The survival rule of 3 to stay alive in the wild

La règle de survie de 3 pour rester en vie dans la nature - Phil Team

Being stranded or lost in the middle of nowhere is the worst circumstance imaginable for many of us.

Countless people enjoy hiking and exploring mountainous or forested areas off the beaten path, but how many of them would know what to do if they suddenly realize they have no idea which way to go?

It can be easy to think that such a thing will never happen to you, especially if you are a regular hiker. However, if you are entering uncharted territory, you need to have a back-up plan. No one intends to get lost, but that doesn't stop it from happening.

When I talk about preparation here, I'm not just talking about equipment. I'm also talking about preparing your mindset.

The Rule of 3 Survival Skills is a relatively well-known set of guidelines.

These facts act as reminders of how long you can survive under certain conditions. In this guide, I'll explain what the Rule of 3 is and how to use it if you ever find yourself lost in an unforgiving wilderness.


What is the Survival Rule of 3?

This survival rule of 3 says you can survive:

  • 3 minutes without oxygen
  • 3 hours without some form of protection against extreme weather conditions
  • 3 days without water source
  • 3 weeks without any food

It's basically an easy way to remember what you need to survive and the danger you're in if you don't have immediate access to any of the above.

But the key thing to understand about Rule 3 of Survival is that it's not strictly factual.

Rather, it provides an easy-to-remember checklist of what to prioritize in compromised circumstances.

Each graduation of the rule of 3 builds on the safety of the previous rule. For example, if you have a three-day supply of water but no shelter from extreme weather conditions, you won't last beyond the first three hours of exposure.

Likewise, if you have sufficient weather protection but don't have access to clean oxygen, you won't make it past the first three minutes.

It all sounds rather sinister, which is why it's so important to pay attention to the meaning of each of the levels.

I must emphasize that these "rules" are not scientifically proven indicators of how your body will react to extreme circumstances. All human beings are different, after all. These guidelines are estimates created to give you a framework for survival.

So, with that in mind, let's go through each level and how to react in the worst circumstances.

survival guide

Lack of oxygen

I will start with the most alarming of them: respiratory failure. Access to oxygen and regular breathing are so natural to most of us that we barely realize it. It's mostly a subconscious act, although you're probably very aware of your breathing. I'm sorry.

As humans, we are accustomed to our next breath arriving smoothly. But it's when we can no longer hold our breath that panic sets in immediately.

This panic only makes things worse. Your desperation to catch your breath causes you to breathe faster, which limits the amount of oxygen in your immediate environment.

Here are some of the main reasons for oxygen limitation:

  • Choking
  • Allergic reaction
  • Confined space

To prioritize item number one of the Rule of 3 survival guidelines, you need to train in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.

You should also have some knowledge of wild berries or plants that can cause an allergic reaction. This last point is particularly important if you are entering an unknown area or region.

Perhaps the most terrifying prospect of all is the thought of being stuck in a confined space. If this happens, your immediate reaction will be to try to fight back and escape. Resist this urge. Instead, stay calm and try to find a way to create a breathing hole.

Access to oxygen should always be your priority over escape. Doing so saves you time, which can mean the difference between life and death.

Access to shelter from extreme weather conditions
When I say extreme weather, I don't necessarily mean the scorching heat of the Sahara or the freezing temperatures of the Arctic.

Most hikes are in thick forests or mountain slopes. Coupled with adverse weather conditions, these environments can pose a real threat.

Knowing what constitutes an effective shelter and how to find (or build) it is essential when you are lost in the wild. Proper shelter can save you valuable time to plan your next move. According to the survival rule of 3s, finding shelter is more important for survival than finding food or water.

In the most extreme cases, you can last only three hours without shelter. If, for example, you get caught in a blizzard, you can get hypothermia and pneumonia. But with a shelter, you can find protection from the elements and increase your chances of having a space that retains some degree of heat.

The vitality of a shelter is valid even if you do not detect an immediate threat from your surroundings. The human body has ways of coping with dangerous weather conditions that can go completely unnoticed by the average hiker until it's too late. Establishing a shelter gives you a base of operations that can help keep you grounded in such dire circumstances.

So, what form can this shelter take? You are unlikely to find a fully equipped cabin in the middle of the woods to occupy it. You have to think outside the box and use what is available to you. You can build a debris hut from the surrounding sticks, moss, and mud to provide surprising insulation.

Remember that in cold regions the main cause of death for lost travelers is hypothermia, not starvation. Even in the height of summer, a flash flood can expose you to the elements and sudden cold.

If you are unsure whether you can build a suitable shelter yourself, it is imperative that you bring the correct equipment. Safety blankets, tarps, and hammocks can make fantastic shelter if you throw them over fallen trees or strong branches.

A quality rope and tactical knife can also be extremely useful in the wild. I always take both with me when I venture out into the wild. One or two lighters are also useful for starting a fire. These small additions can make a significant difference.


Stay hydrated

The survival rule of 3 states that you can live without water for three days. Staying hydrated is way more important to your body than dealing with those hunger pangs. You must maintain a steady supply of water for your body, or you risk fatal dehydration.

When I say this, I mean hydration by drinking clean water. There are of course alternatives, but nothing will hydrate your body faster and more effectively than water.

Before heading to a new area, try to learn what natural water sources are available. This information will give you an idea of ​​what is available to you if you get lost.

While streams may seem like a great source of clean water, it's hard to know if it's safe to drink without the proper tools. Water purifiers are an integral part of any expedition for this exact reason.

Finding a water source is a challenge in itself - don't make it harder by taking chances with potentially contaminated water.

In modern times, the ability to purify found water couldn't be easier. From purifying tablets to straws that clean the water as you drink it, you can use a huge variety of easy-to-carry options.

That said, it is better to drink "dirty" water than to drink nothing at all if you have no other choice.

The only water you should never drink is salt water. It can dehydrate you faster than a complete lack of hydration.

The adverse effects of contaminated water can be harmful, but when it comes to choosing between dehydration and risk, the options are few. To avoid this situation, equip yourself properly before embarking on an extended hike or excursion. Don't underestimate the value of heavy-duty water bottles and purification tools.


Securing food

Compared to water and shelter, locating food is significantly less critical to your survival.

This information may come as a surprise to many, but as the Survival Rule of 3 reminds us, you can usually survive about three weeks without needing food.

This period represents a large amount of time to be lost in the wild. By then, a rescue team will have saved most people, or the lost person will have found their way back to civilization.

However, going without food for long periods of time is not ideal in any situation.

It affects your energy level, causes painful stomach cramps, and hinders your ability to think clearly. It's not what you want or need when trying to browse.

Fortunately, a small amount of food can be very useful when eaten in rations. Nuts and seeds, granola, dried fruit, nut butter, and jerky are all great to take with you on an expedition. They last a long time and keep you full longer.

Again, it is essential to do your research before your hike. In the same way that you should research local water sources in case you get lost, you should also research the edible fauna that is native to the area.

This food can also include insects. Granted, none of this sounds very appetizing. But believe me, when hunger pains drive you crazy, you'll be surprised what you'll be ready to eat.

Worms and acorns may not have exceptional nutritional value. However, they provide you with energy, which is better than depleting your resources entirely. Don't forget to pack high-calorie foods with you, and you shouldn't need to resort to foraging.

Is the rule of 3 misleading?

The purpose of the Rule of 3s is to provide a general framework on how to survive in extreme circumstances. With the countless situations in which a person might need it, it is not an exact guide or a set of absolute certainties. Does that make it totally useless information? Not at all, but it can be potentially misleading.

Critics of the Rule of 3 survival framework point out that not all of its "rules" conform strictly to real-life applications. There are far too many changing variables in survival situations for a simple rule of three to apply.

For example, the idea that you can survive 3 minutes without oxygen makes it seem like you still have full control of your body for 3 minutes, even if your breathing is restricted.

This ideal circumstance is not always the case. Oxygen restrictions can cause uncontrollable panic within seconds, which can further hamper your breathing.

Likewise, critics claim that only being able to survive without shelter for three hours is a mistake. With adequate clothing, you can create a form of coverage. The right clothing (like tactical boots, pants, etc.) can protect you from your surroundings.

It is also crucial to consider the climate of where you are lost. Dehydration can occur much faster in some areas than in others due to the heat.

If you make your way over rocky terrain, you will need to rehydrate more frequently due to the greater physical exertion.

But does all of this mean that the rule of three inherently seeks to mislead people? No, this is not the case. While these rules don't necessarily apply to every conceivable situation, they do provide hikers with a baseline of information. From these easy-to-remember rules, you can craft a survival plan based on your unique circumstances.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to survival planning. Each circumstance is different and therefore requires individual assessment. The Rule of 3 survival framework simply provides a starting point for your thinking.


Bonus: the STOP survival method

The acronym STOP is another easy-to-remember survival guideline. Often used in tandem with the Rule of 3s survival plan, the acronym STOP assigns each letter a distinct action to perform. It looks like this:

The S in STOP stands for "Sit". When you find you're lost, it can be easy to panic. Dread can quickly set in and limit your ability to think logically. Stop this process immediately.

Instead, take a seat and focus on your breathing. If you start filling your head with all the scary possibilities, you're going to paralyze yourself. It is imperative to remain calm.

The T in STOP stands for reflection. Take the time to consider your situation.

Are you hurt ? Is your current situation the result of an accident? Check that you and the people accompanying you are not injured. Some are not immediately noticeable, so check carefully because finding an injury later will embarrass you more.

How are your provisions? Take stock of what you have and what you need to help you prepare for your next action.

The O in STOP stands for "Observe". This is the time when you need to observe your surroundings.

Are there any visible clues that can give you a sense of direction? Do you hear anything that could indicate civilization? What direction did you come from and what direction were you facing when you were walking? Is it possible that a 180 degree turn could bring you back to a more recognizable place?

It may also be useful to note any landmarks in the immediate area to better identify your current location. These observations can save you from going in circles.

The last letter P of STOP stands for "plan". If you've taken stock of your situation and don't see an easy solution, it's time to make the necessary plans for your survival. This plan should include locating (or building) shelter and finding a natural water source to supplement your supplies.

If you have any idea that you won't find your way home before dark, prioritize shelter and start a fire.

If you find a passable route that can lead you back to civilization, be sure to leave traces. So if you accidentally take another wrong turn, you can quickly get back on track.

Final Thoughts

The feeling of getting lost or getting stuck in a sticky situation is terrifying. I hope you will never experience this. The best thing you can do is plan your expedition carefully in advance and equip yourself sufficiently.

If something happens, keep the three principles of survival rule in mind. Prioritize oxygen, shelter, water, then food. Also stop and take stock of your situation.

Remind yourself that you haven't lost control and that you can survive the situation by staying calm and thinking clearly.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published