Here are some myths about survival that could save your life
There are many myths surrounding the subject of survival. Many more than I can write about today. Survival in an emergency situation in the wilderness often depends on being able to sort out myth from reality. People who find themselves in precarious scenarios may be forced to deal with such things as how to stop bleeding, how to help a snake bite victim and how to treat a badly sprained ankle.
Knowing what works and what is an old wives’ tale can be of great aid and possibly even save a life
Between folklore and television, there is so much false survival information floating around today that most people will probably not make it through a true survival situation. I place a large portion of the blame for this on “couch commandos.” These are the guys (and gals) who own every survival book in existence, but have never applied the techniques in the real world, so their only experience is what “should” work, which they mindlessly repeat to anyone willing to listen. This continues over and over until falsehoods become accepted as gospel, so it’s time to dispel some of these myths.
- You can cut open a cactus for water. You can cut open a cactus, and it does contain fluid, but don’t expect to hydrate yourself this way. First, it’s a pain in the ass to get into them. I ended up in the desert without a knife once, and for curiosity’s sake, tried to bust one open using rocks; I tried stabbing it with small, sharp rocks, and repeatedly threw 30–pound boulders at the damn thing, and after 15 minutes, I had barely scuffed the thick outer skin. You won’t get into a cactus without an axe, machete, or at the very least, a very large, very sharp knife. If you do happen to cut it open, you won’t find a reservoir of water like you may have seen on television—it’s more of a slimy, bitter gel. Making matters even worse is that if you do manage to choke the foul goo down, it’s going to cause diarrhea and vomiting, and as a result, further dehydration.
- Alcohol will prevent hypothermia. We’ve all seen the movies where the rescue dog with a miniature barrel of brandy attached to his collar dashes through the snow to a nearly frozen victim, who happily slurps the spirits, instantly warming up and returning to safety. It’s true that drinking alcohol does make you feel warmer, but that’s only because it increases blood flow to the surface of your skin. This presents a dual problem of giving you a false sense of security and reducing your core body temperature more quickly. Unless you’re sitting in a cozy ski lodge, avoid the alcohol.
- I can live off the land. When the settlers landed on Plymouth Rock, they had plenty of experience living off the land (hunting, foraging, farming, etc.) and were well-versed in primitive skills like fire-starting and making the most of natural resources, yet they still nearly starved to death. Today there are fewer wild animals and edible plants and far more people than then, and few people possess even a fraction of the skills that our settlers had. If living off the land is your only plan to sustain yourself and your family, you’re in for some rough, potentially deadly times.
- You can survive a snake bite by cutting an “X” on the puncture wounds and sucking the venom out. Please do not try this—you will die faster than if you had done nothing. Cutting the wound exposes the poison to more blood vessels, enabling it to spread more quickly, and you can’t suck all, or even most of the venom out anyway—it was injected under pressure by what amounts to a hypodermic needle deep into your tissue. In fact, much of it will have already entered your bloodstream before you can get your knife out. To further complicate matters, any venom you do manage to suck out can be absorbed through your mouth, throat, or digestive system, going straight back into your bloodstream. I recommend getting your butt to a hospital with a quickness where they can treat you with proper anti-venom.
- Fresh urine is a safe way to stay hydrated. There is a very small bit of truth to this one—nearly clear urine is about 95% water, and 5% uric acid and other wastes, but it will still be a cold day in hell before I drink any. It technically can help you stay hydrated for a little while, but the longer you go without fresh water, the more concentrated the waste materials in your urine will become and the more harm it will do to your body.
- You can determine direction by moss on a tree. Supposedly, moss grows on the north side of a tree trunk. In reality, it doesn’t—it grows where it damn-well pleases. It would be convenient if it were true, but it’s not, and basing your navigation on this myth can lead you in circles until long after you run out of food and water.
Are you a couch commando? One of those guys like the tubby fellow above who has seen every episode of Man vs. Wild but never spent a night in the wilderness? If so, pardon my bluntness, but you will likely die in a survival scenario.
Your bookshelf may be filled with every survival book written in the last twenty years, but without what I call the survival trifecta, your chances of walking away from a life or death situation are pretty slim even on your best day. Survival comes down to three factors: knowledge, proficiency, and capability.
It’s simple to acquire the knowledge to survive any scenario—simple, but not easy. The first challenge is that there are an unlimited number of scenarios to prepare for, so you have a lot to learn. It’s going to take a considerable amount of time and dedication to gain enough knowledge to survive most scenarios, and it’s an ongoing process. There will always be more to learn.
The second challenge is separating the misinformation from the truth, and unfortunately, there is an obscene amount of misinformation online, in print, and on television. The solution is to acquire as much survival knowledge as you can from a variety of sources and test it in the real world to learn first-hand what works and what doesn’t, which leads into the second factor.
Most people graduate college and quickly realize that they are unable to apply what they “learned” in school—the same applies to survival. You may “know” how to start a fire with a bow drill, but have you ever done it? Have you done it more than once? Have you done it in the rain with cold, numb hands? All survival skills require constant practice to achieve and maintain proficiency. That’s why infantry troops spend so much of their time in the field training.
In order to live through a survival scenario, you must become proficient in the necessary skills needed before you need them. That means practicing often. Practice finding food and water, navigating, starting fires, etc. Practice everything you would need in a survival scenario—this, like acquiring knowledge on the subject, is an ongoing process.
Don’t be that guy. Make sure you stay healthy and in shape. Eat properly and exercise regularly so when you do find yourself in a survival scenario, you are physically capable of doing what you need to do. That might mean trudging through miles of swamp, traversing mountains, or even crawling through a burning building to stay below the smoke. You never know what you’re going to encounter, so ensure you have an adequate blend strength, endurance, and flexibility.