There’s a lot of wisdom to be found from the old hands who have spent decades hitting the local fishing holes, wandering through the woods, and surviving off the land.
If someone who walked into the Alaska woods with nothing but a backpack walked out 30 years later talking about his cabin 20 miles into the woods – whatever he says about the Alaska wild I will sit down, listen, and consider that advice close to Gospel law.
On the other hand, the problem is that there are so many bits of outdoor knowledge that are just hogwash. These outdoor myths are harmful, potentially dangerous, and at times even life threatening. Yet unfortunately even in the age of Google there are many of these that are still considered outdoor law and taught as such.
They shouldn’t be. The following are some of the most common outdoor myths that really need to be done away with. If you find yourself believing any of the following, time to find new sources and update your outdoor beliefs to what is actually fact, thus making you safer as you enjoy your outdoor life more safely. And prepared.
#1: Anything Regarding Snake Bites
As someone who is terrified of snakes, and not just the venomous ones, I get it. It’s easy to let the mind run wild. Or it might be reassuring to believe in a protective or “easy fix” product that honestly just doesn’t do anything positive. There are many different snake bite myths out there.
And most of those myths are just straight out dangerous or even deadly. We’ll focus on three of the big venomous snake myths right here, as well as a link to an article we did on snake bite treatment myths (I’ve found more self-proclaimed outdoorsmen believe the myths over the facts which is distressing).
So without any further ado…
Sucking the Venom
I still can’t believe that there is a large number of people who believe this Hollywood b.s. This was discredited not years ago, but many decades ago as a way to treat snake bites. It not only doesn’t help, but in every single case it makes the bite area worse and introduces the possibility of making the snake bite victim sicker.
Just don’t do it. There is a 0% chance in any snake bite treatment situation that this is the right move.
Using Snake Bite Kits
Yeah, I have a long history with trying to discredit these. Which makes it infuriating any time I see one bought on my Amazon account (and no, I don’t have affiliate links to these anywhere, ever). Snake bite kits are a complete and total scam. Even if you had one out and ready, like you were baiting a rattlesnake to bite you just so you could immediately slam the pump kit down, it still wouldn’t work.
Venom enters the blood stream, and your blood flows at 3-4 miles per hour. That might not sound like much, but even Shaq isn’t 8 feet tall. That means an injection like a shot or venom from a fang goes from limb to brain in 2-6 seconds. So do you really think you have time to rip open a package, pull out a snake bite kit, wash the area around the bite, apply suction, and suck it all out in .1 seconds?
Every second wasted using these scams is another second you’re not heading to the medical attention that you need.
You don’t. These kits have been tested repeatedly in labs and the consensus is ALWAYS the same.
They just don’t work. They’re scams. Don’t buy them, don’t use them.
Baby Venomous Snakes vs. Adult Venomous Snakes
There’s a weird myth that baby venomous snakes are more dangerous because they can’t control the amount of venom they can inject while adult snakes can. This just isn’t how it works. While there *might* be some truth to the fact that young snakes tend to discharge venom with each strike while there are plenty of recorded dry bites from larger venomous snakes, this has never been proven in laboratory settings.
In addition to this, there’s another factor: amount of venom. The milligrams of venom injected determine how immediately dangerous the bite is. More venom = more danger. And many small and juvenile snakes simply can’t inject the same amount of venom. 100% of 10 mg is 10 mg. 30% of 100 mg is 30 mg. The second bite is roughly three times as dangerous (hypothetically).
This study is about the non-native Russell Viper and shows that adult snakes consistently unloaded far more venom in a bite than the younger snakes did.
All venomous snake bites are dangerous. But there is little to no evidence that bites from younger snakes are more dangerous than those of adults. But there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
You can read about even more of these snake bite myths in my 7 Snake Bite Treatment Myths Debunked.
#2: The Deadliness of the Brown Recluse Spider
Look, these aren’t spiders that you want to mess with because their bites can have some truly nasty side effects. We talk about them and show some unpleasant (though not the worst) pictures in our article about How Dangerous Are Brown Recluse Spiders Really?
Should bites be taken seriously? Absolutely.
An estimated 97% of brown recluse bites heal up by themselves with no further problems or issues. The majority of remaining bites are minor symptoms treated with antibiotics but some of the extreme reactions can get pretty gnarly including localized skin death (necrosis) and convulsions.
There are anecdotal reports of brown recluse spider bites resulting in death, but no official cases of death due to brown recluse bite have ever been verified. Usually when stories of this occurring have taken place, an underlying cause that was more direct to cause of death was found on further investigation.
Is it possible that a brown recluse bite has caused death? This seems a gray area where it has definitely contributed at times even if it isn’t the primary cause.
That being said, the stories of dozens and dozens or hundreds of deaths over the year, none of those hold up.
#3: Moss Grows on the North Side of…Well Anything
Moss grows wherever it wants to. There are woods with moss in every direction, around every side of every tree, completely covering all four sides of the boulder. Unless something very very strange happened at the South Pole, that wouldn’t be possible if north only grew on the north side.
Case in point:
Gorgeous picture. Wonderful looking forest of moss. But unless north is every single direction from that point, clearly it’s not just growing on the north side.
#4: There’s Lots of Free Land in Alaska
Ah the state I love, the Last Frontier. Home to independent people like no other. Now in fairness I will say this: there is a LOT of cheap acreage throughout Alaska.
If you’re just looking for pure acres at a decent price there are many options. There are even plots of 40, 50, or 100 acres of untamed woodlands where the only way to find out is to see an actual sign as you drive by it in the middle of nowhere, moving from one small city in the middle of nowhere to the nearest one 6 hours’ drive away.
But that land is going to be a challenge.
Alaska is wild on a level you can’t understand unless you’ve spent time there. And wild in Alaska is an entirely different story from even many of the western states here in the Lower 48.
No power. No cell phone/Internet signal. No running water. No chance of infrastructure providing those things for another few decades if ever. Depending on what land we’re talking about.
Now for some of us that’s just a stone’s throw from heaven and that is 100% acceptable.
But Alaska is not the state of free land. There is no homesteading going on there. If you want to develop your own very isolated cabin or home away from home that is possible.
If you’re looking for true homesteading, free house or land, in the United States, you’re better off looking at local communities often in very small towns in states out west or in the Midwest trying to find creative ways to keep people there or invite new ones in.
This article is a great resource showing the types of places you should look.
#5: Bears Are Attracted to Menstruation
I thought this was just a joke from the movie Anchorman. I had no idea that this was actually an outdoor myth that is believed by a surprisingly large number of people.
It’s just not true. Period, end of statement.
The “bears can smell blood from 20 miles away” is from a large corpse like a moose, in open air, with the wind blowing to them. That’s a far cry from clothes, perfume, and coming through the smell of human so strongly they charge instead of stay away.
This is a myth. Funny line in a Will Ferrell movie, but an outdoor myth.
#6: Drink Urine When Dehydrated
For the love of God don’t do this!
When you are dehydrated, which is almost certainly the situation when you are considered drinking urine in an outdoor survival situation, urine has a much higher level of salt. In some cases, even higher than sea water. Drinking urine will only dehydrate you even faster than not drinking anything.
A fully hydrated person probably won’t immediately get sick or ill from drinking urine…but at that point why?
Drinking urine is one of those pieces of survival of advice that pass the “common sense test” but the problem is that it’s just simply false. The moment the urine is even a bit yellow, it’s higher in salt and stuff your body wants out of you. It absolutely will not help you in a survival situation.
#7: Lightning Doesn’t Strike the Same Spot Twice
Um, yeah, it absolutely does. That’s why lightning rods work. It’s why certain popular hikes to mountain peaks make hikers nervous when a storm approaches. That’s how places like Mount Thielsen in Oregon earns the nickname “The Lightning Rod of the Cascades.”
Lightning can often strike the same place more than once, especially if there is something in particular attracting it like an ore vein in a mountain, a tall tree, or I’ll point out to country folk there’s a reason lightning rods are a thing out in the country.
#8: Natural Fabrics Are Best for Outdoor Activities
They can be alright depending on the activity and the season, but this isn’t even close to being a solid rule of thumb. Just look at cotton. Comfortable natural fabric, but absorbs water like no one’s business. When you’re in a survival situation and its cold, this is not a good combination.
Wool is a natural fabric that is extremely good, but in truly extreme cold it needs to be part of a layer with other fabrics, as well. If you’ve lived in places like Alaska or northern Canada you have plenty of wool, and layers of other fabrics above it and under it, as well.
The best fabric depends on the situation, season, and environment. Do you really want thick wool on a Pacific Island beach in the middle of summer? Of course not.
In the same way you don’t want thin silk in a Canadian winter.
Different fabrics are better depending on the specific situation but there are plenty of synthetic materials that are just as good as, or superior to, certain natural fabrics depending on what traits or characteristics are most important to you at any given moment.
#9: Rub Frostbitten Skin
This is a terrible bit of advice. The skin, and quite possibly the flesh and nerves underneath it, is severely damaged. Rubbing it and bringing back blood flow then is not only going to cause severe pain but it could do far more additional damage than what has already done.
When you have frostbite there are ice crystals in the water that’s in your body. Imagine thousands of little sharp ice crystals inside your body. Now they can melt to water slowly, or they get rubbed and stab everything all around them – cells, veins, blood vessels, etc.
That second part probably felt super cringe if you have ever suffered from frost bite, and you know why. Get to someplace warm and thaw out naturally. Don’t directly rub or massage the frostbitten area. Nothing good comes from that.
#10: Drop a Severe Hypothermic into a Hot Tub
If you do this you have a better chance of killing them instantly than curing them. Can a tub of hot water be an important part of the immediate recovery process? Yes, but it has to be done correctly! Don’t just drop them in. The shock could stop the heart.
Someone suffering from extreme hypothermia needs to be in a warm area, have blankets piled up, and ideally with another person who can hug/cuddle to push body heat into the other person. This needs to be a gradual process bringing them back.
The shock of a going from hypothermia to hot tub can stop the heart.
#11: You Can Eat Whatever Animals Eat
No you can’t. Tulips are cat killers that take place just from pollen or smelling too much. Chocolate is lethal to dogs. There are all kinds of things people can eat that certain animals can’t and vice-versa. We didn’t all evolve one way. The berries that a small rodent eats could lead to fatal poisoning if you pop a few in the mouth.
This is a terrible outdoor myth and one that really is easy to disprove with either basic knowledge or common sense.
#12: You Can’t Get Lost with GPS
Make no mistake about it, GPS is a great tool for the modern outdoor enthusiast and I strongly recommend having one or even two units on your when backpacking remote areas, exploring isolated wilderness, or otherwise getting off the beaten path.
By all means, pack that trusty GPS!
But don’t rely on it completely. Batteries can die. Signals can be lost. The GPS can be damaged or lost. Or if you’ve ever been in labyrinth like cliffs and incredibly super thick forests, having a dot on a map might not tell you nearly as much as you need to know.
You should always have a compass, a road map of the nearby area, as well as a geographic map of the territory. And if you don’t know how to read those ultra detailed maps that include elevation changes and map out hills, learn how. Having those tools with your GPS means you are in great shape.
GPS is a great tool that helps reduce your chance of getting lost, but it can still happen.
Recommended GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 66st
Detailed, easy to read screen, reliable GPS technology from a trusted company. They’re a great pick and this portable outdoor GPS is compact enough to pair up with map and compass perfectly.
#13: Mylar Blankets Are Useless
This thin tin-foil looking pieces of gear do have a strike against them in that they are often grossly misused by individuals who have them in the wild or are testing them out for a YouTube channel. They are meant to be used a very specific way, and although not ideal for how they are most commonly used, they are better than nothing almost 100% of the time.
These are not meant to replace clothing or a sleeping bag. They’re not meant to give the thick insulation needed against the cold.
Mylar blankets produce an incredible amount of heat when they reflect heat from a source.
Take a look at the shelter in this YouTube video:
THAT is the best way to use a mylar blanket or space blanket in an emergency situation. Once that fire gets going the heat in that sleeping area is going to be way above what you expect, creating a cozy non-hypothermic area even in the coldest and harshest of conditions.
They can also be used as a ground sheet to stay dry if you otherwise have to sleep on the ground (shiny side up so you can at least reflect the body heat you’re making back on yourself.
Done correctly, many homeless can use this as insulation in the cold winters, using it as a layer (not directly on the skin) to keep more heat in.
They’re not great, they’re not magic, and they’re certainly not ideal (especially compared to an Arctic sleeping bag) but they can be a useful piece of equipment when used properly.
#14: Eat Snow for Water
Yes, snow can act as water. But the big issue in survival, especially in an ecosystem where it’s winter or cold enough to have snow, is keeping your core body temperature stable so you don’t die. The amount of energy your body uses to heat up the snow and melt the water is way more than the benefit of the water.
In other words if you keep eating snow directly your core body temperature will fall in a survival situation until you succumb to hypothermia.
Snow needs to be melted via pot and warmed so it doesn’t sap your body heat. Eating snow directly speeds up the process of losing core body heat and will kill you. In these environments you need to stay warm, and you need to melt the snow into not freezing water.
#15: Your Survival Kit/First Aid Kit/Pre-Packaged Bug Out Bag Is Enough
Unless you are an experienced outdoorsman, the type who reads articles like these looking for errors as opposed to needing information, and you’ve packed your own – it’s almost a certainty whatever you have isn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong: you should absolutely pack, prep, and prepare.
If you have no experience, definitely take some survival gear and a first aid kit to have something in case things go wrong. But as this great video of basic survival skills show, once you have any knowledge or idea of what you need, it’s time to put together your own custom pack.
Also, think about all the places you might be when an emergency hits. You know to pack before a big trip into the wilderness but what if disaster strikes while you’re on the road. Does your vehicle have a survival pack? Your house if a natural disaster knocks out the grid for a long period of time? Your work place if you own your own business?
These aren’t small considerations. You don’t know where you’re going to be when all heck breaks loose. You need to prepare accordingly and make sure to put together a pack that will actually meet all your needs.
If you don’t have the funds or time right now, go ahead and start with a pre-purchased kit. But don’t rely on those as your permanent solution. You can, and should, do better.
Learn, and Verify!
This just shows the importance of checking sources, doing more reading, and working to talk with professionals who can help guide you towards correct information. There’s nothing wrong with being ignorant of certain outdoor knowledge.
After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. But if you’re going to get more into the outdoors it’s important to be prepared for any given situation.
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