Mythbusting the Great Outdoors: What’s True and What’s Not?

Jim Schmid shares his review on Jamie Siebrase's latest book that delves into a wide range of outdoor myths.

by Jim Schmid

One of the reasons we build trails is to encourage people to get outdoors. Here it is Summer - the time to spend even more time outdoors. Many books have been written about the benefits of being in nature. But what about the myths surrounding nature and being outdoors? Information on many of the outdoor myths found on the internet can be harmful and potentially dangerous. Do you believe that lightning never strikes the same place twice or playing dead when you meet a black bear works? These and many more outdoor myths could get you seriously injured or even dead. Luckily, we have Jamie Siebrase who in her latest book delves into a wide range of these outdoor myths. In her research, Jamie went beyond an internet search and interviewed scientists, researchers, rangers, and other experts from across the country to bust these outdoor myths. Even though Jamie lives in Colorado and much of the information is relevant to the outdoors there, the topics are such that they will be of interest to anyone in the country.

Jamie’s book contains thirteen essays each ten to fourteen pages long. Her essays cover avalanches, the North Star (celestial navigation), cold weather and health, fungus, wolves, earthquakes, campfires, moss, pooping in the woods, lightning, keeping warm, sharks, and bear safety. In these essays, Jamie explores common misconceptions that may have been taken as fact even among long-time outdoor enthusiasts. These bite-sized essays can be read in any order. Pick a topic of interest and enjoy it.

I live in Columbia, South Carolina (SC), and our local newspaper in the past few months has printed the following articles:

  1. Five ways to keep SC Copperheads out of your yard this spring.
  2. Breeding season for alligators is about to begin in SC. Here are five things to know.
  3. Avoid becoming part of the food chain by drawing attention from sharks.
  4. These are the four worst types of mosquitoes in SC. Here’s why and how best to fight them.
  5. Does SC have more venomous snakes than Arizona?
  6. What to do if you come face to snout with an alligator.
  7. Mosquito season in SC is getting longer, the report shows.
  8. How to tell the difference between Copperheads and SC lookalikes.
  9. Great White Sharks often lurk near people, drones discover.
  10. Know what to do if a Copperhead bites when you don’t have cell service.

Quite a list. I bet your local media outlet has similar outdoor warnings. These articles came from my local newspaper - I didn’t have to search the internet to be overwhelmed with outdoor information.

The kicker was this newspaper article. Be aware of these seven of the most dangerous critters in SC. The article goes on to discuss the American Alligator, Cottonmouth Snake, Brown Recluse Spider, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Copperhead Snake, Bull Shark, and Black Bears. I guess the newspaper really wanted to drive home the point in case we hadn’t read the earlier articles. Sure, we get it - the outdoors is one dangerous place to visit.


Freaked out yet? Don’t be. It’s totally safe to walk through the forest.

On the other hand, the local newspaper also ran this recent article about the importance of getting kids outdoors. Bill seeks to teach kids the power of the outdoors. The aim of the Federal Bill is to fund educational programs that will get children outside and to promote professional development for teachers on how to integrate environmental literacy and field experiences into their instruction. Many people feel that getting out in nature is one of the best ways to heal and reduce the anxiety a lot of children are feeling. What better time to encourage young people to get outdoors? I just hope all these newspaper articles don’t scare them into staying indoors. I think Jamie’s book has come along at the right time. Her book is a great book to share with your family.

There are so many common outdoor myths it must have been quite the challenge for Jamie to pick just 13. I like to consider these the “First 13” and I hope Jamie’s book is the first in a series. With that in mind I have a few suggestions for future outdoor myth-busting essays alligators, snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, sun protection, poison ivy, footwear, navigation, GPS, potable water, food, shelter, first aid, knife or multi-tool, dogs in the woods, and fabrics best for outdoor activities. These are just a few off the top. I’m sure you can come up with many more.

Some outdoor myths became popular beliefs thanks to movies, TV shows, and even cartoons. You might be in for quite the education reading Jamie’s book if all your outdoor education has come from popular media. Have you seen the movie, “Cocaine Bear” yet? The movie is based on a 1985 true story where a bear ingested cocaine that was thrown out of a plane over the Chattahoochee National Forest in northern Georgia. The real bear died. The movie imagines that the bear lived and went on a killing rampage. I wonder if people will see the humor in the horror or just be afraid to go into the woods. It’s time to debunk these outdoor myths.

Jamie’s hope is that her book will be a fun and informative read. She’s distilled lots of scientific facts into language and stories that make for good storytelling. Knowing the difference between fact and fiction might just save your life. Whether you are a newcomer to the outdoors or an expert, after reading Myths you’ll be prepared to enjoy your outdoor life more safely.

I hope to see you soon on a trail in the Great Outdoors.

Author Jamie Siebrase

Author Jamie Siebrase

Purchase the Book

Mythbusting the Great Outdoors: What’s True and What’s Not?
By Jamie Siebrase; Illustrations by Olivia Wischmeyer
2022, Falcon Guides
177 pages, $19.95
ISBN 978-1-4930-6347-5

About the Author

During his career Jim Schmid served as South Carolina’s first State Trails Coordinator as well as working for the US Forest Service as a Trails Manager in AZ, ID, and FL and also had the pleasure of managing the Florida National Scenic Trail. Jim is a collector at heart. Check out his collection of trail quotes, terms, acronyms, sayings and more at In addition to updating his website and writing book reviews for American Trails Jim enjoys traveling around the country riding rail-trails and mtn bike trails.

Contact: [email protected]

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