Introduction: Survival's Law of 3

Picture of Survival's Law of 3

There are dozens of lists of things to bring when you're in an emergency, but what do you actually do? What do you do first, and when do you do everything else... That's what this instructable is for. Instead of one more list of crap in your pocket, I want to give you a list of things to think of, God forbid, you wind up in a survival situation.

Step 1: The Concept...

Picture of The Concept...

Anyone familiar with battlefied medicine will understand the concept of triage. For the rest of us let me explain. In essence it is priotiziation based on severity. Focus on the critial patients first, worry about the less critical issues later.

Applying triage to the Survival Situation.
Think of any movie or tv show where people get lost or trapped in the woods someplace. What is the first thing they panic about?

"'What are we going to eat?
The simple truth is the average American is carring around several pounds of calories on them that will take care of them for a while, weeks in fact...

So what should you be focused on?
Read on . . .

Step 2: Law of 3 - Part 1

Picture of Law of 3 - Part 1

3 seconds
3 minutes
3 hours
3 days
3 weeks

This is intended as a simple memory aid. I can't say as I've read anything that is as simple as this, but I've read and practiced many volumes of materal to vouch for its truth.

Step 3: 3 Seconds . . . .THINK!!!!!

Picture of 3 Seconds . . . .THINK!!!!!

3 Seconds . . .
Stupidity can kill you! Especially in a survival situation. Hysterics get you nowhere. It is likely that stupidity is what got you into this mess, it's not going to get you out!

The first think you have to do is think, rationally, and logically think.
Now, I'm not saying spend hours contemplating your options as you sit in the car that's burning. But I do recommend you pause the split second it takes to see which way is the safest way off the cliff.

This also includes looking out for your company. Chances are if your group is in a survival situation, someone is going to freak. Provided you are all safe for the moment, your first priority is calm everyone down, because if you don't the panic will spread and stupidity doesn't just add with members it doubles.

You've got to nip it in the bud.

Now I'm not saying don't show fear. That 80's crap is crap. I'm just saying do what needs to be done through your fear.

General George S. Patton said, "Courage is not action in the absence of fear, but the presence of action despite it."

Step 4: 3 Minutes . . . Breath!

Picture of 3 Minutes . . . Breath!

Breathing... so simple we tend to forget about it . . . until you or one of your group can't. if that happens you've got about 3 minutes to do something to avoid brain damage . . .or worse.

Generally there are two primary reasons why a person can breath, and there are two skill to know that can literally be life savers.

The first reason is choking, typically on food. In this case the best responce is the heinlich manuver. Now, this is something you should know BEFORE you try it.

WARNING: Gasping and shortness of air is NOT the same as choking! If some on CAN gasp and get some air, attempting the heinlich can actually lodge what ever the problem is into a full choke, which means the 3 minute clock is then ticking!

The second common reason a person can breath is drowning. The best responce to that is CPR. Again, this is something, you should learn and know BEFORE you try it.

Step 5: 3 Hours . . . Warmth

Picture of 3 Hours . . . Warmth

In the wrong weather you can freeze to death in hours. Luckily, there are two very good things you can do about it: fire and shelter.

Fire is obvious, but the trick is making it. Yes, every survival kit has matches in it, and smokers carry lighters, but what if . . . -fill in the blank-?

Carry the mentality of the Law of 3 out to this level. If you're going to have a kit, have 3 means of fire starting. Some of the best, (besides matches and lighters):
magnifying lenses
flint & steel
magnesium stick
fire stick (my favorite)
car battery and steel wool
compression fire starters

Then there are countless skills you may want to learn about how to make fire from friction. I know of at least 4 methods "rubbing sticks" (and I've learned 1 of them).
AGAIN, you may want to learn some things BEFORE you need them.

Speaking of fire... there is a old comparison of fires that I think bears remembering.
A white man generally builds a big fire and sits far away from it.
An Indian would build a small fire and sit close.

Lesson: Keep the fire small and stay close to it. (without burning your shelter.) Gather a lot of wood in the light so you don't have a 3AM search because you ran out and you're freezing.

Shelter... never forget your body makes its own heat. The shelter's duty is to keep your own heat contained. I always am amazed when I see a couple of kids think they will keep warm with a few pieces of bark over a stick. Insulate your shelter, just in case. If you're in a survival situation, chances are you don't know the weather report for the next few days. I'd rather be in a situation where I was so warm I needed to take a jacket off than shivering with everything on.

Step 6: 3 Days . . . Water

Picture of 3 Days . . . Water

Foolish bags of mostly water....

You and I are 90% water so naturally finding water is a greater priority than food. In this day and age there are 2 issues with water. Not just finding it, but also treating it.

Finding Water.
Thanks to that neat thing called gravity water convienaly flows downhill so when in doubt start to check the bottoms of hills and valleys. That is common sense.

What is not always so commonly thought of is morning dew. Anyone who walked outside pre-dawn knows the kiss of dew on everything from grass to glass. It doesn't take anything more than a bandanna or a t-shirt to start collecting it. Granted you're not goning to fill a pool here but if you are striking out with the "water hole search" this will buy you time.

Treating water.
I don't buy a lot of the enviromental doom and gloom. I don't belive in the "Global Climate Change". But I do believe toxic dumping happens, and I believe that fertilizers run off farms, so it is a sad state of affairs when we say we can't even dunk our heads in the streams God gave us with confidence anymore.

This being said the simplest and best way to treat water is to boil it.
Now you're saying, "Sure Sherlock, but in what?"
Well, first it is another sad state of affairs when we realized that there is verly little space on this planet that does not have some sort of trash on it, and tin cans are plentiful. Not to mention the soda/beer cans you may have in your own car.

Besides metal, it is possible to boil water in nontraditional containers, such as a plastic bottle or paper cup. The key is to keep a flame focused only on areas that are filled with water, so the water will take the heat. If you let flames hit the top where there is no fluid, well, you could loose your container and your fire.

Yet another skill I recommend you practice before you find you need it.

Step 7: 3 Weeks . . . Food

Picture of 3 Weeks . . . Food

Now we start talking about needing food, and there are two large broad categories: Plants and Animals.

It always seems everyone want to whittle a spear and hunt for deer. In a real situation, that is not realistic. Most of us Americans, especially in a Survival Situation make far too much noice to stalk and hunt like Native Americans did. If you can, great and go forth, but for most of us... let's talk about Plan B.

If your heart is set on meat, then I suggest two focuses, fishing and trapping. Fishing is likely the easiet for the most novice individual to pick up, just two bits of advice. Remember that dusk and dawn are the generally the peak times for catching fish and that keeping quiet and still is th best way not to spook them.

Trapping is good because you can set a few traps and have them work for you, around the clock. Plus you are not just limited to the lake/river/etc.

The drawback again is, this is something you would likely want to have some practice Before you need it.

Then there are plants.
Plants are great. They stay put. They don't run. The down side is most of us don't know rasberries from nightshade. This means the smart man might want to start studying what are good and bad plants so he can recognize them when he sees them.

Step 8: Law of 3 - Part 2

Picture of Law of 3 - Part 2

You can die in:
3 seconds without thinking.
3 minutes without breathing.
3 hours without warmth.
3 days without water.
3 weeks without food.

So now that we've got the these guides down, I do want to remind them that these are guides, not written in stone. When your out gathering firewood, and you find a wild orchard, consider youself blessed. If you're building a shelter and a squirrel runs across your way, I'd try my luck and throw a stick at it too.

This "Law of 3" is simply intended to be an easy way for someone to cut through the crap of whatever sitution they have the misfortune they are in. It's like the old debate of "wants" and "needs". You may want a steak, with baked potate and all the trimmings, but all you need is something as simple as a trout with some walnuts.

Step 9: Bonus Law . . . THE 3

Picture of Bonus Law . . . THE 3

I'll be honest, I'm a Christian, and I developed this concept to easily teach some of my kids in my childrens chuch adventure camp. When I teach it to what I know will be a Christian audience, I like to add in a seperate Bonus Law above all others, Faith in THE 3, the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit. Especially when you are in a survival situation, Faith can be the determing factor in your will to live. If you haven't thought about that, I encourage you to.

Step 10: Homework

Picture of Homework

Well if you haven't noticed, throughout this instructable, I mentioned several things that might prove useful to know should something happen. The problem with emergencies is they never give you notice, never call in advance, never knock nicely. They just hit you. So I will take this section to give you a check list of skills it might do you well to practice... just in case.

Learn the Heimlich maneuver.
Learn CPR.
Learn several methods of starting a fire. (At least 1 with all natural materials.)
Learn to build a well insulated shelter.
Practice collecting dew.
Learn to identify a variety of plants, but especially some edible ones. (Maybe even try them.)
Practice fishing from basic parts (sticks and string, not rod an reels).
Practice setting traps and snares.

Those were what were listed. But there are of course many, many skills that would prove handy. If I may be so bold may I recommend you try to learn Morse code. It is a handy way to communicate complex information with primitive tools. As simple as a car mirror or two rocks. Perhaps even print this listing out and tuck it in your wallet with the Laws of 3 printed on the back... just in case.

Beyond this 'ible though. Get out, read, learn, grow. It is my personal beleif that one day, for whatever reason, something major will happen and society as we know it will be no more. The lights will go out, and won't come on for quite awhile. For those reasons I think it is vital that we have a good understanding of the skills of those who came before us... again, just in case.

Thank you for reading this. I appreciate your feedback.


Broberg (author)2011-04-14

This is a very good way to put down the survival info many people forget when building a survival kit.

I have never gone through more Instructables before I found this one. Out of the dozens of pages, this was ion the last one! I think it should be on the first!

Good work breaking down the basics...

GreyWarden (author)2010-09-20

Awesome! I always knew the rule of 3 but the end really was awesome. I have been dodging this tutorial for weeks because I thought why do I want to see something that I already know. But the thing is I have been struggling spiritually lately.


spiritwalker6153 (author)2010-09-02

I really like your article, especially the end. Thanks for the good word.

Decypher4 (author)2009-05-06

This is a GREAT Instructable. Clear and to the point without going into too much detail or off any tangents. And it gives a good device for remembering what your priorities are. 5 stars. P.S. Good work not buying into "Global Climate Change". People like Al Gore are actually profiting off of selling "carbon credits". Seems a little hypocritical to me.

Kiteman (author)Decypher42009-05-06

I'd be keen to see your evidence that global climate isn't changing - start a topic in the forums, let's see what you've got.

Decypher4 (author)Kiteman2009-05-07

I shall do so as to not hijack strods i'ble. Thanks for the tip. BTW, I believe the climate IS dynamic and therefore changing. I am referring to the idea of "Global Climate Change" as a result of "greenhouse gas" caused by humans.

existensile (author)2016-09-27

I remember hearing a story in USAF arctic survival training of a Herc going down that had a CAF survival expert on board. The crew survived, but he walked off a few dozen yards from the plane and died in the snow. They attributed the crew's teamwork with their getting home, but the expert was an outsider and apparently wanted to go it alone. I heard this over 30 years ago by now, and it still haunts me.

mimimama (author)2014-02-05

Thank you. This is great advice.

lrowland1 (author)2013-10-03

Thank you.

sconner1 (author)2013-07-23

Wasn't the quote "Ugly bags of mostly water"?

MarDet (author)2013-07-07

brilliantly done

Kharabe (author)2012-02-05

remember one thing about berries just because the bird is eating it doesnt mean that you can eat it.

Oh and a strawberry is a strawberry there are no poisonous plants that resemble them

strods (author)2011-10-09

for the record, I've expanded a little more on skills in an new 'ible. It's also my entry in the Survival Challenge, check it out if you like an vote. Survival Skills Guide 

Ze Grant (author)2011-04-16

Unless you're a jellyfish, your body ain't 90% water...

rocketsprock (author)Ze Grant2011-07-16

Jellyfish are actually 99% water :-)

discowhale (author)2010-08-29

are you equally offended by pictures "making fun of" short people, fat people, old people, handicapped people, WHITE people? I don't think strods chose this to be racial. He just took the kind of poster that is WIDELY available on the interwebs, and ran with it.
I had an instructor in the Navy who was a jerk. He was not a great instructor and we all hated him, at school and on the beach. But oddly, I remember his classes more than many others, civilian or military. I'm no longer sure that he was a "real" jerk, it was just his way to make us prove we were better coming out of his class, than we were going in!
I HOPE that you read this Law of 3's, and remember it even IF it's because of being offended right now. It may just save your life.
I can send you my picture, I'm kinda goofy lookin'!

kingfish77 (author)2010-08-26

I have a friend that told me once,Teach the children to have fath and in any trial in their lives, They will never be alone(i,e In the forrest scared and not thinking)

hsahrc (author)2010-08-26


xddorox (author)2010-08-20

Awesome instructable. May it be faith in yourself or in a greater power, if you believe you will fail then you are already halfway there. Make a commitment to yourself that you will survive this no matter what and you will. Faith, whatever it is for you, is an extremely powerful element.

Fujo (author)2010-01-24

I'm sure I'll be berated with comments but why not believe and have faith in yourself rather than relying on "superman" to save you.. No need to bring religion into survival skills [or anything for that matter].

drstu2000 (author)Fujo2010-02-11

    Im an Atheist, but I spent 12 years in the Military including 4 tours in Iraq / Middle East.  In survival training we were taught that one of the fundemental things about survival is your mindset.  If you talk to anyone who has been in a real survival situation, one of the most common things you hear them say is "my faith in god helped me when I felt like giving up"  It is easyer for believers to have faith and this could be an advantage.  When I was in combat I would think about my family to help me through the hard times.  Religion is very valid in survival but finding anything to keep you modivated is really the point.

Fujo (author)drstu20002010-02-11

Religion is an opiate for the masses. People are entitled to believe in what you want to believe. I happen to disagree that religion has anything to do with survival but faith in yourself is definitely key! If i was in a survival situation and things looked bleak but I believed in a giant butterfly in the sky and started praying to it etc and I survived, that doesn't mean that a giant butterfly in the sky saved me.

I think when you explore it at a deeper level its all about believing in yourself and therefore finding the mindset to succeed. I'm not a psycologist etc but I'm sure there's some sort of scientific explanation for my example. Dunno if I explained it very well. If you approach religion and faith logically the best thing for you to do is nothing because if you have faith in your god then everything is gonna happen the way its meant to happen and there's nothing you can do to change the outcome.

Anyway enough of me going on - I agree that religion has the same validity in survival as the big butterfly in the sky :)

JamesTB13 (author)Fujo2010-08-14

Ok, you posted this about 6 months ago, so I'm sorry, but, the thing is, you can't approach religion logically. Because it's based on a completely different logic. I'm an 'Atheist'. I say it in quotes because, I believe there's some higher plane of existence, I just don't think there's some all-powerful being. Therefore, I don't follow any religion. Ok, well, bye. P.S., great grammar!

drstu2000 (author)Fujo2010-02-14

The doing nothing thing reminds me of an old joke.  A guy is caught in a flood and climbs to his roof to escape the rising waters.  He prays to god to save him.  A few hours latter a people in a row boat approach and tell him to jump in.  The guy refuses and says he has fath that god will save him soon.  The next morning the water is above the roof and up to the guys neck.  A pattoling coast guard helicopter sees him and lowers a basket for him.  He turns them away and says god will not let me die, he is going to save me anytime now.  Shortly affter the hellicopter leaves, the guy drowns to death.  He finds himself in Heaven and when he finaly meets god he says "Whats the Deal God? I prayed and prayed on that rooftop and you never came to save me".  God replys "What do you mean? I sent a rowboat and a hellicopter, what else did you expect me to do."

AaronsEve (author)drstu20002010-03-01

"why not believe and have faith in yourself rather than relying on "superman" to save you.. No need to bring religion into survival skills [or anything for that matter]. "
  Being a Christian isn't about religion , it's about a relationship. There are many religions within Christianity, but to be a Christian is to have a relationship with the one true "Superman" Jesus Christ.

 "If you approach religion and faith logically the best thing for you to do is nothing because if you have faith in your god then everything is gonna happen the way its meant to happen and there's nothing you can do to change the outcome."
  And you are correct in the fact that people shouldn't just sit there and pray that God lowers His hands literally and picks them up away from the struggle they are in. There would be no point in the situations we are allowed to get in if we don't learn and grow from them.

"People are entitled to believe in what you want to believe."
   Very very true. We were given a free will. What fun would it be if you ruled a kingdom and your subjects were FORCED to bow before you and worship you instead of doing those things because they loved and adored you for being a fair and just king?
 Brovo to you, Strods for sharing your faith! Too many of our brothers and sisters are afraid of what the world would think if they knew. Brovo! 
@drstu, by your responses it seems like you do believe in God.

JamesTB13 (author)2010-08-14

Also, there is a pretty good way to tell berries. I don't remember exactly where I read this, I think it was an 'ible, but I can't find it right now. Anyway, any berries you find in the wilderness: White/Yellow: 100% chance they're poisonous, I mean, are there any foods that are white that aren't poisonous? Red: 90% chance they're poisonous Blue/Black: 50-50. Segemented (like a raspberry): Never poisonous, except for a couple, rarely-found species that are white. Ok, well, hope this helps.

lunarman52 (author)2010-03-24


Yandle (author)lunarman522010-08-08

Race is a non-issue in survival situations. The picture is offensive to stupid people. Not that they will understand it :P

strods (author)lunarman522010-03-26

if you were offended then I truly apologize.  This photo, as all others were, was simply used for either education or entertainment purposes.  This certainly was not intended to suggest black individuals are stupid.  If you read through the 'ible I don't beleive I mention races at all.

Joxman2k (author)2009-11-11

 You have many spelling and grammatical mistakes. Your instructable could be better structured for clarity. This is an important instructable for anyone in a survival situation :) I hope you heed my advice.

The will to live is very important in a survival situation and faith can help keep that will alive. I would like to note that God will let a Saint drown, and a thief survive if he has the skill to swim. Faith and hope are important, but skills and knowledge are essential. 

Arano (author)Joxman2k2010-03-07

"... and a thief survive if he has the skill to swim"
if i remember right, god appreciates the thief who get's back to the good way above 99 people who never did anything wrong.

(sorry if my english is bad, it's not my mouther tongue)

Arano (author)2010-03-07

i would add that you can eat the leafs of many plants... you can't live from it but you can keep the hunger down...
to get a good gues wether a plant is toxic or not: 1.take a leaf and rub it... if it smells not good its no good idea to eat it... 2. rub your lips with the leaf... if it feels burning or anything else you wouldnt expect, don't eat it... 3. take a bit of the leaf in your mouth and wait for about a minute... if you get a bad feeling in your mouth or it tastes bitter or something like that... spit it out... if the leaf passed the 3 tests you can fight your hunger with it

Fujo (author)2010-02-11

I should point out that I'm not trying to offend anyone or belittle their faith. I accept that I could be completely wrong and maybe your god does exist as you think he/she/it does and maybe my beliefs are wrong!

backbuster (author)2009-07-17

Excellent guide on how to prioritise when met with a survival sitiution.I have 1 suggestion following your rule of 3. When gathering wood for your fire, when you think you have enough gather 3 times as much more.I will definetly be incorporating Survival's law of 3 into my childrens survival instruction Thank You

strods (author)backbuster2010-01-15

That's so good I think I shall add that in.  Thank you!

Rainh2o (author)2010-01-08

Why not just have faith that you never end up in that type of situation anyhow?  Does it work that way?  Why not?

strods (author)Rainh2o2010-01-15

I absolutely do hope that something like this never happens me, you, or anyone else, but God's will overrules ours.  Life is not fair.  And we can't know the future.  What's the worst that happens if you do practice up on these things and you never need them?  Kill some time.

If you have honest questions about Christian faith, send me a message and I'll be happy to talk, but out of respect for everyone, I'll keep the discussion out of the 'ible and comments itself.

suzyqhoo (author)2009-12-19

Very nice Instructable.  Concisely written, with the high points...without me having to read a whole "survival" book.  Thanks for posting this one!

Colonel88 (author)2009-11-08

I thought the law of threes was the you buy  something and sell it 3 times as much.

weaponscollector94 (author)2009-10-26

i agree! faith is very important,  god has gotten me out of situations in witch i would be absolutely dead in without the hope.

weaponscollector94 (author)2009-10-26

i carry a lighter, but i don't smoke, i also carry a fishhook and a line with a sinker in my wallet :D

redsuit09 (author)2009-07-30

wow this has really helped me understand what order to do tings if i ever get stranded... faith can be a very big support in the wild. do you know of any traps i could use?

strods (author)redsuit092009-08-28

the simplest would be a snare trap, which is what most people think of when setting traps, the bent sappling with a little string lasso attached. a general 'net search would show a lot. If your're into reading, I suggest a book called Wilderness Survival by Tom Brown, Jr. If that's you in the photo, you're yong enough, join a Scout or Royal Ranger program. They teach you this stuff really well.

j-orr (author)2009-08-04

Don't forget; a person cannot survive for 3 Months without social contact.

chadoliver (author)j-orr2009-08-23

Yes they can (e.g. hermits, or just random guys that go bush) The average person needs social contact, but they usually won't die without it. As to the quality of life they enjoy ... that's another matter.

LstTxn2 (author)2009-06-25

Thank you for your "3". They are well thought out and WILL make a difference.

Derin (author)2009-06-05

And SOS in morse would be ...--...(end of sentence)

lukeyj15 (author)Derin2009-06-23

no it would be ... - - - ...

pdc (author)2009-05-11

Interesting read,definitely a good idea to keep a clear head and prioritize in a survival situation, although I think your climate change opinions were a little off-topic

Mother Natures Son (author)2009-05-08

I like it. It's a good way to remember your priorities, which can be difficult in an unfamilliar situation. I definitely like the idea of being able to start a fire from scratch. Also, that's a pretty boss shelter. From your fist to your elbow--that's about a cubit?

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More by strods:Tin Can Mess Kit / Cook KitSurvival Skills Study Guide - The Trail of the GrizzlySurvival's Law of 3
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