Call them old wives tales or rumors or myths, or simply lies. By any name, they are misinformation, and they can lead to disaster when you're in a survival situation. Listed below are 15 of the most common survival myths, along with a brief explanation about why these persistent theories are wrong.
1. You can determine direction by looking for moss on the north side of trees. The truth is that moss will grow on every side of a tree if conditions of moisture, temperature and shade are just right.
2. It’s safe to eat whatever you see the animals eat. Nope! Some birds can safely eat poison ivy berries, and some rodents can eat mushrooms that are toxic to humans.
3. You can counteract the effects of frostbite by rubbing the affected area with snow. Exactly wrong. Rubbing frozen flesh with snow will only increase the damage.
4. The most important survival priorities are always shelter, fire, water and food. These four vital survival techniques might be superseded by a higher priority such as a catastrophic injury requiring immediate emergency medical treatment.
5. If you “play dead” a grizzly bear will always leave you alone. Not always. A grizzly is unpredictable and might maul you even though you are doing your best imitation of a corpse.
6. You can safely drink water from an active stream if it is tumbling over rocks enough to become aerated. A tumbling brook might still be infested with giardia and/or cryptosporidium that can cause severe illness. Aeration of the water does not kill these pathogens.
7. It’s a good idea to climb a tree to look for the trail ahead. Although gaining a high vantage point can give you a better view of things ahead, climbing a tree is both exhausting and dangerous and is not worth the energy expenditure, nor the risk of injury.
8. Black bears are not a threat to humans. Black bear attacks on humans, while rare, do happen. It’s a mistake to be complacent about encounters with these powerful predators.
9. Take off your boots before crossing a stream or lake, so they don’t pull you down. The greater risk is that of suffering injury to your feet while crossing a body of water. Keep boots on to protect feet, ‘cause you’ll need them to continue your trek.
10. The best way to dry out wet clothing is to wear it while sitting by the fire. Wet clothing literally sucks the warmth out of your body, so get out of the wet things and cover up with something dry while you dry your clothing by the fire.
11. As long as you can find North, you can navigate to safety. North is meaningless unless you know which direction you must travel to reach safety. Knowing where you are in relation to a safe destination is the only important issue.
12. It’s best to hike through the night to avoid the heat of day. In hot regions, use the morning hours for hiking, from just after daybreak until the heat comes up. Hunker down during the heat of the day, but do not travel through the night or you risk injury or becoming lost.
13. Travel swiftly to get out of the survival situation as quickly as possible. Suffering an injury might be the very thing that leads to your death. Travel cautiously to avoid injury at all cost.
14. The best way to purify water is by boiling. Boiling kills organic contaminants in the water, but does not eliminate non-organic pollutants such as chemicals or heavy metals. In fact, boiling can concentrate these inorganics as the water evaporates.
15. Following a river or stream is the best way to find civilization. Some waterways run their course for hundreds of miles without bumping into civilization, especially in the wilder parts of the world. And following a stream can sometimes be exceedingly difficult and dangerous.