Everything You Know About Quicksand Is Wrong

“Quicksand is a mix of sand, mud and water and depending on the viscosity it’s not as dangerous as people sometimes think.” โ€”Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

In A Nutshell

We’ve all seen the movies where the hero (or hapless sidekick) falls into quicksand and is ever so slowly swallowed by it. Unfortunately for Hollywood, that just not how it happens. Quicksand is a mixture of sand, water, clay, and salt that doesn’t so much suck someone into a bottomless pit as it does trap them. It turns out that you won’t drown in quicksand, but pulling you out with all your appendages intact is very, very tricky.

The Whole Bushel

It’s a popular obstacle thrown in front of heroes and sidekicks in adventure movies. Someone stumbles into quicksand, and they’re warned not to struggle and not to move, lest they get sucked all the way under. Invariably, whoever is left on solid ground finds a way to pull them out with a handy vine or tree limb; unfortunately, absolutely every part of that scenario is absolutely wrong.

We’ll start at the beginning. Quicksand is a mixture of sand, water, air, clay and salt; it’s put together in such a way that, unlike regular sand, there’s quite a bit of water in between the grains of sand and it’s held together by the lumps of clay. When it’s disturbed, the clay doesn’t so much hold the whole thing stable as much as it dissolves into a runny, watery mess. The solid stuff sinks to the bottom, and the water floats to the top. When there’s enough salt involved, though, it changes the charge of the particles and makes them adhere to each other.

This all makes for an extremely dense mass of clay and sand that allows you to step into it, but by the time you try to step out, it’s solidified around your foot.

Sounds pretty legit as far as Hollywood goes, right?

The problem with their take on quicksand happens when you factor in density. Quicksand is, on average, twice as dense as a person’s body—so you just don’t sink into it. At most, a person might find themselves up to their waist or so in the mucky sand, but that’s about as far as they’ll go.

The other problem comes with getting pulled out. According to Hollywood, our hero just needs to find a tree branch or vine, and the person will be able to pull themselves out. But unless they have the upper-body strength to pull with a force that would move a decent-sized car, that’s just not going to happen.

After quicksand liquefies and pulls the person in, the subsequent reaction solidifies the mixture. A lot.

So much so that holding onto a rope and having a car try to pull the person out would tear them in half before the quicksand would let go.

Ironically, it’s doing what you’re absolutely told not to do that will get you unstuck. Gradually struggling against the hold of the quicksand will change the makeup of the substance yet again, introducing water into the space around your trapped appendages and gradually loosening the quicksand’s grip on you.

Freeing yourself from quicksand can take a while, and it’s thought that this time investment could be what led to the whole myth about drowning in quicksand in the first place. Quicksand is often found near coastal areas, and those that haven’t successfully freed themselves by the time the tide comes in will face the danger of drowning from a completely different threat than the quicksand that caused their problems in the first place. The other danger of quicksand comes when it’s formed spontaneously by earthquakes or damage to underground water sources. When it suddenly appears near populated areas, it can spell disaster for nearby man-made structures.

Show Me The Proof

Featured image photo credit: Matthew Bargo
Nature: Quicksand can’t suck you under
The Naked Scientists: What is Quicksand?
National Geographic: Quicksand: Why It Traps, How To Escape

  • TheMadHatter

    Quicksand is awesome! And powerful! And strong! And I can’t think of anything else. But it’s still pretty nice. As long as you don’t get stuck in it. If I had quicksand I’d probably end up tossing things into it to watch what they do. It’s just curiosity. I mean, I can always get another cat if it never gets out, right? In all seriousness, though, this completely changes my perspective on quicksand. Still dangerous but not in the same way. And I really would toss things into it if I had some, not cats though. Maybe smaller puppies.

    • Lisa 39

      Like these?

      • TheMadHatter

        Yes. Exactly like those. Wait-No-can’t do it! To cute!

        • Lisa 39

          At first glance they look like fried chicken!

          • percynjpn

            That’s what I thought!

          • Lisa 39

            Is it wrong to think they look adorable in a yummy way?

          • Dog meat is quite lovely, going to get a cook book for Fido tonight

          • Joseph

            I thought chicken nuggets at first, lol. I guess that’s still fried chicken.

    • Check

      Cats are made for sand. (insert toilet joke here)

      • TheMadHatter

        Lol teh kitteh is too cyute. On another hand, “cyute” autocorrects to cysteine. Yeah. Like wtf. That’s totally what I wanted to say. The kitten is an amino acid. Thanks Mac iOS, you saved me there!

  • Albert

    My whole life is a lie……..

    • Lisa 39

      LV and kn have that effect ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Albert

        Next thing you know they are going to tell me something crazy like “you communicate through barbed wire fences” or something. Ohhhh wait……..

        • Lisa 39

          You may hear something like that, maybe you should check today’s kn!

  • Clyde Barrow

    Imagine yourself waist deep in wet cement….that’s the equivalent of what being in quicksand is like.

    • Lisa 39

      Have you been waist deep in wet cement Clyde?

      • Clyde Barrow

        Yes I have, back in my tradesmen days, and it was a very unpleasant experience. I’ve also been in quicksand, hence the correlation.

        • Lisa 39

          It sounds yucky, if you could see the way I’m cringing while making the o yuck face you’d laugh at me for being so girly, I think you’re a very brave man, now you have to tell me the ‘how Clyde got in and out of quicksand’ story ๐Ÿ™‚ if you want to

          • Clyde Barrow

            The quicksand was at a tidal pool on the Sea of Cortez, just north of San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico. Some buddies and myself were drinking, shooting Mexican fireworks, and generally being clowns. Anyways, the Sea has a massive tidal influx of over a mile in some areas, and exposes the sea floor. Wandering out there, I started to get my feet stuck, and every time you struggle to take a step, you sink a little deeper. After a few minutes, I was waist deep. My friends used an old fence poll and some rope we had in the vehicle to get me out. It took about 15 minutes, and took enough effort where we were all exhausted afterward.

            The lesson from that experience was once you start getting ankle deep, it’s wise to turn around and go back the way you came. Also, carry a large pole/walking stick.

          • Lisa 39

            Jeez, its all fun and games til someone gets stuck in quicksand, I’m glad that you made it out OK, thanks for telling me about that, I would’ve been scared to death

          • Clyde Barrow

            Just another day in the life of an ugly kid. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • Lisa 39

            You’re not ugly, I’ve seen your pic!

          • Clyde Barrow

            You must have forgot to put your glasses when you seen it…..but thank you kindly, anyway!

          • Lisa 39

            They were on and they’re just cheaters, .88ยข at Marc’s! You’re welcome ๐Ÿ™‚

          • Clyde Barrow

            Off subject, but the gentleman that designed the ‘Alien’ passed away this week. Your avatar was a reminder…

            http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/h-r-giger-surrealist-artist-and-alien-designer-dead-at-74-20140513

          • Lisa 39

            I heard, I’m very sad, the alien/predator movies are in my top 5 favorite multiple movies, the alien movies would not be the same without that mans imagination. Have you seen my whole pic? I posted it a couple months ago, its actually a mothers day card from my oldest marine last year.

          • Clyde Barrow

            Yeah, they were good films. Loved ‘Alien’ (the whole trilogy) when it came out.

            Can’t say I’ve seen your whole avatar…never been the stalking type, LOL. But I imagine the card says something to the effect of, “To the world’s greatest mom, from your loving boy.” (I cheated, googled it). Congrats on your son’s military service. My family has an extensive military service record. May he get home safe, and learn skills that will benefit him on the civilian side of life. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • Lisa 39

            I own the quadrilogy and Prometheus, my marine and I are fanatics, when he comes home this year we’re planning an alien/predator marathon.

            Isn’t Google awesome, I have a hard time finding what I want but the kids help if they’re around and yes that’s what it says, I got some more interesting things for mothers day this year but nothing with aliens ๐Ÿ™
            Thank you Clyde, I’m very proud of him, he’s coming home for good this year and I think he’s planning on college, he currently resides in your state! I have another marine also, he left for boot camp last June and is stationed in Florida, and I have one leaving for army boot camp on June 3rd, and maybe last, my 14 year old is already doing pt so he’ll be in good shape when he goes to marine boot camp after he graduates in 3 years.

            And my thanks to you and your family for all of your service ๐Ÿ™‚

          • Clyde Barrow

            Your older boy is stationed @ Twentynine Palms or Camp Pendleton, I assume? Unfortunately, wildfires are decimating the region in San Diego county presently. It wouldn’t surprise me if a Marine detachment was assisting in fire fighting right now.

            I’ll bet he really enjoys the winter weather of California ….they all do. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • Lisa 39

            Twentynine Palms, he hasn’t said anything about firefighting but we have an unspoken agreement, he doesn’t tell me when he’s doing something dangerous and I don’t worry because I know he’s sitting in an office, it works for us :p

            He loves the winter there, I don’t think he’s going to be happy back in snowland next winter, I know I wouldn’t be happy, haha, I went on a cruise 3 weeks after my divorce, i left home the first Friday of the month, on Saturday afternoon I was standing on the deck of the ship just enjoying the sunshine and heat and texting my oldest child, she was telling me about how much snow they woke up to, I was so happy that I missed it, I took pictures all week of me in my bathing suit with a drink in my hand in the jacuzzi, the pool and tanning on the deck, my kids were jealous that I got all that sunshine but happy that I went, I had the best time! I will do that again when the opportunity arises. Sorry I babbled!

      • Been balls deep in a dirty whore, same thing really.

  • Valkyrie

    So it’s not Quick sand then … -_- so what else do we call it now? Slow drying cement? It just doesn’t have the same impact ๐Ÿ™

    • Joseph

      I always thought that meant the sand could run very quickly. I guess that ruins my vision of what a marathon looks like.

      • Valkyrie

        I have no idea why I up marked your comment as that joke was terrible ๐Ÿ˜›

        • Joseph

          It’s my charming personality. It’s almost like my joke sunk in q… never mind.

  • MiguelinaStarnes

    What does it reality for the Quicksand is wrong?
    http://actdrimbrazil.com

  • SynthiaAvallone

    But I know that Quicksand is right
    http://advancedgarciniacambogiapills.com

  • Peter

    My friend got his foot stuck in “quicksand” at the beach. He lost his shoe and luckily that wall he he lost. It held onto him like a suction cup on a windows and we struggled to get his foot free.