Rules of 3 for Wilderness Survival

This past weekend I went to a REI outdoor class all about desert wilderness survival. This was a great class to learn survival skills.

The main lesson was in regards to the Rules of 3’s. These rules set a priority list of events and actions that should be followed if you are lost in the wilderness.

The first rule of 3, happens within the first three seconds.


Once you get the gut feeling that something is off and/or wrong, you just need to stop. Stop where you are and give yourself 3 seconds to think. Calm yourself down and assess the situation. This allows us to have greater mental clarity to make smarter decisions. If we are panicking we can ultimately put ourselves in more danger.

After gaining some mental clarity, the next priority is to make it to 3 minutes. Do you know what can kill a person within 3 minutes? Holding your breath. So, if you have air after three minutes of being lost then the next step is to make to 3 hours.

adult air beautiful beauty

In 3 hours the elements in nature can kill you. Therefore, you need to seek out shelter immediately. Your climate will determine which type of shelter you will need. In Phoenix, we will need something to protect you from shade and also for when it gets cold at night.

You may be able to find a rock or tree to use. Or our teacher suggested that we carry around certain objects in our packs. Having an emergency mylar warming blanket will protect you from the elements. If in cold weather it can be used as a warming blanket. Or in the desert you can use it as a tarp to create a shady area. You should also carry around some cord as well, so that you can tie it to the trees and/or rocks.

Our desert shelter made out of a tarp, warming blanket and cords

Next comes 3 days. In 3 days, we can die without water. And…here’s the bummer about this in Phoenix. We do not have water. Unless it rains or if you happen to come across some water, but for the most part around our Phoenix mountains, we have no sources of water. So for this reason, our instructor stressed to us, to make sure we always pack extra water. Also, fun fact – you should never drink your own pee. This will not hydrate you.


After this you can go 3 weeks without food. So you need to find things to eat. Hopefully you have packed some extra snacks but if not our teacher suggested eating bugs. Unlike plants, we know that bugs are not poisonous and can be a great source of protein.

The last rule of 3 is at the 3 month line. It’s during this time frame that humans become a danger onto themselves. Meaning that we tend to go a little…crazy. If you”re in a group of people, you may start to become angry or hostile with each other. Or if your alone  you may begin to go mad, seeing as how you are in complete isolation with no other human around.

Hopefully you never find yourself in this situation. But, if you do I hope you remember these rules of 3 and survive the situation.

Being calm and thinking about your priorities are the most important things that will save your life.


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