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What is the Rule of Three for Survival?

View from above a misty forest full of green trees

Something that any survivalist should know is the rule of three, as this will help you to be aware of what your priorities should be in a survival situation. Learning about the survival rule of three will help you to remember what the most and least important things for you to do are, and this way, you can come up with a plan of action more easily.

When you are thrown into a survival situation, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and do things in all the wrong order. Knowing how long a person can go without things like food, water, shelter, and even air will allow you to prioritise certain tasks over others. 

While you might think that getting food is really important, it might not be the first thing that you should be focussing on. We are going to explain everything that you need to know about the rule of three for survival in this article to help you prepare for the worst-case scenario.

What is the Rule of Three in Survival?

When it comes to survival, the rule of three is as follows:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

A person will be able to survive for 3 minutes without air or 3 minutes in icy water, 3 hours without shelter in a harsh environment, 3 days without water if you have shelter, and 3 weeks without food if you have shelter and water. All of these factors are in order of priority, which ensures that you will know exactly what you need to do first in a survival situation. Making the wrong choice can easily mean the difference between life and death, which is why it is so important to follow the rule of three.

Why is the Rule of Three Important?

The rule of three is really important as knowing about them will allow you to focus solely on the most immediate problem that you have. These rules can be applied to almost any situation, and you should always follow them in order of importance if you want to survive. For example, your first priority in terms of survival is not to get food as there are other things to do first that are more important.

In harsh weather conditions, you shouldn’t be out looking for water before you have a shelter to retreat to that will allow you to escape these conditions. Hypothermia is a big threat, and you can lose the ability to function. You can go for 3 days without water, so it doesn’t really seem as important when you look at the bigger picture. It doesn’t matter if you find water if you are not going to be alive long enough to drink it.

The first step might not be so important to you in every situation, but it will certainly apply for some. This is more of an immediate emergency that will need to be solved very quickly, but it likely won’t be a threat in every scenario. This is something that is really important to know about for survival situations that involve water or a lack of oxygen. If there is nobody nearby to rescue you, then you will need to think fast to get yourself to safety.

Three Minutes Without Air

One of the most immediate issues that you will have to solve is those that revolve around a lack of oxygen. Whether this is in water or any other scenario, you will need to think quickly to get yourself to safety. After three minutes, your body will start to shut down, so time really is of the essence. So, any situation that is leaving you with no way to breathe is your highest priority.

How Long Can a Human Stay Underwater With Air?

If you are underwater but you have a source of air, the amount of air that you have available to you will determine how long you are able to stay alive. If you have a tank of oxygen, your time will run out when the tank has been completely depleted of oxygen, so you will have a limited amount of time to make it back to the surface.

How Long Could You Survive in an Air Pocket?

The amount of time that you could survive in an air pocket will depend on the size of the pocket of air, but in an air pocket that is the size of a large van, you would be able to survive for around 72 hours before you would pass out. The biggest issue that you will face inside an air pocket is a build-up of carbon dioxide. Each time that you exhale within the bubble, you release carbon dioxide into the space which is toxic to breathe in. 

If the level of carbon dioxide reaches 50,000 parts per million, you will start to feel a bit like you are drunk, and at 70 parts per million, you will begin to lose consciousness. If there is too much carbon dioxide in the air, you will need to either find another air pocket to breathe in to extend your life or find a way out of the situation. The smaller the air pocket is, the less time you will have available to you. 

How Long Can You Go Without Breathing to Be Revived?

There is no set amount of time that a person can go without breathing before it is too late for them to be revived, as the answer is not so specific. It would depend on the conditions that the person was subject to, and the general rule is that nobody is really dead until they are warm and dead. 

This is due to the fact that someone that was subject to hypothermia and stopped breathing has a higher chance of being revived after not breathing for a long time. There have even been cases where a person has stopped breathing for 45 minutes before being resuscitated, due to the fact that they were hypothermic. The cold can work to preserve the body, meaning that at times, a person can be revived even when they haven’t been breathing for a while.

Three Hours Without Shelter

In really hot or really cold environments or extreme weather conditions, like heavy rain or wind, blazing heat, or snow, the elements will become your worst enemy. It is really important that you take shelter to survive these situations, as the elements really can be unforgiving. You will need to try and keep your body at around 37 degrees celsius, and when it is super hot outside, you will need to take shelter from the sun. 

The body can lose and gain heat in many different ways, but you don’t want to get too cold as you could get hypothermia, and you don’t want to get too hot as you will overheat. You will have around three hours before things start to get really dangerous in these conditions without a shelter. Your shelter will be able to help to minimise things like heat loss and gain and get you out of any harsh weather conditions. It will also be useful to start a fire near your shelter to help keep you warm.

How Long Does it Take to Become Hypothermic?

A person can become hypothermic in as little time as  5 to 10 minutes in freezing temperatures if you are not dressed for the occasion, have any exposed skin, or are not covering up your head, hands, fingers, and face.

Overall, the amount of time that it would take for someone to become hypothermic would depend on the conditions that they are in and the type of exposure. However, if conditions are dangerous enough, then a person can die from hypothermia within the hour. If you were to fall into freezing water, you could get hypothermia much more quickly.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothermia?

Some symptoms of hypothermia are:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

What Happens to the Body During Extreme Heat Exposure?

If you are exposed to extremely hot weather conditions, you could be susceptible to a variety of different illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Heat exhaustion is one of the most common conditions that is caused by heat exposure, and it happens due to a loss of body water and salt through excessive sweating. 

There are many signs and symptoms that you can look out for, like heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, visual disturbances, intense thirst, nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle cramps, breathlessness, palpitations, and tingling and numbness of the hands and feet. To recover from heat exhaustion, you will need to rest in a cooler area and drink cold drinks. 

Another common heat-related illness that you can develop is heat stroke, which is one of the most serious types of heat illness. Some signs of heatstroke that you can look out for are a body temperature that is more than 41 degrees celsius, complete or partial loss of consciousness, and a lack of or excessive sweating. There are two types of heatstroke, and these are classical, where there is little or no sweating, and exertional, which usually occurs from strenuous work in hot conditions.

Three Days Without Water

Water is something that the body needs in order to function properly, and it is one of the most important needs that humans have. If you are drinking water in the wild, it is best to treat it first as there can be lots of waterborne contaminants and bacteria inside it. However, if you have run out of options, then you might have to bite the bullet and drink the water.

In these circumstances, you will need to use your common sense and avoid any water that shows obvious signs of toxicity. Never drink from old and stagnant water, and avoid any water with dead animals or no vegetation. 

The amount of water that you will need will depend on the environment that you are in, as it is much easier to become dehydrated when it is particularly hot and humid outside due to the amount that you sweat. In such a situation, you will need to drink more water than normal to survive. If the heat is really bad, then you should try to rest as much as possible throughout the day and travel at night when you can.

If you become dehydrated, try not to exert yourself and know that dehydration can stop you from being able to think clearly. The colour of your urine will tell you if you are dehydrated, as it should be clear. If this is the case, then you are hydrated.

Why Can’t We Survive Without Water?

We can’t survive for long without water because our bodies need water for almost every process that takes place. You need water to be able to regulate your own body temperature, to aid digestion, and to moisten mucous membranes.

Without enough water, your kidneys will not be able to flush waste from your blood, which will cause them to eventually shut down. It won’t be long before your other organs start to shut down too.

Where Can You Find Drinking Water in the Wild?

The best places to find drinking water in the wild are in valleys, ravines, and other low points. Your best bet is to find running water, and the faster it is flowing, the better the quality of water. You should always prioritise running water over surface water.

Can You Drink Sea Water to Survive?

No, you cannot drink sea water to survive because your kidneys will not be able to process salty water without fresh water. Drinking sea water in a survival situation is only going to make you dehydrate faster. 

Three Weeks Without Food

Your body is able to go through short periods of starvation, which is super helpful if you ever end up in a short-term survival situation. However, if you are stuck for weeks or even months without food, then you will need to come up with a plan.

Food isn’t typically a huge priority, but once you have sorted out your more urgent needs, then you can start to think about how you are going to survive in your situation. The first thing to remember is that it is really important to conserve calories. You will need to ration your food, but also keep in mind that once it runs out, you will need to source your own food, and it’s best not to leave this until the last minute.

Can You Survive On Berries?

You can survive by living off berries and nuts in the wild as long as you know what is and isn’t safe to eat. These two types of food will provide most of the nutrients that you need to survive. Although there are lots of wild berries that are completely harmless if you eat them, there are also some that can kill you on the spot. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid eating white or yellow berries.

Should You Risk Eating Something Unfamiliar in a Survival Situation?

No, you shouldn’t risk eating something unfamiliar in a survival situation. The main thing to remember in a survival situation is that if you are unsure if it is safe to eat, you shouldn’t eat it. Eating something that makes you sick is only going to dehydrate you faster. In a really bad situation, eating the wrong thing can get you killed, so it is important to be vigilant. 

What Should You Avoid Eating in a Survival Situation?

There are lots of rules when it comes to things that you should avoid eating in a survival situation, but the most common are to avoid mushrooms and plants with white or yellow berries. You should also avoid eating plants with thorns or shiny leaves, as well as plants with leaves that are in groups of three. If the thing that you are eating tastes bitter or soapy, then you should spit it out and find something else to eat.