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Survival: Rule of Three 3 - Air, Food and Water


The Rules of 3 in Survival

In survival, there are many sets of the "rules of three." These rules help you prioritize and they help you prepare. The best thing about the various rules of three is that they make it easier to remember the rules! There are a couple rules of three but I will be discussing two specific ones:

  • Air, Water, and Food
  • Sources of Necessities

These two rules of three are very important to remember. They are not explicit in their definitions, but they were made as easy to remember guidelines.


3 Minutes without Oxygen, 3 Days without Water, and 3 Weeks without Food

Once again, these rules are not explicit and there is documented evidence that people have survived past the above outlined times, but this guideline gives you a clean cut understanding of things to avoid. It is easy to remember, and it should be well heeded.

If you keep these guidelines in mind and are able to apply them, then you should be able to come out of any situation fine. For example: if you are trapped in the woods, then by the end of day two you should definitely be thinking about finding water. If you have these three rules committed to memory then you will know this, and be able to better prioritize. Instead of trying to hunt for food, you can realize that you should instead be searching for water.

Some might ask why these rules should be followed if people have survived beyond these supposed guidelines. To them I would say, why approach the absolute maximum? The people that have survived past the above mentioned guidelines were most likely in superior physical condition compared to the average person, and why push the limits? It is far better to be conservative with estimates than careless.

Expanded Version: Humans cannot survive without the following:

  • 3 Minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food
  • 3 months without hope

This version is meant to be applied in very harsh conditions like the arctic or the desert. In those conditions shelter should be very high on your list to avoid hypothermia or dehydration. The desert sun combined with the wind can dehydrate you in very little time!


Sources Of Necessities:

This rule is a great one that can be scaled into nearly every facet of life. It is important to have redundancy or else you risk being without your necessities. Other aspects of life that this can be applied to are: have three ways family can contact you (cell phone, email, work phone), have three sources of access to money (Cash, Debit, Credit), have three sources of transportation (Car, Public, Bicycle), and so on.

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As you can see this can be a very reliable way of operating as there are fewer times where none of your options are available to you. This rule was used by Indian tribes for hundreds of years to preserve their lives. They made sure they were located close to three sources of food and three sources of water. If you can find a way to apply these principles in as many aspects of life as possible, you will find that you will often not be disadvantaged because of an unforeseen event.

A few simple steps can lead you a long way to being better prepared for any situation. Yes, redundancy can be expensive, but here are some tips for prepping on a budget. The great thing about these principles is that they are versatile. You don't need to plan for each specific set back you may run into, instead, you offer yourself a three fold redundancy that allows you to take on most any situations. Big deal if your credit card stops working, you can use your debit card. If you lost your debit card, again, no big deal, use your cash.

Making Char Cloth:

Quiz: How Redundant Are You?


Jeffery Martin from Fort Worth on August 18, 2017:

Excellent explanation of the three basic rules of survival.

I think many people, that are into prepping, have seen one too many prepping shows on t.v.; and tend to overlook the basics.

Dennis Ebris (author) from Florida on December 08, 2009:

Thanks Jane!

The number 3 is very important. Also in photography I believe they have the rule of thirds (I'm not a photographer but I try). Basically, you try to get the main subject of your image to fall at the 1/3 line or 2/3 line rather than the typical and boring 1/2 line. It's like splitting your lens into thirds and then taking the picture. I've looked at sunsets photos that follow this rule, and then I've looked at ones that didn't and nearly always I preferred the one that followed the rule. I'm not sure if it is a predisposed bias since I've learned of the rule, but I suppose I'll never know that truth.



Ann Leavitt from Oregon on December 07, 2009:

Very helpful and well said. I was reminded of the aesthetic principle of threes as well; photographers try to incorporate three main items into a picture (as opposed to an even number or too many), and writers often use the rhythmic repetition of threes for emphasis, such as Churchill's "Never give in. Never give in. Never give in!"

Enelle Lamb from Canada's 'California' on October 20, 2009:

Excellent principle! A good addition would be 3 sources of income ;)

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