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Rule of 3 Survival : Get Your Priorities Right!

dehydrated hiker lying dead on the ground

Getting caught in a survival situation can be a nerve-wracking prospect, but it is an inherent risk if you love outdoor adventures. If you ever find yourself with an unplanned extension to your wilderness excursion, it is crucial to remain calm and develop survival priorities. One of the best ways to develop a cohesive plan is to remember a simple rule of thumb: the Survival Rule of 3.

The Rule of 3 survival method is a technique taught by survivalists worldwide, and it provides a rough guideline for how long you can survive without the basics of life. When survival rules come into play, knowing your timeline is the best way to set priorities. Do you have 3 minutes 3 days 3 weeks or 3 months? Let’s find out.

3 Minutes Without Air

When thinking about the basics of survival, people are quick to consider food and shelter. However, air is often overlooked despite being the most basic requirement for life. Whether you’re underwater, in an enclosed cave, or having to hold your breath for any reason, the rule of 3s states that you only have about three minutes before air deprivation becomes a threat to life. With the survival rules of 3, you have 3 minutes.

The specific amount of time can vary wildly depending on your physical health, level of excitement, and current blood-oxygen level. At anywhere between 30 and 180 seconds without air, you will begin to lose consciousness. This isn’t merely a risk of passing out, rather, depriving your brain of oxygen can cause cells to die and result in permanent brain damage.

The risk of losing consciousness is two-fold. First, being unconscious in the wilderness puts you in an extremely vulnerable position. This can put you at risk of animal attacks, falls, or dangers caused by temperature extremes. Second, being unconscious greatly reduces the likelihood of recovering from the situation that caused the air deprivation in the first place. Thus, drowning or other risks become a significant obstacle.

These time limits can be extended depending on the precise circumstances. For example, extreme colds such as a frozen lake can greatly increase the amount of time you can go before brain damage occurs. However, regardless of the temperature, maintaining air should always be your top priority in a survival situation.

3 Hours Without Shelter

How long can you survive without shelter? As with anything, the answer will depend greatly upon a large number of situational factors. If you are lucky enough to be stranded in a temperate 70-degree paradise, you may have an essentially limitless amount of time before lack of shelter poses any real risk. Unfortunately, we don’t typically get to choose the environment where we must fend for ourselves, so the time pressure is often significantly higher.

The rule of 3 for survival suggests that three hours is a safe limit to survive without proper shelter in extreme conditions. Extreme conditions can be presented by any number of factors, including cold, heat, dampness, or even sun exposure. Most survival experts consider “extreme” temperatures to be any temperature below 45 or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, your risk of dehydration, frostbite, heatstroke, or hypothermia is greatly increased. Even if you don’t feel particularly warm or cold, continued exposure to the elements can quickly take a toll on your body that puts you in a dangerous position.

Shelter need not be elaborate. If you’re in a hot or wet climate, a simple lean-to shelter can be sufficient to keep you out of the sun or rain. If you’re trapped in a colder climate, a simple hut or snow-cave can provide enough warmth to stabilize your temperature. Regardless of the type of shelter you construct, building some form of protection is time – and energy – well spent.

Admittedly, this is the most variable guideline in this list. As mentioned above, the timeline for danger can vary wildly depending on your circumstances. However, the rule of threes survival guidelines are about playing it safe, and for shelter, the rule of three survival standards suggests having shelter available within three hours.

3 Weeks Without Food

From all of the aspects of this list, the deadline for food is often the most surprising. Most people are accustomed to three square meals a day, and we rarely go an entire day without eating. Thus, you would be forgiven for believing that you won’t make it to the end of the week without food. Despite our regular patterns, the human body needs surprisingly little food to actually survive.

Again, the specific time will depend on a large variety of factors. First, your weight plays a large role here. The more weight you have to shed, the more time you can go skipping meals. Your activity level and metabolism also have a large impact. The more muscular and active you are, the more quickly your body will burn through its reserves. Even sex can play a role, with women being more durable than men in fasting situations. However, taking the average across the board, the rule of 3s survival standard suggests you can go about three weeks without food.

Of course, this is not an ideal situation. Without any caloric intake, your body will lack the fuel it needs to function. You will likely become lethargic and may experience disorientation, light-headedness, and overall weakness. Further, you will gradually lose strength as your body breaks down fat and muscle tissue in an attempt to survive. However, you won’t actually die from fasting for quite some time.

3 Days Without Water

Water is, without a doubt, the most important element in any survival plan. Although water makes up a shocking 60% of the human body, losing a mere 3% of that can lead to severe dehydration. Dehydration isn’t simply a matter of being thirsty. Rather, it can quickly become a death sentence.

As you’ve likely noticed, the specifics will vary depending on your age, activity level, health, and the heat and humidity of your surroundings. However, you simply don’t have much time without water. The rules of 3 survival guidelines state that you have only three days without water before the situation becomes life-threatening. For this reason, finding a source of hydration should always be a top priority in any emergency. Without it, you will slowly become increasingly tired and confused. Eventually, your organs will shut down and you will likely not survive. It’s a dire statement, but dehydration is no joke.

Remember to be creative when searching for water. While streams are a great source, don’t forget fruits, veggies, and other plant sources. Anything that gets water into your system will help, as long as you avoid saltwater. Even though the rule of threes says you have three days, you should prioritize reducing this amount if at all possible.

Rule of 3s

Although no single aspect of the rule of 3 survival guideline is set in stone, it is a great overall reminder of what you need to focus on in any survival situation. It also allows you to avoid distraction and panic. Simply remember the basics: 3 minutes without air 3 days without water. Food water shelter. Keep a mental list of the rules of 3s, stay calm, and find your way to safety.

Matthew Russo
Hey, my name is Matt, an avid outdoorsman, prepper and action taker. If you have found this article informative please feel free to leave a comment below and share it with your friends and family, it would make my day!

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