If you fall into quicksand, the last thing you want to do is struggle. Remember, quicksand is denser than water; the more you move, the more you sink. Don’t panic, but you need to get out fast. Your legs are in a vice, and the pressure on your cells can do some serious damage. If your legs are trapped for an extended period, you could experience crush syndrome. When your body doesn’t have enough oxygen, it starts pumping out lactic acid, which can cause your cells to break down and even straight up DIE. Just like how exercising too much can make your muscles hurt, this burning sensation you’re feeling is the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles. But here’s where things get really serious. Once you’re freed from the quicksand, it gets so much worse. How much worse? We’ll break down all the nightmare scenarios. But more importantly, how to escape.
But first, let’s get a quick recap on what quicksand actually is. Quicksand is a mixture of sand, water, clay, silt, and sediment. But, sometimes, it’s just a simple recipe of air and sand. You’ll find quicksand all over the world, but it’s most common near the coasts, in marshes, or on riverbanks. And get this; dry quicksand even occurs in deserts and on other planets. Yeah, like the Moon. And Mars and you know what, two examples are fine. Now, here’s where things get really interesting. Quicksand is a non-Newtonian fluid, which is just a fancy way of saying its viscosity changes depending on how much force it is under. When it’s undisturbed, it looks solid, but when you step on it, its viscosity lowers, and you start to sink. And the more you move, the more liquid it becomes, making you sink even deeper. So how the f*** do you get out?
Well, if you’re carrying any heavy items, like bags or jackets, it’s time to let them go. Yeah, I realize it was expensive, but it’s better than the alternative. By lightening your load, you’ll decrease our weight and slow down your sinking speed. Next, try leaning back and wiggling your feet around. This will help to loosen up the water and make it easier for you to move. But, not too much, OK? Make sure you stay calm. Don’t panic – that’s only going to make things worse. Once your legs are free, use your arms to slowly inch yourself towards solid ground, like you’re swimming. I know it’s hard. Maybe you could look for something to grab onto? If you’re lucky enough to have a friend with you, grab onto their hand for support. Just make sure you tell them not to pull. That could be horrific. Yeah, According to a physics professor at the University of Amsterdam, if they pull too hard, they could literally tear you in two. And if you don’t have any friends, a nearby branch will do. Grab it as tight as you can and put as much weight as possible onto it. This will help to slow down your sinking and keep you afloat. Friends – hah. Who needs them? Just me and you, “Branch.” Oh, what’s that? You want them to like and subscribe? Yeah, that would help the channel, and what’s that? Oh … Oh Branch, that’s so sweet. I … I really care about you too.
OK, speaking of a call for help. Shout for help as loudly as possible; if you can reach your phone, dial 911 immediately. Time is of the essence here, because being stuck in quicksand for too long can lead to hypothermia. Oh, did I not mention that earlier? Your core body temperature sits around 37 ºC (98.6 ºF). But in quicksand, you lose body heat up to 25 times faster than on land so hypothermia can set in fast. At -34 ºC (-30 ºF), it can happen in just 10 minutes! You can look forward to symptoms like shivering, weakness, confusion, and even amnesia. If your body temperature drops below 21 ºC (70 ºF), it might be lights out.
OK, you’re starting to panic again. Breathe in, breathe out. This will help regulate your heart rate and prevent hyperventilation. Taking deep breaths helps to fill your lungs with air, which will make you more buoyant and help you to float on top of the quicksand. If you’re having trouble taking deep breaths, try to focus on the rhythm of your breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Imagine yourself breathing calmly and exhaling any tension or anxiety you might be feeling. Now grab that tree root and pull, kid! I can’t believe it! You escaped! There’s, uh, there’s just one thing. Remember how we said crush syndrome gets worse once you’re freed? When you finally get out, all the nasty stuff from those dead cells floods your body like a nasty little toxin parade. Stuff like potassium. Too much of that can mess up your heart’s rhythm. Myoglobin. This is going to clog up your kidneys. And all those other toxins? They’re going to cause your liver and lungs to go haywire.
- Learn How to Escape Quicksand. Helmenstine, A. M. (2019). ThoughtCo.
- Quicksand horror death of mother, 33, who drowned after getting trapped as the tide came in while on holiday in Antigua. Narin, J. (2012). Daily Mail.
- How to Get Out of Quicksand: My 12-Hour Survival Story. Spring, J. (2013). Outside Online.
- Quicksand Science: Why It Traps, How to Escape. Bakalar, N. (2005). National Geographic.
- How to Get Out of Quicksand. (2023). WikiHow.