Should You Drink Pee to Stay Alive? We Asked an Expert.

Unveiling the truth: Should you drink your own pee to survive? Expert Jessie Krebs separates fact from fiction, delivering insights for life-or-death decisions in the wild.

Photo: Anton Petrus via Getty Images

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In this interview, we sat down with survival expert Jessie Krebs to address some of the most common and pressing questions related to survival.

Drawing upon Jessie’s vast knowledge and hands-on experience in the field, we embark on a journey to separate fact from fiction and debunk prevalent survival myths that often mislead and confuse us. Through Jessie’s invaluable insights and practical guidance, we gain a deeper understanding of what truly works when it comes to surviving in challenging circumstances.


Host: Have you ever heard the urban legend that moss only grows on the north side of trees? The story goes that if you’re lost, you can use nature’s compass to point your way to safety. The only trouble is, it’s not actually true. While scientifically, this idea makes sense, moss prefers shady, damp environments, those conditions can be found caused by other trees or slopes. Moss can grow on any hard surface. We’ve seen these myths perpetuated in movies, books, and even by well-meaning, but misinformed individuals. We’re looking at you, Bear Grylls. Despite living in the age of information, some survival myths continue to persist, and every year some unlucky adventurers make headlines when they fall prey to following these misconceived notions.

Joining us today is a true authority on survival. A renowned expert and SERE instructor, Jessie Krebs. With years of experience. Jessie is a wealth of knowledge. The former Alone contestant and Masterclass instructor is here to shed light on a few of these common misconceptions and reveal the truth about these survival myths once and for all.

Jessie, thanks so much for joining us today. We have a burning survival question, and we’re hoping you could set the record straight once and for all. If you are in a survival scenario, and you don’t have water, should you drink your own pee to stay alive?

Jessie Krebs: No, you should not. It’s a common myth that’s just persisted forever.

And I think part of that is because of TV, and people love the shock value. So we put it on reality TV and people drink their pee and people are on the other side going, “ew, look at that. Isn’t that gross?” So I think it’s to try to draw people in, but no, we said 30 years ago in the military, people survive in spite of drinking their urine, not because of it. And this is logical if you really think about it.

One is that we shouldn’t even eat food unless we have a water source available. You shouldn’t eat. And the reason for this is our digestive system requires a lot of water. It needs a lot. So if you don’t have enough water in the system and you’re eating, you’re actually dehydrating yourself faster.

And this makes sense. If you eat food, now your stomach has to pull in water and juices and all kinds of stuff to help that break down and pass through our system. It has to separate out any of the urine and the stuff that’s going into the urea. It needs to have enough water in the poo basically to make that go through, so you’re not gonna get constipated. It needs water for that to function. And if you eat without water in a survival situation, you’re just dehydrating yourself faster. Makes sense?

And if I shouldn’t even be eating if I don’t have a water source, then why would I basically drink poison, drink stuff that my body was trying to get rid of? Our body is a pretty high percentage of water, and our blood even higher. Our blood is like 90 percent water, and it sounds fine. If you look at the science, urine is like 95 percent water. Why wouldn’t I drink that? But sea water is 96 percent water. And we know that we shouldn’t drink seawater.

Most of us know that if you drink ocean water, it’s got too much salt in it, way too salty. And by drinking all that salt, your body has to pull more water from your tissues to eliminate the salt. So the same thing happens when you’re drinking urine. It’s got urea. It’s got all kinds of things that your body didn’t want to begin with.

So if you ingest it, your body has to use water to help flush this out of your system, and it’s not going to use any of it. Make sense? So it’s trying to take a step forward, but you’re actually taking two steps back. So we never have to drink our urine. Yay. 

Host: We wanted to know from Jessie, what else are we getting wrong when it comes to survival myths?

Jessie Krebs: Firecraft. People think fire is what you do if you’re cold, if you’re miserable, if you’re wet, you need to build a fire. And that’s actually your last line of defense. Before fire comes clothing and equipment. Beef that up as best you can. Make your clothing as bomber-proof as you possibly can.

Insulate it. If you don’t have much insulation and you’re cold, then you’re gonna grab the driest stuff that’s leafy and fluffy. Punkwood, leaves, any vegetation you can find, you’re gonna stuff that in your clothing to make it like a puffy to give yourself more dead air space. So that’s one.

And then your second line of defense is a shelter. And this is not only because most things on the planet get by just fine with just a shelter and whatever they use as clothing, their fur, their feathers, their scales, whatever. I mean, things live on the planet all over the place with just those two things. Fires are the last line of defense also because you can imagine standing outside and trying to get a fire going when it’s pouring rain or the wind is howling, right?

One, even if I get the fire lit, this is not a fun place to be. You’re doing the constant rotisserie, one side is toward the fire, trying to stay warm, and while your other side is getting soaking wet and wind blasted, then you’re rotating around and the other side is right. This is not a good scenario. But two, imagine just trying to start that fire when it’s really nasty weather if you don’t have a shelter up.

If you’ve got your wood prepped and you’re sitting there trying to light a tinder literally while rain is falling on it, this is not a recipe for success. So most people will try to jump right to fire because again, it looks like the sexy survival skill, and it’s what they see on TV. But really, you should be focusing on your clothing first and your shelter second, and that shelter either it’s just for you and you’re improvising a sleeping bag inside that shelter as well, if you don’t have one, or you’re just making the shelter and huddling in that, getting warm stuff around you. And then later if you want to, you can build a separate shelter or you can modify the shelter you have to be able to contain a fire underneath it. But fire is this teeny, tiny, little fragile life form when you’re trying to start it.

And you can imagine trying to have a baby in the middle of a snowstorm. Without some kind of a shelter that just doesn’t make sense. And fires a lot like that. It’s this fragile, tiny little thing that you really gotta nurture when it’s first born. And then again, even if it’s raging great, it’s raging in a snowstorm.

I don’t wanna be here, I wanna go to bed. So have your shelter and your bed made. So that’s another big, big one that drives me a little nuts. And unfortunately it kills a lot of people.  

Host: I remember as a kid watching old westerns where someone would be bit by a rattlesnake and their companion would take out a knife, cut the wound, and try to suck the venom out. Is this possible? 

Jessie Krebs: Our blood is moving pretty quick right through our body, and so the way the fangs work is they inject right into the tissue, and sometimes it’s muscle, but it’s very quickly injecting it pretty deep into the flesh, and that’s being carried by your tissue and your blood flow pretty quickly away from that bite site.

So the odds of being able to get on there and suck anything out, it wouldn’t be enough to matter. And definitely cutting just introduces it more, it just makes a bigger wound and more problems later on. So unfortunately, no, the cut and suck method has been debunked. We don’t do that anymore. Your best method usually is to try not to let the person exercise.

And really, it depends on the type of venom and the type of snake we’re talking about. But usually here in the states we’re talking about some kind of rattlesnake. And sometimes you might have coral snakes and those attack different systems. They’re venom. Generally you wanna keep the person sitting calmly.

You don’t want them to get really high blood pressure. You don’t want to, because it’s just moving that venom through the blood faster and through the organs faster. So we want them to relax or if it’s you just sit down, chill, think happy thoughts. If you’re on a trail and somebody’s walking along, you can try to fairly calmly tell them what’s happened.

And hopefully they can help, help either get you out of there, like pick you up and help carry you or can help somebody else bring some anti-venom in. It’s a good idea to, I mean, most people now have their phones with them, so take a picture of the snake. If you know what snake did it, and it’s still around, it’s a really good idea to try to get a good ID on that snake so they know what to give you.

And if you have any kind of a pen or, heck, just about anything that you can mark if it starts to swell that you can mark that area. A good thing to remember too is that a fairly large percentage of at least larger snakes, like adult snakes when they bite, it’s called a dry bite, meaning they didn’t inject venom into you.

So try not to freak out because they’re venom, they try to save that for what they’re going to eat. And they know you’re not big, you’re too much, too big for them to eat. Hopefully most snakes in the United States at least, so they’re not gonna try to do that. So it’s most likely going to be a dry bite.

So just relax and calm down. Look for swelling. And it, you should, for most healthy adults, you should be fine. It’s when they had an incident where somebody was running down the trail, so their blood was already pumping really fast. It was a trail runner, and he got bit on the foot on the ankle or someplace on the leg, and because his blood was quick, pumping so quickly, and because the venom for rattlesnake specifically attacks muscle tissue, it got to the heart very quickly. And it wasn’t a dry bite, it was a wet bite. He ended up dying. But generally, if you can calm yourself down, it’ll help distribute that venom.

Your body will start dealing with it as best it can. And you should be fine. For most healthy adults, just sit down and relax. You’re not gonna be having a good time for a few hours, but you’ll survive. 

Host: Out Alive is written and produced by me, Louisa Albanese and Zoe Gates. Mixing and sound design is by Jason Patton. Thanks so much to Jessie Krebs for sharing her knowledge. With us Out Alive is made possible by the members of Outside+. We’ll be back in two weeks with another survival story.

From 2022