Survival Myths That Could Get You Killed

Don't trust these survival myths! We're exposing the ones that could actually get you killed.


Lost in the Amazon Rainforest? Without supplies in the Sahara Desert? Feeling the chill out in the frigid Arctic? You’ve probably got plenty of ideas of how to take care of yourself but they’re probably completely wrong. In fact, they’re more likely to leave you as a pile of bones in a ditch somewhere.

From peeing on a jellyfish sting to drinking that pee to stay hydrated, let's delve into some of the survival myths that could get you killed. And investigate what you should really do to survive.

Rubbing Frostbite

If you ever find yourself stuck outside in a cold climate, one of the biggest risks to your safety is frostbite, which is when a person’s skin and the tissue underneath winds up freezing. It’ll start out like a painful red patch, but if left untreated will progress and your skin will stiffen, numb, and go a sickly grey. In the very worst cases, it can even lead to tissue necrosis, which is where your skin literally dies.

So if you’ve gotten cold enough to catch frostbite, you’ll want to warm up. For instance, if your hands are a little cold you might want to rub them together. Despite your first instinct, though, never rub anywhere you suspect might be catching frostbite. That will only make things a lot worse!

Rubbing frostbitten skin will just cause more tissue damage. Instead, it needs to be treated gently and given the chance to heal. Starting a nice warm fire is also a huge no! Frostbitten skin is super sensitive and could easily be burnt by open flames!

So what can you do? The best approach is to submerge any affected areas in warm water and drink warm liquids, not hot ones. That will warm you up gently and avoid burns. But if you’re still out in the cold, your priority should really be finding some shelter. Otherwise no matter what you do, your skin will just re-freeze anyway.

Can You Drink Water From A Cactus?

Let’s say you’re in the desert and you’re desperately hot. Dehydration is setting in and you need some water, fast. You may have seen some old western movies where the cowboy chops open a cactus and takes a drink from inside. However, don’t try that.

It’s not actually water inside the prickly plant, it’s a noxious fluid that’ll cause vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain! If you’re already dehydrated, the last thing you need is to be losing precious water by puking and pooping it all up. If you’re very unlucky, the forbidden smoothie could even cause paralysis!

Survival Myths That Could Get You Killed cactus drink water
© Be Amazed

There is a single exception to that rule, the fishhook barrel cactus’ juices can be ingested. Though only in tiny quantities and only ever in an extreme emergency! That cactus is less likely to cause those unpleasant side effects, but it’s still not worth the risk.

Fishhook Barrel Cactus

A better option is the fruit of a cactus named the prickly pear, it’s full of water and can be safely ingested, providing you remove all those spines! Unlike cactus goop, that cactus fruit is unlikely to lead to a weekend atop the porcelain throne, so the choice should be obvious!


Never Jump In Water When Attacked By Bees

Anybody that’s ever disturbed a nest of bees will know how terrifying the experience can be. Bees and wasps are relentless, and if they see you as a threat then they’ll make sure you know it! Dealing with one isn’t much of a problem, but trying to swat a whole swarm? Good luck with that.

The only thing to do is run and try and find somewhere safe to hide. Whatever you do though, if you see a pond or river, don’t jump into it! Anonymous fraudsters claiming to be survival experts are adamant that, because neither bees nor wasps like water, jumping into a lake or river and hiding beneath the surface will make them give up and buzz off. In reality, that’s not the case at all.

Those stripy stingers are aggressive and super protective of their homes. If you’ve angered them, why would the short time you can hold your breath for be enough to dissuade them? They’ll simply wait above the water for you!

Don't jump into the River while chased by Bee's

They won’t literally hover and watch the spot where you went under. But they’ll continue to search the area for you until you inevitably have to resurface. And when you do, it’ll be beatdown time once again.

Only, you’ll have the added disadvantage of being in water. So, if you’re ever chased by wasps or bees, stay on dry land and try and find shelter. Better yet, don’t annoy them enough to chase you.

What Comes First: Fire Or Shelter?

In movies you always get those scenes of people lost in the wilderness sleeping around a huge fire. It makes for a nice looking scene sure, but in the real world, a fire shouldn’t be anyone’s priority. Shelter is much more important.

For one, all it’ll take is a spot of rain or some strong winds and then that fire you put so much effort into is kaput! Plus, fires need fueling and maintaining with wood, which will use a lot of your precious energy. Shelter on the other hand is effective from the moment it’s set up and provides a safe place to sleep when you eventually collapse from exhaustion.

Shelter gives you protection

But what exactly should you be looking to build? You need some form of bed above all else, to make sure you’re off the ground. It gets very cold at night and you could easily freeze if you’re lying on it without protection.

A simple makeshift “mattress” can be built by laying long branches out on the floor, then insulating your creation with lots of leaves or grass. If you’ve got any tools to hand, you could even attach branches together and suspend your bed between two trees like a true survivalist! Only once you’ve got a place to sleep should you focus on anything else, like a roof.

Makeshift bed

How To Get Out Of Quicksand

Growing up, most of us thought that quicksand could be a pretty big threat to anyone's life. But outside of the movies, it’s unlikely to swallow you in seconds if you accidentally touch it with your little toe. However, it can still trap you if you’re not careful, which could be extremely dangerous if you don’t know how to react.

But what is quicksand? Is quicksand real? Essentially, quicksand is loose sand or grit that’s become so saturated with water that it behaves more like a liquid than a solid and can no longer hold weight very well. So, here’s the big question: if you get caught in it, do you think you should stay still or try to free yourself?

What Should You Do When Caught in Quicksand?

If you're thinking about staying still, you're wrong! Pop culture has taught us that the best thing to do is avoid struggling and wait for someone to reach out with a handy stick. That just isn’t good advice. If you stay motionless, you’ll never get free, especially if you don’t have a friend with you to dramatically save you.

That being said, don’t flail around like a maniac either. What you should do is lean backwards to distribute your weight evenly and make slow back and forth movements with your body to loosen the sticky sand’s hold on you. It’ll take a fair while, but it’ll get you out of there alive!

make slow back and forth movements to loosen up the sand

Universal Edibility Test

If you’re lost out in the wilderness and your tummy starts rumbling, it could be very difficult to figure out what you can and can’t eat. Choose correctly and your chances of surviving increase significantly, but choose incorrectly and you could be in for a really bad time.

There’s a common belief that if you see an animal eating something, it’s safe for human consumption too, but that should set off alarm bells for any sensible person. Humans and animals have completely different diets, chocolate is deadly to a dog while it’s favorite treat for humans. So, any berries or plants that you might see a deer or bird chowing down on could be lethal to you!

Animal diet can be lethal to humans

There is a definitive method to find out if something is safe to eat however, the universal edibility test. In simple terms, it involves taking the plant or berry in question and gradually exposing your body to it to check for adverse reactions.

First, you check if it smells okay, pear or almond are scents to avoid, as they could be a sign of cyanide. Then, you rub it on the inside of your elbow and wait 15 minutes. If it itches or hurts, throw the plant away. If not, pop a small part of it in your mouth and chew it for a few minutes.

You’re looking for bitterness, soapiness, or general tingliness and pain. If you get any of those, spit it out. If not, eat a little bit and wait 8 hours. Yes, 8 hours. But if you want to be sure it’s safe, you’re gonna have to be patient!

If, finally, after that there are no side effects, you can eat the plant! Or at least, the part of it you tested. Just because you can eat the leaf doesn’t mean you can eat the stem. That might sound exhausting, but it’s better to be exhausted than dead.

Purifying Wild Water

Food is important, but it’s actually possible to survive for months without it. Water, however? After just 3 days you’ll be sleeping with the fishes. So, you’ll want to find yourself some sweet H2O! You should prioritize running water, as it’s less likely to be home to a load of critters than stagnant water.

prioritize running water than stagnant water

Unfortunately, even then, most water you come across in the wild will be undrinkable, it’s unclean and full of bacteria. As well as catching diseases from it, it can also cause diarrhea, which ironically will make you lose more water than you gain.

So what should you do? It’s fairly common knowledge that boiling dirty water can remove impurities and make it safe to drink. In an extreme scenario however, you aren’t likely to have a kettle and a power outlet to hand! You’ll have to start a fire and boil your water in any container that you can rustle up.

Here's the catch though. Although boiling will kill harmful bacteria, it won’t remove any dangerous chemicals or sediments that are lurking in there. So, it still might not be enough to save you. You should actually filter the water before boiling it wherever possible!

The best way to filter is to cover a container with a shirt or cloth and then place some crushed charcoal from your fire on top. Pour the water through the cloth into the container and the charcoal will catch nasty contaminants, while improving the taste as a little bonus!

Charcoal will help further filter contaminated water

Sounds weird, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! Before even that though, try and find the source of the water you’re looking to drink. If you find that there’s a bunch of dead rats in it or something, it may be best to look elsewhere.

Finding Water In The Wilderness

We’ve already established just how important water is for us humans. Seeking out a good source of water is a priority in any survival situation, but what’s the best way to do it? Let's talk about our next myth!

Many claim that you can locate a water source by simply following birds in flight. The logic is that the airborne avians will be traveling to water themselves, so all you need to do is tag along and they’ll lead you to it.

Should You Follow Birds to Find Water Source?

And while some aquatic birds rarely leave the water’s edge, others fly all over the place for a wide variety of reasons. For all you know those birds could be migrating to foreign lands or flying home to bed.

So, instead of looking up, keep an eye out for animals on the ground, they’ll regularly travel to water and won’t wander nearly as far as our feathered friends. It’ll take a keen eye and some patience, but as long as you don’t spook every animal in the area with your rendition of “I’m A Survivor” it should pay off.

Does Peeing On A Jellyfish Sting Help?

Jellyfish suck. Their long, flowing tentacles give nasty stings that cause searing pain, may leave barbs full of venom stuck inside you, and can even be fatal. But what if you do get stung? Here's what not to do. Somewhere, somehow, a rumor emerged that taking a whizz on a jellyfish sting would help with the immense pain!

Unsurprisingly, that simply doesn’t work. Taking a leak on a sting can actually cause stinging cells to release even more venom and make the pain worse, not better! The whole reason that crazy myth even came into being was because people thought the ammonia in our urine could neutralize the venom of the sting.

People believe urine could neutralize the Jellyfish venom

So, it activates the stingers and makes the pain worse. The same goes for fresh water. Experts agree that the correct thing to do is remove any barbs in the affected area and then wash it thoroughly with salt water. Long story short, peeing on either yourself or your stung pal won’t provide any pain relief.

Covering Up In The Desert

When you’re on vacation, showing some skin can be a good way of building a nice tan and staying a little cooler. But if you’re stranded in an oppressively hot place like a desert, the last thing you want to do is shed the layers. Unless you’re wearing wildly inappropriate and heavy clothing, a good garment will keep you cool!

First, and most obviously, clothes reduce the amount of direct sunlight hitting your skin, minimizing any overheating and potential sunburn. Second, as you get hot, you sweat, and water leaves your body in an attempt to keep you cool. Without clothes, it evaporates and leaves you dehydrated. With them, the sweat is trapped and creates a cool layer on your skin that also hydrates it slightly.

Appropriate garments can save you from dehydration

People living in areas like the Middle East have worn long, light, flowing clothing for thousands of years for those exact reasons. Those clothes are also traditionally white, the color that reflects the most sunlight. They aren’t just snazzy fashion statements, and you’re better off covering up than stripping off in the hot sun!

Drinking Alcohol In The Cold

From partying to drowning your sorrows, there are lots of good and not so good reasons people drink alcohol. One good reason not to drink it however is to warm yourself up if you’re dangerously cold. Yet, people have believed it works for absolutely ages.

Saint Bernard dogs are often pictured with small barrels of mead around their neck for that very reason. Back in the 1800s, dogs would be sent out into snowstorms to rescue lost travelers, and urban legends say they brought booze with them to warm the frozen people.

Saint Bernard dogs rescue lost travelers in snowstorm

Alcohol does create a warm feeling in the body, so it’s somewhat understandable that the myth became so widespread. But what’s really happening? When you drink alcohol, it causes your blood vessels to dilate, which gives you that warm buzz as blood rushes to your skin.

The problem is, in cold environments, your body’s main defense is to push less blood to your skin and instead keep your core warm with it. So despite what it feels like, alcohol actually makes you colder!

And that’s not all. Booze also reduces shivering, another of your body’s warming techniques. When you shiver, your muscles contract rapidly, creating energy that warms you up. Without that, you’re gonna get colder, faster.

Shivering Keeps You Warm in Cold

If that wasn’t already enough reason to avoid a martini in a snowstorm, alcohol also causes you to sweat! Considering sweating is literally designed to cool you down, it’s the last thing you want to be doing if you’re already freezing! Overall, avoid the beer and concentrate on getting out of the cold as quickly as possible.

Fire In A Cave

Let's just imagine that you’re lost in the wilderness but you’ve managed to stumble across a cave for shelter! That cave isn’t home to a hungry bear and is prime real estate to ensure your survival. However, whatever you do, don’t start a fire!

You may have seen campfires in caves in every movie and TV show under the sun, but it can actually be an incredibly dangerous thing to do. Fire produces heat, which is great for your chilly toes but not so great for the cave. That’s because heat causes rock to expand, so a fire could cause the rocks in the ceiling to change shape just enough that the structure becomes unstable. Causing a cave in is hardly a useful survival technique!

Lighting a fire in a Cave can cause Cave ins

Even if your fire doesn’t cause your cave to collapse, it’ll soon fill up with smoke. An important outdoorsman tip known only to experts is that you need to breathe to stay alive. Polluting a confined space with smoke will make that super difficult.

If you need a fire for any reason, your best bet is probably to start one just outside of the cave, that way you avoid those dangers but still have your camp near shelter. And also, don’t build that fire near anything dry or flammable either.

Cleaning Wounds With Alcohol

If, heaven forbid, the worst happens and you find yourself wounded while out in the middle of nowhere, you’ve got to take care of it and fast! In an ideal situation, rubbing alcohol or surgical spirit, should be used to clean around a wound and prevent infection, but it shouldn’t enter the wound itself.

You probably won’t have any of that though. So how about ordinary alcohol? In Hollywood, tough guy heroes will often pour whiskey into a recent wound to clean it. It might look badass, but it’s not a good idea in a real survival scenario!

Strong drinking alcohol will disinfect a wound, but it’s also likely to kill healthy cells and delay healing. And you’ll want any wound to heal as quickly and smoothly as possible in an emergency where every second counts.

Ideally, you want to apply pressure to the cut and use clean water to wash it with. If that’s not possible, booze can be used, but only as a last resort. Seems like a waste of some perfectly good booze to me, but sometimes sacrifices must be made.

Apply pressure to the wound and wash with clean water

Cameling Up

When stranded in a desert or any other hot location, water is a precious commodity. Do you drink that bottle in your backpack? Or do you save it for later? You probably think the sensible thing to do is hold onto it and eek it out as much as possible. But you’d be wrong.

There’s absolutely no reason to save water if you’re lost in the wilderness! If you’re thirsty, you need water. Extreme thirst can sap your strength and cognitive abilities, two things you’ll need to use to stay alive! And the best place to store your water is in your body, not your backpack. It could give you the boost you need to find shelter, more water, or even rescue.

man drinking water

So, instead of rationing your water, concentrate on reducing your body’s water loss. Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day, breathe through your nose rather than your mouth, and keep as much of your skin covered as possible. Be like a camel, move slowly and store water in your hump!

Cliff Jumping And Impact With Water

Picture the scene. You’re on an adventure, trekking through foreign lands, when suddenly a mighty beast jumps out of a patch of trees and starts coming at you. Naturally, you run away, as fast as you can.

But what if you realize you’re running straight towards the edge of a cliff? You’ve probably seen videos of daredevils or scenes in action movies of people leaping from incredible heights into water. So, maybe you’d take the plunge rather than face the beast.

However, that is a terrible idea! After falling from a high place at high speed, the water surface may as well be concrete when you land. Jumping from just 20 feet will cause you to slam into the water at around 25 miles per hour! At that speed, the water molecules at the surface won’t be able to displace themselves fast enough to cushion you, causing the water to act more like a solid.

Jumping from a high place makes the water feel like concrete

Think about it. Normally, if you place your hand gently into water, there’s barely any resistance. That’s because the molecules have enough time to spread throughout the rest of the water, pushing minimal force back at you.

The quicker you hit those molecules however, the less time they have to move, and the more resistance you’re met with! That’s why you could break bones from falling into water too fast.

Logic behind water molecule's

Cliff divers are specially trained to land in the water properly and even then are often surrounded by medics or emergency personnel just in case something goes wrong. Even if you land in the water with perfect form, the impact can still be strong enough to compress your spine. Basically, don’t jump off cliffs, it’s probably a worse idea than facing whatever beast may be after you!

Punching A Shark In The Nose

Sharks are the apex predators of the seas. Strong, fast, and with a mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, they’re capable of really ruining your day. But is there anything you can do if you find yourself on the wrong side of those ferocious fish?

Many people reckon, you can defend yourself from a shark attack by punching the predator in the nose. That sounds a lot easier than it is though, if you’re facing off against a shark, you’re gonna be in water. Have you ever tried throwing a punch underwater? It’s not easy.

Water puts up so much resistance that you’re highly unlikely to be able to put enough strength behind a blow to do any damage! On top of that, you’d be placing your hand dangerously close to the shark’s mouth. You’d basically be giving the guy a free lunch.

Punching Shark in the Nose Does Not Work

Here's a better idea. Poke the predator in the eye instead, you don’t need much force to damage such a sensitive area. If that fails, attack the gills! It’s how the beast breathes, so digging your fingers in them will make things very uncomfortable for your attacker.

And if you can, try to use a weapon, anything you have at hand. A surfboard, a stick, whatever. It’ll do more damage and minimize the risk of getting nibbled.

Poking in the eyes, gills and with any weapon to defend yourself from a shark

That being said, those techniques should be last resorts. Sharks rarely attack humans and can usually be avoided or deterred. So if you spy one of those aquatic animals, your first move should be to swim calmly away!

Using Moss As A Compass

Nowadays, practically everybody has a GPS in their pocket in the form of a smartphone, but that wasn’t always the case. Believe it or not, there was a time when humans had to actually use their wits to get from A to B.

A persistent myth claims that, if you end up lost in the woods, moss can be used as a sort of compass because it only grows on the north side of trees. So, all you’d need to do to orient yourself to find a tree with some moss, check what side it’s on, and bingo! Except, that’s a downright lie.

moss grows in trees

Moss does mostly grow on the north facing side of trees and rocks. But only in the northern hemisphere! In the southern hemisphere, it grows on the south side more often! That’s because those sides get the least sunlight, and it loves dark, damp places. Even so, it’s never a guarantee that it’ll grow on either side, it could grow anywhere. So, don’t rely on it to navigate.

Surviving Bear Attacks

Nobody could take a bear in a fight, it doesn’t matter how buff you are. And they’re everywhere from the Alaska to Norway, so you just might end up stumbling across one. If you do, you might’ve heard that playing dead is a sure fire way to get rid of the burly beast. That's a no as it could be a sure fire way to get you killed.

Playing dead in front of every bear will get you killed

Sometimes playing dead can be the right call, but it’s entirely dependent on the type of bear that’s hassling you. If you find yourself attacked by a black bear, don’t even think about it! Those guys are scavengers, so you’ll just look like a free meal if you lay down!

You’ll want to calmly escape to a secure place if possible. If that’s not possible, make yourself look as big as you can by puffing your chest out and holding your arms up in the air. The bear might overestimate you and leave. If it doesn’t, you’re gonna have to hit it, preferably on its face and muzzle.

Make sure you don’t try that on a grizzly though, they’ll tear you to pieces! Indeed, if a grizzly bears down on you, then you should play possum. Lay flat on your stomach and place your hands behind your neck to cover it.

Lay flat on your stomach and place your hands behind your neck

After that, you’ve just got to pray that the fierce furball loses interest! Not ideal, but if you really want the best chance of surviving a bear attack, make sure you have bear pepper spray on hand. Or just stay out of bear territory altogether.

Can You Eat Snow?

When dehydration sets in, you need to act fast. But if you’re somewhere snowy, surely you could just eat the snow, right? After all, it’s frozen water! Well, that’s exactly the problem. The body needs to put in a heck of a lot of work in order to heat and melt that snow to make it useable.

Organs wind up in overdrive and extra energy is used, leaving you more dehydrated than you were before! On top of that, ingesting a lot of freezing cold snow could easily lead to hypothermia if you’re already cold.

ingesting a lot of freezing cold snow could easily lead to hypothermia

Snow can be used to hydrate yourself, but you’d need to melt the snow first, then drink the water. Don’t let your organs do all the work. They do so much for you as it is. And one last thing, don’t melt and drink yellow snow!

Sucking The Venom Out Of A Snakebite

Imagine, if your pal is unfortunate enough to be bitten by a seriously venomous snake, you might believe that you are supposed to suck the venom from the wound. However, that is not recommendable. That myth has been propagated in books, movies, TV shows whatever the medium. The reality is, you’ll never be able to suck out all the venom, you’ll only end up adding bacteria from your mouth to the wound.

Should You Suck Snake Venom?

On top of that, if you had any open wounds in your mouth or throat for the venom to enter, you’d wind up with some of it in your own bloodstream too! If either you or your pal do find yourselves full of serpentine nastiness, the best thing to do is head straight to a hospital. In the US, most snake antivenom is universal, so you shouldn’t have to waste time trying to snag a photo of the offending animal.

Unfortunately, there’s no crazy life hack that can help with a scenario like that, your only option is to get that antivenom administered as quickly as possible. If you do waste time trying to suck the venom out, somebody is likely to end up popping their clogs!

Do not try to suck out snake venom

Drinking Urine

Let’s say you’re in the middle of the desert. And you are extremely dehydrated, you might be thinking that you could survive that by drinking your own pee. But the reality is that you can't and you shouldn't. Think about it, if you’re dehydrated it means you don’t have enough water in your system to begin with.

So the vast majority of what comes out won’t be water. It’ll be waste products like toxins, pollutants, and salts, the very opposite of the things you want if you’re dehydrated. And as your system battles with the toxic juice you just swallowed, you’ll dehydrate even further!

Drinking Urine Will Not Hydrate You

Strangely, survival experts like Bear Grylls have promoted riding the yellow wave for years. But it doesn’t matter if you saw it on TV, it’s a load of hooey! Anybody’s that’s drank their own urine to survive and made it through did so in spite of drinking the smelly stuff, not because of it. If you really want to sample your own brand, organize a tasting session in the comfort of your own home where you can have barf bags on standby!

Now that we've debunked these survival myths that could get you killed, you might want to read about survival tips that could save your life if you get lost in the wilderness. Thanks for reading!

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