There’s the TV show host who drinks his own pee one too many times. There’s the Hollywood movie where the good guy somehow survives a plane crash, navigates through a desert island and sucks snake venom from an otherwise fatal wound. And then there’s your uncle who once claimed he survived a shark attack by punching the creature in the nose.
With so many “survival tips” around, you have to know how to separate fact from fiction. Some of these survival myths are just outright silly that they could end up doing more harm than good when the real emergency arrives.
As a prepper, can you tell which of these myths are true and which ones are just plain wrong?
True or False: You can stop a shark attack by punching the shark on the nose
False. First, it’s an established fact that more people are killed by livestock than they are by sharks. According to stats, shark attacks happen to one in 11 million people, so despite what “Jaws” wants you to believe, these attacks are actually rare. Second, can you imagine landing a punch squarely on a shark’s nose, while the shark and its rows of teeth are moving underwater?
Survival experts say that in case of a shark attack, your best chance is to stay calm. Sharks don’t have hands or feet to explore with, so they use their mouth to do all the work. Draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Don’t flail around or cause unnecessary movement that will excite or agitate the shark.
If the attack is inevitable, striking the shark in sensitive areas like its eyes and gills is better than aiming for the nose. The nose is right above the shark’s mouth— you’ll sooner lose a limb than ward a shark off that way.
An electromagnetic pulse attack will fry all electronic devices and leave us all for dead
Somewhat true. While an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack can destroy many gadgets and devices, the scope of its damage highly depends on the magnitude of the EMP. It would take a significantly strong EMP to take out whole electrical grids. Even then, you can still protect your devices using a Faraday cage, so instantly dying from an EMP? Highly unlikely unless you’re tethered to life support devices like a mechanical ventilator that may not be connected to a Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) System.
Standing in a doorway during an earthquake will keep you safe
False. Standing in a doorway will not protect you from flying debris or falling objects. The “triangle of life” theory of earthquake survival, which stipulates that you have to take shelter near large, solid items that can provide a void or space in case the structure collapses, is also not recommended by first responders and disaster preparedness experts. This theory also does not protect one from falling objects and debris. During an earthquake, Duck, Cover, and Hold is the best way to keep yourself and others safe.
You can drink water from a cactus to quench your thirst
False. Probably not a good idea. Not all cactus species are edible, and if they are, their availability will depend on certain conditions. Cactus water is tricky at best and at worse, it could give you some nasty diarrhea that would only make your dehydration worse.
When stuck in the desert, it’s better to seek protection from the harsh temperatures and save your energy for later. You’ll end up losing more fluids trying to find a water source under the heat of the sun, so best conserve it by seeking shelter and moving later in the day when it’s much cooler.
Venomous insects like scorpions and tarantulas are edible
True. Although they look positively nasty and can sting you real bad, many scorpion species and tarantulas are actually edible. All you have to do is take the stingers out and cook them thoroughly to neutralize their venom. Other edible insects include grasshoppers, ants, and beetles.
Moss only grows on the north side of trees
False. Boy, if you follow this “tip” you’ll never find true north. It’s true that moss can grow abundantly in the north side of trees found in the northern hemisphere. This is simply because that side receives less sunlight. However, like all other living things, they thrive wherever conditions are ideal and their growth doesn’t truly depend on one certain direction. You’ll be better off finding true north using celestial navigation or by using a good old compass.
Drinking alcohol will keep you warm
False. While drinking alcohol would offer temporary warmth, in the long run, it actually lowers your core body temperature and will make you more prone to hypothermia. Alcohol can also disorient you, which is not a good state to be in especially when you’re in a survival situation.
Eating snow or ice will also do the same thing, so before you ingest something for hydration, make sure it’s not frozen.
You must rub frostbitten skin for warmth
False. Friction is an effective way to return warmth to the body in most scenarios…but frostbite is not one of them. In case of frostbite, rubbing the necrotic tissue will only do more damage. Someone can permanently lose an ear, nose or appendage if you do that. Putting them in a hot bath immediately will only result in shock.
In case someone has suffered from severe exposure to cold, slowly warming the person is the best remedy. Take their wet clothes off and apply dry layers on them. Warm them from the inside with hot broth or soup.
You can suck the poison out of a snake bite
Very false. The general public may think that this myth is a good first aid solution, but it can’t be farther from the truth. Sucking poison from a snakebite is ineffective and can actually do more harm than good.
Experts at WebMD state that sucking the poison from a snakebite can only increase the risk of infection, tissue and nerve damage. It also hinders prompt medical response. Icing or tourniquet won’t do much either. If someone gets bitten by a poisonous snake, the best course of action would be to stay calm and to quickly transport the person to a medical facility so they could be treated with the appropriate anti-venom.
If you’re stuck inside a sinking car, you have to wait for the water to fill the car before you can escape
True. Crashing your car and plunging it into the water is panic-inducing. Unfortunately, a lot of people die in incidents like this because they don’t know what to do, or spend so much time and energy trying to open stuck doors.
Once your car starts sinking, it would be impossible to open its doors until the pressure between the inside and outside of your car equalizes. This means you have to wait for the car to fill with water before you can open its doors to swim free. It sounds counterintuitive but it works. Here’s the step-by-step breakdown on how to escape a sinking car.
You can drink your own pee to quench your thirst
True, but only in extreme survival situations. While it’s true that urine is largely composed of water and is sterile, it’s also made up of compounds that your body is trying to get rid of, like urea.
There have been cases of people surviving for several days by drinking urine, but take note that you should only do that when there is no other option. The more dehydrated you are, the more concentrated your urine gets, so you can only get away with this survival tip once or twice before your urine becomes too concentrated to be of any help.
You can survive as long as you have enough supplies
False. Sure, the right supplies and adequate materials can provide for some of your needs during a survival situation, but they won’t be enough. Aside from having supplies, you will also need a sharp set of skills and a level head between your shoulders to weather the toughest situations.
You can start a fire with just 2 pieces of wood
Somewhat true. When done properly, you can start a fire with just two pieces of wood using the fire plow method. This type of friction fire is done using one piece as the base and another as the “friction stick”.
Here’s a tutorial on how it’s done:
The base is a long piece of wood with a groove carved down its center. This bit is laid out on the ground. The end of the second piece (the friction stick) is carved into a dull point. The tip of the friction stick is quickly rubbed along the groove of the base to produce embers. The embers are then transferred to a tinder bundle to make fire.
Technically, you will need more than two sticks to keep a fire going, but these sticks are enough to get your embers started.
There are a lot of survival tips out there. Some of them are actually helpful, while some of them are nothing but survival myths that can get you killed. As a prepper, it’s your responsibility to equip yourself with the right knowledge and skills by researching. Know how to separate fact from fiction. Make sure that your survival skills are backed up by solid practice, logic and even scientific evidence, if need be. Keep your skills sharp through constant practice. This way you’ll work out any kinks and mistakes and adjust your technique accordingly so when SHTF, you won’t be caught unawares.