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10 Survival Myths Debunked: What You Really Need to Know

In the realm of wilderness survival, numerous myths have circulated, potentially leading adventurers astray when faced with a life-threatening situation. Many of these survival myths have been perpetuated through movies, television shows, and even well-intentioned advice from friends or family members.

These myths often address critical survival situations such as finding water sources, dealing with wildlife, or navigating through the wilderness. Unfortunately, following these misguided pieces of advice can prove more dangerous than helpful.

In order to increase one’s chances of survival and make informed decisions when it truly matters, let’s debunk such myths and replace them with accurate knowledge and techniques.

Survival Myths

Survival Myth 1: Drinking Raw Water

One common survival myth is that if water appears clean and is flowing, it is safe to drink. This belief can lead to serious health problems, as even seemingly clean water can host harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

In a survival situation where clean drinking water is unavailable, it is crucial to purify the water before consuming it. There are several methods to do so, including boiling the water for at least one minute, using water purification tablets, or employing a water filter designed for outdoor use.

Drinking untreated water, even from a seemingly clean source, poses a risk of contracting waterborne illnesses such as giardia or cryptosporidium. These pathogens can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration, further worsening an already precarious survival situation.

Drinking Raw Water

To avoid these risks, always prioritize water purification when in a survival or outdoor scenario. Remember that clear and flowing water does not guarantee its safety for consumption, and proper measures must be taken to ensure its potability.

Survival Myth 2: Eating Snow for Hydration

Some people believe that eating snow can help you stay hydrated if you get stranded outdoors during wintertime. This is, in fact, a dangerous survival myth. While it may seem like an easy way to get water, consuming snow directly can have negative consequences both for your hydration and body temperature.

The water content of snow is low, with a high air-to-water ratio. In most cases, the ratio is around 9:1, meaning that only 10% of the snow is water, and the rest is air.

To obtain a significant amount of water by eating snow, you would have to consume a large volume, which could lead to core freeze and pose a serious risk of hypothermia, slower thinking, and an increased likelihood of making mistakes in a survival situation.

Instead of eating snow for hydration, it is a much better idea to melt snow and drink the liquid. However, this comes with its own concerns. The snow you use should be clean and free of contaminants, as impurities in the snow can affect the quality of the water.

In summary, eating snow for hydration is not only potentially ineffective but also dangerous. Melting snow and consuming the resulting water is a safer and more efficient method for staying hydrated in winter survival situations.

Survival Myth 3: Sucking Venom From Snakebites

One of the most common myths about snakebites is that you can remove venom from the victim’s body by sucking it out with your mouth. This practice not only fails to help the victim but can also cause further harm to both the victim and the person attempting the suction.

When a venomous snake bites, the venom quickly enters the bloodstream. Attempting to suck the venom out will not be effective in removing it from the body, as it has already begun to circulate through the blood. Additionally, using your mouth to suck on the wound introduces new bacteria, potentially leading to infection in the bite area.


Another concern with this method is the risk it poses to the person trying to suck out the venom. By putting their mouth in direct contact with the venom, they may inadvertently ingest some, risking venom exposure through the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat, potentially causing harm to themselves.

Instead of trying to suck out venom, it is crucial to follow proper first aid procedures for snakebites. These include:

  • 1. Keep the victim calm and encourage them to stay still.
  • 2. Immobilize the affected limb with a splint or sling, keeping it at or slightly below heart level.
  • 3. Seek immediate medical attention and, if possible, provide information about the snake for accurate treatment.

By debunking this common survival myth and following the correct first aid steps, snakebite victims have a greater chance at a full recovery.

Survival Myth 4: Prioritizing Finding Food Over Water

One common survival myth is that finding food should be the top priority in a survival scenario. This misconception can lead to life-threatening consequences. In reality, water is more crucial to our survival than food.

The human body can survive without food for up to three weeks, but without water, it will only last three to four days. Dehydration can set in quickly, leading to physical and mental decline, impairing your ability to think clearly and make informed decisions. Therefore, securing a water source should always be the first task during a survival situation.

Moreover, consuming food without sufficient water intake may exacerbate dehydration. Digestion requires water, so if you eat without consuming fluids, your body will use up its internal water reserves, which may further accelerate the onset of dehydration symptoms.

Always secure a source of safe drinking water before focusing on finding food. Understanding the importance of hydration and knowing how to source and purify water can be the key to your survival in a challenging environment.

Survival Myth 5: Building a Fire Directly on the Ground

One common survival myth is that building a fire directly on the ground is always the best approach. This misconception can lead to an ineffective fire or, worse, a damaging wildfire. Depending on the situation and environment, various methods can be more suitable for building a fire.

In some cases, building a fire directly on the ground can cause heat to be absorbed by the earth, which may reduce the fire’s overall warmth and make it challenging to maintain. Additionally, it might not be the most efficient use of resources.


Instead, consider alternative fire-building techniques, such as:

  • Raised Platform: Building a fire on a raised platform made from logs or rocks can help prevent the ground from absorbing heat, making for a more efficient fire.
  • Fire Pan: Using a fire pan or metal tray can contain the fire and reduce its impact on the surrounding environment, especially during drought conditions or when vegetation is dry.
  • Dakota Fire Hole: Digging a hole and creating a fire underground can be an effective method to produce a low-visibility fire and protect it from windy conditions. This technique also provides a great heat source for cooking.

Survival Myth 6: Rubbing Frostbitten Skin

Many people believe that rubbing frostbitten skin can help generate heat and alleviate the effects of cold.

However, this method is not only ineffective, but it can also lead to further damage to the affected tissue. Frostbite occurs when ice crystals form within the skin and other tissues, causing cell damage and potentially severe medical complications if not treated properly.

When frostbitten skin is rubbed, the friction can cause the ice crystals to lacerate neighboring healthy cells, leading to increased tissue damage. Additionally, rubbing frostbitten skin can lead to increased pain and discomfort for the person suffering from frostbite.

Instead of rubbing frostbitten skin, the proper treatment involves slowly rewarming the affected tissue. This can be achieved by using warm (not hot) water or applying heat packs to the frostbitten area.

It is crucial to avoid exposing the frostbitten skin to direct heat, as this can cause burns and further damage. Painkillers might also be administered to alleviate pain during the rewarming process.

To prevent frostbite in cold conditions, dress warmly and in layers, ensuring that all extremities are covered and insulated. Waterproof and windproof outer layers can also help to protect against harsh weather conditions. Additionally, staying dry and avoiding prolonged exposure to extreme cold is key to preventing frostbite.

Survival Myth 7: Moss Grows Only on the North Side of Trees

Moss is often thought to grow exclusively on the north side of trees, providing a natural compass for hikers and campers lost in the wilderness.

This myth may have originated as a navigation tool for those unfamiliar with the forest environment. However, this belief can lead to misinformation and confusion when attempting to find your way in the woods.

In reality, moss growth is not limited to the north side of trees. It can grow on any side of a tree, depending on the specific conditions present in the area.

Moss on a Tree

Factors that influence moss growth include sunlight exposure, temperature, moisture, and shade. Moss thrives in damp, cool, and shaded environments, which can be found on multiple sides of a tree, not just the north side.

There are over 12,000 different species of moss, each with its own set of preferences and optimal growing conditions. Some species may grow predominantly on the north side of trees in certain areas, while others could flourish on the south side if weather conditions are more favorable there.

Explorers should instead rely on maps, compasses, and other aids to ensure accurate navigation in the outdoors.

Survival Myth 8: Punching a Shark in the Nose

One common survival myth is that punching a shark in the nose will deter an attack. While it may seem like a plausible idea, in reality, it is not a practical solution for several reasons.

Firstly, it is incredibly difficult to land a solid punch on a moving shark’s nose underwater, especially when faced with a sudden attack. The water resistance and disorienting nature of an encounter with a massive predator make it nearly impossible to accurately and forcefully target the shark’s nose.

Additionally, even if you were able to land a punch, the impact would likely hurt your hand more than the shark’s nose. This would put the individual at a further disadvantage during an already perilous situation.

Contrary to the nose-punching myth, there are more effective strategies for dealing with a shark attack. These include:

  • Putting a solid object, like a surfboard or dive gear, between yourself and the shark
  • Minimizing angles of attack by backing up against an obstruction
  • Attacking the shark’s eyes, gills, or other vulnerable areas instead of attempting to punch its nose

While encountering a shark in the wild is a rare event, debunking this survival myth can significantly increase the chances of avoiding injury during such a situation.

Survival Myth 9: Drinking Urine for Hydration

One common survival myth is the belief that drinking your own urine can be a viable method to stay hydrated in desperate situations. While it is true that urine contains water, consuming it for hydration purposes is far from ideal and can, in fact, be dangerous.

Urine is a waste product that the body excretes because it contains toxins and substances that the body has filtered out. Drinking it, even in small amounts, can lead to the intake of concentrated waste products and cause additional strain on the kidneys.

The general consensus among experts is that drinking urine may provide an extra day or two of survival, but only if it is consumed one to three times before it becomes too concentrated. Beyond that, any potential benefit rapidly diminishes as the risk to one’s health increases substantially.

Additionally, relying on the color of urine as an indicator of hydration levels can be misleading. Factors such as multivitamin consumption or a high-protein diet can cause urine to appear dark, even if dehydration is not a concern.

Instead of focusing solely on urine color, it is important to consider other signals of dehydration like thirst, dizziness, and fatigue.

Survival Myth 10: Using a Tourniquet for All Wounds

One widespread myth about treating wounds is that applying a tourniquet is always necessary. Contrary to this belief, tourniquets should not be indiscriminately used for all injuries, as they come with specific guidelines and are only appropriate for certain situations.

Applying direct pressure on the bleeding site is the primary and preferred technique for controlling bleeding. In most cases, this method is successful for stopping blood flow.

Applying a Tourniquet

However, in some instances, such as when blood is spurting from a wound, direct pressure might not be enough. A tourniquet is most crucial when severe arterial bleeding is involved, in which case it should be applied immediately without any further delay.

Using a tourniquet carelessly could lead to complications and even cause potential harm to the patient. Application of a tourniquet restricts blood flow entirely, which can result in tissue damage if it is left on for an extended period, so it is essential to monitor its use and be mindful of potential consequences.

When using a tourniquet:

  • Apply it close to the injured area, but not directly on a joint.
  • Keep in mind that using improvised tourniquets can be less effective and potentially more dangerous than using a commercially designed one. It is best to acquire and carry a proper tourniquet in a first aid kit.
  • Once the tourniquet is applied, note the time and inform medical professionals of the application time when transferring the patient.

Wrapping up Debunking 10 Survival Myths

With countless survival myths circulating, it is crucial for adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts to seek accurate survival knowledge. Research and education are vital in disentangling fact from fiction.

By embracing accurate survival knowledge and discarding myths, individuals can make the right choices in life-threatening situations, ultimately enhancing their chances of survival. To better prepare for survival situations, check out our list of 9 Wilderness Survival Skills You Should Know.