We’ve all seen movies where the brave explorer sinks into quicksand, leaving behind nothing but a hat floating on the surface.
There is no denying that being sucked inch by inch into a thick pit of quicksand is a slow and terrifying way to die. The good news is that after reading this article, the risk of such a suffering such a horrific death will be greatly diminished as long as you keep your cool.
I’ve encountered quicksand in a variety of environments, and one thing I can say with absolute certainly is that it can catch you off guard at a moments notice if you aren’t paying attention. It is found under water as well as on what appears to be solid ground, and you most likely won’t notice it until you have both literal and figuratively “stepped in it.” Quicksand is ordinary sand that has become saturated with water reducing the friction between its particles, which reduces or eliminates its ability to support any weight.
Quicksand can be found almost anywhere water is present, but there are certain places where it’s more common, such as:
- Lake shorelines
- Near underground springs
The first reaction most people have once they realize they are sinking into the muck is to panic and try to scramble out. The problem is that makes you sink faster. As you try to pull one leg out, fighting against the vacuum forces the other one in deeper. A few rounds of this and you can quickly reach the point of no return—especially deadly when you’re alone.
Most quicksand is relatively shallow—just a few feet deep—and you usually hit a solid bottom rather than facing a life-threatening scenario, but it can be deeper. I have encountered much deeper quicksand several times myself; for example, I once sunk up to my chest on a river bank in Okinawa, and up to my hips in a swamp in Florida and never felt the bottom in either case. Fortunately I knew the proper technique to extricate myself and remained calm enough to do so.
The second you realize you’re in quicksand, the first step is to cut your gear. That means dumping your favorite backpack and any load bearing gear immediately. If you’re carrying a rifle, toss it to solid ground. The idea is to cut as much extra weight as quickly as possible to slow your sinking.
Next, you need to break the suction and redistribute your weight. The technique sounds completely insane, and until you’ve done it a few times, it will probably scare the shit out of you, but you simply fall backwards. Lying horizontal, your weight will be distributed across a larger surface area and you will float because your body is less dense than the quicksand. The typical human body has a density of about 62 pounds per cubic foot, while quicksand has a density of about 125 pounds per cubic foot. This means you can float more easily in quicksand than in water.
Once you’ve redistributed your weight, backstroke your way back to solid ground. You could crawl through it facing forward if you’re in excellent shape, but unless you spend your days training with Recon Marines, you’ll probably run out of steam pretty quickly.
The most important thing is not to panic. Move slowly and methodically and you should be fine.