Survive the Wilderness with the Rules of Threes: A Guide

If you’ve ever found yourself thrown in the wilderness without any further warning or guidance, you know how scary that can be – and how key it is to know the right tips and tricks to survive! Of course, you could be armed with some knowledge of wilderness survival, or a list of items to bring – but do you know about the rules of threes? This may just be the most important key to your wilderness survival.

No matter what situation you find yourself in, the rules of threes can help you make it out alive. To stay safe and survive the wilderness, you have to have air to breathe, water to drink, and food to sustain you. It can be intimidating to think of all that’s necessary to endure, but we have you covered. Stick around in this blog post to learn more about the rules of threes and how you can use them to survive the wilderness – whether you’re an experienced outdoorsman or novice camper.

Quick Overview of Key Points

The “Rules of Threes” is a principle that states you can survive three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Knowing these basic rules and having the right gear can help you stay safe when out in the wilderness.

The Rules of Threes and the Wilderness

The Rules of Threes is an age-old adage that has been passed down from one generation to the next, reminding survivalists of the three essential pillars that are key for their success in the wilderness; shelter, food, and water. Each pillar plays an important role in sustaining life in any given environment. Depending on which environment you find yourself in and how far you plan on exploring, it can be difficult to know what your exact needs are when faced with a life or death dilemma. The Rules of Threes outline the foundation needed to sustain life and stay safe while in the wild.

Proponents of this approach argue that following these rules will help you stay alive in hostile environments. They also point out that having a well-stocked pack should include items needed for each of these pillars such as a tarp for shelter, something to boil water like a fire starter kit, and high calorie snack bars for food. Others contend that these rules only provide a basic framework for successful wilderness navigation and are not enough for more extreme environments like subarctic temperatures or dense jungles.

However, regardless of whether these rules truly guarantee survival or not, they do serve as helpful reminders when embarking on an outdoor adventure. Knowing the importance of each pillar—shelter, food, and water—can mean the difference between life and death when stuck in unfamiliar terrain. In order to increase your chances at navigating through treacherous terrain, the following section seeks to answer just what essentials you should bring along with you on your wilderness journey.

Three Essentials for Survival in the Wilderness

When preparing to survive in the wilderness, there are three essentials that you should always have on hand: water, shelter, and fire. Without these three key ingredients, survival becomes exponentially more difficult. In some cases, it can become impossible.

Water is often a priority when surviving in the wilderness and should never be taken for granted. It is essential for hydration and health; therefore, it is important to plan ahead of time to make sure that an adequate supply of potable water is available. Finding or collecting water can also be extremely difficult depending on the environment so it’s wise to have access to water purification tablets or a filter available as well.

Having an adequate shelter can mean life or death when surviving in the wilderness. Protection from extreme temperatures, potentially hostile animals, and other elements are crucial to sustaining life. A tarpaulin, tent poles, rope, and pockets of dry leaves or grasses for insulation are all necessary for creating a safe place to rest, even if only temporarily.

Fire is another essential resource for survival in the wilderness and provides warmth, light and a cooking resource while on the move. Some materials needed to build and maintain a fire include lighter fluid, firewood (or kindling), matches/a lighter and proper ventilation; these should be properly stored and easy to transport when exploring. If there is no kindling available in the immediate vicinity then you should make sure you bring enough with you in your survival kit as well.

By having access to these three essentials – water, shelter, and fire – you take away much of the guesswork in recognizing what critical components need to be present in order for success while surviving in the wilderness. With these necessities handled, now it’s time move on to figure out one of the most important yet overlooked parts of surviving outdoors: food!

  • The Rules of Threes states that one can survive three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food.
  • According to The Wilderness Medicine Training Center, one should also keep in mind that a person’s condition will worsen with each passing hour after exposure to cold or extreme weather.
  • Research has shown that hypothermia sets in when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit; it is a serious medical condition that can cause death if not properly treated.


Food is an essential part of surviving in the wilderness. While most people surge for the first available food or items that look like food, it is important to exercise caution when it comes to finding food in nature. Eating wild plants can result in a myriad of problems, ranging from mild discomfort to more serious outcomes, such as death. It’s best to bring some food with you when heading into the wilderness, such as energy bars and other non-perishables.

Many survivalists believe that hunting is an invaluable skill when it comes to finding food sources. Hunting requires training and proper licensing, but it may be well worth the effort depending on the environmental conditions. However, some people oppose hunting altogether, advocating instead for a plant-based diet that reduces one’s impact on wildlife unnecessarily hunting them. This dietary approach leads to better long-term health and improved chances of surviving in a wilderness environment.

No matter which option you decide to take when finding food, it is important to ensure that hydration levels are maintained throughout your time in nature. Water filters are a much better option than boiling water due to their convenience and time savings compared with firewood collection and fuel consumption used for boiling purposes.

Now that we understand how to find and secure food in the wilderness, we turn our attention next to finding shelter in the wild.


Shelter is a critical component of wilderness survival and should always be a priority. Depending on the climate and context, various options can be used to create shelter, including natural debris like fallen trees, branches and vines. However, it is always best to bring some form of waterproof canvas tarp or other fabric that can be used to wrap around natural structures like branches. This method will help keep you warm and dry in all climates. If time and resources permit, consider building a shelter big enough to fit all members of your group.

An alternative option for shelter is finding or building an area below ground level for protection from the elements. Consider digging out an area beneath a large tree or rock ledge so that you are surrounded by earth walls on three sides with the fourth side open to the elements. Utilizing this strategy allows for greater protection from wind, rain and snow while also providing some cushioning and warmth against the cold ground.

Regardless of which shelter option you choose to use, focus on making sure it is strong and secure enough to protect all members of your group from the elements while remaining as comfortable and insulated as possible. All too often people lose precious energy trying to stay warm instead of devoting their efforts towards food, water, fire and other daily necessities.

With proper knowledge on how to construct shelter in any environment comes an increased chance at survival. Remember that having a safe temporary home brings comfort in any perilous situation and may even turn out to be crucial when waiting out severe weather conditions or keeping predators at bay. Having discussed the importance of building shelter in the wilderness, let’s move onto our next topic: Water.

Must-Know Points

Shelter is critical in wilderness survival and having the right knowledge can be crucial to staying safe and comfortable. Various options exist to build shelter, such as using natural debris or waterproof canvas or digging a space beneath a large tree or rock ledge. Creating a strong and secure structure can provide safety from the elements and protect against predators. Remember that having a temporary safe home brings comfort in any perilous situation and can help wait out harsh weather conditions.


Water is essential to surviving in the wilderness. Every person requires at least one liter of water per day to keep hydrated, but this amount will vary depending on environmental conditions and the type of activity you are performing. Water can be found in its liquid form in streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. You can also extract it from certain plants—cacti, for example, hold a large amount of water that can be extracted and purified through evaporation.

Another method for obtaining clean drinking water is by boiling unfiltered water for 1 minute after it has been taken from its natural source. Boiling will kill any bacteria, parasites, or viruses that may be present in the water, making it safe to drink. It is important to note that while boiling kills most organisms, some larger organisms and cysts must be filtered out with special filtering devices prior to boiling.

If no obvious sources of natural water are available, you can always resort to capturing moisture from condensation or precipitation such as rain or snow. This often requires special equipment such as tarp shelters and dew collectors, however, so this should only be used when all other attempts have failed.

Finally, understanding water sources and your environment is an essential skill to have before venturing into the wilderness. Knowing where rivers run and where cacti grow can help you plan ahead and make sure you know exactly how much liquid you need to bring with you before your journey begins.

With a general understanding of how to obtain and filter water safely in mind, let’s look at how long one can survive with the Rules of Threes in the next section.

How Long Can You Survive with the Rules of Threes?

The Rules of Threes can be a valuable tool for wilderness survival, but how long can you realistically expect to survive when utilizing these rules? While it is difficult to provide an exact answer, most experts agree that following the guidelines of the Rules of Threes can greatly improve one’s chances of surviving in the wild.

If someone is able to find adequate food, water and shelter in the wilderness, they could potentially survive indefinitely, so long as they take proper precautions. With access to reliable sources of nutrition and shelter, humans could quite literally subsist on their own indefinitely. In such cases, the Rules of Threes would simply serve as an additional safeguard in case of unexpected emergencies or lack of resources.

On the other hand, if food and drinkable water is scarce or hard to come by in the wild, then a person is unlikely to survive for more than three days without help and possibly much less depending on environmental conditions and available resources. This is why it is important to have strategies like the Rules of Threes at your disposal and be aware of their limitations.

It is also worth noting that even if someone does manage to survive in extraordinary conditions for weeks or months without assistance, there are often physical and psychological tolls paid for doing so. These can range from fatigue and malnourishment to severe dehydration and depression. Therefore, it remains extremely important to ensure that one takes proper care of himself/herself while enduring prolonged stays in the wilderness.

In conclusion, while following the Rules of Threes will not guarantee success or even necessarily extend your lifespan when stranded in the wild, they do provide a useful framework to considerably improve your chances of making it out alive with minimal risk or harm. Now that we have discussed the basics behind wilderness survival with the Rules of Threes, let us move on to exploring vital body functions necessary for successful long-term wilderness survival.

Vital Body Functions

Staying alive in the wilderness requires you to maintain temperature, manage hydration and nutrition levels, and learn your limits. These physical needs are known as vital body functions and must be given top priority over other aspects of survival such as shelter or food. Temperature regulation is crucial for the prevention of hypothermia, the number one killer during cold weather in the wilderness. Having the right clothing will help to keep you warm and dry. In hot climates, water conservation becomes more important. Hydrate often with purified water to prevent dehydration, but don’t drink too much as this can lead to negative side effects including diarrhea in extreme cases. Proper nutrition is also necessary for your ability to think clearly and plan effectively plus it contains essential vitamins and minerals that are needed to carry out routine bodily functions within your cells. Recognizing your own limits is equally important for a successful wilderness experience. Listen to your body’s signals of pain, fatigue, or dizziness – these can be warning signs of exertion beyond your capabilities.

By understanding the importance of vital body functions and their impact on staying alive in the wilderness, you are now ready to prepare for such a journey with materials necessary for success. The next section will explore what you need to consider when preparing for wilderness survival.

Preparing for Wilderness Survival

Preparing for wilderness survival is a difficult and time-consuming endeavor. Having the right supplies and knowledge on hand can mean the difference between life and death in a dangerous situation encountered while out in the wild. It’s important to know the environment you’re going into and how to best survive it, as well as what supplies to bring.

One of the most important steps in prepping for wilderness survival is researching the area in which you’ll be traveling. Knowing what type of terrain you’ll be traversing and any dangerous animals or insects in the area is essential. It’s also important to note what type of weather you may run into, especially with respect to temperature. The cooler months could bring a hard freeze, which means that hypothermia could become an issue if not prepared properly. Knowing these details ahead of time will help keep travelers from making potentially fatal mistakes.

Equally important is knowing what supplies are necessary for a successful stay in the wilderness. Even for an experienced outdoorsman, there are essential items that need to come along such as quickstart fire starters, a compass or GPS device, and a sturdy shelter or tent. Other items such as extra food, first aid kit, and a sharp knife should also be included. While it might seem like a lot to remember, this list should always be used as a basic guide for prepping supplies before heading out into any wilderness terrain.

Knowing how to safely store your food and manage waste are also crucial skills in wilderness survival preparation. Properly storing meals can both reduce waste and keep wildlife away from campgrounds or trails traveled along. Additionally, learning how to properly dispose of waste through burying or carrying it away from campsites is key so as not to attract predators and ensure cleanliness around those areas.

Educating yourself on these topics before embarking on an outdoor adventure can make all the difference when trying to survive in the wilds of nature. After mastering the basics of preparing for wilderness survival now comes living by one of the oldest adages: living by The Rules of Threes.

Living by the Rules of Threes

Living by the Rules of Threes is an essential tenet for surviving in the wilderness. According to the rule, a person should prioritize their most pressing needs into categories such as air, shelter, water and food, and address them in order of importance. This means that, if emergency opportunities and resources present themselves, they should be used to satisfy a need within each category before moving on to the next.

Those who believe in the Rules of Threes argue that prioritizing one’s needs in this fashion maximizes the chances of survival in difficult wilderness situations. They argue that without structure and direction, a person may quickly become overwhelmed and lose focus when facing extremely challenging circumstances. Learning how to live by the Rules of Threes helps organize thoughts and actions, providing focus on what is most important for ensuring safety and adequate sustenance.

However, some skeptics dismiss the Rules of Threes as too rigid and inflexible for dealing with wildly unpredictable environments. They point out that circumstances can change suddenly and dramatically, requiring a shift in thinking which may necessitate putting off addressing some immediate needs while newer ones arise. Therefore, they argue that an overly strict adherence to the Rules of Threes may cause people to miss out on more urgent issues caused by rapidly changing conditions.

Ultimately, living by the Rules of Threes is largely down to personal preference and situation-dependent judgement. All wilderness excursions present unique circumstances to contend with – recognize it’s important to make decisions based on logic but also be willing to move fast if opportunity arises or conditions change dangerously throughout your journey. In any case, those who wish to employ this strategy are advised to first learn about surviving in extreme conditions via reading reputable literature or receiving professional instruction before attempting any outdoor activity.


Are there alternative strategies for wilderness survival besides the rules of threes?

Yes, there are other strategies for wilderness survival besides the rules of threes. Depending on the particular environment and situation, different approaches to wilderness survival might be more appropriate. For instance, a person in a temperate climate may benefit from finding and storing sustainable water sources, whereas a person in an arid climate may need to focus on finding shelter or making fire quickly. In cold climates, basic knowledge of hypothermia prevention can be critical.

Additionally, understanding local wildlife or terrain can help guide decisions about food sources and shelter. In areas with abundant water and vegetation, fishing and harvesting edible plants can outweigh the focus on strictly following rules of threes. Learning tracking skills is also recommended as an overall strategy in any environment.

Above all, using common sense and being prepared with necessary skills and equipment are key components to successful survival.

How do the rules of threes help with wilderness survival?

The Rules of Threes is an incredibly useful tool for wilderness survival. According to these rules, a person can only survive three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. By understanding and following these simple rules, one can stay alive in the wilderness by quickly finding sources of air, shelter and water, and planning accordingly for food.

Furthermore, the Rules of Threes also provide a valuable source of comfort through repetition and structure. Knowing that you have a finite amount of time to address various needs—in this case air, shelter, and water—can help guide decision making in difficult situations. Additionally, having access to a basic timeline can help provide motivation maintain focus on important tasks at hand even when external pressures mount.

In sum, the Rules of Threes are an invaluable tool for wilderness survival providing both practical guidance in locating life-sustaining resources and emotional stability during times of crisis.

What is the origin of the rules of threes for wilderness survival?

The origin of the rules of threes for wilderness survival is believed to have started with sailors over 300 years ago. It was adopted as a way for sailors to remember the essentials of life: air, food, and water. Since those three basic necessities are essential for any human being to survive in the wilderness, the rules of threes were created and adapted by many different people and organizations over time.

For example, the US Air Force modified the rule of threes to apply to their aircrew members so they could remember how long they could survive without air, shelter/clothing, and proper nutrition. This modification is still popularly used today. Other organizations like the Boy Scouts also adapted these rules to fit their needs, teaching young scouts how long they can last without fire, shelter, or food.

Overall, the rules of threes are very versatile and are designed to help people remember what is most important when attempting to survive in a wilderness setting.

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