Thinking about drinking some pee? You're not the only one. Every time I teach a survival class, someone asks about drinking urine when we get to the section on water. But just because it's yellow, I tell them, doesn't make it lemonade!

The Myth: Thanks to the exploits of certain shock-value survival TV personalities and the misadventure of Aron Ralston (and the subsequent movie adaptation of 127 Hours), many rookie survivalists think it's OK to drink urine when you run out of water.

The Reality: The average person can live about four days without any water to drink, if they have adequate shelter during that time. And while a few lucky survivors have lasted an extra day or two from pee drinking, looking at a few special cases doesn't mean it's a good practice. Even the urine from a well-hydrated human is still laden with waste compounds — no, pee isn't sterile. After all, our bodies are getting rid of it for a reason. In fact, over 3,000 compounds have been found in our lemon-colored liquid. Almost 100 of these are bacteria getting flushed from the body, and nearly 1,500 are waste from bodily processes. This leaves more than 2,000 chemicals coming from our diet, environment, medicines, and cosmetics. In short, urine contains a lot of alarming waste products, and they're all things our body is trying to eliminate (not recycle). Furthermore, if conditions are grim enough that you're considering peeing into a cup and drinking it, there's likely a higher concentration of bacteria in your urine than usual since you're already approaching a hydration deficit.

Normal urine is approximately 95-percent water and 5-percent waste, but as a person becomes more dehydrated, these numbers change dramatically (making piss consumption even less desirable). Medically documented side effects of urine drinking include diarrhea, vomiting (more water loss), and electrolyte imbalance, along with other unhealthy effects.

Want more proof? Ask the U.S. Army. In its field manual for survival, piss is specifically called out on the “Do not drink” list, right beside ocean water and blood. Furthermore, the pee of someone with crushing injuries is even more dangerous than the whiz of an unharmed survivor. Damaged muscle fibers leak potassium, among other substances, into the bloodstream, raising the level of salts and waste in urine. Even a pee guzzler with strong kidneys may not be able to handle this. And when the injured person is drinking their own tinkle, they're taking in salts their body definitely doesn't want.

Alternative Uses: Here are some other ways to stay hydrated, and for the adventurous, here are some alternative uses for your urine. Just because pee isn't a great beverage choice, doesn't mean it's worthless.

  • Worth the squeeze. Except in the driest deserts, there's usually some alternative source of drinking water. Numerous plants contain water that can be extracted or tapped during certain seasons. Make sure to positively identify the species you're considering, and determine which season it provides water and how to collect it. Squeezing the juice from edible berries is a good strategy. This way you don't have to waste water pooping out all the seeds and pulp.
  • Get it on tap. My favorite wild water source is maple sap, which can be collected between February and March by drilling a hole into the right tree. The water is perfectly safe to drink, being filtered by the woody tissues of the tree. The sap even has a trace of sugar, making it taste slightly sweet (and giving us the raw material to boil down maple syrup).
  • If it's yellow, let it mellow. Stale piss has been used for thousands of years for a wide range of purposes. Once the urine breaks down for a few days, it has a high concentration of ammonia. This was used by the ancient Romans to whiten their teeth, among other revolting chores. Later people used stale pee to dye their clothing, tan animal skins, make gunpowder, and even fertilize crops.

Web Exclusive

Not convinced that we busted this myth? Maybe it's because you watched Internet “survivalists” drink their own piss through a LifeStraw for views and infamy. Read our web exclusive on why using a water filtration system still doesn't make urine safe to drink here.

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