If there is one thing that the outdoors is full of, it is advice. For centuries wisdom on how to navigate, find water, safe food, deal with emergencies, and survive the elements has been passed down from generation to generation. Some of these morsels are very sage advice; other helpful tips are just fuzzy outdoorsmanship. Although tricks like following the North Star or how to estimate how much daylight is left by using your hands really are true, there are others tidbits of distilled wisdom that will just get you in trouble. We submit for your entertainment, ten items of bad advice.
You can watch what birds and animals are eating to find edible food. Birds or animals eating roots, fruit, or berries does not guarantee that a human can eat it also. The berries on poison ivy and poison oak are completely edible for birds, but would result in a variety of itchy problems for a human that even touches the plant. So what is the best advice? Take an outdoors course and learn about the native edible plants in you area. Don't press your luck until you are completely confident on your abilities.
Clear water that is flowing through sand and gravel is safe to drink. Although this was pretty solid advice fifty years ago, this is another myth. Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia are both single cell protozoa and have become widespread in water supplies around the world. Both can cause severe diarrhea, cramps, low-grade fever and flu like symptoms that can last for a month, or more.
Cryptosporidium cysts are shed in the feces of an infected person and, "crypto," the slang term for Cryptosporidium, is the bane of daycare centers across the country. Children are particularly sensitive to a crypto infection, and can have symptoms for as long as a month. In the outdoors herd animals, domesticated and wild, carry the cysts. Fortunately the severest symptoms in healthy adults pass within two to four days.
The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 2% of the US population has had a Giardia infection that in most cases is misdiagnosed as a stomach flu. Fortunately this nasty bug, also known as Beaver Fever, will run a natural course lasting from one to two weeks. In many cases a person can become an infected carrier but show no outward symptoms.
The only way to be 100% safe about any outdoor water source is to boil your water for at least five full minutes, and then chemically treat or filter.
Moss and lichens grow on the northeast side of trees. Fundamentally speaking in a perfect world moss and lichens would only grow on the northeast side of trees or rocks. The problem is they will grow in any cool area that gets very little direct sunlight and retains a lot of moisture. In an area that is heavily forested, or where natural formations block warming sunlight and drying winds, moss and lichens can thrive. What is the best advice? Have an accurate map and a compass and know how to use them. Learn other natural navigation techniques, including how to use an analog watch to find south or following the stars.
If you are lost, find a river and follow it downstream. The problem with this bit of wisdom is that it isn't always true. Follow the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon and unless a whitewater rafting trip passes by, you are going to walk for a very long time before you find anything or anyone. In the northern reaches of North America, following a river downstream will lead you to oblivion. In the Olympic Mountains, the tangle of deep glacier valleys will lead to dead ends at lakes, lost hikers are advised to follow the ridges. The best advice if you are lost? Unless you are in grave danger stay put and wait for help.
If you are bitten by a snake you need to make cuts on the bite and suck the poison out. This bit of wisdom gets a two part answer. If you are in the deep backcountry and help is more than an hour away, this may become necessary. For most victims of snakebite the best advice is to do absolutely nothing. Try to keep the bitten area below the heart so gravity slows the venom and seek out professional medical advice immediately. If you have a snakebite kit take a first aid course and learn how to use it properly. In the wrong hands it can cause worse injury than the bite itself.
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