Home EducationIf You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
EducationBy Joe Burgett -

When you’re lost and in the middle of nowhere, it can be tough to find your way out. Some assume they’ll never need to know how to survive in situations like this, but they could not be more wrong. You could get lost and find yourself in a survival situation on a routine hike or camping trip. A lot of things can happen that will require you to know how to survive. Sadly, some people have been filling our heads with survival myths for years. These methods likely did work some in the past but were often not as useful as claimed.

We know better today about a lot of survival techniques as well as several medical fallacies. For example, we no longer tell people to pee on a jellyfish sting as this actually makes things worse… not better. Plus, we also have to be aware that a survival situation can take place anytime, anywhere. It is wise to be aware of the truth over what you might have seen in some meme on the internet. On top of this, the ideas grandpa gave you might no longer be the best way to do things. We realize some of the survival myths you see here might seem shocking to see. However, we will explain why they are myths and what you can do instead. Let’s get started!

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: You Can Suck Snakebite Venom Out

  • Survival Situation: Medical Emergency

Snakebite venom can be pretty lethal to humans. While there are some in the world who can handle high amounts of snake venom, those people were usually bitten several times before their body developed its own immunity. The rest of us though? We’re not so lucky. A snakebite is a medical emergency, which means you need to get to a hospital with antivenom. Most hospitals will have antivenom available, especially in places where venomous snakes are common. Some have assumed they can just suck out the venom before it enters the person’s bloodstream. This is now one of the more well-known survival myths of the day.

Once the snake’s fangs pierced the skin and laid in venom, the bloodstream was immediately hit with it. The best thing to do is have a person lay down with the snakebite wound below the heart as much as possible. Keep in mind that the longer you move around, the faster venom will spread in your body. Therefore, it is actually best to stay put until help arrives. Some venom can take mere minutes to kill someone, but most others will take several hours to do that to humans. Sucking out the venom won’t work AND the person doing it is actually risking their own health, as venom contacting with their lips and mouth exposes them to it too.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: If You Have A GPS, You’ll Never Get Lost

  • Survival Situation: Lost

If you’ve ever delivered pizza like the writer of this article, you’re well aware of how unreliable a Global Positioning System or GPS truly is. Thus, it is one of the biggest survival myths that a GPS will prevent you from getting lost. While they can get you sort of where you need to go, they are made to help you navigate known roads mostly. Yet there are some roads that even the best satellites have no idea about. This might be due to being in the middle of nowhere or if they are brand new. Anything new must be updated in the system, of course. Yet sadly, even if satellites are aware something exists, there is no guarantee it’ll help.

If you’re in the middle of a forest then a GPS can likely make you aware of that. However, you’ll first need to have a signal if you’re using one on your phone. If you’re using a GPS isolated, then it still needs to be able to get a signal. Both versions also need to be able to maintain that signal access. If there is bad reception, a jammer or electronic disturbance, even a lot of bad weather, that can get in the way of those signals. Of course, you also have to consider you’ll be moving and that means signals could be lost as you do so. That is not even touching on the fact that even if it knows where you are, there is no guarantee it’ll help you find your way out.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: Wear Less For Hot Weather

  • Survival Situation: Heatstroke/Exhaustion, Hypothermia

One of the biggest survival myths known to mankind is the idea that one needs to “dress cool” when in warmer climates. While we are not saying you need to wear several layers of clothes and a giant wool jacket on a trip through a desert, you do not need to go out half-dressed. A lot of people, both male and female, like to take off their shirts, wear just a sports bra/crop-top, tank-top, etc. in warmer weather. This includes wearing shorts. While this is fine if you’re going to the store or out to eat with friends, it is not best to do this when in survival mode In a survival situation, the heat can make you assume you need to take layers off.

However, when you do this, you will sweat just as you would with more clothing on. Except now you’re losing all that water that is evaporating off your exposed skin. With a layer over these exposed areas, the clothing is actually intercepting that sweat and touching it to your skin to keep you cool. It might also put some water back on your body. This will slow down potential issues from heatstroke or exhaustion. On top of that, you have to be aware that temperatures change going into nighttime hours. That can cause hypothermia, as your body has to readjust to this temp. It’ll sometimes cool down too much, putting you in hypothermic conditions.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
[Image via ABC News]

Myth: Always Play Dead When You’re About To Be Attacked By A Bear

  • Survival Situation: Wildlife Attack

We should first mention here that anytime you’re going to be headed into an area where bears are common, always take bear spray with you. Second, be aware of any bears around you. Especially mothers with their young. Bears do not really care if humans are around, as they have gotten shockingly comfortable with us over the years. We also are not on their menu most of the time, but our lunch meat might be. You do not want to ever go up to a bear, especially cubs. While bears are somewhat territorial, they’ll accept our presence as long as it’s not too close. Yet mother bears see anything as a possible threat and will attack humans due to that.

If you see a bear in your yard or campsite, you want to make yourself appear large and be pretty loud. Bears tend to be a bit skittish and will usually run away. However, the type of bear you see should determine your reaction to an actual attack. For black bears, you never want to play dead and should always fightback from the start. Grizzly or Brown bears usually just attack out of defense, but they give warnings by making noises and pretending to charge. Back away from them slowly, but if they do attack, you actually should play dead with these bears. As they only attacked what they thought to be a threat. Lye on your stomach with your hands over your neck. Of course, it is also recommended that regardless of the bear, if the attack is considered predatory, then you must always fight for your life.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: Wet Matches Will Work Once Dried

  • Survival Situation: Need For Fire

Building a fire when you’re staying overnight in the middle of nowhere will be pretty important. It does not matter if it is just a random camping trip or if you’re in a survival situation. The fire is literally what allowed humans to evolve to get where we are today. Therefore, it is smart to bring matches with you from the start. However, some are under the impression that as long as you do not light them and they are dry, all matches will magically work. This is one of the most critical survival myths people assume but are dead wrong about, at least in terms of getting normal matches wet. Of course, this comes down to chemistry more than anything else.

For your usual safety matches, there is a striking surface on the boxes made from something like powdered glass mixed with phosphorus. The heads of matches tend to have something similar, yet that also includes sulfur and some sort of oxidizer. The friction between the two upon striking the match does enough to create heat. The heat makes phosphorus into white phosphorus, which gives us fire. Yet if the match head is exposed to too much moisture, the chemicals change and cause the match to not light. If you’re going into a wet environment, always invest in waterproof matches and/or some sort of waterproof container to keep your matches.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
[Image via Heidi Ihnen Photography/Shutterstock.com]

Myth: Moss Grows On The North Side Of Trees

  • Survival Situation: Lost Using Nature Navigation

Moss has often been used as a big part of survival material in cartoons and pop culture over the years. They will often claim that moss grows on the north side of trees, so you’ll always know where north is due to that. However, this is one of the survival myths you need to try to forget. Moss is a weird thing, but it’s like a lot of plants in this world. It likes to be wherever the sun and therefore warmth happens to show up the most. This means it could not possibly always grow on the north side of a tree because there is no guarantee it’ll get sun on the north side.

It seems this myth likely began in a place where moss happened to grow on the north side a lot. Therefore, it was a common trick to use in that particular area and only that area. However, it then began to be common practice elsewhere, leading us to the myth we see now. It is likely that moss would grow on the north side of a tree if in an open enough area where all sides of a tree had equal access to the sun. Yet it would likely also grow all around the tree at that point. Basically, if you are trying to use moss as a navigation trick when lost, you might be helped by it or you might be lost further. Try to follow water sources, they are more reliable.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: You’re Free To Go About Your Life Once Saved From Drowning

  • Survival Situation: After Effects Of Medical Emergency

The world of entertainment has spoiled us far too much, but they have also sort of avoided showing the after-effects of what happens to a person after they are saved from drowning. You’ve likely seen shows like Baywatch where people were saved from drowning often by a good-looking lifeguard. The main focus is often not on the person saved but the one who saved them. This results in many assuming you just get up and go about your life after being saved. As that is what we’re led to believe thanks to pop culture. This is one of the bigger survival myths out there, as the person STILL needs to go to the hospital after being saved.

When someone drowns completely, they are dead most of the time. Sadly, there is very little you can do. However, if they are saved from it, their lungs are still affected. Our lungs have something known as surfactant, a mucous-like substance. It’s sort of a lubricant that keeps our lungs from collapsing or sticking to each other. If you take in a lot of water, it is likely that you washed some or a lot of this surfactant away. This means a person’s lungs could collapse at any moment and have trouble breathing. We should also reference too that if CPR was done properly, a person might have broken ribs from it too.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: You Can Eat Anything Other Animals Can Eat

  • Survival Situation: Potential Toxicity/Poisoning

Humans and animals, as far as biology is concerned, are not all that different. Especially when it comes to other mammals and even fish. However, in spite of these biological similarities, there are still some massive differences between us. One of those might be that some animals can eat specific animals that we might not be able to digest as well as they do. Another is that they can eat plants that would be very toxic to humans. Perhaps the worst species to follow on eating habits is most certainly birds. They will eat up numerous different kinds of berries, both the true form and those with the berry name.

Yet those same berries they can eat without a problem at any time might be toxic to us. What is so annoying is that birds can eat berries that are completely fine for us to eat too. This can make it hard to emulate them, as we might be led down a safe or toxic route. You never really know. Squirrels are also bad to emulate, as they love to eat nuts humans can have as well as those we could never eat. They’re also able to eat most mushrooms without an issue, while humans can only eat specific types. In fact, there are seven mushrooms that could kill us easily. Remember, animals can eat many things unsafe for human consumption.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
[Image via Marvel Studios]

Myth: Drinking Alcohol Will Warm You Up

  • Survival Situation: Freezing, Possible Hypothermia

We cannot really blame people for being confused about this one, as it is one of the survival myths that technically makes sense. Yet alcohol does not exactly warm you up the way you think. There have been cases where rescue teams bring some type of alcoholic drink with them, but their use of the drink actually makes sense. Why does it not in other situations? It comes down to how blood operates in the human body. Alcohol makes you “feel” warmer as you drink it because your brain cells are telling your blood vessels to expand in an effort to get rid of the “extra heat.”

The expanding blood vessels allow you to feel warmer as blood flow is increasing beneath your skin. This is the same sort of thing that happens when you get too hot and begin to sweat. Since your skin-surface blood vessels are dilating to cool you down, you feel warmer because that blood feels like an extra layer. Sadly, this will not last for long. Your body is trying to cool itself and the alcohol will cool your core body temperature much faster after short-term warmth. Rescuers can give it because you’re being taken back to a warm place anyway, so it does not matter if your body temp cools down then. It WILL be an issue in a survival situation.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: Swimming Parallel To Shore When Caught In A Rip Current

  • Survival Situation: Caught In Rip Current

We’ve discussed the power of rip currents on Science Sensei before. They are certainly a huge issue that could end your life if you’re not careful. Many have likely referenced their specific “tricks” to get out of a rip current. These tricks have made sense in theory, but it might depend on your positioning, size, or how bad the rip current might be at the time. However, one of the biggest methods people have claimed is that you should swim directly parallel to shore if the current is going directly out to the sea. This method can work in certain situations, but it is not universal. That is why we classify it as one of the survival myths to be careful following.

Rather, one of the best ways to get out of a rip current according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is actually to swim perpendicular to the current itself. Swim at an angle away from the current and toward land as most rip currents come in at an angle, which is why the perpendicular method works more often than not. Another thing to remember is that one should “commit” to one direction to swim. This is for several reasons, but the biggest is to keep a grasp of how far you’ve gotten. If you’re only going upstream then it could be that the direction you chose was wrong and that is when you start over.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: Cactus Water Will Save You From Dehydrating

  • Survival Situation: Dehydration

Likely one of the worst ways to go to the great beyond is passing away via dehydration. It is such a miserable way to go, and we’d never wish it on our worst enemy. It makes sense, then, to think that if you can get any water into your system, you want to do it before dehydrating. However, certain water can be problematic and actually cause you to be dehydrated faster. Many assume if water is from plants, it’s fine to drink as their water has been protected from harmful bacteria. This is one of the big survival myths that could actually end your life if you’re not careful. Some plants actually contain chemicals in their water that make humans sick.

You’ve likely seen movies or television shows where characters cut open a cactus to drink its water in an effort to avoid dehydrating. However, this is one of the biggest survival myths that desert survival experts want you to avoid. Experts know that most cactus fluid will actually make you feel sick. This is due to various acids and alkaloids that are difficult for humans to deal with, which causes us to vomit almost immediately and/or have diarrhea. Both will dehydrate you even faster, which isn’t helpful in a survival situation. There are even some cases of cactus liquid causing temporary paralysis too!

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: Taking Off Your Clothes and Snuggling With Hypothermia Victim

  • Survival Situation: Hypothermia, Frostbite

This has been glorified by Hollywood and misses a lot of important context that is heavily needed. Yes, body heat between two people naked together can be helpful to both of you. As long as you are also sharing covering to go along with that to give more layers. However, it is important to remember that this method is only helpful at all when you do it BEFORE a person begins to reach hypothermic or frostbite conditions. You’ll also want to make sure there are layers covering you both. If a person has already reached hypothermic or frostbite conditions, they actually need to be getting close to a fire and drinking warm liquids.

If you take your clothes off to snuggle with them, not only will this not work well but your body heat might actually go down along with theirs. Therefore, you might now reach these same conditions as you put your life in jeopardy for one of the biggest survival myths. It has become such a huge problem that science developed a term for it called “paradoxical undressing.” This term came to be back in 1979 as scientists checked into 33 cases of hypothermia from November to January Swedish Police reports. They found the undressing took place as a last-minute thing between two victims, making its reasoning paradoxical as it wouldn’t have helped.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: Build A Fire In A Cave For Warmth

  • Survival Situation: Potential Cave-In

The Cavemen made “fire” and it changed the world, as our species was able to use a method of heat to keep them alive. Yet it also served as a major asset to cleaning water, cooking food, and many other things that might have negatively affected us before. Of course, when we reference the “Cavemen” and fire, it naturally makes one assume that if they are in a survival situation, finding a cave can help. This is somewhat true, as caves can be a great shelter source… as long as it is not also occupied by another animal like a family of bears, lions, or wolves. Yeah, they all had the same idea.

The Cavemen also made a fire in those caves, so that seems like a good idea to help you too, right? WRONG! This is one of the biggest survival myths that you need to be aware of. While making a fire near the opening of a cave is okay, making one inside the cave is a terrible idea. Caves are essentially huge rocks and heat causes these large rocks to expand and start to break. The worst part is that this breakage will happen overhead, causing a cave-in that could end your life. Unless you can ensure the heat has somewhere to go, never make one inside a cave.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: Pulling Out Object You Were Stabbed With

  • Survival Situation: Stabbing, Bleeding Out

If you have ever been stabbed before, you know how lucky you are to be alive. Yet not all stabbings are nefarious and have ill-intent. Sometimes, people can be stabbed accidentally. In fact, they might accidentally stab themselves; they could fall onto a sharp object. Nature is also a devil sometimes and can stab through you too. Ice is well known for falling off of trees and stabbing people, which is a huge issue. However, you might also run into something sharp in the middle of nowhere too. Truly, we could list numerous cases of how stabbings could take place randomly.

However, one of the big survival myths people tend to believe is that they need to pull out the object they were stabbed with. This is, yet again, probably something Hollywood over-glorifies. The tough guy who gets stabbed pulls out the object and keeps fighting can look cool. Yet in real-life, that character will have several problems afterward. Medical experts will tell you to leave the object inside your body and head to a hospital to remove it. This is because you could very well bleed out after removing it. The object is the only thing preventing that. Many stabbings also require stitches, which is not always accessible in a survival situation.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: Reporting A Missing Person After 48 Hours

  • Survival Situation: Person Lost

It has been widely referenced by Hollywood that a person can only be reported as missing after they have been gone for 48 hours. However, it is one of the biggest myths overall, not just among survival myths. Apparently, this was something police stations installed for specific situations and was then reported as universal for all missing person cases. In fact, it almost always is exclusive to adult missing person cases only. However, even then it is not universal for all cases. For all lost child cases, there is no such rule.

Police actually tell you to report a lost child as soon as you discover that they are lost. In fact, not doing so can make someone look potentially guilty for the child’s disappearance. Some people have actually been brought up on charges in the past because they failed to report their child as missing immediately. This is one of the biggest survival myths out there, as the sooner a missing person case is filed, the faster they could possibly be found. More importantly, the sooner it is reported, the higher chance the person is found alive.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
[Image via Margarita Alshina/Associated Press]

Myth: Drinking/Eating Snow and Rain

  • Survival Situation: Dehydration

It should be noted that the reasoning for not drinking rainwater and/or drinking/eating snow is similar but not completely. When it comes to rainwater, it should be noted that if any rainwater is going to be consumed, it needs to be collected at the time of the rain and not afterward in another location. Yet depending on where you are, the rainwater could be contaminated due to the environment. In both Russia and China, the environment is often subpar as corporations put horrible chemicals into the air. That goes into the clouds and thus, the rainwater too. Therefore, it could contain harmful pathogens, parasites, bacteria, acids, and even viruses.

This is less common in North America but rainwater is still somewhat acidic. The same issue is present for snowfall too, as the location can lead to problems. Yet snow can also dehydrate you too, but how is that the case? Unlike rainwater, snow has to be melted and turned into a liquid inside your body once you consume it. If you’re already dehydrated or in hypothermic conditions, your body might struggle with it as you might not contain enough energy to heat up the snow. Thus causing you to digest the snow but never benefit from its hydration. If you are going to utilize snow, do it as early as possible and/or try to boil it.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
[Image via Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock.com]

Myth: Follow Birds and You’ll Find Water

  • Survival Situation: Lost & Dehydrated

Birds can be quite helpful, and sailers will tell you that if you see them, then it’s a safe bet you’re relatively close to land. Birds do not travel too far away from land that they cannot get back without getting too tired. Even for birds that fly south for the winter, they do so mostly over land or close to it. While they can be useful here, birds are not very reliable when it comes to finding water. This is one of the big survival myths that likely got lost in translation or we misremembered by assuming “water” when we meant “land.”

The myth usually surrounds watching for specific aquatic birds, which most people might not recognize. Even if they do, the myth often does not revolve around a specific bird type. It is true that some aquatic birds rarely leave the water’s edge, so if you see them, it is likely you’re close to water. However, if you actually get that close then you’d likely hear the water before then. Geese among other birds might fly toward water sources in the evening. Yet that is not always the case, and you might follow birds into a giant clearing. Far from any water source. Now you’re tired, spent up precious energy, and all for nothing.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
[Image via Carolyn Franks/Shutterstock.com]

Myth: Boiled Water Is Safe To Drink

  • Survival Situation: Water-Based Illnesses

We want to make this very clear: you should boil most water that you collect, even if you assume it might be okay. Boiling it really does help to remove several harmful substances, such as bacteria that could give you things like cholera and dysentery. Even Typhoid can spread in a lot of water territories. However, boiling your water does not automatically make it “completely” safe to drink. Rather, it makes it “safer” to drink. There could likely still be a lot of issues with the water. Remember when we referenced how rain and snow could possibly be contaminated due to the environment they are in?

While some of this can be removed by boiling the two, it might not completely remove everything within the chemical listing inside the liquid. It should be noted that if water is contaminated with things like oil or radioactive material, boiling it will not make it safe. These two things will remain in the water, and could potentially cause some interesting interactions with your fire. On top of this, several other toxic chemicals will not go away from boiling either. This is why you should always try to avoid using water from areas anywhere close to waste or chemical run-offs. As that water will most certainly be unsafe to drink.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
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Myth: You Should Ration Food and Water

  • Survival Situation: Lost

To be clear, if there are several people involved here, then you DO need to ration the supplies equally as best you can. At least until it becomes obvious one member is unable to carry on. However, as long as things are equally rationed, you should eat or drink as much as you’d like. There is actually no evidence that proves self-rationing helps people in survival situations, making it one of the biggest survival myths around. In fact, there are more cases of just the opposite actually. But wait, just chugging a bunch of water on your first day of survival? Does that not seem reckless and potentially problematic? Many assume that, but it’s not true.

You should hydrate your body as often as you can, whenever you can do so in a survival situation. By properly hydrating, your body will have most of its proper faculties and you’ll make far more “good” choices as opposed to bad ones. Among the first things to go is your decision-making and physical abilities when you’re reaching dehydration. The first choices you make in survival situations are so crucial, and some do not realize that. This is why many people found dead after being lost for a while tend to have one or more relatively full water bottles and even food on them. They were rationing unnecessarily, leading to the end of their life.

If You Believe these Survival Myths, it Could End Your Life
[Image via Discovery Communications]

Myth: Drinking Urine

  • Survival Situation: Dehydration

This should be obvious and we cannot believe we have to say it but do not drink urine. We cannot believe we’re actually having to write that in 2022, but you’d be surprised by how many people believe this is a good idea. In fact, there have been cases of amateur survivalists or campers going right for drinking their own urine before even searching for water first. How did this become such a popular concept? Originally, there were several military survival experts who taught this as a last resort method. If you were going to be getting out of a location and you knew that, you could technically drink your own urine to get an extra hydration boost.

The idea is that issues from urine would not happen immediately, so you could utilize the water portion of it. Then after you’re out, you can deal with the repercussions later. If your urine is very clear, then at best you’re getting 90% water and 10% waste. However, the darker your urine happens to be, the more waste is in it. If it’s really dark, always avoid it. Membrane distillation can allow you to remove 95% of bad urine waste, as distilling helps get only the water out of the urine. But drinking urine can still be problematic. Typhoid is spread through urine consumption along with urinary schistosomiasis, both of which can be life-threatening illnesses. We do not have to tell you that this goes against the whole “survival” thing.

Where do we Find this Stuff? Here are Our Sources:

United States National Parks Service (NPS)

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

National Institutes of Health

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association (NOAA)

United Kingdom Redcross

Mayo Clinic

New York Times

Discovery Communications

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