Quicksand seems like a rare hazard found only in the jungle based off the movies, but it’s more common than one might think. The liquefied soil can also be spotted on riverbanks, coastlines and marshes. And while you really will start to sink if you’re entrapped in the substance, don’t worry — you can, and probably will, survive.
People often imagine that once they’re caught in quicksand, they’ll sink all the way past their neck until they suffocate. But that’s pretty much a myth. In a 2005 study published in Nature, researchers demonstrated that a person trapped in quicksand cannot be sucked completely under. Because of the density of the human body, people essentially float on the substance — which is partially made up of salt water — and will only sink up to their waist.
Still, getting trapped in quicksand can prove fatal if you’re caught near a body of water with a rising tide, or if you’re isolated without assistance and have to battle factors like hypothermia or hunger.
Quicksand itself may not kill you, but you’ll want to get out as soon as possible in case something else does. How exactly do you do that?
First, as in any critical situation, remain calm. Quicksand is thick and can constrict your body, placing stress on your lungs and limbs. Panicking can lead to shortness of breath, which can restrict bloodflow. Take a deep breath and avoid frantic movements.
If you’re hiking or carrying any equipment, try to toss them to the side to reduce the amount of weight holding you down. Even slipping out of your shoes can prove valuable in the struggle to break free. (How far you have to travel after you’re out of the quicksand might make this a bad choice, though.) What you should not to is try to have a friend pull you out: They’re more likely to dislocate your shoulders than pull you out of the sand.
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Once the quicksand has settled at your midsection, it’s time to initiate your exit strategy. Start wiggling your legs to allow the water that’s mixed with the mush to enter gaps surrounding your body. This is going to make the sand start to loosen.
Now lean back and start to backstroke like you’re in a swimming pool while continuing to wiggle your legs. Your upper body will serve as a counterweight and you can start to reverse-crawl out of the substance. It may take a little bit, but eventually you should be able to free one leg, and then the other. Once you do, roll over onto your stomach and crawl to solid, safe ground.
It might be a frightening situation, but just remember: You won’t fully sink into quicksand, and at the end of the day, you’ll have a great story to tell your friends.