Myths, lies and old wives’ tales loom large in the outdoor pursuits. Here at MeatEater, we’re dedicated to separating facts from bullsh*t, so we created this series to examine suspect yarns. If there’s a belief, rumor or long-held assumption you’d like us to fact check, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When stranded without access to fresh water, you should drink your own urine.
Popular survival stories often focus on the shocking and extreme measures people take to stave off death, even for a little while. Drinking urine to fend off dehydration happens to be a favorite. Aron Ralston, the climber who amputated his own arm to escape a canyoneering accident, drank his own urine after running out of food and water. Other headlines tell of less-famous survivors who drank urine when trapped under rubble, in cars and on boats.
The first person to tap their own faucet when facing lethal dehydration likely predates written record by a few millennia. The mythology of surviving on recycled liquids, however, remains a popular topic in contemporary storytelling, and urine therapy has been popular in Eastern medicine for centuries.
Urine is 95% water and 5% sodium, chloride, potassium and urea. Although that sounds promising, consider that sea water is 96.5% water and 3.5% sodium and chloride. Drinking urine will have the same effect that sea water does: It’ll dehydrate you further.
By consuming urine, you’re taking all the stuff that your kidneys just filtered and putting it right back in your stomach. After repeating this process a few times, your urine will be so highly concentrated with dangerous toxins that it could cause renal meltdown or kidney failure. That means death.
For those of you skeptical of science and biology, maybe you’ll heed advice from the Army’s official survival guide. In their chapter on water, urine is listed as something you should not drink in a survival situation, along with sea water, blood, alcohol or “fish juices.”
As for the folk tales about urine’s curative powers, no medical literature promotes drinking urine. It won’t cure cancer, jellyfish stings, acne, sunburns, allergies, calluses, gum disease or any other ailment you might suffer from.
Drinking pee is bad for you, no matter the circumstance. A human can go about a week without water and drinking urine won’t extend that timeline, unless you’re an astronaut with an advanced filtration system. There’s no good reason to put waste back in your body (or, maybe you’re just into that kind of thing).