The Survival rule of 3

The Survival Rule of 3 (Air, Shelter, Water and Food)

Do you enjoy a long drive or venture in wilderness for camping with family or hunting with friends? If yes, then what will be your action plan if you get stranded in a deserted location or meet an accident or get lost in the forest?

The answer lies in getting acquainted with the rule of 3 in survival. This innovative formula prepares you to fight with the incapacitating power of nature to give life a fair chance to live. It prioritizes your basic needs in a nutshell as such that you cannot survive:

3 minutes without air

3 hours without shelter

3 days without water

3 weeks without food

It is a huge assumption if you think that getting back to your car is getting back to civilization. If you are trapped somewhere, it may take a while for the local officials to rescue you. In case of fatal disasters, you will be deprived of basic amenities or the privilege to contact someone.

This article will allow you to understand at what circumstances you can implement these rule of 3’s and why and how to best cater for them.

Note: Check out the basic wilderness survival skills that will safe your life.


The first concern of survival is whether you are breathing simply because without oxygen your body especially your brain will stop functioning. Your brain cells will start to die and you will be brain dead within 3 minutes.

You will find yourself at shortage of oxygen if you are at a very high altitude. This is because the air pressure is low at high altitudes which decrease the amount of oxygen exchange through respiration. This is not so much of a concern as the affinity of oxygen to oxyhaemogoblin will adjust sooner or later.

Having that said, each year many people die from choking, asthma, food allergies and bee sting. You will be surprised to know how many people especially infants lose their life by drowning.

You like sightseeing in ancient ruins and caves but this can easily turn into a nightmare for you if you get trapped in a confined space with limited air or be a victim of disasters such as building collapse, flash floods and earthquakes and even poisonous fumes from  tanker trucks, rail cars and chemical & other industrial plants.

Whenever you take a tour, always take into account the climate and location you will venture and prepare accordingly.

Train yourself to perform Heimlich Maneuver and CPR to help yourself and your loved ones in case of choking. If you are a hunter or go camping frequently, then you should learn how to perform an emergency tracheotomy. This will come in handy in case you meet any fatality and your fellow mate gets injured.

Additionally, carry dust or gas mask to help you filter contaminated air. If any of your family members have asthma or allergic reactions then keeping prescribed inhaler or emergency epinephrine is a must.


Next, build a shelter to prevent you from exposure in extreme weather. You must always maintain your body temperature at 37 degree celcius. The more you stray from your ideal weather the more you have chance of getting hypothermia. In advanced stages of hypothermia you may often discard your clothing because you think you are warm!

Though many people assume harsh winter is the prime cause of hypothermia but you are equally exposed to it in scorching heat of the desert or getting wet in heavy rain.

So, always pack a sleeping bag, warm blankets and a change of clothes including long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes if you venture to unfamiliar territory. If it is rainy or winter season then pack on rain gear, wind jackets and snow boots to keep you intact.

Clothing provides insulation and entraps your body heat to keep your warm. A hat is essential when you travel outdoor as most of your body heat is lost through your head.

Shelter can be of many types. If you are in an unknown place, its best to stay put in your vehicle until rescue comes. In absence of a vehicle try finding a safe spot like caves, hollow stumps and logs.

If nothing else works, then you will have to build a shelter for yourself. Learn how to construct a debris hut here because it can be practically built almost anywhere. If you are stuck in harsh winter then try building a snow cave or simply dig a hole in the snow like dogs do to keep yourself breathing.

Also, if you are interested in building a tarp tent, here are 25 great designs (infographic) for inspiration.

Note: If you are have knives, axes or machetes, then it would be much easier to build these shelters. Check out our best survival machete recommendation here.

Another task at your hand is to build fire to keep you warm and have light. Keep a candle in a can and lighter or matches in a waterproof container to start a fire.

Scourge twigs and branches from the forest to light a fire. A primitive way to elicit fire is using friction by bow drill, hand drill, fire plow, and fire saw. Learn how to build a fire using the bow and drill friction fire technique.

Last but not the least, keep some plastic sheeting and duct tapes to put your shelter in place along with mess kit and first aid kit when you travel to isolated location.

Survival Water Sources

78% of your body is fluid, which is used to process your food, eliminate chemical waste and cool your body. 3 days without water can kill you. Dehydration from water deprivation, profuse sweating in hot weather or diarrhea robs you the ability to maintain thermal weight.

You will need at least one gallon of water per person each day for drinking and sanitation. So, store water tightly in clean plastic containers such as soft drink bottles when you go for trips.

Water can be contaminated by microscopic pathogens which can cause severe sickness and even death. So, if you are stranded in the wild then search for springs, head water stream or morning dew to obtain clean water. If you have access to snow, you can even melt it to keep yourself hydrated.

In absence of clean water, you will need to purify it. The easiest way is heat water at boiling point for 2-3 minutes to kill bacteria and viruses.

If you are unable to conjure fire then you may use 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water to purify it. Using filtering pumps and iodine and herbal treatment are other sources of purifying water.  There are plenty of products on the market designed to make water clean enough to drink.  Check out our survival water purification system reviews for more information.


Food comes last in the list of survival. You can survive longer than 3 weeks without food depending on your body fat and exertion level. However, it is better not to take chances as lack of energy will restrict your body to function properly and your body will start to cannibalize itself.

Starvation can make you feel nauseated and too tired to gather food. It can be deadly if you are abandoned in a remote location. So, always pack at least 3 days’ worth of non-perishable food like granola bars and canned food. Stock up on infant formula and diapers if you have children.

It’s also helpful to have specifically made emergency foods.  These are produced and packaged to ensure a long shelf life (think 15 years or more).  You can read our emergency food reviews in this article.

Next, look around and see what other sources of food are available in the surrounding. What do you need to grow it or hunt it?

Plants such as oaks and grass are the most common form of food in most places. These can prove to be excellent source of protein, fat and calories. You can also eat insects like caterpillars to support your dietary needs.

Always cook your food in fire to kill microscopic pathogens like bacteria, protozoa and viruses in your food. If you love travelling to exotic locations then develop a basic knowledge on natural sciences to identify edible plants from poisonous ones and understand the supplements of nature.

To Respond To An Emergency

The above will keep you breathing and moving but you certainly need a plan to get out of there. You should always prioritize the risks specific to the area you are going and the weather you are most likely to face.

For example, if you are passing through volcanic or blizzard areas, you should prepare accordingly. Always inform your close relatives about your whereabouts while going on a trip so that they start looking for you if you go missing.

But regardless of where you are going, you must have a hand held GPS receiver and an up-to-date map with you to guide you through your track. Battery-powered or hand crank radio may save your life if you are lost in a remote place and your cell phone cannot catch a signal.

Similarly, keep a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) device with you to communicate from anywhere in the world.

Besides, draw attention for rescue by burning spare tire or feeding fire with green boughs to create black smoke. You can also purchase a cheap flare gun or whistle from any sporting goods store that can be used as a signal for help.

Keep extra batteries, compass and flash lights to find your way in the dark and educate your children and loved ones on first aid and survival technique to be able to deal with emergencies. Also, stash cash or travelers cheque and some books and magazines in order to subdue your anxiety in face of peril.


  • First make sure you have access to sufficient air, shelter, water and food
  • Next, find a source of communication
  • Play it safe until help comes for you

Please leave your comments below to get more insight on the topic and if you have any further queries.

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