One of the biggest problems is focusing on what matters most in emergencies. That’s why we use acronyms and steps like the “ABCs” in emergency medicine to help us control panic and remember what we should do first, then second, etc. Survival is no different; we still need to control panic and prioritize our efforts. This is where the “Rule of 3’s” comes in.
The Rule of 3’s simply states is you have:
- 3 minutes without AIR
- 3 hours without SHELTER
- 3 days without WATER
- 3 weeks without FOOD
So what does all this mean? It tells us where our priorities should be. First, we should focus on 1st Aid and all life-threatening situations, ensuring we’ll still be breathing shortly. Next, we should worry about shelter because more people die of exposure than any other incident outdoors (Hypothermia is the number one killer in the outdoors). Next is water. And then finally, last food, not first. You would be surprised at how long a human can go without food.
Often in survival situations, people tend to focus on food first with fears of starvation in their heads or just plain aches in their stomachs (we’re a little spoiled in modern society in the area of food) when it should be our last priority. 1st Aid and dealing with all life-threatening situations is the obvious first choice, but then people tend to make poor decisions about priorities under stress. The second is shelter; after, 1st Aid should be our main focus.
Of course, the question always comes, “building a shelter is a lot of work; shouldn’t you try to conserve your energy in a survival situation?” The answer is Yes. But the question you have to ask yourself in any survival situation is, “do the benefits outweigh the costs?” In survival, energy means calories, and you only have so many currently stored within you (i.e. food, undigested food, and fat stores), so you need to spend them wisely and conserve what you have.
So we’re back to whether we should conserve or spend those calories. The answer is to Spend! Research shows that shivering uses up about 500 calories an hour and if you time that by an 8-hour night (not that you’ll be sleeping much that night), you get 4000 calories spent shivering. Most people can build a shelter in under an hour, and as they practice, they can shave even more time off (some can do it in 15 minutes). So spend that hour using up calories to ultimately save more (the benefits gained outweigh the costs). Besides, there’s an old saying, “you warm yourself twice with a survival shelter, once while you build it and once when you climb in it”.
Search and rescue statistics show most people are recovered within 72 hours, so if you handle the first 2 priorities, you will most likely make it. This is where my books come in; they teach you the skills you need to build shelters fast and efficiently, so your odds of survival go way up.
If things do go longer, you know what’s next — water. And finally, last but not least, the fourth priority is food. The “Rule of 3’s” (just like the “ABC” in 1st Aid) is a tool to help you control panic and remember in any survival situation what your steps are and what matters most.