“Nature is an outcry, unpolished truth; the art—a euphemism—tamed wilderness.”
― Dejan Stojanovic
When caught in a real-life snowstorm, there is no Saint Bernard waiting to bound up to you with a cask of warming whiskey around its neck. Also, your cat would 10/10 eat your face if left alone with your corpse. Do you really think a bear is going to be picky?
Lore of the wild has twisted the understanding that many of us have about what to do when things take a turn for the worse in The Great Outdoors™. From moss growing on the north side of the tree to drinking your own urine to stay hydrated, some of the survival advice that we’ve picked up over the years from movies, TV and cartoons is actually dead wrong.
Knowledge is as good as a knife when it comes to survival. Here are some myths to ignore when danger strikes.
10. Drinking liquor will warm you up
Alcohol doesn’t warm the body up, but instead lowers your core temperature, making you more likely to freeze.
When faced with the cold, our blood vessels naturally constrict in order to minimize blood flow to the skin and keep our core body temperature up. Alcohol causes vasodilation, which refers to the widening of blood vessels. This increase in blood flow is the reason why your cheeks flush after a glass or two of wine.
You might feel warmer after tossing back a shot, but the blood that just rushed to the skin will soon chill in the cold air. This rush of warmth can also make you sweat, which decreases your internal temperature even further.
Instead, stick to warm tea or cocoa.
9. Let a hypothermic camper fall asleep
If your friend is showing signs of hypothermia, such as shivering, slowed reaction times, confusion and slurred speech, sleep might seem like a restorative option. However, this is the last thing you should let them do.
As the internal body temperature of a hypothermic victim drops, shivering intensifies and the brain continues to lose efficiency. In the beginning stages of hypothermia, your body shivers at a normal weight. As the condition worsens, shivering becomes more violent, causing the body to tire.
When we sleep, our core temperature naturally drops. For someone who is already suffering from exposure to the cold, this internal dip can be all it takes to cause a coma or death. Keep the person awake as you get them warm.
8. If an animal eats it, you can eat it
Your daily inferiority dose: Birds and squirrels are able to eat berries and mushrooms that would kill a human. People and animals don’t have the same digestive systems – think of how we can process foods and spices that would make our pets sick. If you see a critter nibbling away on a root that you don’t recognize, try to identify the plant before you serve it for dinner. Always keep a guidebook handy for food sources that you’re unsure about.
7. Moss always grows on the north side of the tree
I’m sorry to break the news, but this age-old advice is actually just a bit of folklore. Moss can grow on all sides of a tree, so don’t rely on its location in order to find your way.
6. Rub frostbitten skin to warm it up
When frostbite occurs, ice crystals form on your skin and tissues. Think of rubbing these crystals into your skin as an intense, deadly exfoliation. Agitation causes more tissue damage as these crystals tear at new cells that are attempting to repair your injury.
5. Build a fire in a cave to stay warm
Heat makes rock expand. When you build a fire in a cave, the flames are emitting an intense heat that is causing the surrounding stone to swell. This expansion can lead to breakage, putting you at risk for a cave-in.
4. Your urine will keep you hydrated
Please, please, please don’t do this. We’ve all seen the meme. Many survivors have said they’ve drank their own urine to stay hydrated, but it’s not an advised survival technique.
A quick biology lesson: Urine is liquid waste expelled by your kidneys as they filter toxins from your blood. In a healthy human, urine is 95 percent water (so yes, technically sterile), with the remaining five percent made up of chemicals such as urea, uric acid, nitrogen, potassium and calcium.
If you’re in a situation that has you considering drinking your urine, you are likely already severely dehydrated, so this ratio will be thrown off. After several days your urine will become highly concentrated with waste that your kidneys have been trying to expel. Drinking this will cause symptoms similar to total kidney failure, making you a goner.
3. Eat snow as a water source
If you’re dehydrated in cold climates, you should always melt snow before drinking. In their solid form, snowflakes contain more cold air than frozen water – the air-to-water ratio is about 9:1. You would need to eat about 10 quarts of snow to yield one quart of water. If you eat snow you will lower your internal body temperature. Your body will spend precious calories to try and warm up again. This puts you at major risk for hypothermia.
2. You can suck the venom out of a snake bite
Once you’re bit, snake venom will immediately enter your bloodstream. When you put your lips to the bite to try and suck the poison out, all you’re doing is transferring extra bacteria to the wound and possibly getting venom in your mouth and esophagus.
If you or a friend has been bitten, the best thing to do is to keep the heart rate low. Hold the affected limb below heart level while waiting for medical help.
1. Play dead when you see a bear
If you run into a bear while on the trails, the best thing that you can do is quietly back away. If it’s wandered into your campsite, try to scare it off by drawing yourself up to appear as large as possible and making loud noises.
Also think about the type of bear that is attacking. If a black or grizzly bear is making noise and pretending to charge, there are likely cubs around that they are trying to protect. For these defensive attacks, it’s best to back away slowly and quietly.
If the bear makes contact, then it’s okay to play dead – preferably by lying on your stomach with your hands over your neck. A grizzly will stop attacking when they feel that there is no longer a threat-especially a motherly bear protecting her cubs. If you’re being tossed around, continue to lay motionless once your body hits the ground. This breed is notorious for waiting to see if their victim will move.
However, in the rare case of a true predatory attack or a bear that is stalking you, be prepared to fight for your life.
Good luck out there. Don’t die.