Bizarre Survival Tips That Could Actually Save Your Life

The world is a tough, unforgiving place. There are some days that it seems like a roll of the dice as to whether or not you’re going to make it to the end. We’re going to help you out, though. While we can’t give you tips on how to make up for sending those rude emails to the wrong person or forgetting your anniversary, we can give you some tips that might just save your life one of these days. Seriously.

Don’t wear cotton

So, you’re heading out to go hiking, skateboarding, cow-tipping, or whatever you do when you’re not sitting at the computer. As crazy as it sounds, avoiding cotton might just save your life, no matter what you’re doing, where you’re going, or what time of year it is. The reason? Hypothermia.

The CDC says that between 1999 and 2011, 16,911 people died from hypothermia, and that makes it more of an actual threat than those clowns you’re so afraid of. All it takes to die from hypothermia is to lose body heat faster than you’re making it. As much as you might love those damp, cool spring nights, they’re an actual danger — especially if you’re wearing cotton.

The science behind why cotton clothes put you on the road to hypothermia has to do with the way cotton grows, forming empty spaces within the fibers that allow it to absorb 27 times its own weight in water. Not only do those empty spaces mean you’re going to get wet, but since cotton is cellulose and water is attracted to cellulose, it’s going to take a long time for your jeans to dry. That means if it rains — or even if you sweat a lot — might result in a super soggy shirt, which is a recipe for hypothermia. The wet fabric leaches away your body heat, that’s the problem. Instead, opt for wool, polyester, or nylon.

Use your watch as a compass

Let’s say you’ve gone and gotten yourself lost in the woods. Assuming you know whether you’re in the northern or southern hemisphere (and if you don’t, you have bigger problems), you can use your watch as a compass.

Technically, we’re talking about analogue watches with actual hour- and minute-hands. But if you’ve gone digital, you can still use the same principle by using a little bit of imagination when it comes to picturing where the hands would be.

First, if you’re in the north. Point the hour hand at the sun, and imagine a line running halfway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock on your watch. That’s pointing to the south, and the rest of the directions you can figure out from there. If you’re in the south, stand so 12 o’clock on your watch is pointing at the sun. Halfway between the sun and the hour hand is north. That’s so easy to remember that it kind of makes all those movies where the heroes wander in circles look a little bit silly, doesn’t it?

Cell phones can save your life, even without reception

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember how awesome life was before the constant connectivity of cell phones. If you’re the type that heads out into the great outdoors for a weekend of disconnected freedom, no one can blame you. But keeping your cell phone on you — even if you don’t have signal — can definitely save your life.

Say you’re out hiking and you get lost. You don’t have enough signal to call for help, but your phone isn’t useless. Even if you can’t make a call, it’s still pinging nearby cell phone towers. And when it does, it’s creating a digital map of where you were. It’s a massively helpful tool for Search and Rescue teams, because not only can they track your movements, but the strength of the signal when it pings the tower gives them a pretty good idea just how far from the tower you were. That gives them a way to create a target search area, estimate which direction you’re headed in, and how fast you’re traveling. There’s even new technology in the works that allows Search and Rescue teams to carry their own mobile phone coverage network with them, and call you when they get a ping from your phone. So, as tempting as it might be to unplug completely… don’t.

Use some ice to start a fire

You’re still lost, you’re getting cold, and there’s no one in sight. If you’re lucky, it’s freezing, and if you’re extra-lucky, you’re near some water that’s iced over. While that might seem like it’s the exact opposite of lucky, everything comes down to perspective. That frozen water is exactly what you need to start a fire, and it’s just going to take a little of that good, old-fashioned elbow grease to get you there.

You can use a clear chunk of ice — and by clear, that means it can’t have any air bubbles in it — to shape into a convex lens for focusing the sun’s rays and starting a fire. Check out the video for someone doing exactly that, first cutting out a piece of clear ice, then warming it with his hands to melt it into the right shape. It takes a while, sure, but you’re lost in the woods. What else do you have going on?

You can also use your glasses to start a fire, but only if you’re far-sighted. Reading glasses concentrate the light (unlike the glasses you use if you can’t see things far away). To get the most of out this one, use something that’s quick-lighting. Check your pockets for fluff or lint to get the fire going.

Know the universal edibility tests

Survivalists — and the US Army — have a whole list of guidelines to help you figure out what’s safe and what’s not to eat out in the wild, but that’s a lot to remember and the chances of it sticking with you are slim-to-none. Start with remembering these things to stay away from: plants with a milky sap, an almond-like scent, anything with pods, spines, thorns, or thin hairs, and a three-leaf pattern (think poison ivy).

There’s also something else that’s key: white and yellow berries are bad. Purple and blue ones are probably (but not always) okay, and red berries are something of a crap-shoot. If you think you’ve found something that might be a legitimate food source, start the edibility tests. First, hold a piece of the plant on your skin to see if there’s a reaction — this usually takes only about 15 minutes. If all is well, do the same on your lip, then tongue. If it’s still all good, chew — but don’t swallow — and wait 15 minutes. If there’s no irritation, swallow a bit… and see what happens. Over the course of eight hours you’d start to see any negative effects, and if there’s none, then you’ve just found your dinner.

How to escape a low head dam

You’ve seen low head dams before, even if you don’t know it. They’re incredibly innocent-looking structures that span the width of the river or stream, probably only rise a few feet above water level, and some estimates suggest there’s up to 2.4 million of them in the US alone. They’re very pretty, but they’re also called “drowning machines.” That’s because the force of the water coming over the dam digs out a trench at the bottom, creating a churning whirlpool that makes it easy for a person to become trapped — and almost impossible to break free.

If you happen to get trapped in one — and since many aren’t marked, that’s not uncommon — your first instinct is going to be to get to the surface. But you’re fighting against gravity and a circulating current that’s much, much stronger than you are, and the only way you’re going to have a chance is it you do the exact opposite of what your reflexes are telling you: head to the bottom. Hold your breath, hug your knees to your chest, and hope that the current will push you along the bottom and past the circulating backwash, beyond what’s called the “boil line.” Then, you’ll be out of the grip of the current that’s determined to smash your skull against the dam, and you should be able to swim to the surface.

Don’t fight against a rip current

Your reflexes mean well, but sometimes, they get you into more trouble. Like that time you accidentally broke your brother’s nose after he snuck up behind you, sometimes you’re better off overriding what your body decides you want to do. That’s the case with rip currents, which are basically incredibly strong currents that can travel as fast as 8 feet per second and pull an unsuspecting swimmer out to deeper waters. The United States Lifesaving Association says that about 80 percent of rescues happen because people get caught in rip currents. So what do you do if David Hasselhoff isn’t around? You ignore your reflexes, and you don’t fight it.

If rip currents pull you out away from shore, don’t try to swim against them. That’s only going to tire you out, and that’s when situations turn deadly. Instead, your best options are to swim out of the current by going parallel to the shore. If you can’t do that, tread water and wait for help. One thing that a rip current isn’t going to do is pull you underwater (no matter how many times you’ve heard that, it’s a myth), so staying afloat and keeping your bearings is crucial to helping others help you get back to shore.

Don’t lay on the ground to avoid lightning

There’s nothing cooler than a thunderstorm. Unless you’re a dog, and then they’re terrifying. Pupper might be onto something, because according to LiveScience, 24,000 people are hit and killed by lightning every year… and another 240,000 are just hurt by it.

Unfortunately, a lot of what you’ve heard about staying safe during a thunderstorm just isn’t true, and that goes for laying on the ground to make your profile as low as possible. Lightning travels across the ground, so that’s just going to make it easier for it to hit more bits of you.

So, what should you do? The safest place is inside a building. Specifically, you need a building with infrastructure, like plumbing and electrical wiring. That’s what’s going to redirect the charge of a lightning strike, and that also means that structures that are little more than a shell — think of a shed — aren’t going to do you much good. If you can’t make it to shelter, National Geographic suggests crouching down, balancing on the balls of your feet, and covering your head. The idea is to make sure you’re not the tallest thing in the area, while minimizing how much you’re in contact with the ground. You don’t want to be near those tall objects, either. Finally, don’t forget you can still get hit for up to half an hour after you think the storm’s ended.

Everything you’ve heard about jellyfish is wrong

Everyone knows that if you’re stung by a jellyfish, you should have someone pee on it… right? Not quite.

According to actual science (via Popular Science), the only thing that’s been shown to slow the spread of a jellyfish’s toxin was something much less gross (and unfortunately, less convenient) than pee: vinegar. Jellyfish contain structures called nematocysts that inject toxins into their victims, and tests done by the University of Hawaii at Manoa found that vinegar interfered with the nematocysts’ functions. Other popular cures — like dousing the spot with alcohol and scraping off the tentacles — do more harm than good, and actually cause more of the toxin to be released.

And as for the pee-cure, it’s true that urea is in commercial jellyfish sting treatments, but when it comes fresh from the source it’s too diluted to do any good. Even worse, the salt content might make those nematocysts fire even more toxins into you. So if you want to minimize the damage done by the sting, pour some vinegar on the area, use tweezers to get rid of the tentacles, and apply heat — ice just makes things worse. And remember, friends don’t pee on friends.

Quick tips for jumping out of a moving car

Movies have made it seem like jumping out of a moving car is a pre-requisite to be an action hero. But what if you have to jump out of a speeding vehicle in reality — like away from a carjacker, or a drunk cab-driver? Well, you’d be wise to take the advice of Adam Kirley, who has some serious street cred as Daniel Craig’s stuntman in Casino Royale.

First, he says that while you want to leave the car when it’s going as slow as possible, the handbrake isn’t an option, as that’s “cause the car to slide and increase the risk of you getting run over when you disembark.”

Then, there’s padding. Professional stuntmen have their own gear, but he says padding your elbows, hips, and knees with whatever you have handy — even if that’s just some newspaper — is crucial, and you’re still only going to be walking away if you’re not going faster than 30 or 35 mph.

When it comes time to jump — which he says you should do as you’re going around a turn — you need to fight those reflexes again. Do it without thinking, and your arms and legs are going first, but Kirley says that you should jump so you hit the ground on your back and the back of your shoulder. That’s what you’re least likely to shatter, and you’ll be able to start a roll that helps get rid of the rest of the energy.