With the snowballing popularity of survival shows, there's been an unfortunate shift in the industry we all know and love. Sensationalist television is actually doing you a disservice, making bold claims with outrageous survival techniques that are not only plain wrong, but could put you in an even more dangerous situation.
If you rely on what you've seen these so-called "experts" doing, the chances of you replicating it to survive drop significantly. Trouble is, it's easy to believe them. We want to believe them, but when your life is in danger, relying on a "fact" you saw in an old television show isn't going to do you a lot of good.
Today I'd like to clear up several facts, to ensure you know what's what.
It's rather difficult to start a fire
On television you'll see them strike two rocks together, or rub a couple of sticks which immediately start smoking, and now they've got fire. This has an element of truth, you can make rocks spark and a bow drill is a real thing, but it's tough.
Without the right technique, the right supplies, and the right environment (forget trying a friction fire anywhere damp), you're not going to get a fire. You need a fire-starting kit, with not only a lighter (the easiest solution) but a flint and steel and a source of dry tinder to catch. Oh, and knowing how to actually start a fire helps too, it's harder than you would think if you've never made one.
You can easily live off the land
If I had a buck for every survivalist who told me they were going to simply head off to the hills at the first sign of a crisis, I'd have a pocket full of cash. But living off the land is tough, even for trained survival experts. And without the right gear, training and experience, you're not going to stand a chance.
Most shows are highly edited, with the real experts on hand, just outside of the camera's that are filming. Setting up the situations, or available at a moment's notice should anything go wrong. Don't think you'll have it so easy, the reality is that mother nature is a harsh mistress and if you don't respect her, you will regret it dearly.
You can forage for what you need
Realistically, if you've no idea what you're looking for (or you've not stumbled across some poor fools' cabin and the vegetable patch he's been growing), you are going to find it very difficult to forage for food in the wild. Of course, you can go a few weeks without food, but speaking from experience, it's not fun and after a few days you won't have energy for much.
The trick is to learn what's what, so you can actually find, and accurately identify the edible plants in your local area. Because there are far too many that are poisonous and will downright kill you if you just try to eat everything willy-nilly.
You can suck the venom out of a snake bite
Another movie no-no, where you slice open the wound and suck out the poison. In fact, by slicing the skin around the bit you're actually helping the venom to spread. Plus, the bacteria transferred from your mouth as you do this can lead to severe infection. You cannot suck hard enough to get the venom out, it's as simple as that.
If someone in your party has been bitten, apply a pressure bandage to control the flow of blood, (though be careful you don't cut off the blood supply completely and kill the entire limb), add pressure to the wound and call an ambulance.
You can play dead to avoid a bear attack
If you're being attacked by a bear, playing dead is not going to work. In some cases, sure, a bear may decide you're no longer a threat, but you're probably going to be mauled by this stage and almost dead anyway. And you can forget running, a bear is faster than you.
Your best bet against a bear is avoidance. Be loud and noisy when in bear country so you don't startle one, and if you happen to see a bear, give it a wild berth. Pepper spray and even a large calibre pistol may help to scare it off, or give you a means to fight back if that's what the situation calls for. But you'll be fighting for your life.
You should always remove a bullet
Hell no. If you're trying to pull anything other than a nail from your body, you'll be doing more harm than good. If it's an arrow, a piece of branch, whatever is in there – it's actually acting like a cork to stop your blood flowing out (and you dying). Leave it in, bandage it up so the wound is stable then go and get medical help.
If you've not got this as an option, or you're several days from medical help you may have to try, but it's a tough call. Internal bleeding, punctured organs or an artery being hit will take you out of commission when the SHTF. So be careful.
You should drink your own pee
As you get more and more dehydrated it seems like an option, it's sterile and technically correct, there is water content in pee. But there's also all the compounds your body is trying to rid itself of, and you're putting these all back in.
You'd be better off distilling your pee to extract the water (and discarding the rest), but this relies on the tools at your disposal. My advice would be to simply find a better water source. Boil some river water. Melt some snow. Create a solar still. Don't drink your pee.
To survive a crisis, you need to rely on the training, knowledge and experience you have, and it's an unfortunate reality that there's so much incorrect information out there. In this post I hope I've cleared up some of the most common misconceptions you always see on television, and hopefully steer you in the right direction once the SHTF.