Any survivalist knows that water is one of the most important elements to surviving in the wilderness, in a natural disaster, or a global disaster. We can only live for 3 days without it, shorter than without food. It is essential to keeping every organ in our bodies working up to capacity.
As the body dehydrate or organs begin to shut down and when that happens death soon follows. Myths about water abound, and some of those myths can end up getting you killed. From drinking salty ocean water to eating snow, these myths are all too common, but very wrong.
Have you ever wondered why those lost at sea die of dehydration when there is an ocean of water right under their raft? Or why, those trapped in a blizzard don’t just eat all that snow? What about all those rivers and lakes in the wilderness. We must be able to drink from those, right? Wrong?
While dehydration is a killer, other things can kill you even faster, such as hypothermia. When in survival mode, there are four major health risks, depending on where you are.
Stranded In A Hot Climate
- Heat Stroke
Stranded In A Cold Climate
- Animal Attack
Since we need water before we need food, let’s talk about water sources and debunk these myths.
Myth #1: Saltwater Is Safe To Drink In Small Amounts
Let’s start off with one of the more common myths, drinking salt water. You’re on a life raft, floating in the middle of the ocean. The sun is beating down and your throat is parched. That water you are floating in begins to look like a tall glass of ice water, and soon you begin sipping on it. Sure it doesn’t taste too good, but you think it will quench your thirst, but soon you find you need more. Your mouth feels even drier, so you take another drink.
The problem is that the water is not hydrating you, instead your body is trying to re-balance your pH that is being thrown off by the salt water. As it does this, your cells release water. This dehydrates you and the more it happens, the more dehydrated you become. When a rescue boat arrives two days later you’re dead, but you would have still been alive if you didn’t drink anything.
Myth #2: Eating Snow Is Safe
Another big myth is that of eating snow. Many of as kids have licked snow and drank the water that comes from it. We didn’t die because it was a minuscule amount and we were able to go into our homes and warm up. When you eat snow it will cool down your core temperature, leading to hypothermia. In abundance, and without the ability to warm yourself, this could lead to death. Aside, from hypothermia, snow could contain many pathogens depending on where you find it.
Myth #3: Water That’s Moving in Brooks Or A Stream Is Safe
Just because the water is cascading over rocks in a stream or brook, doesn’t mean it’s safe to drink. You have no idea what is upstream. A dead animal could be there, rotting with parasites and pathogens seeping into the water. Human campers could be upstream, using the stream as a toilet. Pathogens can kill you when you are in the wilderness without medical help.
Myth #4: Drinking Urine Helps Keep You Hydrated
Drinking urine for hydration is a vicious circle that could lead to death. Urine does contain water, and the more hydrated you are the more water it contains, but it also contains waste. Your body just filtered your waste and dumped in your urine for you to expel. When you drink it, you are putting that waste back into your body, where it has to filter it again, along with new waste, putting a burden on your system. Your body uses twice as much energy, dehydrating you quicker. Each time you urinate, your urine will contain less water and more waste, going from a light yellow to a dark yellow and then brown.
Myth #5: Water In Natural Depressions Is Safe
Just like in streams and brooks, any open water source is at risk to contain pathogens. Runoff can stagnate and pathogens found in that water can make you very ill, or kill you.
Myth #6: Drinking Water From Barrel Cacti Is Safe
While it is true that these cacti contain water, there will not be much and what is in there is highly acidic and bitter tasting. This could cause diarrhea, cramping, and vomiting, which is not what you want when stranded in the wilderness. The diarrhea and vomiting will cause you to become dehydrated more quickly than if you didn’t drink anything.
Never drink salt water from the ocean or fresh water from lakes, brooks, streams, or natural depressions. All of these can kill you faster than dehydration. Instead, boil the fresh water if you have a fire and a receptacle. This goes for snow, too. On a raft in the ocean, try to collect the beads of sweat off the plastic from the raft. And forget about drinking your own urine. Your body filtered it out for a reason. Don’t put it back in.