Learn the Rule of Threes to Keep Yourself Alive


Staying alive in an emergency situation is something most people don’t think about. To those of us who study prepping and survival it ranks right at the top of the list.

Ask just about anyone other than a woodsman, “What is the first thing you would do if you were lost in the wilderness?”, and they will almost always answer, “Try to find something to eat.” or some variation of that answer.

Ron Hood of Hood’s Woods came up with The Rule of Threes several years back. It is something I have taught my children and anyone else I talk to about prepping and survival.

The rule provides an invaluable tool for figuring out what is most important; it will help you set your priorities in most emergency situations.

The Rule of Threes

You can live three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food.

The rule works by telling you what will kill you the fastest. When applied to your current situation you will be able to figure out what problem needs to be addressed first. You start at the beginning and if you are good on a point then move on until you are not; that point will be your first priority.

Let’s break down each portion and look at them one at a time.

3 Minutes without Air

Most of the time, if you are breathing you have this rule covered, but there are a couple situations that you will need to remember it.

If you are trapped in a house fire or possibly a capsized boat you will need to remember if you try to find your way out you will have basically three minutes holding your breath before it is too late.

3 Hours without Shelter

If you read news stories of people who have been rescued from being lost, you will notice a common theme in the story. They will be in the hospital being treated for exposure and dehydration (next rule).

If you are caught out in a sudden freezing rain with jeans and a t-shirt, shelter will be your top priority. Most people will continue on, trying to find their way out. If you are lost or more than a couple hours out, there is a good chance you will die if you don’t take care of your shelter.

I always consider fire as a form of shelter since it can keep you warm and dry. I have ridden out more than one Rocky Mountain sleet storm by a fire wearing only jeans and a t-shirt.

This rule is equally valid for hot or cold climates, since heat will kill you just as fast as cold will in certain circumstances.

3 Days without Water

Dehydration is something that can sneak up on you. I lived in the Rockies for several years and I rarely drank enough when out in the hills. Most people are the same way in that they don’t realize they need to drink plenty of fluids, especially in an emergency situation where stress levels are high.

In the previous rule, I mentioned those rescued from being lost needing treatment for dehydration. This is usually the case even for those who are found with plenty of water available to them.

Be sure to secure a source of potable water early on in your emergency.

3 Weeks without Food

Finally, we get to food.

Three weeks is a long time without anything to eat. The rule isn’t saying you don’t need to eat; it is merely telling you that food is not a top priority when other things will kill you far faster than starvation.

If food is scarce and a problem, you should eat every chance you get to keep up your energy level.

The Rule of Threes is not a hard and fast rule. It is simply a tool to remember that will tell you what is most important at any given time during an emergency. If you will memorize the rule and apply it, you will increase your chance of survival greatly.

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