How Urban Survival Myths Can Kill You

I’ve reached out again to our friend; Orrin, and asked him his thoughts on survival myths. After all, having the wrong information can be worse (in same cases deadly) than not knowing what to do at all. He’s going to clear up some common myths, and set us straight on what to know in these situations. Take it away Orrin!


Some time ago, I met with some of my old search-and-rescue partners. While sitting around the campfire, drinking coffee and telling war stories, we began sharing our thoughts about which urban survival myths often ended in tragedy or sometimes death for those who bought into them.

It was unanimous that the most common error was people not having motivation to learn primitive skills and having a genuine “Will to Live” mindset. Without the will and knowledge, they either refuse to act while waiting for someone to save them, or they panic when things go really bad really fast.

Then we began to list those “Urban Myths” that allow Murphy’s Law to overwhelm people during survival scenarios. Here are some of those myths:

It’s got to be below freezing before we have to worry about hypothermia.”

FACT: Hypothermia becomes a concern when the ambient temperature is below 60 degrees. Once your body core temperature drops below 92, you are in deep trouble (98.6 is normal). Getting wet or falling into deep water accelerates the risk.

FACT: On the other side of that coin is “hyperthermia,” which occurs when your body core becomes too hot. Once your core is holding at 100-105 Fahrenheit, you are definitely on the short list of life.

“Even without matches or a lighter, fire is easy to make.”

FACT:  Just because you’ve watched a YouTube video about rubbing sticks together doesn’t mean that primitive fire making methods always work. Primitive fire making is a challenge, even for survival experts, due to a gaggle of environmental factors outside their control.

“All fast-moving water is safe to drink, especially mountain streams.”

FACT: Just because water is moving and appears crystal clear doesn’t make it safe.   High mountain streams are certainly better than swamp water, but you should still filter, treat and/or boil any harvested water you intend to drink or use for washing.

“When bitten by a poisonous snake or spider, cut an “X” in the wound and suck out the poison. It’ll be painful and scary, but you will survive like the cowboys do.”

FACT:  This is only true in the movies. Sucking out poison is almost as dangerous as putting a loaded pistol in your mouth and pulling the trigger.

“I’ve been reading survival books, watching reality survival shows and watching tons of YouTube videos for years. I’ve learned all of the important emergency survival stuff.”

FACT: Without proactive practice of most survival skills and tricks, you are sunk once things go bad. You must physically bust your knuckles, get dirty and spend time submerged in complete survival mode to master anything, even if only doing so in your backyard.

“If I get lost, I can hunt, fish, gather and thrive just like the old-timers did.”

FACT: Greenhorns thrown into survival mode rarely find or harvest enough food to sustain themselves, much less thrive. Even well-equipped experts find their stomach growling now and then, before being rescued.

FACT: Hunting and plant gathering are complex, artful skills that require years of practice to master. Worse yet, wild game is not as plentiful and easy to find as it seems in the movies.

“If we slide off the road, we can just stay in the car and wait out the bad weather. Someone will come by or I can just walk to safety.”

FACT: Every year, people perish in their vehicles. In winter, a dead car turns into a deep freeze and in the heat of summer it turns into a bake oven. The results are extreme hypothermia or hyperthermia. Many people become impatient and attempt to hike to find help, then are overwhelmed by the foul weather.

“We don’t have the extra room for all that survival stuff when vacationing.  Besides, if we break down on the road, no problem. We’ve got cellphones and AAA towing service.”

FACT:  Cellphones do not make you bulletproof from disaster, especially in rural America where there are a lot of big “dead zones.” Plus, in extreme rural places, it may be a day, two days or more before another vehicle comes by.

As I often say to all who will listen: “Your best survival tools are parked right under your hat and tucked in your gloves.”

“We love the outdoors, we go camping a couple of times a year and are very experienced. We have lots of gear, a boat, an ATV, camper and truck. So, we have everything we would ever need.”

FACT: Most of the 150,000-plus people a year who become lost or stranded overnight or longer are our friends and neighbors who are the occasional recreational campers, hikers, hunters, fishermen, kayakers, boaters, etc. However, once separated from all their fancy toys, they are clueless. Then they panic, become reckless, get injured and sometimes perish.

“If my ATV or motorcycle breaks down in the outback, I can use my cellphone to get help or just walk back to safety.”

FACT: Most ATV’ers and motorcyclists drive kind of crazy in the back country. That’s the thrill. Thus, they tend to crash, rather than run out of gas or have a mechanical failure. Usually they are also injured, sometimes seriously. Since they are dependent on their machines and electronics, they never bother to carry any emergency gear.

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