The Most Dangerous Common Survival Myths

When it comes to survival, there are lots of myths about various do’s and don’ts that are, unfortunately, completely inaccurate.

Despite being completely debunked, some of these myths have become embedded in the minds of many people who, innocently, don’t know enough to separate myth from reality. And the reality is, some of the most common misconceptions about survival could literally get you killed.

From foraging to animal attacks, wilderness medicine, and beyond, there’s a myth that could get you killed that relates to almost every different aspect of survival.

Some of these you’ve likely heard before, and some you might have believed yourself. But to make sure you don’t fall victim to incorrect advice, or spread it on to others, read on for some of the most common and dangerous myths about survival.

Watch what berries the birds and other animals eat – that means they’re edible, and you can eat them too.

This one is a classic that I have heard time and time again…and also happens to be completely, dangerously incorrect. We don’t have the same digestive system as birds and rodents, so we can’t just watch them and then eat the same berries, mushrooms, and plants that they eat.

berry bird tree

Pokeweed berries, for example, are poisonous to humans, but are a tasty treat for all kinds of birds. Mimic your flying friends by munching a bunch of these down, and you’ll be very sorry.

The fact of the matter is, different animals adapted to consume different substances, and our human bellies can’t necessarily handle the same wild foods as our feathered and furry counterparts. Some we simply can’t digest very well and will upset our stomachs, but others are extremely poisonous and likely to cause our demise once ingested.

After a snakebite, suck out the poison.

This used to be a common conception, but despite being disproven, it still persists as an old adage of wilderness medicine that continues to be believed by many.

I blame Hollywood cowboy westerns for causing this myth to become so deeply embedded in the collective consciousness, as it’s a common trope used in that genre.

snake

First off, sucking a snakebite spreads bacteria from your mouth into the wound. The pressure can also further damage blood vessels affected by the bite.

What you should actually do is clean the bite thoroughly, trying not to move around too much, and call 911. It’s also helpful to know what kind of snake bit you, as this will help the hospital know what type of antivenin you need.

Drinking your own urine is a good last-resort method for a hydration emergency.

You would think this myth would have died by now, but unfortunately, due to prominent “experts” such as former soldier and TV survivalist Bear Grylls, who like to very dramatically demonstrate the pee-drinking process (because it’s excellent television), the reality is that drinking your own urine causes you to re-ingest waste and salt, further dehydrating yourself.

You’re better off spending your energy finding and purifying actual water than sitting around chugging your own pee.

Running water is safe to drink.

Just because water is running, even trickling from an underground spring, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe to drink. All kinds of pathogens, heavy metals, and other contaminants can still exist in running water and make you very sick.

running water

All water you obtain in the wild should be filtered and purified, either by boiling, with physical micro-filters, or through other methods.

Rub frostbite to warm the area.

Although rubbing cold hands together might be a nice way to warm them up, once your skin is frostbitten, it is severely damaged. At that point, rubbing the skin will damage it further and worsen symptoms, making it harder for the area to recover.

frostbite

What you should do is raise the frostbitten body part to minimize swelling, and get to a warm area. Cover with a dry, sterile bandage to avoid rubbing, and find medical treatment as soon as possible. Don’t apply anything hot to the area, as you need your skin to return to normal temperature gradually.

Moss only grows on the north side of a tree.

This is another silly holdover from television shows, and all it takes is a glance at trees to see that moss grows on all sides of them, all over the place. Some people, however, still believe that you can find which way is north by looking at where moss grows.

moss tree

It’s nonsense, so learn how to find north in other ways, such as with the sun or stars, rather than by looking at moss growth.

In a cold-weather survival situation, eating snow will hydrate you.

Eating snow is a very hard way to hydrate. Not only does it take an enormous amount of snow to produce just a very small amount of water, but consuming cold snow when the air is very cold will massively increase your likelihood of catching hypothermia and freezing to death.

melt snow

You can melt snow to drink it, but since it takes so much snow to produce a meaningful amount of water, you’re better off finding a stream or other water source.

If a bear approaches you, play dead.

While playing dead may be a good strategy if certain types of bears are already attacking you, in almost all cases, you want to make yourself known to the bear by making noise, and make yourself appear large by spreading out your arms or jacket.

bears

Playing dead is a good way to startle the bear if it gets closer, or arouse its curiosity rather than cause it to run away.

If escaping a bear, climb a tree.

Bad news if a bear is charging you…you should stand your ground, make noise, and make yourself look big, preparing to fight, despite how terrifying it will be. Sure, if the bear reaches you and is determined to kill you, it probably will.

But by running, you activate its predator instinct, ensuring a fight, and since bears are excellent tree climbers, you won’t be even remotely safe by scaling a nearby tree to escape.

If you’re in a survival situation, food is your first priority.

The reality is, while food is critical, you can survive for weeks without it. The same can’t be said for water, which you have a very limited window to find before you perish due to dehydration. You also have a good chance of dying quite quickly from exposure without any kind of shelter.

Therefore, water and shelter are your first priorities in the vast majority of survival scenarios. Once you have those settled, you can focus on food.

Suck a stone to hydrate yourself.

The idea behind this myth is that sucking on a pebble will induce salivation. While this might prevent your mouth from getting as dry, all this does is cause you to secrete water that was already in your body in the first place. There’s zero survival benefit whatsoever to this practice.

stones

If lost in the desert, cut open a cactus to find water.

Sure, some species of cacti can provide a bit of water if you cut them open. However, most cacti do not contain liquid that you can drink, and can make you very sick. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, the ole cactus trick is mostly fiction.

cactus

Jump into water to escape from bees.

You’re in the woods and accidentally kick a hornet’s nest, setting a swarm of angry insects on a mission to sting you silly. You might think jumping into a nearby lake is a good way to escape them, but they’ll just sting you when you surface again.

bees

You’re better off just running away until you lose them or, better yet, finding a car or structure to seal yourself inside.

Wolves are aggressive toward humans.

Sure, wolf attacks happen – they’re wild animals, after all – but attacks are very rare. Generally wolves seek to avoid human contact entirely, and will run away at the first sight of people.

wolf

When they do attack, it’s usually because they’re sick, rabid, starved, or there are other extraordinary circumstances.

You lose the majority of your body’s heat through your head.

Don’t get me wrong – a warm hat or balaclava are great ways to help your body stay warmer in a wintry survival situation. But the old saying that you lost 75% of your body heat through your head just isn’t true. I’ve heard different numbers cited, from 50% to 80%, and all of them are made up!

lose heat through head

Alcohol will warm you up.

So your snowmobile breaks down in the wilderness, and all you have in your pocket, other than your wallet and keys, is a flask of ultra-potent moonshine. Drinking it will warm you up, right? Wrong.

alcohol flask

Sure, it will make you feel warmer, but your core body temperature is actually likely to be reduced by consuming alcohol.

Drinking it will increase your chances of dying from hypothermia and exposure. If you need something to help you help start a fire or clean a wound, that’s probably a better survival use for your high-octane booze.

Conclusions

Hopefully, many readers will already know that these survival “tips” are dead-wrong—literally, as following them can get you killed. But there may be some myths that you weren’t aware of.

Either way, as preppers, it’s critically important that we are able to separate survival fact from survival fiction, and stay realistic about the situations we may find ourselves in. One day, your life may even depend on it!

Author Bio: Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!


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  1. The part about the bears made me remember my backpacking trip about 1970 in Speculator, N.Y. My friend and I were just out of the military and we decided to go backpacking. I had my Colt AR-15 and he had a sack full of cherry bombs.

    We were setting up camp when we heard this loud noise in the woods coming at us, then we spotted the bear. I am not one for killing animals unnecessarily so we came up with an idea.

    I held the cherry bomb and Billy lit it. I threw it and the bomb went off right in front of the bear. The next thing we saw and heard was the bear running full bore away from us through the woods and we could see the trees moving as he ran through the woods. Since then, anytime I went backpacking I always carried some cherry bombs.
    It also makes a good attention getter if have someone on your tail at night.

    I haven’t been backpacking in many years as I have grown old and disabled but I had some adventures in the Adirondacks that I won’t forget. This is absolutely true. I could tell you other adventures that I had with a black bear who was near my house but you provably wouldn’t believe that either.

    1. Glad someone else was thinking the same thing….really the article should be titled “what not to believe if lost while camping…but still have a cell phone”. Also, question…s that snake bite kit I bought us less then, considering the whole not sucking part.

    2. I do believe your account with the cherry-bomb causing the bear to haul ass away from you.
      I’m in Colorado in the Rockies and had a bear at night come too close for comfort. I had a dwindling fire and could make out his outline. I NEVER EVER spend times in the woods without an ample firearm (on me). I too am a Vietnam vet. All I did is fire two shots in the air from my .357 and the bear did an about face.
      One other time I remember I felt this bear just got too close standing his ground, so then I just took him out. “F” that! A couple shots to his face and head.

  2. No one has ever given me a good solution for venomous snake bite other than seek medical help for antivenin. If you are hiking in a rugged area and a bite occurs, seeking medical help could be hours away.

    1. If in a survival situation, with not medical help to be found, tie something six inches “above” (meaning closer to the heart) the bitten limb and keep it below heart level to keep the venom from spreading. You also would want to remain calm and avoid anything that would raise you pulse rate. This might ultimately keep you alive but you may loose whatever limb was bitten or it may not be able to be done at all if you received a bite on the torso.

    2. Best thing for a venomous snake bite is 1) break out an ace bandage and pressure wrap the entire limb. 2) call for immediate emergency evacuation even if it means by helicopter. 3) above all else slow your blood pressure as much as possible with deep breathing exercises and just think positive. The pressure wrap not tourniquet gives your body time to break down as much venom down as possible so say a mildly venomous water snake tags your ankle if you pressure wrap and stay calm your life expectancy will raise from 4hrs to possibly 6 or 7. I have had to do this for a friend who got tagged by a cotton mouth and the medics told us these exact steps as we were 2miles into swamp country and they couldn’t get to us easily.

      1. Jesus will keep you from harm, hopefully as peepers you know Jesus Christ as your Lotd and savior, and that we serve a mighty God. Paul was bitten by a snake and he was fine, Daniel was in the lions den and he was fine, the point to this is having faith in our creator God Almighty. Repent and be Holy as he is Holy❤️🙌🏻😊 We are children of the most high God, and he is a good good powerful Father who will always take care of us …. and we never really die anyway Jesus defeated death on the cross❤️🙌🏻❤️

    3. You should use a constrictive bandage/s. You start at the bite (do not clean it, the hospital can use any venom residue to help identify the snake) bandage down the limb and then bandage back up as far as possible. It is worth marking the bite area with a sharpie pen to help the hospital staff locate the bite. Immobilise the limb and seek assistance.

  3. Food is most definitely not first priority. Sure on a long enough timeline your going to need to eat, but your chances of starving to death or sustaining injury due to lack of food is very low. Your body is amazing at using fats and muscle as energy for some time. Exposure to the elements, both hot or cold, that on the other hand is your first emergency to deal with. Shelter is priority number one. Then water.

  4. Your comments on wolves is false.
    They will hunt and kill people without being sick or rabbit.
    Stop listening to animal rights activists for your info

  5. Your advice about running water not necessarily being potable is a very good one! In Utah, it was pointed out to me ( I am a rockhounding) that springs and small streams in a region I was collecting in, were arsenic springs! Lethal quantities of arsenic. Therefore: there is no aquatic life in these creeks. But even there, I would not deem a stream potable just because some plant has a tolerance to live there! Still, if the creek is barren, definitely avoid it!

  6. Years ago I read that a good high voltage DC shock was a good cure for a pit vipers bite. The first I heard of it was from a South American missionaries account of the native indians using the /placing a spark plug wire on the site of the bite and cranking the motor one or two times In fact I have seen a cattle prod used on bite victims at Sweetwater Rattlesnake roundup and I was told that Army medics kept a stun gun in their medical pouch in jungles. You can ck this out for yourselves. I read this in a well read outdoor mag. long ago so ck it out before you try it.

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