Survival, at the most basic level, is staying alive despite circumstances. Most people want to, and some people work towards, surviving “forever”. This, sadly, is not (at least currently) possible. What people should be interested in improving is their survival chances. What they should concentrate on is surviving for a period of time. To help guide this thought methodology, there is the “Rule of Threes”.
Rule Of Threes | Survival Mode
In any extreme situation, a person cannot survive for more than:
- 3 minutes without air
- 3 hours without shelter
- 3 days without water
- 3 weeks without food
Note that this is not a guarantee. Take shelter, for instance. If you fall into and stay in a large body of really cold water, it is highly unlikely you will last three hours. On the other hand, being dry, on land, in nice weather, you might last considerably longer than three hours. No, this is a guide for survival priority thinking towards various learning paths where experience is different from learning on a book. You want to survive for a period of time; what skills and equipment will help you to do so?
Applying the Rule of Threes
Let's expand on this and consider three seconds. What can kill you in three seconds? Some possibilities are: someone trying to kill you with an effective weapon, falling, or something smashing into you. The first scenario leads to consideration of weapons and defensive equipment and skills, the second scenario leads to consideration of climbing equipment and skills, and the third scenario pretty much is limited to dodging skills. Actually, all of these should also bring to mind avoidance skills. Also, it would seem like darkness would greatly reduce the ability to avoid any of these, so a good flashlight or other light sources would seem to have more importance than it might seem at first glance.
Three Minutes Without Air
Three minutes without air is definitely a problem, but there is not a lot one can do about that. If you KNOW you are going to be in a place without air, then perhaps you can include having tanks of air on your to-do list. But this is not practical just “in case”. No, about all you can do is have a filtration mask to filter out “bad” stuff in any air which does exist. This might be a full CBRN mask, all the way down to a wet bandana, depending on likely circumstances, weight, space, and even budget.
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Three minutes with severe bleeding is also a problem, and there are practical options for this, including various types of tourniquets and combat bandages. Although this is not considered as one of those in-demand skills.
Three Hours Without Shelter
Shelter is a difficult subject which requires more in-depth discussion. A really good shelter is not portable, and decent shelter (a good tent, insulating pad, and sleeping bag), while portable, tends to be larger and heavier than other equipment. On the other hand, it is often possible to make a shelter using material at hand, although this may be a long process, and in some circumstances may not be practical within the time necessary. Thus, the rule of thumb is having materials and tools to assist in building shelter is usually wise.
Consider what “shelter” really entails. Basically, it is that the human body can only exist for a limited period of time in an environment which is significantly outside its “normal” range. “Exposure” is perhaps the leading cause of death for those lost or trapped “in the wild”. If the body is kept “too cold” or “too hot” long enough, it will shut down or at least result in serious injury. Thus, “shelter” requires materials and skills to keep the body dry when it is wet, warm when it is cold and/or cool when it is hot. Keep in mind that the temperature of a large object (ground, body of water) with which the body is in contact is at least as dangerous as the temperature of the air, thus any consideration of shelter must include insulation from the ground.
Fire can be a key component of “shelter” as well as many other survival aspects. That is why having fire making equipment and skills is critical.
Three Days Without Water
Water is pretty straightforward. Although it is possible to live three days without it, this should be avoided. It will be very unpleasant, reduces your ability to think and act in support of other survival aspects, and may cause long term damage. To minimize this, you can have water stored and/or have ways of getting, carrying and using water you find. It is wise to always assume that water may be contaminated with particulates, chemicals and/or biological hazards, and consider the skills and equipment necessary to “purify” these problems. Not to mention, the skills to “find” water which may not be readily visible.
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Three days with a serious illness could be a problem as well, so consider ways of preventing and curing infections, as well as other dangerous diseases.
Thirty Days Without Food
Food then would be the lowest priority, but should not be ignored. Like with water, going without food for significant periods of time is not only unpleasant, but reduces your ability to think and act, and can eventually result in long term damage. Again, you can have food stored and/or have the skills and equipment to get food from the environment around you. Keep in mind that all “food” is not created equal. Be aware that filling your belly may be ok short term, but should not be your long term goal. You want to have food which has the stuff your body needs (vitamins, minerals, protein) and as little “harmful” stuff as practical. Something to keep a particular eye on is “calories”. If you look for storage food, you may find places which brag on the number of “servings” they offer. Do the math. If the calories per day is under 800, then you are looking at a diet which is usually only appropriate for an extreme weight loss regimen which is doctor monitored. This would not be appropriate for long term survival. Usually, the recommendation for a minimal survival diet is 1200 calories per day, and if you will be active, 2000 calories per day may not be too much.
Another Application of the Rule of Threes
As we see, the Rule provides guidance on selecting which skills and equipment you might need. It also is a key factor in deciding your ACCESS to the equipment.
If you have the defensive equipment, it needs to be immediately available. In a holster or sheath or pouch on your person is just barely adequate. I suspect that if someone was to attack you, the odds are pretty low that you could talk them into waiting while you dig out your defenses from the bottom of your pack.
Similarly, your air filtration and severe bleeding equipment should be easily and reliably available in under a minute. This means in an external pocket(s) or pouch(s), probably with nothing else in there. A light source should also be readily available, and reliably accessible in total darkness.
After this, access becomes less critical. Fire equipment should be fairly accessible, and perhaps some of the shelter supplies. Everything else can be packed where it best fits, within reason.
Things Which Are Not “Critical” Can Still Be Important
When considering long term survival, remember that there are a number of things which although not a matter of “life or death”, make survival easier or at least more pleasant, and reduce the long term impacts of the emergency. Toilet paper and toothbrushes are things which first leaped to my mind; I'm sure there are things which occur to you.
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Watch this video from Andy Froy-Survival Bushcraft & Survival Courses to learn more about the survival rule of threes:
Note that the Rule of Threes is a guide to PRIORITY, not IMPORTANCE. If you don't have food, you will die just as surely as if you don't have air. Both are equally important to staying alive; one deals with an immediate problem while the other deals with a longer term problem. When you are evaluating the gaps in your skills and materials, look at your needs in priority order, but do look at ALL of your needs. Consider the amount of space available and your budget, and use this to figure out a realistic survival timeframe. Try to “match” the amounts of any supplies. It might not be useful to have a years supply of food and a months supply of water, or a years supply of water and a months supply of food. Unless you knew that you could replenish whatever it was you only had a months worth of.
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Are there other survival tips or rules you want to share? Let us know in the comments section below.
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