With survival movies and TV shows being so popular, you may think you know exactly what to do based on actors’ actions in crises. But is pop-culture wisdom accurate? Not always. And in many cases, it can actually be fatal.
Here are 10 survival myths to avoid:
Myth: Rub frostbitten skin. You’ve seen the scene where someone is saved from the cold and the rescuer starts rubbing their hands and feet to warm them up. Don’t ever rub frostbitten skin. Frostbite occurs from ice crystals forming in your skin. Rubbing will cause more damage as crystals will cut into other tissues. Instead, slowly rewarm the frostbitten limbs with slightly warm compresses.
Myth: You Can Drink From a Cactus. You’re stuck in the desert and there is no water around, but no worries. Based on the movies, you can drink right out of any of the cactuses surrounding you, right? Wrong! Do not drink from a cactus. The liquid in cactuses is highly alkaline and will make you very sick. Vomiting and diarrhea normally follow shortly after drinking cactus liquid, which can quickly lead to fatal dehydration.
Myth: Cut and Suck a Snake Bite. This a Hollywood favorite. Never cut and suck a snake bite. Not only does cutting the bite open create a much larger wound, but sucking introduces bacteria-laden spit to the wound which is likely to lead to infection. Additionally, much of the venom is left on the skin, which will damage your mouth and lips. Not to mention that it does not effectively remove most the venom from the bite, but if you do get some of it you will damage your trachea. Learn more about the symptoms and treatments of snakebites here.
Myth: Moss Grows on the North Side of Trees. This one is less likely to be fatal, but moss does not always grow on the north side of trees. Depending on the environment, moss will grow on the side of trees with more moisture and sunlight. Following the moss as a compass is unlikely to get you where you need to go.
Myth: Drinking Liquor Will Warm You Up. The cartoon of the Saint Bernard with a flask around his neck reviving the avalanche victim is not accurate. Even though you feel warm after drinking alcohol, liquor is the last drink you want to consume in the cold. Alcohol dilates your blood vessels and capillaries, making you lose body heat much faster.
Myth: Let a Hypothermic Victim Sleep. After a mountaintop rescue, hypothermic victims are often shown in pop culture as getting some sleep. Never let someone suffering from hypothermia sleep. Drowsiness is a symptom of severe hypothermia and can often lead to death. If you are warming someone up from hypothermia, you must keep them awake until they have fully recovered.
Myth: Build a Fire in a Cave for Warmth. A cave provides great shelter from the elements. But don’t build a fire inside a cave. Heat causes rocks to expand which can lead to breakage and collapse. You don’t want to find yourself trapped inside a cave-in because you didn’t build your fire outside.
Myth: Rub Two Sticks Together to Make Fire. While yes it is true that rubbing two sticks together can make a fire, it is not that simple. Do not assume you can make fire from sticks. This assumption can be fatal, as without practice beforehand you are very unlikely to be able to make a fire with nothing but sticks.
Myth: Drink Your Pee to Stay Hydrated. This is a wilderness survival legend. Do not drink your pee. If the idea of drinking your urine is appealing, you are severely dehydrated, and your urine is almost entirely waste products and hardly any water. Drinking the waste products will put unnecessary strain on your kidneys and lead to overheating in hot environments. Instead, you can use urine to dampen clothing to keep you cool. But seriously, don’t drink it.
Myth: Always Swim Parallel to the Shore in a Rip Current. If you find yourself in an ocean survival situation, legend has it you are supposed to swim parallel to the shore if you get caught in a rip current. Swimming parallel to shore will not always work, as not every rip current pulls straight out to sea. If you swim the wrong direction, you can easily be tired to the point of drowning. Instead, swim perpendicular to the flow of the rip in the same direction as the prevailing wind. If you feel like you are swimming upstream, you are going the wrong direction.
While survival shows and movies can be fun to watch, never base your survival strategies on what you have seen on screen. It is important to be able to differentiate fact from fiction so that you don’t respond to situations in ways that do more harm than good.