How To Get Out Of Quicksand

Warning sign for quicksand in Frederikshavn in Denmark. Image credit: Matthew Bargo/
Warning sign for quicksand in Frederikshavn in Denmark. Image credit: Matthew Bargo/
  • Quicksand is a mixture of fine sand, clay and water.
  • You should use small movements to escape the vacuum of quicksand.
  • Quicksand can be found near sources of water like rivers, marshes or lakes.

Quicksand is defined by as “loose wet sand that yields easily to pressure and sucks in anything resting on or falling into it.”

When most of us think of quicksand, images from cartoons and Indiana Jones movies may come to mind as our closest experiences with the dangerous substance have usually been in front of a screen. But what if you actually do fall into some quick sand one day? How will you escape?

First of all, it is important to recognize that quicksand isn’t really simply sand at all, but rather a cunning mixture of dirt, wet clay, fine sand, and water. Quicksand can be found close to water sources and is usually near a river, a lake, or a marsh. People “fall” into it because it can appear to be nothing more than some mud in your path, or a bit of wet sand. Once you get in it, it can be difficult to get out, however. 

Quicksand in Courthouse Wash. Image credit: Arches National Park/Public domain

Here are some general tips to follow. 

Step Backwards

If you have only just stepped in the quicksand, and you suddenly realize what you are in, try to step backwards to safety. Do not plunge forwards, as you risk falling further into the muck. If there is time, make yourself light. Toss off your backpack, your bag, your water bottles, and any other gear that can serve to drag you down. Try to grab onto anything nearby that can help prevent you from sinking deeper. 

Use Small Movements

A man manages to escape the grip of quicksand. Image credit: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company/

If the quicksand is really swallowing you whole, think positive. Take a few deep breaths and remain calm. Keep your arms and head above the surface at all times- you will need them to get out. According to a National Geographic tutorial posted online featuring survival instructor Hazel Auden, making small movements is key, in order to escape the oozing grasp of quicksand. Large movements, once you have been sucked in, usually only succeed in drawing your body in further, or simply do not work. So, if your friends are trying to haul you out by your elbows, holler at them to stop. This type of movement can result in you being stuck in the dangerous thickness for longer. 

Keep things small and consistent. Small movements can help to get water to move between your body and the sand. It takes time, and it is a bit like trying to separate two tubes that are nested one inside the other. There is a bit of wiggle room, but if you try to pull the tubes apart in one big movement, they remain stuck together. By wiggling them apart slowly, you can make some headway. 

So, inch yourself out. If you can, anchor yourself by grabbing onto the ground around the quicksand or a nearby tree, and try to wriggle yourself to safety. This can work assuming that you are only in the quicksand waist deep, or less. 

In Deep? Float Yourself Free

A man trying to wriggle his way through Paria River quicksand. Image credit: Urbandispute/

Of course, you may find yourself sucked into the nasty stuff pretty far. In this case,  you may wish to try to float yourself out. Do NOT do this on your stomach, however, as this can be dangerous. 

Try to lean back and float your legs and feet up. Once your feet appear above the quicksand, slowly inch backwards to solid ground.  

Remember, this can all take a very long time- some say it can take hours to extract yourself from the grasp of quicksand.  

Once you are out of the trap, be sure to wash the sand off your clothing, skin and hair. If you will not be near a shower for a while, this will help you avoid developing an infection if you get cut along your adventure. If you carry all that sand around on your clothing and skin, your risk further damage, and it will no doubt be very uncomfortable as well. 

It is extremely rare for a person to die by quicksand and it is likely that you will escape its paws, if you are ever sucked in. Reports indicate that the human body is too buoyant for you to actually be drawn in above your head. Take things slowly, and be patient. It will soon be a funny story to tell at dinner one day.  


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