Prepper with backpack using a flashlight in a field

Wilderness Survival: 3 Common Myths of The Wilderness

An excerpt from “How To Survive Anything” (Just released!!)

The lore of the bush has seeped into many different facets of modern life. From TV shows and cartoons, we may think we’ve picked up some handy tips to use in the wilderness, but do these pop-culture pearls of wisdom really pan out? Here are three common myths that are retold so often, you might start to believe them!

Find Your Directions With The Moss Growing on The North Side of The Tree

MacWelch's 3 Common Myths of the Wilderness 7-15 SG.mossy.compass
The author says contrary to what many say, moss DOES NOT always grow on the north side of trees, as shown here.

The moss doesn’t always grow on the north side of the trees, as so many cartoons and pop culture references have taught us. In my neck of the woods, I actually find more of the moss growing on the south side of the trees! This would lead me COMPETELY in the wrong direction if I confused my north and south navigation points. It turns out that my local moss species favor the southerly side of the trees because it’s sunnier and warmer there, which is a good recipe for plant growth. But depending on the moss species and the local climate, the moss could be growing on any side of the tree – or on all sides. I’m sure this works somewhere, but not everywhere.

You Can Eat Everything The Animals Are Eating

This one comes up often when I teach wild edible plant classes. It turns out that despite our shared biology, there’s a massive difference between the gastrointestinal tract of humans and animals. Some animals may be observed eating plants that happen to be edible to humans, but these same animals can also eat plants that contain compounds dangerous to a human’s digestion. Birds are the worst animals to emulate, as they spend their days gobbling up a variety of berries that would both nourish us and kill us. Even nut-eating mammals, such as squirrels, which normally eat nuts that are safe as people food, will occasionally munch down on mushrooms and nuts that are toxic to humans. Just because an animal ate it, doesn’t mean that you can.

It’s Safe And Advisable to Drink Your Pee

If anyone’s stuck in an arid section of wilderness, and so dehydrated that urine is on the radar as a beverage – then the urine will be too concentrated to be a practical drink. Pee is full of waste products, and it leaves the body for a good reason, it’s not welcome anymore! Will you die if you drink it? No, it’s just wrong on so many levels. Drinking urine causes your body to reprocess all the toxins that it just eliminated, which costs the body water. This causes a net loss of water – not a gain. It’s just basic pee economics, people.

These tips, and many more survival skills, are available in MacWelch’s books:

How to Survive Anything

Prepare For Anything

Hunting and Gathering Survival Manual 

And if that’s not enough, you can:
Follow Tim on Twitter @timmacwelch

Take one of his survival classes at
and check out more of MacWelch’s outdoor skills and survival articles at Outdoor Life Magazine’s survival site, The Survivalist ( link )

And check out more of MacWelch’s outdoor skills and survival articles in Outdoor Life Magazine.


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Shop Sportsman’s Guide NOW for a great assortment of Emergency Supplies!


Guide Outdoors Readers: Are there any other wilderness myths you can tell us about?

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One Response to “Wilderness Survival: 3 Common Myths of The Wilderness”

  1. Daniel Churchman

    Eating snow – this lowers your body temp. And if I see one more “survival expert” crossing a stream fully clothed…PEOPLE, YOU NEED DRY CLOTHES WHEN YOU GET TO THE OTHER SIDE.