is a territorial, aggressive, and powerful enemy. When it attacks, it’s almost always to eliminate you as a threat. You are a danger to it and potentially its offspring. It wants you to die. So by playing dead, you’re giving it what it wants. Is it just going to walk away? No. This is going to be ugly. You will probably be stomped, clawed, and roughed up badly. But it is likely to end much faster if you play dead and the bear may leave satisfied you’re no longer a threat.
Black bears are usually afraid of humans already, so if one is attacking you, it’s not defensive, it’s probably predatory. That means it wants to eat you, so if you play dead you’re just making it easier.
Is the solution to run away? Never. Running from a bear is almost guaranteed to end with you dead or badly injured. Running is a prey response. So you’re confirming to any bear that you are worth hunting. This gets worse when you consider that you cannot outrun a bear. As big as they are, they are much faster than humans. A black bear can sustain speeds of 35 miles per hour. Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, reached 27 miles per hour. You will not make it.
For what it’s worth, you should move slowly away from a stationary black bear if possible. Stand tall and look big. Use sticks as weapons and fight back if it attacks you, swinging for the bear’s face. They are usually easily intimidated, and this will make them back off.
7. Never Throw Your Pack at a Bear
Once again, Bear Grylls is trying to get everyone who encounters a bear killed. In one video he recounts what happens to a hiker, and recommends it like it’s advice for you to follow. The advice? Throw your pack at the bear to distract it. This is another terrible idea.
In this scenario, the idea is that a pack full of food will give the bear what it wants and let you get away. For some reason, he recommends not running away in this video, despite his earlier advice to the contrary. But the problem with throwing your pack at a bear is two-fold.
To start with, giving a bear a bag of food is called feeding the bears. This is what every national park tells you to never do. Because if bears think humans are food sources, bears will continue to approach humans. This is encouraging bears to try to come after people.
The second issue is that a backpack just might save your life. If a bear does run after you and you opt to play dead, you’re going to want to protect your vitals. That means curling up, head covered and back exposed. A backpack is your own personal turtle shell. It may not offer a lot of protection depending on what’s in it, but it’s better than nothing.
6. Do Not Zigzag to Escape an Alligator
If you thought bear attacks were uncommon, get ready for alligators, which go after about three people per year. Basically, a non-issue for almost everyone in the world, but nevertheless, the internet will tell you how to avoid an attack that is probably never going to happen. How do most people tell you to do it? Run in a zigzag.
Where did this theory come from? Hard to say, but it’s very widespread. Seems to be one of those things everyone in Florida just knows. But it’s not true. Worse, it’s dangerous.
Alligators are by no means speed demons on the land. However, in a short burst, an alligator can get up to 35 miles per hour. That’s as fast as a bear again and, if you recall, people are not as fast as bears. Or, it seems, gators. They can’t sustain that speed for long, but they may not have to, either. Especially if you’re running in a zigzag for some reason.
Zigzag running only makes you slower. It makes you stay in the alligator’s territory longer than you need to, and it gives them more chances to catch you with their oddly fast little legs. Run straight and run fast if you want to get away. If one does catch you, then do whatever you have to do to fight back. Experts recommend fighting like your life depends on it, since it does, and attack their snout rather than try to pry their mouths open.
5. Never Salt a Leech
Leeches are some of the most offputting creatures in the world. The little creeps latch onto your body and suck your blood until they’re bloated with it. They can consume 10 times their own weight. Get a dozen of them on your and it’s a pure nightmare. In some very rare cases, leeches have gotten inside of human bodies and caused death, which is even more terrifying.
There’s a popular method of leech removal that requires you to put salt on them. Salt actually creates pressure inside the body of a leech that pulls moisture out and kills them. Sounds like an effective and easy way to pull them off, especially if you’re worried about their little suckers causing your skin more damage. But you’re going to want to think twice.
As you can imagine, if salt creates osmotic pressure to the point that a leech will die from it, the leech isn’t going to respond well to being salted. In fact, you may cause it to just vomit back into your open wound. If you were worried about it sucking your blood before, worry more about it vomiting blood and its guts into your wound.
4. Don’t Hide in a Doorway During an Earthquake
Depending on where you live in the world, you may be more familiar with earthquake preparedness than others. One piece of advice you may have heard over the years is to try to weather a quake by taking cover in a doorway. The thinking here is that a doorway is a stronger, more reinforced part of a building. And, since there were times when people would see houses devastated by quakes in the past with door frames standing when nothing else was, it seemed like a reasonable conclusion. Alas, it is not.
A couple of things are wrong with this scenario. One is that, in many of the homes that left nothing but door frames standing, the whole house lacked any kind of reinforcement. These cheap adobe homes were fragile, so the wooden frames were stronger but by no means strong. Houses are made differently now, in most places, so this is less of an issue.
A door frame is not, by nature, reinforced in any way. There’s nothing in there that is earthquake proof. Worse, doorways are usually exposed. That means you’re opening yourself to being hit by flying or falling debris and that’s the cause of most injuries during an earthquake.
Your best bet in an earthquake is to hide under a strong table or, in a pinch, keep low against an interior wall and protect yourself as best you can.
3. Don’t Try to Drink Cactus Water
Here’s one everyone seems to know – if you’re ever stranded in a desert, you can cut open a cactus to find drinkable water inside. You can see this in several Western movies and even cartoons like Avatar: the Last Airbender as well as The Book of Boba Fett. Should you take survival advice from Boba Fett? Not really, but it reinforces this belief that people already have that this is a real thing, and it’s a dangerous belief.
Some cacti, particularly the barrel cactus, have liquid inside of them, so this isn’t a myth that the liquid exists. But drinking it can make a bad situation worse. This isn’t pure water, it’s full of acidic compounds and alkaloids from the cactus. Drinking it is known to cause severe stomach pain, diarrhea, and even bone and joint pain.
It’s possible that drinking a little could extend your life, but too much could actually shorten it by making your dehydration worse. In the end, it’s a bad idea to drink it at all.
2. Do Not Hide Under an Underpass in a Tornado
Few things in nature are more terrifying than a tornado. When people talk about nature’s wrath, that’s what they mean. And, by and large, we have little defense against them. But if one does come by, you need to do something to try to survive. For many people outdoors, the long-standing advice has been to hide under an overpass. The concrete structures survive tornadoes, so it seems like they might be a reasonable hiding spot.
The space under an overpass can actually increase wind speeds when a tornado reaches it. This can make any debris being carried by the storm even more deadly. There’s nothing to hold on to under an overpass either, so those strong winds may just as easily pick you up and throw you out. Basically, everything that’s dangerous about a tornado becomes more dangerous under an overpass. Your best bet is to find indoor, underground shelter.
If you are outdoors and have nowhere to shelter, it’s recommended you try to get into a low-lying ditch and protect your head. Not the best place to be, but still better than an underpass.
1. Don’t Try to Punch a Shark Because You Probably Can’t
We’ve seen what not to do with bears and with alligators, so there’s clearly only one animal menace that’s not really a menace left – sharks. In 2020, there were 57 unprovoked shark attacks in the whole world. So, once again, this is not really a serious concern for most of us. But it could be a concern, so what do you do?
One popular story that gets a lot of play is that, in the event a shark makes a run at you, you pop it one in the nose. Sharks sense prey with organs in their nose and the thinking is that punching a shark on the snout will deter it from attacking. Sounds plausible and what do you have to lose? Well, besides your hand.
Here’s the thing most people don’t think of when they hear this advice: how do you take a swing under water? Have you ever tried to punch underwater? It’s not easy, and it’s not powerful. Whatever you could muster would barely phase a shark which would be attacking you with far greater speed. And, this can’t be stressed enough, you’re putting your hand directly in line with its very large mouth.
If you do find yourself in the clutches of a shark, aim for the eyes instead. Why? Because nothing in the world likes to be poked in the eye. Sharks like to attack from behind and they like things that remind them of tasty prey. You can help counter this by not panicking. Don’t splash around the way a delicious seal might. And maintain eye contact if you can. Keep it in sight and move as it moves, slowly and calmly. Poke the eyes or attack the gills if it comes in for a bite.