Survival Rumours and Myths

Boil water for 10 minutes
This is one so old; I don’t even know where it came from. I’ve also heard 5 minutes, 15 minutes and even 20 minutes of boiling time. I’ll keep this short… After the water reaches the boiling point, it’s safe to drink, period, end of story. Big bubbles, no troubles.

Drinking urine
Drinking urine is not only foolish, but also dangerous. Urine is nothing more than the body’s disposal of salts and minerals. Drinking it, only places this back into the body, which requires even more fluid to process it again and therefore making you more dehydrated.

It can also cause great damage to your kidneys which is already working overtime or make you vomit, loosing even more precious liquids. I personally think the only way you should drink urine is by distilling it using a solar still or something similar.

Urine contains about 2% salt. For the first fifteen minutes after ingestion of any fluid, the thirst seems to be quenched, but in the case of urine and other salty liquids, after the body has absorbed the fluid, the thirst returns stronger, due to the salt.

Ground solar still
One of the most “popular” solar stills described in various manuals as a way of getting 1-2 l of water in 24 hours. I have never heard about anyone getting more than 2-4 small mouthfuls of water out of this solar still. You have to take into consideration the labour and sweat wasted by digging a hole in the ground to get this small amount of water. It’s not worth the time. Instead you should make an above ground solar still, if possible.

Pebble under tongue.
While this myth might have a psychological impact, the stone will not provide you with more water. On the contrary you might get dehydrated even faster as you stimulate your mouth to produce more saliva. Your body is the only source of water here.

Plants Are a Good Source of Food in the Wilderness
Unless you’re a certified expert not just in plants, but in the plants of the given region you happen to be in, stay the away from the plants. The chance of choosing a poisonous plant is often greater than choosing a non-poisonous plant. If you are lucky you will only vomit for a long time, and hereby loose precious water.

If you are carrying plant cards, or something similar, you could use plants as a food source, but be absolutely sure before you do it.

Here’s the facts…
– Nearly all fur bearing mammals are safe to eat, and will provide you with nutrients and calories.
– Nearly all 6 legged insects are safe to eat, and will provide you with nutrients and calories.
– Almost all freshwater fish and almost all birds are safe to eat, and will provide you with nutrients and calories.

And finally…

– Many plants will harm you, make you sick, or worse… poison you. There are actually very few that will provide you with any nutrients or calories.

It’s a simple equation… if it walks, crawls, swims, or flies, the odds are in your favour that it’s not only safe to eat, but that it will provide you with the nutrition and energy your body needs. If it sits there like… umm… like a plant, the odds are against you for your own physical safety, and for nutritional content. It’s just not worth the gamble unless you’re absolutely sure!

Ration water
If you ration your water you have the risk of dying of dehydration, even with water in your canteen. Always hydrate your body, but remember that a normal person can digest approx. 2 dl of water each hour. So in a way you could ration your water to 2 dl/hour, but never stop drinking if you have water in your canteen.

Water From a Barrel Cactus
The notion of slicing open a juicy barrel cactus and scooping out a cup of water to quench your thirst sounds appealing. The problem is that, due to the alkaloids present in the cactus, most people experience severe cramping and vomiting, which only increases their dehydration.

Furthermore, the amount of moisture found in a barrel cactus depends on seasonal rainfall. Assuming that you have the tools (i.e., machete, tire-iron, etc.) to cut into the spiny cactus without injuring yourself, you have just killed a succulent that may be over one hundred years old not to mention protected by law.

The few times I have had the pleasure of choking down barrel cactus fluid (notice I didn’t say “water”) made my stomach churn like a cement-mixer and required a Buddhist’s monks meditative effort at keeping from vomiting. There’s a reason why you don’t see “Cactus Juice” sold at the grocery store.

Save the romantic notions for the Hollywood westerns and rely on this method only if there is no other alternative. By the way, the only barrel cactus that isn’t toxic is the fishhook barrel (Ferocactus wislizeni).


Photo by Susan Lynn Peterson Sue in az – Own work, CC BY 3.0,