The rule of three – Survival Priorities

While it's important to have the proper equipment on you when the need arises, it's even more important to know how this equipment fits within the Survival Priorities that arise in a survival situation.


While it’s important to have the proper equipment on you when the need arises, it’s even more important to know how this equipment fits within the Survival Priorities that arise in a survival situation.

 As a simple guide, the rule of three lets you put your needs in order of importance. And they are:

Survival Priorities 1 – 3 seconds without blood, 3 minutes without oxygen

Meaning – your first priority is first aid. If you are about to bleed out, go into serious shock, or drawn, all other survival aspects are moot. As you will be dead. Of all the Survival Priorities, this is your first.

First and foremost, sort out your personal well-being – stabilise yourself. If you are seriously cold, or hot – then you need to stabilise your temperature – this could mean wrapping up, getting a fire going, but ultimately it means shelter –

3 hours unprotected in cold or heat

You are going to die of exposure, way before you die of thirst or hunger – once you have dealt with any serious first aid issues, you need to get yourself somewhere the protects you from the weather – this could be cover from the rain and wind, or even finding some suitable shade from the sun, depending where you are geographically. Hyper and Hypothermia are equally dangerous. Get some shelter. This could be a natural feature (if you are lucky) – or it could be something you need to construct with available materials – it’s at this point having some basics like an emergency blanket, or even better, a small tarp or poncho is going to come in handy.

3 days without water

Longer than people often think. However – also important to note that this is going to be highly dependant on where you are, and how much exercise (and therefore sweating) you are going to be doing. Obviously, if you are losing lots of water (think sweat, urine, vomiting) then this level increases in importance – however – what is important to note – is that water is more important than food.

3 weeks without food

Despite the fear that we are going to go hungry when it comes to Survival Priorities, most of us can/could live on a severely reduced calorie intake. Therefore, food actually comes quite low from a survival standpoint. Most times you are likely to be in a survival situation for a matter of days max – which is plenty of time to organise shelter, water and a method of purifying it (fire). Once all of that is sorted, then, you can get all Bear Grylls on it and start looking for weird things to eat. Remember though – not everything out there wants to be eaten – and poisoning is going to end things a lot quicker than starvation is. So don’t eat it if you can’t identify it.


One important factor that should be considered once the basics are tucked away is signalling.

It is all very well being tucked up nice and cosy in a debris shelter with a stash of water and food, but why not also make it easy for your potential rescuers to find you?

The key idea in regards to survival rescuing is creating something that doesn’t seem natural – that is – something that is going to stick out in the environment you are in. Combine these features – eg, colours and movement – stick the hi-vis clothing on top of a tall stick that will be blown about in the wind – it compounds its attention drawing potential.

Key ideas would be:

  • Firstly, set off your PLB – you do have a PLB on you, don’t you?
  • Signal Mirrors – ideal for signalling mirrors – also remember – the mirror in a sighting compass can be used, anything shiny.
  • At night, lightsticks, as well as the beacon / SOS, feature now on many torches will highlight your position – just make sure it isn’t covered – i.e. under the shelter with you!
  • Whistles – especially if you know searchers are close, a whistle is a lot easier than having to yell constantly.
  • Your survival blanket or hi-vis clothing should be display predominately – fluro doesn’t exist in nature (much) so will stand out.
  • Fire! Consider a signalling fire – even a campfire is going to help in many situations.