I’ve been a prepper for a while now, and everyone that knows me can swear that I would rather spend as much time as possible in the great outdoors rather than living in the concrete jungle. Over the years, I’ve heard many wilderness survival myths, and there are many versions circulating out there that make people believe everything is possible in the outdoors.
Relying on these wilderness survival myths could lead to drastic outcomes, and it’s best to examine some of these myths to separate fact from fiction.
15 wilderness survival myths and their reality check
1. A solar still is a great way to procure water in the wild
Building a solar still involves digging a hole in the ground, placing a container into the hole, and then covering the hole with a piece of plastic. A small stone is placed on top of the plastic, directly above the container.
The theory is that water will evaporate from the ground and condense on the underside of the plastic. Moisture will run down the plastic and drip into the container.
Success depends on a huge range of factors, including the moisture levels in the ground, the climate, temperature, and the size of the hole.
Rarely will you get nearly enough water to warrant the expenditure of time and energy. In short, you’ll probably lose more water by sweating from the exertion than you’ll gain from the few ounces you might get in return.
2. Find your way by looking for moss because it only grows on the north side of a tree
This is a fun one to do with the kids. Tell them to figure out which direction is north by finding moss. They might walk in circles for quite some time because, given the right conditions, moss can grow all the way around a tree.
In some environments, it might be difficult or impossible to find moss growing on a tree at all. A far better solution is to carry a compass every time you hit the trail and teach the kids how to use one. Absent a compass, look to the sun or stars to help you get moving in the right direction.
3. When looking for food in the wild, you can safely eat anything you see birds and other animals eat
There are numerous things we eat that will make our pets sick, right? Grapes, chocolate, and onions are all dangerous or toxic to dogs, yet we readily consume them without a second thought.
The reverse is also true. Animals have very different digestive systems, and they are able to safely consume many things that would cause severe health issues to humans, including berries, mushrooms, and more. Even pet food itself could cause serious issues with a person’s digestive system.
4. Wild mushrooms are a great source of survival food if you get lost
Edible mushrooms have many poisonous lookalikes, and someone inexperienced with identification can make a potentially deadly mistake.
Even if you are absolutely certain the mushroom is safe to eat, here’s another reason to avoid them in a survival situation: Mushrooms are thermogenic. This means the body burns more calories digesting a mushroom than it derives from it. In a crisis, calories are important as they are what fuels the body.
5. Water must be boiled for 5 minutes to be made potable
Waterborne pathogens are killed or rendered inert in less than one minute at 158 degrees F. At sea level, water boils at 212 degrees F, so any viruses, bacteria, or protozoa in the water will have been taken care of well before that point.
At the highest point on earth, the peak of Mt. Everest, water boils at 158 degrees F. In that particular case, maybe let it boil for a minute, just to be safe.
6. When lost in the woods, shelter becomes your number 1 priority, or water, or food, or fire
Every situation is different, and you need to stop and think about your particular situation.
When it’s 72 degrees F and sunny, shelter isn’t going to be much of a priority, though water might be if you don’t have a ready supply.
On the other hand, a rainy and cold night requires you to get out of the elements as quickly as possible and warm up before hypothermia sets in.
Adjust your priorities to the situation rather than relying on a rigid set of rules.
7. If someone is bitten by a snake, try to suck out the venom immediately
The absolute best tools to have if someone is bit by a venomous snake are a working vehicle and the keys to it. Get the injured party to a hospital as soon as possible.
It is impossible to suck the venom out of the wound, and trying to do so just wastes time and potentially causes more injury. If possible, identify the snake either by killing or photographing it.
Remember that a snake can still strike after death due to reflexes. Handle the corpse very carefully. Knowing what kind of snake it was will help the medical team treat the injury appropriately.
8. Drinking urine is the way to go if you don’t have other water sources available
Forget what you’ve seen on TV shows. This is a very bad idea. Urine contains numerous waste products the body needs to eliminate. Ingesting them again just concentrates them further. Do whatever you can to find an actual water source.
9. If you’re lost during the winter, and you get dehydrated, just eat snow
There are a few reasons why this isn’t a good idea.
First, snow is made of ice crystals, the sharp edges of which can cause tiny cuts inside the mouth.
Second, eating snow can lower your body temperature, and in a true survival situation, you need to maintain your core body temperature.
Finally, the snow might have become contaminated as it sat on the ground, which could cause illness. Melt the snow in a container rather than in your mouth. If feasible, use a water filter before consuming.
10. If you’re running low on water during a wilderness adventure, ration it to make the water last as long as possible
Never ration water. Drink as much as you need for as long as you have the supply to do so. At the same time, always be looking for water sources and take advantage of them as often as possible.
When you do find a source, take a hint from a camel and drink as much water as you can, and then fill your containers. Dehydration is a very real threat, and it can sneak up on you.
While the often-repeated rule of three is that you can survive upwards of three days without water, the reality is that you can suffer dehydration in far less time. Once dehydration sets in, your ability to find more water is going to be hampered by cramps, dizziness, and more ailments.
11. Surviving the night in the forest requires a lean-to shelter and is the best available choice
There are few shelters simpler than the lean-to. It is a classic style, and many a young boy or girl has built them as forts when they are playing in the woods. But, as a true survival shelter, it lacks a few desirable features.
You’ll have limited protection from the elements, with the wind running right through and chilling the inhabitants. The roof of a lean-to will be far too high to trap any sort of body heat or the warmth of a fire. A better shelter is a debris hut. It isn’t as pretty, but it is far more functional for a night in the wild.
12. Friction fire is the preferred method in a survival scenario, and its fail-proof
Have multiple methods of starting a fire. A disposable lighter will do the job in most situations, though if the lighter gets wet or too cold, it might not work. In those cases, a ferrocerium rod or a flint and steel set might be your best bet.
Most primitive skills instructors recommend that you carry several types of fire starters. Nobody is 100 percent successful with making fire with primitive means, such as a bow drill. For example, humidity might be a factor.
13. Running water that is clear is also safe to drink
Waterborne pathogens cannot be seen by the naked eye. While pathogens often tend to collect in standing water, there are absolutely no guarantees that running water, even if it is crystal clear, isn’t still teeming with all sorts of nastiness.
Always consider any wild source, with the possible exception of fresh springs, to be dirty and require filtration or disinfection prior to consumption. That said, if you lack any means of cleaning water beyond perhaps running it through a T-shirt, moving water has less risk of being contaminated than stagnant pools, all things being equal.
14. When you’re getting cold outside, a sip or two of whiskey will keep you warm until help arrives
When I was young, a common sight in cartoons was a Saint Bernard rescuing someone stuck in the snow. The dog always had a small whiskey barrel on its collar and would pour a healthy swig into the mouth of the person to thaw them out.
While drinking alcohol might give a feeling of warmth, it is a false sense of heat. What happens is the blood vessels leading to the arms and legs become dilated.
The increased blood flow is what makes you feel warm. But, that blood has to come from somewhere, and as it flows out to the limbs from the torso, the end result is a lowered core body temperature.
Not to mention—alcohol isn’t exactly known for increasing the odds of good decision-making.
15. Bring some tampons along for treating bullet or major puncture wounds
While there is something to be said for being able to come up with creative solutions, if you’re putting together a first-aid kit, rely on proven tools and gear rather than hoping to improvise.
Tampons are a poor choice for treating gunshot wounds and other penetrating injuries for a few reasons. A tampon is designed to absorb blood lining shed from the uterus, and other fluids and semi-fluids. It is not designed to stop bleeding.
Modern medicine has come up with countless much more reliable tools, including pressure bandages and tourniquets. If you’re going to plan ahead, plan properly. Invest a few bucks in the right tools and take a class, so you know how to use them correctly.
As you can see, these wilderness survival myths are nothing more than legends and old wives’ tales. It’s always better to use your head when you find yourself in difficulty in an unfriendly environment.
Learning to separate fact from fiction will save your life in a real survival scenario, and you shouldn’t rely on things you’ve seen on TV to get out of trouble.
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