In Breaking Bad S02E09, Walt and Jesse go to the desert to cook meth and they drive approximately 15 miles/24 km down a dirt road. Midways cooking, they realize the car battery is dead, and manage to kill the generator and spill their drinking water. At this point I assume they could make the walk. The next day they spend hours of hand cranking the generator in the desert sun to no avail. In the end they make a DIY battery to start the RV.

So if the DIY battery failed and they waited until the sun set that day, after ~30 hours without water, would it be humanly possible for them to walk 15 miles? And could meth be of help?

1 Answer 1


A healthy, reasonably fit person can cover about 5km per hour, with an additional 1 minute for every 10 metres of altitude gained (Naismith's rule). Considering that area of the desert is seemingly quite flat, in ideal conditions, 24km should be coverable in about 5 hours. Of course heat would affect this estimate considerably, therefore travelling in the cooler parts of the day would be highly recommended.

The bigger issue here is water, or lack thereof, and 30 hours without would put a serious dent in anyone's ability to move more than a few hundred metres. In this case they had a unique advantage though - a mobile lab at their disposal. Windscreen washer systems contain a reasonable amount of water, and older vehicles (such as the 1986 Fleetwood Bounder depicted in the show) often use water in the radiator system. If that was the case, they could have distilled much of the onboard water in the vehicle using the lab equipment at their disposal, and that could have made a difference.

As a sidenote, but relevant to this scenario, I lived in very remote areas of outback Australia for a while (cattle stations in SA and the NT), where the conditions would be similar to that of the desert in New Mexico. A few years beforehand, a couple got their 4WD bogged down about 70km off the main track (Oodnadaata track - itself just a dirt road). The guy stayed with the vehicle, the girl attempted to walk the 70km to the main track. He survived, she made it about 40km or so, before she perished. There's an interesting account of it here, and the obstacles to such an endeavour are clearly highlighted.

Mr. Liersch noted that the deceased had been carrying a rucksack and also saw a two-litre bottle, which contained approximately 1.5 litres of water. A later search of the rucksack revealed that she had been carrying another five litres of water in a container, and another two litre container containing 80mls of urine.

further down...

"The deceased was allegedly a student from Vienna who died after her vehicle was bogged near Lake Eyre. She apparently left on foot and perished approximately 40km from the vehicle. The extreme environmental temperatures of between 43°C and 46°C suggest that her survival time would have been limited under these conditions. The specific gravity of urine alleged to have been retained with the body was recorded at Coober Pedy at 1.030. The normal specific gravity is approximately 1.020. The minimum loss of fluid under ideal conditions is approximately 1200ml of fluid per day which must be replaced. The total body water for an adult is approximately 40 litres and an adult will normally become ill when the body fluid loss is approximately 4 litres or about 6% their body weight. Death will occur when body fluid loss is about 15 litres. The urine is haemoconcentrated and appears to have been saved in an effort to recycle water.

With that in mind, and considering their lack of survival skills, short of a minor miracle, Walter and Jesse were probably screwed.

  • In addition to @mike's answer detail here, I'd also comment that while the specific desert location is not provided, it's assumed they are somewhere in New Mexico. The desert climates here are not as intense (as far as heat/temperature as concerned) as those in Arizona, California, and Nevada. However, there is very little rainfall - hence the desert terrain. Illness due to heat exposure can exist at mild temperatures, but is also influenced by existing health and current hydration.
    – sonnik
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 16:56
  • I did the math on a very similar problem in case of vehicle breakdown. Solution: wait for dark and go for it.
    – Joshua
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 15:27

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