There are many myths surrounding the subject of wilderness survival. It's one of the biggest reasons that I started this site 5 or 6 years ago. I wanted to dispel these myths, expose them for what they are, and bring some sense of reality and practicality back into the subject. Many of these myths are highlighted elsewhere on this site, but I decided to put the best ones here on a single page. Enjoy!
Survival Matches - I see "waterproof survival matches" listed in more kits than I care to count, and I gotta say... terrible idea. While it may add a sense of drama to a movie when "Rambo" is down to his last couple matches, you don't need that kind of drama if you're in a life or death situation!
The space and weight taken up in a kit or in your pocket by a dozen "survival" matches would be better filled with a small Bic lighter. A lighter will start a LOT more fires than those few matches. If you're worried about the lighter failing, then bring a magnesium fire starter. These are 100% waterproof, will light thousands of fires, and the magnesium burns a lot hotter than matches.
Flashlight Method - This is a method I've seen by which you can break the bulb of your flashlight, and then use the coil inside to light a fire. Simply put... give it a shot in your backyard and you'll find that it's great at destroying flashlights but terrible at actually starting fires! Recommendation... bring a lighter, and use your flashlight for... LIGHT!
Ice Lens Method - Can you start a fire with a lens that you fashion from ice? Probably not. Scientifically, it's possible, but in all practical sense, the odds are really slim to none. Seriously, give it a try in the comfort of your own backyard on a nice warm day. Feel free to let me know how well this works. Also, while you're wasting hours on this, imagine that you're also freezing to death in a snowy, icy environment. You'll quickly realize that this is a colossal waste of your time and energy, and you won't get a fire going. I guarantee you that. Recommendation... bring a lighter!
Soda & Candy Bar Method - This fire starting method is yet another fun science experiment, but in actual use, it's another colossal waste of time, at the end of which... you'll have no fire. If you're lounging in your backyard someday and suddenly decide that you'd like to piss away the entire afternoon on some fruitless endeavor, go ahead and give this a shot. However... in a real survival situation... eat the friggin' candy bar and be glad for it. Drink the friggin' soda and rejoice. Be glad for those precious calories, and then keep the can as a canteen and cooking vessel. Recommendation... bring a damn lighter!
High Ground is Warmer - This is one survival tale that keeps popping up all over the place. We're told that when considering locations for a shelter, we should avoid valleys and low lying areas because cold settles there and it may be several degrees colder than higher ground. This is scientifically sound, but in actual practice... it's pure, unadulterated bull****. This is because while a thermometer may show a few degrees difference between two elevations, thermometers are incapable of measuring wind chill factors.
In most cases, higher elevations are exposed to a lot more wind while small valleys and lower areas are sheltered from it. A thermometer may show that actual air temperature has increased 2 or 3 degrees by moving to higher ground, but the temperature as far as your body is concerned is likely to have dropped by 20 or 30 degrees. Wind will suck away your body heat faster than you can generate it. Today as I write this, it's almost 50 degrees and sunny outside... a seemingly nice March afternoon. However, today's wind chill factor drops that to somewhere between 20 and 30... and suddenly it's not so great!
Now consider what happens once you get a fire going. Most fires will quickly heat the surrounding area, but when you have some wind factored in, most of that heat is carried off. Also remember that a fire in the wind is going to consume about twice as much wood. You'll spend most of your time and energy finding firewood, and then get very little heat as a reward! Not a very good tradeoff. As such, one of your primary concerns is to find a place that's very sheltered from the wind and elements, and then build yourself a nice, warm fire to keep you warm!
Shelters Should Be Built From Dead Materials - This one came from our friends in the "green" survival movement. They are far more concerned that a few trees might get killed than they are about your life. All advice from them should be considered highly suspect. Imagine building your shelter as a big pile of dead leaves and wood. Now imagine having a campfire anywhere near that. Do you really want to climb in there and go to sleep? Nuff' said.
Boil 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. All of these are bull****. I'll keep this short... if the water reaches boiling point, it's safe to drink, period, end of story.
Divining Rods - This is another old wives tale. Use your common sense and you'll probably find water. Use a forked stick and "mystical psychic powers", and you may find yourself very dead. I've heard people claim that a divining rod is simply tapping into one's subconscious thoughts. I suppose if you're some sort of walking emotional wreck who keeps every shred of logic and common sense buried away in your subconscious... then sure... go ahead and wave your stick. Hold a seance while you're at it. Maybe the spirits will tell you where to find water.
The rest of us (sane folks) will simply think our way through the situation. Common sense says water runs downhill. If you walk downhill, you're pretty likely to find water. Birds and animal trails can also lead you to water... they need it as much as you do.
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 hell away from the plants!
Here's the facts...
- ALL fur bearing mammals are safe to eat, and will provide you with nutrients and calories.
- 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.
- MOST 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 favor 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 both for your own physical safety, and for nutritional content. It's just not worth the gamble unless you're absolutely sure!