Join us for today’s article as we take a look at what you should and should not do in order to escape quicksand.
Thanks to the many TV shows, quicksand has a reputation of being pretty deadly. In reality though, it really isn’t actually as bad as they make it appear. This being said, it can still throw an unsuspecting hiker for a loop. It is more the fact that it is a rare occurrence that can cause even the most seasoned hiker to panic.
What is Quicksand and is it Really Deadly?
Quicksand is sand that behaves as a liquid because it is saturated with water. It can get pretty messy if you are unlucky enough to get caught in it, but it’s basically impossible to die in the way that is depicted in the movies. The reason? Quicksand is denser than the human body.
You can get stuck in it of course, but you aren’t going to be getting sucked under. People and animals can get stuck in it, but they don’t get sucked down to the bottom, they actually float on the surface. Our legs are pretty dense, so they may sink, but the torso contains the lungs, and thus is buoyant enough to stay out of trouble.
Reports do exist of people drowning in quicksand but it’s widely believed that these occurred because people got stuck while the tide was out, and when it returned, they drowned.
Quicksand also isn’t always actually sand. It’s any mass of sand, clay, or dirt particles that contains trapped water. The water turns the “sand” into a thick liquid mud that collapses under moving weight. This quicksand then re-solidifies, trapping whatever may have sunk into its depths.
It appears solid when you first look at it and it isn’t until you actually step on it (more like through it), that this ground liquefies under his or her feet.
Where Can Quicksand be Found?
Again, the movies like to get it wrong. They might like to show quicksand mainly in the desert but actually it’s not very often found in the desert at all. Why? in order for quicksand to form, it needs to have water present. Flowing water underground agitates the sand, which can create quicksand. So quicksand is generally located near riverbanks, marshes, and beaches.
How to Avoid Quicksand
Your best bet for surviving quicksand is to avoid it altogether. Awareness is key!
Know Quicksand Danger Zones
Be on the lookout for quicksand around wet terrain near riverbanks, lakes, swamps, marshes, tidal flats, glaciers, or underground springs. Be extra careful after a large rainstorm.
Eye Your Terrain
If water is bubbling up from below the ground, you may have stumbled upon some quicksand. Terrain with a rippled appearance is also a key indicator.
Test Before You Step
Whenever heading out, it is always a good idea to keep trekking poles or even a couple of sticks with you so that you can tap and test the ground in front of you before taking the step. It may be slow going but it is better to be safe than sorry. If the ground gives way under the walking stick, map another course.
How to Escape Quicksand Tips
- You need to make yourself as light as possible. This means getting rid of your bag, your jacket, your shoes, and anything else that may be adding un-needed weight. The lighter you can make your body, the easier it will be to extract yourself.
- Try to take a few steps backwards to where the ground was solid. Avoid large lunging steps, because a straddled position will make it harder to maneuver if one leg gets stuck.
- Don’t allow your arms to go under the sand. Try to keep your arms up and out of the quicksand at all times.
- If you sink and find yourself waist deep, lean back into a back float position. Much like sitting, this evenly distributes your weight, and allows your feet to float up to the surface. After your feet break through the surface, slowly inch your way to “shore.”
- Try to reach for a branch or person’s hand to pull yourself out.
- Take deep breaths. This will promote both buoyancy and calmness.
- Move slowly and deliberately. Inch by inch, move your legs one at a time upward toward the surface of the quicksand. With every inch you move a leg up, allow a moment for the quicksand to fill the space it once occupied. Depending on how deep you have sunk, this process could take hours. Patience will prevail, while big movements will further liquefy the quicksand and reverse your progress.
How NOT to Escape Quicksand
Just as important as what to do is what not to do!
- Never panic, people are not dense enough to sink all the way under quicksand. Keeping your wits about you will make the escape process easier.
- Trying to move too fast. Tempting though it may be, don’t ask your hiking buddies to yank you out of your sandy trap. Slow and steady movements will be more successful than pulling up against the powerful quicksand vacuum.
- Don’t swing your arms. Back float your way out, don’t back stroke your way out. Keep your arm movements controlled, small, and close to your core to avoid further liquefying the quicksand.
- Do not try to float out on your stomach! This increases the danger of getting your head stuck below quicksand.