Venturing out into the great outdoors comes with a lot of misconceptions. Many people think that they can learn the ways of mountaineering overnight. Others have no idea about what survival and preparedness entails. Do not let yourself be one of those people. The first rule of thumb for travel is to know the essential Rule of Three and how it can save your life.

Hypothetical Situations

Commonly, when people are outdoors doing excursions, they often do not think about being ready for unpredictable consequences. An example is going out into the Sahara Desert and not being ready for a sandstorm—or even knowing what to do if one occurs. Another would be hiking up a mountain without ever researching the needed tools and average temperature at the peak.

Sure, you might have the boots and backpack, but do you have insulated layers, poles, rope, a headlamp, and supplies to reenergize and stay hydrated? What happens when you get halfway, night falls, and now you are stuck on a mountainside in a hoodie in the dark? Oddly enough, you may have remembered to pack a cigarette lighter, but that will not be of any true help to you.

Lastly, in the worst case scenario, where you are on a plane that crashes into the ocean. You wash up on a beach without any knowledge of discerning your location. Stripped of everything, thirsty, and hungry, how do you survive?

That is where the Rule of Three comes into play.

The Survival Rule of 3 and Prioritizing

In a real survival situation, keeping calm and organizing what has to be done is always the first priority. Once you have done that, you can focus on the following durations for how long you can survive in certain conditions:

  • 3 minutes without breathable air
  • 3 minutes submerged in glacial water
  • 3 hours without decent shelter in a harsh environment (just not in icy water)
  • 3 days without water when sheltered from a harsh environment
  • 3 weeks without food when you have shelter and fresh drinking water

Since the common factor in all of these is the “3,” this mnemonic for survival has become known as the Rule of Three.

As you can see, the Rule of Three is organized by shortest to longest duration. When you apply these statements to the survival situation you are in, you can concentrate on the most immediate problem before all the others. So instead of thinking that you need to eat immediately while sitting in the rain, you can focus on building a shelter before worrying about satisfying hunger pangs.

Remember, if your cloths are wet, you are more at risk of hypothermia than starvation. If you are alone, shivering, you will not last longer than about 3 hours, let alone 3 days.

Now that you have your survival priorities straight, the next thing to do is to learn how to avoid or mitigate these situations swiftly.​

3 Minutes Without Air

Though this scenario may immediately conjure up images of drowning, there are other instances where you or someone you know might be unable to breath. For example, if someone is choking on a Twinkie, you need to extract the obstruction immediately by using the Heimlich maneuver (if the victim is conscious) or CPR (if the victim is unconscious). If you get stuck by a bee and go into anaphylactic shock, you need to carry a shot of epinephrine and wear a medical identification tag to let others know.

3 Minutes Before Hypothermia

The key to warding off hypothermia is that you avoid getting too hot too quickly, because this could put the body into shock. Warmth has to be returned to the body slowly. So if you pull someone from an icy river, you need to get the wet clothes off immediately and cover them with blankets. If conscious, have them drink warm liquids.

3 Hours Without Shelter

survival shelter rule of 3

Although 3 hours is largely variable depending on the type of climate zone you are in, consider 3 hours a decent timeframe. For example, if you cannot maintain a homeostatic core temperature, such as falling below 92 degrees F or getting above 103 degrees F, the results are often fatal. Being able to build even the most rudimentary of shelters and knowing how to maintain your core body temperature is crucial.

You may not think that this applies to you, especially if you rarely go outdoors. However, take a moment to consider this alarming statistic: From 2003 to 2013, the amount of deaths in the United States that were caused by hypothermia totaled 13,400, according to HealthDay News. Around 2010, 31% of those deaths had been caused by hyperthermia and heat stroke; and 63% of them had been due to hypothermia (, 2010). Some of these deaths are attributed to the victim passing out from overexertion. A couple were due to faulty heating systems in buildings.

In short, without proper protection from the elements, the human body rapidly shuts down.

3 Days Without Water

Once you know you or those around you can breathe, are not freezing to death, and have satisfactory shelter from inclement weather, the next thing you need to worry about is drinking water.

60% or more of the human body is comprised of water. Every living cell in the body requires H2O to function properly. Water lubricates our joints, regulates our body temperature, and flushes toxins. Going without water for an extended period of time makes you dangerously dehydrated. In turn, blood volume can drop. This results in a fall in blood pressure levels and a cessation in perspiration.

Keep a bottle of water with you at all times, especially during summer months. If you do not have a bottle of water and are lost out in uncharted nature, learn how to make a solar still or how to crudely filter water. Such skills can increase the probability of survival.

3 Weeks Without Food

When everything else is accounted for, only then do you have to worry about food. The human body is remarkably resilient in terms of starvation. As long as you have water and are warm, scrounging up a minimal amount of nourishment can keep you going. Medical Daily recently reported that, depending on the body size and health of an individual, a person can last 30 to 40 days without eating anything at all. But you still need vitamins and minerals from liquids.


Now that you know the Rule of Three for Survival and why it is important to understand, be sure to prepare yourself from anything that might require you to make use of the rules. Whenever you had out into the wilderness, always carry essential tools, practice making solar stills and shelter, and pack nutrient dense foods that can be rationed in a worst case scenario.

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