True North Blog

Drink Your Urine?

One of the most common questions that I am asked during one of my wilderness first aid or wilderness survival courses, or during a lecture, is the the following:  “Is it okay during a survival situation to drink one’s urine?”

This definitely is a good question for several reasons, most of all, since it is being asked within the context of helping to stave off dehydration, the idea appears to make sense.  After all, as one may reason, if one is dehydrated, one needs water, so one shouldn’t waste it, even if it is one’s own bodily waste product.  More to the point, however, so many people ask the question because they have seen it discussed and done so many times on so-called reality television programs.  This wouldn’t be so bad except that there are people who, during a wilderness emergency, actually have resorted to drinking their urine.

So, what do I think about drinking urine during a survival situation?  Let’s start by writing what should be obvious … Reality television isn’t reality!

This past weekend KCAL News, based in Los Angeles, reported that a man had been rescued after being lost for four days by two local hikers near a trail in Angeles National Forest.  Apparently, the man had drunk his own urine at one point after becoming dehydrated.  In my professional opinion, based on what has been so far reported, I find the reason and need dubious.

Here are two reasons why you should never resort to drinking your urine, even if … or especially if … you are are severely dehydrated:

First, drinking urine will only further dehydrate you because of its high salt content.  Urine has a salt content of about 2% (depending on the person and situation), which isn’t much lower when compared to the salt content of seawater (3.5%).  And it is commonly accepted knowledge why we don’t drink seawater when thirsty, right?  Plus, as a practical matter, I would think that any vomiting that would likely ensue after drinking smelly, brown urine would only worsen dehydration.

Second, drinking urine only adds toxins back into your system.  Urine contains such waste as formaldehyde, ammonia, and dissolved heavy metals which your kidneys worked very hard to filter in the first place.  So, if you drink your urine, then you are only adding concentrated toxins back into your system which will only overburden your kidneys.  Worse, your kidneys may not be able to even process it since your body is already dehydrated.  This could, then, not only cause permanent kidney damage, but also kill you (which has happened).

If you feel absolutely compelled to drink your urine, let me suggest that you at least use it in a solar still.  There are several ways that this can be done (but that’ll be another topic).

Anyway, in the meantime, here is the news and video link to the lost man’s story:

Couple Relates Story of Rescuing Stranded Hiker

As you watch it, consider how helpful a simple whistle may have been.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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