Several survival shows are popular right now, with their TV personality “gurus” laying claim to their expertise in survival. While some of those personalities have had reliable experience and correctly educated viewers, a large majority of them could probably get hit with a stolen valor meme. Television needs to be entertaining, and although watching Bear drink his own urine might get five thumbs up, it’s not quite reality TV when it comes to the best way to stay hydrated. I wouldn’t recommend using what you’ve learned from shows like that to head out to the roughest terrain you can find and think you can survive. So let’s talk about five common myths when it comes to survival and hydration.
Hydration Myth 1: Flowing water has its own filtration
Many people, including me, have been led to believe that if you wander upon a stream, and it has crystal clear, actively moving water, that it will be safe to drink. WRONG.
According to Dr. Troy Madsen from the University of Utah Hospital, drinking unfiltered water from a stream, puddle, or lake comes with the risk of contracting Giardia. This infection causes profuse watery diarrhea within a week, which can quickly cause dehydration. Giardia is a risk because, although the water looks clear and is rapidly moving, there could be animal feces or even carcasses upstream from your location. This can be a double-edged sword because if a person is already dehydrated, they’ll take more risks when it comes to drinking.
Other concerns with drinking flowing stream water are parasites and viruses. Just because it’s moving fast, looks clear, or is bubbling up from underground doesn’t mean it’s clean and filtered. Come on people; the risk taker on Naked and Afraid always gets diarrhea.
Hydration Myth 2: Plants/Cacti are safe to drink from
It’s a popular solution in movies that when you’re lost in the desert, fear not! The cacti run wild, and so does the water within! As long as you can carve an opening in the cactus, you can drink the stored water inside and fight of the formidable dehydration. WRONG.
Most of the cacti, and plants in general, actually produce acid and alkaloids to protect their water supply against thirsty thieves. This includes you. Without that protection, the plants would lose their own supply of hydration and wouldn’t last long themselves. For humans, this is especially dangerous as it has been shown that the chemicals in plants are toxic and attack our kidneys if ingested. My recommendation? Get your greens another way. Skip drinking plant water and keep looking.
Hydration Myth 3: You can drink small amounts of salt water to get by
Bottom line up front? WRONG
An experiment in the 50’s is likely the source of this myth. Doctor Alain Bombard set sail across the Atlantic with no provisions. He claimed he survived on water from fish, and by drinking 1 teaspoon of saltwater every 20 minutes so his body could process the salt. His theory was that if he drank the saltwater slowly enough, his saliva would break down the salt and allow his body to stay hydrated. When he arrived at his destination, he was a few pounds lighter but otherwise healthy.
However, it was later discovered that he had stored away fresh water and received additional provisions along the way from passing ships. He also supplemented his intake with fresh water from rain, and actually had to dump out the rainwater along the trip since he had so much. So no, he didn’t survive by slowly drinking saltwater in small amounts. Only he knows how much “saltwater” he actually drank.
With most of the Earth’s saltwater at a 3% or higher concentration, your kidneys cannot break down the salt content. You cannot survive.
Hydration Myth 4: Eating snow can hydrate your body
One of the more controversial myths when discussing hydration survival is if eating snow will keep you hydrated. Maybe – but is it safe? You be the judge.
Snow is formed when water vapor contacts cold air (0°C). When the snow is formed, temperatures can actually get even lower. This could reduce your body temperature, and make a dangerous situation a deadly one. IF you’re going to eat snow, heat it up first.
In fact, heat it up to boiling. Bacteria and viruses can be found in what appears to be clean snow. Just because the snow is white, doesn’t make it clean. Especially in areas that have heavy traffic from animals. The snow you are eating might look fresh, but who knows what’s underneath it.
Another concern about eating snow is that the water in the snow is demineralized. Your body needs the minerals contained in water. Long-term consumption of demineralized water or snow can increase the amount of toxic metal in your system, decrease your calcium levels, and affect your metabolism, intestinal function, and other body reactions.
Have there been incidents where people survived by just eating snow for days on end? Sure, but there’s more to it than that. Did they boil the snow before drinking it? Did they have food or other sources of minerals? Did they get lucky and find snow without bacteria or viruses? Or were they rescued and treated for the bacteria before it caused further damage? Who knows! You make the choice if you want to leave the canteen cup behind and munch on the snowball sandwich when survival matters.
Hydration Myth 5: Drinking urine will keep you hydrated
Bear did it – it must be right! WRONG.
In an extreme survival situation, you do whatever it takes to make it to the next hour. But in most cases, there is a better solution than using a water bottle as a urinal. 5% of urine is waste. These are unhealthy ingredients you don’t want to ingest back into your body. Once you become more dehydrated, that 5% number begins to rise drastically. Fairly quickly, you can start to show signs of kidney failure by drinking your urine. Some institutions actually state that drinking urine will most definitely dehydrate you rather than enable you to survive.
Overall, these myths can be stretched to their limit. If you are in a severe survival scenario, you do what you have to do and hope for the best. If you know help is coming, drinking stream water or eating snow might not be the worst option in a pinch. When the short-term benefit is worth the risk, then survive by any means necessary. If, however, you are wandering along and have been lost for 30 minutes, I don’t think that urinating in your water bottle and chugging it is the way to go.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.