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Published on December 10, 2020

Your Complete Guide to the Survival Rule of Threes

How To: Survive Anything, Anytime, Anywhere

survival rule of 3

Photo by Toomas Tartes on Unsplash

The survival rule of threes is a framework to guide how you prepare for emergencies and how to prioritize your efforts in dangerous situations. These situations could include civil unrest, a natural disaster, or a travel emergency. Thinking about survival situations will help you prepare and select the gear you store at home, pack in an emergency go-bag, or store in a pocket emergency kit. In prior articles, we covered how to use a prescription pill bottle to construct a pocket emergency kit and how to pack a travel medical kit.

Whatever happens, you will need to prioritize your actions over the first minutes, hours, days and weeks that follow. The rule of threes is particularly useful in planning for and surviving extreme environment exposures, as you’ll see below.

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You can survive up to 3 Minutes Without Air

3 minutes without air

Photo by Christian Sterk on Unsplash.

Clean, breathable air is the first requirement in this survival pathway. You can only survive up to three minutes without air. This could include submersion underwater (no air around you) or if you are choking (unable to breathe in the air around you). If the problem is related to air quality, you might last longer depending on the cause. Poor quality air could be the result of fire, tear gas, or any other cause of environmental pollution.

How to prepare: Firstly, you can learn some key medical skills by taking a “heartsaver” course by the American Heart Association. This course will teach you how to administer rescue breaths to others and how to perform the heimlich maneuver to assist choking victims. If you find yourself choking while alone, this handy youtube video reviews the procedure and demonstrates how to do this maneuver on yourself (skip ahead to minute 1:58).

For your gear preparation, you can pack the following items in your go-bag and car emergency kits: N95 respirator masks, goggles (for tear gas protection), and pocket resuscitator masks.

You can survive up to 3 Hours Without Shelter (in Extreme Weather)

3 hours without shelter

Photo by Portij on Unsplash.

The second priority in this survival framework is shelter. While this may not be an issue when weather conditions are ideal, extreme weather conditions (heat, wind, cold, altitude, sun exposure) can threaten your survival within three hours. These conditions can cause heat related medical illness (heat exhaustion and heat stroke) and cold weather injuries (frostbite and hypothermia).

How to prepare: A variety of items can be packed to prepare for extreme weather. These include a bivy sack, tarp, or emergency blanket. In cold weather conditions, pack extra warm clothes and a variety of fire starting materials (additional links here, here, and here). Fire starters are a key component of our pill bottle emergency kit.

You can survive up to 3 Days Without Water

3 days without water

Photo by Boxed Water Is Better on Unsplash.

The next survival priority is water. Without steady hydration the body weakens in about 3 days (faster in extreme heat environments).

How to prepare: In addition to packing a water bottle, consider adding water purification tablets, a lifestraw, or a gravity filter to your packing list.

You can survive up to 3 Weeks Without Food

3 weeks without food

Photo by Adrian Infernus on Unsplash.

Finally, after you have addressed and endured the previous three challenges, you can think about food. The human body can survive a surprisingly long time without food, though after three weeks it will be in an extremely weakened state.

How to prepare: For short trips you can pack a selection of your favorite snacks or perhaps a few high density ration bars. To prepare for longer term emergencies, where you may need to shelter in place for several weeks, you can add a few “meal ready to eat” (MRE) ration pouches.

What items have you incorporated into your gear to address the survival rule of threes? Let us know in the comments below!

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