Say you’re hiking in the woods and manage to get lost. Do you know the first thing you need to do? What about if an aggressive wild animal confronts you? If you’re trapped? Whether you’re a seasoned survivalist or are just starting, it never hurts to get a refresh on essential information. This includes how long you would be able to survive without essentials.
The Rule of Threes is an estimate of each of your basic survival needs. It covers the following needs:
- Three minutes without oxygen.
- Three hours without shelter.
- Three days without water.
- Three weeks without food.
It's unlikely that it will land perfectly if you put a timer on for the exact time for each. We don't think you'd want to test it out for yourself, either. Actual times may vary from person to person, but these rules will give you a better sense of what to prioritize if you get stuck in an unfamiliar place or a dangerous situation.
Three Minutes Without Oxygen
To clarify, we mean clean, non-toxic air. Time is of the essence when you need oxygen. A lack of oxygen can happen in a lot of situations where you might get trapped.
If your car somehow ends up submerged in water (it happens!) and you’re trapped inside, do the following:
- Unbuckle your seatbelt and roll down your window as quickly as possible. Keep your chin above water and though it'll be difficult, manage your panicked reactions that can take away precious oxygen while you're fighting to stay alive. Breathe normally until the water rises to your chest, and then breathe in as much as possible before holding your breath.
- Break open the side window, NOT the windshield. The side window is easier to smash with a hard object such as your headrest or even your feet. Your chances of survival increase if you can smash open the window instead of trying to exit through a door.
- Propel yourself to the top of the water as quickly as possible if you are underwater. If you manage to escape before the car completely sinks, simply crawl through the window and continue floating until help arrives or swim to shore if one is within swimming distance.
Three Hours Without Proper Shelter
You can survive without proper shelter in good weather, but we’re talking about extreme heat or cold. Worse, if a storm comes by while you’re struggling to find a safe place to stay, you’ll need to make finding shelter a priority and fast.
If you have an EDC Kit or other emergency pack, then you might have an emergency blanket on hand. Disposable but highly effective for conserving body heat, you can find one neatly folded in your emergency kit. This can be made into a makeshift tent if necessary as long as you have some sort of cordage.
If you don't have anything to turn into a makeshift tent, don't fret. A shelter that's good enough for animals can also turn into a shelter that will work for you until you can find something better.
Taking shelter in a hollowed-out tree has been a sustainable option for many years. Some pioneers utilized hollow trees for this exact purpose.
Be careful to check for signs of other animals living in it before making it your temporary home. Snakes and other critters might have the same idea as you have by taking shelter in trees.
Rock Overhangs or Caves
Either of these options protects from the sun or gives consistent temperatures. Just watch out for any loose rocks, creatures, and other hazards.
Three Days Without Water
Water is essential to your body’s functioning since the body is made up of nearly 70 percent of water. Dehydration can cause your body’s organs to slow or completely shut down, so even if you can’t find food, water is an absolute must for survival.
Your body can survive without water for about three days, so hopefully, you have a reusable water bottle or canteen. It’s even better if you have water purification tablets or a filtered water bottle. But if you only have the clothes on your back, there are a few ways to collect water that is safe to drink.
Rain or Snow
If it begins to rain, try collecting the water in your bottle or canteen. If there is snow on the ground, collect it in a container and wait until it melts. If you happen to have a cooking pot, boil the snow to disinfect it. If you don’t have a pot, you may be able to find an abandoned tin can, glass jar, plastic bottle, or other container.
If it is sunny outside, you can leave the water in the clear glass or bottle in the sunlight to heat the water. It isn’t a perfect process, but anything is better than risking drinking bacteria in the water.
If you’re willing to get up early, and we think you would have to, try tying fabric like a shirt or towel around your legs and walk through the morning dew until they are properly soaked. Squeeze the water you collected into your mouth. Repeat as necessary.
Three Weeks Without Food
Starvation, like dehydration, causes the body’s organs to shrink or even cease to function. Your entire mood and clarity of mind can change, which poses additional risk in dicey survival situations.
The other problem is that the longer you go without food, the more likely your body is willing to stop digestion, which causes diarrhea, which can contribute to dehydration. So while food doesn't have to be an immediate priority, you want to sustain yourself long enough to prevent total disruption to your organs.
Finding safe food to eat can be cumbersome, but foraging for food will have to be your friend if you have no other choices. Try finding some of these:
- Edible berries or other plants that are safe to eat, such as dandelions, bamboo, or burdock
- Small animals like rabbits or squirrels
- Deer and other bigger game
- Insects and worms that do not bite or sting
With any of these options, there's always a risk. If you have the means to cook your food, most definitely do so to prevent the transmission of any diseases. But if things are desperate, you can eat various raw meats until you can find help.
If you don’t have hunting gear, you can design your own out of cordage to make a slingshot, a fishing line, or a bag to catch fish and mollusks in. Just remember to store your food safely by hanging it above where wildlife can reach it and run away with your hard-earned catch.
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