Knowing and adapting to the ‘rule of threes‘ could make a difference between life and death when making critical decisions in an environment of potential or actual disaster.
The Rule Of Threes is a way to help remember a set of priorities to sustain life.
Here’s what I mean…
- You can survive for 3 Minutes without air (oxygen) or in icy water
- You can survive for 3 Hours without shelter in a harsh environment (unless in icy water)
- You can survive for 3 Days without water (if sheltered from a harsh environment)
- You can survive for 3 Weeks without food (if you have water and shelter)
The reason for the Rule of threes is to focus on the most immediate problem first.
The survival rule of 3’s are commonly referenced in the context of outdoor/wilderness survival. However it really doesn’t matter the situation or where it happens… The priorities are relevant, regardless.
The way it works is simple. One example: If your immediate threat to survival is hypothermia, there’s no need to think about how you’re going to get food or water. Because if you’re wet, cold, and shivering, you are going to be out of commission in several (~3) hours. Maybe even dead…
Generally speaking, you can only survive for…
3 MINUTES Without Air
You have to breathe. Your body needs air/oxygen. Someone who is not breathing has only minutes… So, priority #1.
Any situation that impedes breathing (or the blood’s ability to circulate Oxygen) is an immediate survival situation.
An example are those who may have severe asthma or allergic reactions. This could be life threatening without their inhaler or epinephrine. A near-drowning incident. Do you know how to attempt clearing the lungs of a victim who has swallowed so much water they can’t breath? Another example may be someone choking on food. This is a life threatening situation with only minutes to survive.
[ Read: How-to do Adnominal Thrusts ]
3 HOURS Without Shelter (Body Core Temperature)
Shelter. Protection from the elements. Your clothes count too.
This rule of 3 gives you about 3 hours if your body core temperature is unsafe beyond thresholds to regulate. Too cold, or too hot. When analyzing deaths of persons lost in the wilderness, most lose their life due to hypothermia (cold).
Wet and cold. Those are two very bad things. Quite potentially deadly. Seeking shelter / protection from the cold, wind, and wet, can become extremely important in a survival situation.
Obviously (though unfortunately overlooked by many), plan for these conditions on any excursion. Pack for it. I live in the mountains. I can attest to the potential radical difference in temperature and weather conditions just based on elevation. Experienced hikers ‘get this’. However, many others do not.
Staying dry is so very important. Do you have the right clothing with you or on you? What about rain gear? Got an extra pair of dry socks? (for example). The ability and gear to make a temporary shelter? A way to make a fire?
[ Read: Hypothermia – How To Prevent It ]
3 DAYS Without Water
Another really important rule of threes! Generally speaking, you might only survive for about three days without water. Maybe a few more if you’re lucky. But you will become mostly unable to function effectively. This assumes you have not crossed into the temperature range that puts you into the 3 hour zone! (In a really hot environment, you likely will not make it 3 days without water!)
You must stay hydrated. The second leading cause of lost persons death in the wilderness is dehydration. No water to drink. Not being prepared with enough water.
Water is a valuable survival commodity! Always treat suspect water. Although drinking dirty water is better than dying of dehydration!
Being dehydrated hinders the ability of your body to maintain core temperature.
Tip: Don’t eat snow. Only do this as a last resort. The cold snow will lower your body core temperature.
3 WEEKS Without Food
Few short term survival situations require food. The human body can survive for weeks without food. We are somewhat inherently adapted to short periods of fasting (starvation). The rule of 3’s here is approximately 3 weeks.
If lost, don’t panic about not having enough (or any) food. Consider your other priorities first, as well as efforts to get out of the situation (and/or rescue).
On the other hand, if your situation appears to be long-term, then yes you will need to somehow acquire food.
One thing though… Without enough calories you will quickly become increasingly unable to help yourself out of the situation.
With that said, you might say that AIR, SHELTER, WATER, FOOD, is the proper priority order for survivability.
Depending on the situation, circumstance, or environment, you might also insert SECURITY as #1 (before AIR) when there is an immediate threat to life. You might say the rule of three for security is 3 seconds…depending…
You might also add the concept of ATTITUDE. A positive attitude to help overcome a stressful situation, and making the right decisions.
Here’s another rule of threes… Someone on the blog said “3 people cannot keep a secret”.
Here’s a thought: A Personal Locator Beacon for hiking.
They operate on the three Cospas-Sarsat satellite systems including the new MEOSAR, ensuring they will offer the near instantaneous signal detection and transmission enabled by the global MEOSAR satellites. Anyone activating a ResQLink PLB can expect their beacon to be located within 100 meters (328 feet), 95% of the time, within 5 minutes of the distress signal. No subscription required.
ResQLink 400 – SOS Personal Locator Beacon with GPS
(view on amzn)