For the average Joe, getting stranded in the wilderness is pretty much a death sentence. Still, there are those among us confident we’ve gleaned enough survival tips from television to hack it out in nature with nothing but the clothes on our back. The truth is, though, Mother Nature isn’t always so kind.
See, a lot of our commonly held survival tips are actually survival myths. Employing these 22 survival tactics often shared on TV, or articles meant to make you believe you’re the next Bear Grylls, will land you in literal hot water. They could even get you killed…
1. Eat snow for water: Yeah, eating snow is better than downing a glass of pee or reindeer blood, but snow’s cold. Like, really cold. Eating enough of it to satiate a serious thirst can bring your core temperature down to dangerous levels. Just boil it first. But this isn’t the only survival myth to avoid in cold weather…
2. Always play dead when threatened by a bear: The opposite is true—you should back away! At least if it’s a brown or grizzly bear. They’re likely just trying to get you away from their kiddos. If a black bear, right, threatens you, well… fight for your life.
3. Lean-tos make great shelters: They’re simple to build, just a series of branches leaned across a supporting beam-like branch. But they won’t keep you warm, dry, or safe from animals—like black bears—which is a survival shelter strikeout.
4. A big fire beats a shelter: Need to warm up? Bigger is not always better when it comes to survival. Focus on shelter first, even if it means you sleep beside a tiny fire. Put all your energy into a roaring flame and a rainstorm or heavy wind can leave you with nothing in a second.
5. Build a fire in a cave for warmth: A fire in a secluded cave—the perfect hovel, no? Almost romantic, even! Well, heat—like that from a fire—makes rocks expand. Expanding rocks break. Breaking rocks crush and trap people. Keep the fire outside.
6. Wet matches work when dried: Soaked by the rain? Took a dunk in a raging river? Hopefully, you didn’t have matches in your pocket. Moisture changes the chemical balance in match heads, making them impossible to light. Invest in a waterproof container.
7. Eat anything animals eat: When you do go searching for food, it’s common sense to think what’s good for the birds and squirrels is good for us, too, right? Not always. Birds and squirrels can eat berries, nuts, mushrooms, and more that human bodies find toxic.
8. Eating raw meat and seafood is safe: Ever have bad sushi? Sure, just bite into a raw fish, you rugged survivor, you. Expose yourself to pathogens and bacterium that wouldn’t leave you fit to survive the toilet. Be safe. Cook your meat.
9. Find food immediately: Put that dead bug down and leave that rotting animal corpse where you found it—you can survive about six weeks without food. Yeah, it might be uncomfortable, but prioritize water, shelter, and safe-to-consume food before getting desperate.
10. Follow flying birds to find water: This works if the birds are actually flying towards the water, but since you, presumably, can’t read a bird’s mind, it’s impossible to know whether the flock’s flying toward an open field, South America, or a caravan of friendly monkeys.
11. Drink cactus fluid for hydration: There’s one—count ’em, one—type of cactus survivors can safely extract and drink water from without getting sick and vomiting. If you can’t pick out that particular barrel cactus, search for other water sources first.
12. Drink urine to stay hydrated: No one tell pee-drinking legend Bear Grylls, below, but if you’re dehydrated to the point that urine is an appetizing source of fluid, your pee is mostly made up of bodily waste—not recycled water—and therefore, carries no re-hydration value.
13. Drink raw blood to survive: Thirsty folks are better served not slurping down a few mouthfuls of animal blood, either. Consuming blood exposes you to diseases and illnesses you’d probably rather not deal with when stranded in the wilderness.
14. Suck on a stone for hydration: Dry mouth? Some survival myths suggest sucking on stones to work up saliva, but in doing so, you’d only be drawing much-needed moisture from other parts of your body. Is that worth sucking on dirty stones?
15. Moss grows on the north side of trees: Moss likes shade because without sunlight pestering it, it can better retain its moisture. That means north isn’t always the most conducive to growth. The angle of the sun at your given location, climate, and shade caused by environmental features can dictate moss growth.
16. Cut and suck snakebite: Movies show it all the time. Someone suffers a snakebite, and a heroic buddy sucks the poison out. But it’s a farce. All this does is put spit into the open wound and spread venom into your mouth. Try putting pressure on the snakebite instead, then find a doctor.
17. Drinking liquor warms you up: Nothing perks the sense like a shot of booze in the cold, but because alcohol dilates surface blood vessels, it makes your blood more susceptible to the cold. And, you know, you need that stuff for your vital organs. Try coffee.
18. Rub frostbitten skin: Don’t do it. Frostbite forms when sharp ice crystals infiltrate your skin and tissue, so rubbing frostbite warm is the equivalent to rubbing sharp icicles into a suffering person’s soft tissues. You’ve got to slowly re-heat a frostbitten limb.
19. Hot tubs cure hypothermia: Rubbing frostbite won’t cut it, and neither will a hot tub. A dunk in hot water will spike low body temperatures, which can cause a heart attack. Instead, give the victim small doses of warmth by putting hot water bottles on their body.
20. Space blankets are useless: Mylar-coated emergency blankets look like something from a low-budget sci-fi film, but they do indeed reflect infrared energy, and therefore, heat. Wrap yourself in one of these to keep your body heat packed in tight.
21. Punch an attacking shark in the nose: Just think about how hard it would be getting a solid punch on the schnoz of an oncoming shark. How fast must you be? How accurate? Instead, put a solid object between you and the beast or claw at its eyes and gills.
22. Swim parallel to the shore if caught in a rip current: Most rip currents, top, work at an angle, so you can be swimming parallel to the shore while still getting ripped out to sea. Instead, swim along the shore, but towards it, too.
Survival isn’t easy, especially with dozens of survival myths circulating that we’ve taken for fact. But the best survival tactic of all is arming yourself with the truthsabout it!