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Bush Craft: Urine, or out?


If there is one subject which sparks more heated debate than any other in the survival world, it is, “Should I drink my own urine in a survival situation?” Before I give my views on that question, let’s look at what urine is.

Many people believe that urine is simply the body’s way of dumping excess water. While this may be true to some degree, it should be remembered that while 95% of urine is water (which is good for you), the remaining 5% is made up of not so good urea, uric acid, ammonia, hormones, dead blood cells, proteins, salts, minerals, toxins, and excess electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and chloride – in other words, some of the residues of all the things you may have eaten, drank, or breathed in. Water is really only the vehicle through which these chemicals and elements can be expelled from the body.

As the moment it is being expelled from the body, urine is sterile. But if you were to leave it in a glass for any length of time, it quickly goes off. This shows it’s something not very nice. Keep in mind, it’s full of all the chemicals and toxins the body cannot use, so why would you want to drink it?

So, yes or no?
According to the latest edition of the US Army Field Manual, their standpoint on the subject is, ‘’Do NOT drink it [as it] contains harmful body waste,’’ and that it is about “2% salt”. This should give you some idea that if you DO drink it, it will increase your rate of dehydration. A number of other authorities follow this thinking, including the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Your level of hydration should have a major bearing on whether you make the decision, or not. At a 95 to 5% ratio, there is more water than nasty waste products in the urine of a well-hydrated individual. However, this ratio changes significantly the more dehydrated you become, which is easily determined by the colour of the urine: the darker the colour the more dehydrated you are.

If you drink urine which is light in colour, it contains a relatively small amount of toxin which the body must reprocess and filter. If the urine is darker, the kidneys must work harder to process and filter these toxins, and even more waste products are generated during the second and subsequent cycles. It really is a vicious circle, and if you continue to drink this high level of toxin-laden urine, the body will eventually shut down.

Can I drink animal urine?
For centuries, cow urine has been used to treat many health problems in India. But then again, if you are near enough to a cow to get a tot, you are not in a survival situation because humanity (and a water source) will be nearby.

I definitely would not consider drinking camel urine as you run the risk of contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). This viral respiratory disease is caused by a novel coronavirus (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus, or MERS-CoV), first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It can be fatal.

Alternative use
There are other, more practical ways to make pee useful. In a very hot climate, peeing on clothing or a bandana can cool the body by evaporative cooling; although after a few hours in the sun you won’t be making any new friends! The smell of urine can also ward off bothersome insects such as mosquitoes.

Solar still
If you carry water purification tablets/liquid, these can be used to treat bacteria in the urine, but they won’t do much to anything else. Camping water filters are probably ineffective at treating urine to a level where it is safe to drink. One of the best ways to make it ‘safe’ to drink is to make a solar still. But this is time-consuming, labour intensive, and only effective if you have all the bits and pieces to make one – including a plastic sheet and a container of some sort.

Would I do it?
Mmm… In a true survival situation, I think we would all do things which we would otherwise turn our nose up at. Just ask anyone who has been in such a life-or-death situation.

If it came to the final decision, it would depend on my state of dehydration. Irrespective of the psychological comfort I may be gaining, the physical damage I’d be doing to my body might well not help prolong my chances of survival. That said, if my urine was very light in colour, then drinking it once or twice should, on balance, not be too harmful.