In the 21st century, the chances of finding yourself stranded in the wilderness like an old 19th century pioneer are thankfully slim. But with climate change increasing the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, everything’s on the table. So on the off but maybe not so off chance you’re ever in dire straits, it’s important to know what to do and what not to do in order to survive. So let’s bust a few stubborn survival myths, before they bust you.
10. Never hide in a doorway during an earthquake
The longstanding advice to “stand in a doorway during an earthquake” has persisted for decades. And here’s the thing – it used to be true. Because doorways used to be the safest spots in a building. However, modern homes and buildings are constructed with much sturdier materials and designs than they were when this myth, well, wasn’t a myth, making doorways less safe than most other areas during an earthquake. In fact, standing in a doorway could expose you to falling debris or swinging doors, increasing the risk of injury.
During an earthquake, the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” method is recommended. Drop down to prevent being knocked over, seek cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, and hold on to protect your head and neck. Or, crouch against an interior wall away from windows and heavy objects. It’s crucial to stay informed about updated safety measures and debunked myths to keep safe.
9. Don’t use alcohol to clean wounds
Quick, you got a cut. What do you do? Tons of folks whip out the little brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide, or go grab the rubbing alcohol, to purify the wound before applying a bandage. Everyone knows alcohol has sterilizing properties, right? Guys?
Yeah, please stop doing this. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide are too harsh and may actually harm the healthy tissue around the wound, as well as causing further damage to the unhealthy, wounded tissue that you’re trying to treat in the first place. That means this method can actually delay wound healing and cause skin irritation, making the healing process longer and more painful than it has to be.
Instead, the recommended approach is to clean wounds with mild soap and water, which are perfectly capable of getting rid of any nasty bacteria. Gently wash the wound, removing any visible dirt or debris, and pat it dry with a clean cloth. Then apply your bandage.
8. Don’t drink your pee if you’re thirsty
We get that you get thirsty in the desert. But while it’s true that urine is mostly water and contains some minerals and waste products, consuming it, especially in a survival situation, is not advisable. Like, at all. Regardless of what you’ve seen in the movies (and don’t get us started on Bear Grylls and his love of chugging pee), drinking urine is not a reliable source of hydration and can be harmful. Urine contains waste substances that your body is trying to eliminate. That’s why it got rid of it in the first place, after all. So drinking it can lead to a cycle of dehydration and rehydration, which can strain your kidneys and potentially worsen your overall hydration levels, which is exactly what you don’t need when you’re stranded in the desert.
In survival situations, it’s crucial to prioritize finding safe and clean sources of water. If you’re in a dire situation without access to clean water, it’s better to look for alternative sources or methods to purify water, such as boiling, using water purification tablets, or constructing a makeshift water filter.
7. Don’t try to suck out snake venom
You’ve seen this one in tons of movies and TV shows. But the classic notion of “sucking out” snake venom after a bite is ineffective and potentially harmful. This method involves using your mouth to extract the venom from a snake bite wound. However, in reality, this technique doesn’t work and can cause more damage. The mouth is not an efficient tool for extracting venom, and attempting to do so may introduce bacteria into the wound, leading to infection.
In case of a snakebite, it’s crucial to keep the affected limb immobilized and at or slightly below the level of the heart. This helps to reduce the spread of venom through the lymphatic system. Rather than trying to remove the venom yourself, just eek immediate medical attention. Call emergency services or get to the nearest healthcare facility as soon as possible for proper treatment. They have antivenom and are perfectly capable of patching you or your friend right up.
6. Don’t drink water from a cactus
It’s a common misconception that cacti have water in them. Well, they do store some water, but that water is not easily accessible for human consumption. If it was, these plants would’ve been devoured into extinction by thirsty desert critters long ago. Most of the liquid inside a cactus contains toxic alkaloids and can cause severe gastrointestinal issues and dehydration, which is the absolute last thing you need in a desert wilderness situation. Moreover, extracting water from a cactus requires skill and knowledge to avoid getting harmed by the thorns or damaging the plant, which is crucial for the desert ecosystem.
If you find yourself stranded in a desert without a reliable water source, it’s better to look for alternative methods to obtain water, such as digging for water underground or finding other edible plants. If you have a container, you can also use a transpiration bag with green vegetation to collect water through condensation.
5. Don’t punch sharks in the nose
It’s a widely held belief that if you’re ever chased by a shark, you should aim for the nose and give it a good punch. While the intention is to deter the shark by activating some kind of evolutionary off switch, this approach is actually not recommended due to the risk it poses. First and foremost, approaching a shark in this manner puts your hand dangerously close to the shark’s jaws, and, well, they didn’t call the movie Jaws because that’s a safe place to be.
Sharks have an impressive sense of smell and can detect the scent of blood or even the oils on your skin. Provoking a shark, like punching its nose, might agitate it further and make it more likely to attack. In the face of a shark encounter, it’s best to try to maintain a calm demeanor and back away slowly and steadily. In case the shark becomes aggressive, using any available object or tool to create a barrier between you and the shark is a safer approach.
4. Don’t take shelter in a highway overpass during a tornado
You’ve seen this one in everything from Man of Steel to Twister. When facing a tornado, characters dash for the nearest highway overpass. Maybe it’s not the best form of shelter, but it’s better than nothing. Any barrier you can put between you and the tornado will help, right? Right?
Actually, it’s not better than nothing. It’s worse than nothing. That’s because highway overpasses can act as wind tunnels, causing the wind speeds to increase dramatically the same way water speed shoots up when you put your thumb over part of a hose: if you restrict the opening something like wind or water flows through, you force it to increase speeds to move the same volume through in the same amount of time. That makes overpasses among the worst places to be in a tornado.
Instead, try to find a sturdy, low-lying building or storm shelter. If no such structure is available, it’s safer to pull over and park in a low, flat area, then lie flat in a ditch and cover your head to protect yourself from flying debris. Much like heat, a tornado’s wind becomes more dangerous the higher up you are.
3. Moss doesn’t only grow on the north side of trees
The idea that moss exclusively grows on the north side of trees and can be used as a reliable navigational tool is actually a common myth. There is a little truth to it, in that moss tends to thrive in shaded and damp environments, making it appear on the north side of trees in the Northern Hemisphere slightly more often than not, due to the way sunlight exposure works. But it would be foolish to rely on that.
Moss growth is influenced by various factors including humidity, sunlight, and the specific environment. In regions with consistent cloud cover, high humidity, or dense forest cover, moss can grow on various sides of trees or even on the ground, making it an unreliable indicator of direction. And in urban or disturbed environments, moss growth can be affected by artificial light and other human influences.
For accurate navigation, it’s essential to use reliable tools such as a compass, GPS, or map. Relying on moss for directions will almost certainly get you more lost.
2. Food is not your first priority in a wilderness situation
You might think finding a source of food should be priority number one when you’re stranded in the wilderness. But this isn’t actually the case, at all.
Familiarizing yourself with the “Rule of 3s” is vital. It outlines the approximate time a human can survive without addressing specific basic needs. First and foremost, can only survive about three minutes without oxygen. But that’s usually abundant and not something you need to worry too much about. Next, interestingly, you should find proper shelter within three hours. The focus then shifts to securing a clean water source because the body can typically last only three days without it. Dehydration can rapidly lead to a decline in health and function, making everything else way harder to get.
Lastly, you can go approximately 3 weeks without food, if not longer (it varies due to several factors like environment, heat, hydration levels, and level of exertion). Making it easily the least important thing to seek.
1. Don’t eat snow if you’re thirsty
Snow is made of water, so it makes sense that if you’re stranded in a frozen environment, you can drink it for hydration. But consuming snow directly in a survival situation is not a good idea. Snow is frozen water, and if you eat it as is, it can actually lead to increased dehydration. When you eat snow, your body uses its internal heat to melt it, and this process can lower your body temperature. In cold environments, maintaining a normal body temperature is crucial for survival, and unnecessary lowering of body heat can be dangerous.
Moreover, snow can also be a source of contaminants and impurities, which can further strain your body. Ingesting contaminated snow can lead to digestive issues and other health problems, exacerbating an already challenging survival situation. Instead, it’s recommended to melt the snow first before drinking it to avoid both issues. Also, since snow is mostly water, you’ll need a lot more than you think to get a good drink out of it.