Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Rule of Threes

The rule of threes is a method of looking at how you choose what to do in a survival situation or when preparing to meet a survival situation. The rule of threes explains in simple terms the order in which things should be done to survive and thrive.
  • Three minutes without air
  • Three hours without shelter
  • Three days without water
  • Three weeks without food
  • Three months without hope

Just like the ABC of First Aid (airway, breathing, circulation) the rule of threes states what happens first. With ABC you need to check and make sure the airway is clear. If the airway is not clear breathing isn't going to happen. Next you check breathing. If they are not breathing then working on anything else, no matter how gory, isn't going to save the life of the victim. Only then do you work on circulation which includes controlling bleeding.

Three minutes without air

You are just not going to survive if you aren't breathing. It doesn't matter if you have a 6 year supply of food, water and other supplies, you will be dead long before you use a fraction of them.

For the sake of this list we include First Aid within the "air" category. The first thing to do is to take care of injuries. Make sure people are all breathing, that the bleeding has been stopped, that the broken bits and pieces are fixed up and people are on the way to healing.

Some things to consider in your "air" category:

  • Bandages
  • Medical kit
  • Inhaler
  • Epi-Pen
  • Aspirin
  • Prescription Medications
  • Splints
  • wrapping tape
  • sling
  • Litter
  • tourniquet
  • over the counter medications
  • Anti-itch creams and powders
  • Breathing Mask for CPR

Some skills to include with your "air" category:

  • CPR (new and old style)
  • Advanced First Aid
  • Wilderness First Aid
  • How to identify plants with medicinal properties
  • How to use EVERYTHING in your First Aid kit(s)
  • How to clean and close wounds
  • How to set broken bones

Three hours without shelter

This doesn't seem to be a priority for most people even if it should be. People just don't think this way. Most people jump straight to "water" but you will die of exposure long before you will die of thirst. Shelter is that important.

If you don't think of shelter as that important, consider spending a couple of hours outside in the winter without a coat, or a few hours in the sun of the great plains (or even an open field in New England) without some sunscreen and a hat. Think about falling into the water on a cold fall or spring day. Shortly after this thought experiment you'll be wishing for good shelter.

Shelter includes all forms of shelter. Everything from a humble pair of warm dry socks to a house is part of the concept of shelter. Shelter also includes fire. A good fire can turn a poorly constructed lean-to into a safe haven.

Shelter starts from the skin and moves outwards. Shelter is having the right clothes for the environment you are in. Socks, pants, shoes, underwear, shirts, scarves, hats, mittens or gloves are all things that should be considered.

For the females reading this, consider the shoes you wear when you go out. Those beautiful 3 inch heels that make your legs look so fine are not going to last five minutes if you have to start hiking and your feet are not going to last much longer. Those beautiful painted toenails showing through your open toed shoes are not going to keep you warm. That short skirt is not going to keep the wind from blowing up where you don't want it. Make sure your shelter includes a change of clothes so that if you are in your dress/work clothes and shoes you have something that will shelter you.

Once your body is directly sheltered you need to think about holding heat in. Coats and jackets are a good start and most people actually have the right coat/jacket for the environment they are in. Even if what is under that coat isn't, the outer layer will be good enough.

But what if you have to snuggle down over night in a car that has slipped off the road? Then you need something more. A sleeping bag is your best bet but even if you don't have that a good blanket that you can wrap around you will go a long way. Be sure to consider the "space blankets" both as a blanket and in the form of a sleeping bag. Space blankets weigh mere ounces and are great at keeping your body heat in.

My personal preference and suggestion is an ugly one. That is a combination of a US military issue rain poncho with liner. Forgetting about the poncho as rain gear, the USGI poncho and liner are designed to attach to each other and then snap up one side to create a sleeping tube. I've tested it, as has my son. It works for this overweight old man and for my very much in shape young son. The liner is very warm, dries quickly, and is light weight. The poncho is heavy duty, won't tear if you lay on it and provides a wind break as well as keeping more heat in.

A sleep system is even better. A sleep system is two sleeping bags and a bivy sack. The sleeping bags fit one inside the other, snapping or zipping together. They, in turn, fit inside the bivy sack. Depending on temperature and weather you use one or all the parts to create a waterproof shelter with liner good from the 80's down to -30F depending on your clothing (socks and long underwear required for -30F).

Moving out the next step from your sleeping bag and bivy sack and/or sleeping in your car is your first level shelter. This shelter is designed to give you a space in which to work or rest that is protected from rain, wind and sun. A simple tarp can go a long way to accomplishing this.

Setting up a tarp between two trees gives you a classic tent shape. This will shed rain and keep the wind out if you block up the ends. Setting it up as a lean to with the face towards your campfire will give you more heat as the heat reflects back from the tarp.

Also remember to get your body up off the ground, insulated from the ground in some way. The ground is a heat sink that will suck the warmth right out of your body. This is one of the places where a space blanket does a wonderful job.

Going back to the military-issued poncho, it can also be used as a tent shape or lean to shape. Just like the tarp, it can be draped over a frame of natural materials to provide waterproofing. Two (or more) can be snapped together to form a larger enclosure.

From here outward you are building structures to protect you from the elements. This can be as simple as digging a hole/cave into the side of a hill and covering it or as complex as a modern house. Some of the best small scale shelters consist of a hole in the ground (that won't fill with water when it rains) with a good cover of some sort.

While all of the above shelter devices are about keeping you safe from the elements there is one item that does even more.... Fire.

Being able to create fire from nothing can mean the difference between life and death. In a cold environment the ability to create fire is a must. You generally want to have two or more ways of starting fire. For me, that is fire steel, lighters, matches in waterproof container, string for a fire bow, magnifying lens and maybe one or two I've forgotten. These are ALL things that are part of my gear and part of my everyday carry.

Tools for shelter:

  • Fire steel
  • lighter
  • cordage (paracord)
  • matches
  • tender
  • knife
  • ax
  • saw
  • shovel
  • level
  • Square

Three days without water

Years ago the US Army did a test at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. They had a group of soldiers do the same hike multiple times over the course of a few weeks. The goal was to start with well rested and "combat ready" troops and to see what condition they were in at the end of a 10 mile march.

For the first part of the test they were allowed to drink from their canteens whenever they wanted during the march with the canteens being refilled at breaks. For the second part they were only allowed to drink what they wanted on breaks. For the third part they were made to drink on a schedule forcing more water into them than they really wanted. For the fourth part they were kept on very limited water.

Please excuse this short description but know that the test was done carefully with the men being well treated with plenty of recovery time between tests. Different groups did the tests in different order. The test was scientifically designed and conducted well with the safety and well being of the men in mind at all stages of the experiment.

The findings were very interesting. When they troops drank as they wanted, at the end of the march they needed a few hours of recovery time before they were combat ready. When they were kept from drinking it took a day or so before they were combat ready again. When they were *FORCED* to drink they arrived combat ready and after were able to hike another 10 miles and arrived nearly combat ready.

What this means is that staying hydrated can mean the difference between staying healthy and functional, and full and complete failure.

The literature states that an adult needs one liter of water per day. This can very greatly depending on activity level and environment. The core of this exercise is to point out that to much water is self correcting, to little water is at the best a slow death.

Hydration comes in different parts. The first is having water. The second is having a way to carry water. The third is having the ability to get more water.

For me, the first two parts are handled via US military issue canteens and hydration packs. Some of my hydration packs are military issue and some are not but they all work. I keep my canteen(s) filled but my hydration packs are used all the time so sometimes they are full and sometimes partially empty but I fill them when I take them out.

While having the ability to get more water might seem simple, it often can be questionable. This is because water supplies are often contaminated. Contamination comes in three varieties: Poison, particulates and parasites.

For the most part there is nothing you can do about poisoned water. To remove poisons you need to be able to distill your water or use filters designed to remove the poison. For most filter systems this is done by activated charcoal and is designed to remove limited amounts of poison. A bit of lead or Mercury can be absorbed by the charcoal leading to safer water.

For the purposes of "poison" just think about what has to be done to turn salt water into potable(drinking) water.

Parasites and particles can be removed via appropriate filters. A coffee filter will deal with most particulate matter. A good hiking filter will deal with most if not all parasites.

Parasites can also be killed via a short term poison. A short term poison is something that will kill parasites but after 30 minutes or so it will cause a human no harm. An example of this is chlorine. Water purification tablets work on this principle as well.

Three weeks without food

Food is either what you carry with you or what you can gather, grow or kill. 72 hour ration bars are designed to keep you alive but you might not be happy about it. MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) are very nice with 1500 calories per meal requiring nothing to be ready to eat and only a little bit of water if you want to heat up your main entrée.

Other types of stored food include "survival buckets" which are designed to feed one person for one month. You can also store dehydrated or freeze dried foods. Canning is another way to store food for the long term. Or you can just go out and buy cans of food and bags of food stuff for storage. Just remember that most foods you buy have a shelf life which has to be taken into account.

Regardless of what you store or carry with you, sooner or later, and likely much sooner than you expect, you will start to run short. In order to supplement or replace your food stuffs you will need to be able to either grow more food, hunt or trap food or fish for it. You'll need to be able to gather food as well.

If you can't grow, forage, hunt or fish for your food you will need to be able to trade for your food. If you are planning on taking your food from others please reconsider. First you might be surprised at how strongly a cornered mother fights for her children and secondly there are going to be many more people looking to take than actually preparing. Those that prepare normally prepare in ways other than just storage and food preparation skills.

While you might gag in disgust at the concept of eating bugs today with a full belly, you might very well be turning a handful of creepy crawlies into dinner if you are hungry enough.

One other important thing to remember is that as you get more and more hungry it becomes harder and harder to do work. This means that a 3 mile walk to hunt might be easy and reasonable right now but the amount of energy expended when your belly is pressed against your back bone might be too much. Learn the easy ways to hunt.

Oh, remember all those rules and regulations you learned before you went hunting? They go OUT THE WINDOW when you are starving. The goal is to feed yourself and your family.

Three months without hope

So you've made it this far. You've fixed the broken body, built shelter, had enough to drink and eat. But now the days march endlessly on with no hope in sight. Every day is like the last except that you know you are going to be more hungry during the winter and more tired in the spring. There is just so much work to be done... Why go on?

Hope is what keeps you going. Hope comes from companionship. It comes from entertainment. It comes from keeping your mind active even as your body groans from over-work. It comes from knowing something better is just around the corner.

Some simple things that help are books for fun. This means more than just how-to and survival books. It means picking your favorite fun read as well. Maybe a couple. It means simple games. A couple of decks of cards and some dice.


A deck of cards gives you bridge, poker, go fish and a dozen other games. Adding a copy of Hoyle's will help in making sure the games are fair. Modern card decks are normally plastic coated so a deck will last a long time if you take a little care. And a sealed deck will keep forever.

Some games require tokens. Get out your knife and make some. You can use your saw to cut disks from limbs. While they might not all be exactly the same size you can easily make them similar in size for different denominations. You can draw in the dirt with sticks. Or take the back of a plate and coat it with carbon from a burning candle and write with a sharpened stick.


A handful of six sided dice will allow you to play still more games. Yatzee is a great game. You don't need paper and pencils to play. Just a chart in the dirt or on the back of a carbon coated plate.

Craps might not be acceptable but it can be a fun way to pass the time. Consider tokens indicating jobs... teaching math skills to the kids... Draw out a snakes and ladder type game for kids. Make a monopoly style game with your wooden money tokens plus your dice. It is a bit more work but you can recreate many board games if you are willing

Board Games

Everybody should be able to create a checker board. That will double for a chess board. Sitting around carving chess pieces is another form of hope.

Consider a getting a 10 in 1 game set. They often have many games all stored in a smallish space, even if to big for your bag. Take a look at your favorite board games. Take some pictures and print them up. Use your computer to create the board in miniature on the front. Put the rules under the board. On the back list out the cards and such that the game uses.

Take the game "Stratego" as an example: if you were to have the board on the front you could have a list of the different pieces on the back. Add a simple description or pattern on how to make the pieces from wood tokens and you are a long way to having a board game.


Having a large number of books is likely to make life much more pleasant in the long run. Everybody is going to have some how-to books, everything from cookbooks to beginning carpentry.

Besides having text books you are also going to want to feed the spirit. Don't forget your copy of your Bible and/or other religious texts.

Finally don't forget some fun books. You can't really go wrong with Robert A. Heinlein, of course.

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