12 Survival Myths That Are Completely Wrong

List Rules
Vote up the debunked survival myths that surprise you the most.

From camping encounters with wildlife to getting lost in the desert, nature presents challenges that can go horribly wrong. Weather, ominous interactions, and technology gone awry can be equally dangerous. Because threats to human survival seem to be around nearly every corner, numerous myths have developed over time about how to make it out alive from such situations.

Some survival techniques might seem helpful at first glance, but are actually anything but. Many are common misconceptions about what to do in life-threatening situations that, in the end, may make things worse. Others are straight out of television and movies, or seem intuitive but are really, really bad ideas.

Take a look at the survival myths here and vote up the ones that you're most surprised - but glad - to find out aren't actually true.


  • 1
    5,080 VOTES

    MYTH: Drink Cactus Water If You're Stuck In A Desert

    When lost and dehydrated in the desert, one option is to cut open a cactus and drink water from it, right? Wrong. 

    Drinking water from a cactus is not only dangerous, but also can exacerbate dehydration. Cactus water contains acids and toxic alkaloids, chemicals that are deadly to humans when consumed. The chemicals come from the cactus flesh itself and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and, in the long term, kidney problems

    The spiny outsides of cacti are especially perilous, too, but cactus fruit like that of the prickly pear is safe - if you can find it. The cactus water you find on store shelves is actually made out of these fruits, not from the water stored in the plants. 

  • 2
    4,033 VOTES

    MYTH: You Should Ration Your Water

    You're lost in the desert, a forest, or any remote area with a limited amount of potable water at your disposal. While drinking that water slowly to make it last seems like a good idea, rationing water isn't your main concern.

    Rather, rationing water loss is.

    Water should be consumed when needed to avoid dehydration. It's important to find shade and limit exertion in order to prevent perspiration, which releases water from the body. Cutting food consumption is important, too, because water is needed for digestion.

    Another misconception is that, in lieu of water, you can drink your urine. Urine is actually the waste your body is removing; it won't rehydrate you, and it will make your body work that much harder to refilter out the nastiness it got rid of in the first place. 

    One thing you can do with your urine, however, is to pour it on your clothes and cool yourself off to prevent water loss from sweating. 

  • 3
    2,960 VOTES

    MYTH: Punch A Shark In The Nose To Get Away

    Punching a shark in the nose isnt't effective because, as zoologist R. Aiden Martin pointed out, "if you miss the snout its mouth is unfortunately very close by." Instead, aim for its eyes and gills, which are more sensitive areas on the shark's head.

    In 2020, for example, surfer Nick Minogue from New Zealand did just that after a shark chomped on his surfboard. Minogue recalled: 

    I actually shouted at it "f*ck off!" and went to punch it in the eye and missed... Then I pulled my fist back and shouted "f*ck off!" again and got it right smack bang in the eye.

    The shark relented and soon swam away. Ryan Johnson shared a better option with the BBC in 2017:

    [Use] something hard - be it a camera, a stick, a rock. In a situation where you don't have that, going for the face and the gills and trying to keep your hands out of its mouth is always the best thing.

    Johnson also noted that running away "can entice a shark" and "standing your ground" is the best option. 

  • 4
    2,148 VOTES

    MYTH: Any Kind Of Shelter Is Better Than No Shelter At All

    Whether you're lost in an area with stifling heat or frigid cold, finding shelter is important - as long as it's the right kind of shelter. 

    In hot conditions, it's best to construct a shelter with adequate airflow so you don't sweat and lose valuable hydration. The shelter is an ideal place to be during the hottest times of the day, so it should provide protection from direct sunlight.

    Cold environments necessitate a structure that can block wind and insulate as much warmth as possible. That said, if you build a fire in it, make sure the smoke can escape. 

    Survival experts make it clear the ground itself is important for finding adequate shelter. Digging a hole in the ground can keep a person cooler or warmer, for example. Don't count out natural shelters like caves and rock overhangs. 

  • 5
    2,667 VOTES

    MYTH: Alligators Won't Catch You If You Zigzag As You Run Away

    There's a misconception that, should you come across an alligator, running away from it in a zigzag pattern will help you escape. Alligator expert Frank Mazzotti told the Los Angeles Times in 2012: 

    The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that’s the fastest... Run away in a straight line. Everything you hear about running in a zigzag line is untrue.

    Although alligators move quickly on land and in water, achieving speeds as high as 9 and 10 mph, respectively, on the whole, alligators generally don't go after someone unless they're provoked. 

  • MYTH: You Have To Wait 24 Or 48 Hours To Report Someone Missing
    Photo: Rattlenoun / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    2,017 VOTES

    MYTH: You Have To Wait 24 Or 48 Hours To Report Someone Missing

    Movies and television have told viewers over and over again there's a time gap between when someone goes missing and when authorities can do anything about it. The lag can be anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, but neither is accurate.

    Law enforcement officials actually urge people to contact them as soon as possible in the event of a missing person. Illinois police detective Richard Coleman explained, "Call us right away with as much information as you can give us. Don’t hesitate." He continued:

    Don’t go out and think you can find this person. If you are going to do that, contact us right away so we can send out resources.

    Criminologists say that the first 72 hours after someone goes missing are essential to finding them, making any delay in reporting an even bigger challenge. 

    Canadian and British authorities similarly urge proactivity in the instance of a child or adult going missing, but in countries like Brazil, authorities won't investigate an adult going missing until 24 hours have passed.