The Brutal Truth About “The Rule Of Threes”

Most preparedness/survival enthusiasts are familiar with the famous “Rule of Threes” and leverage it as a guide for assembling their preparedness plan. For those of you who may not be familiar with the “Rule of Threes”, here it is:

The Rule Of Threes

You can live:
3 minutes without air
3 hours without shelter/fire (hypothermia)
3 days without water
3 weeks without food

Ironically, even the standard “72 hours” guideline that our famous 72 hour kits are designed after (because statistically it takes an average of 72 hours for help to arrive) also fits this rule of threes as well since 72 hours is exactly three days!

So… is this infamous “Rule of Threes” really a good guideline to follow? The answer might surprise you.

While the human body can perhaps sustain itself for 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter/fire, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food… those are going to be 3 INCREDIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE AND MISERABLE minutes/hours/days/weeks.

Woman lost in the woods exposed at risk of hypothermia

This woman is lost in the woods in the extreme cold. Without shelter and/or fire, she is quickly at risk of hypothermia.

Let’s do a little experiment. Set a timer for three minutes. Now hold your breath and see if you can do it for a full three minutes. Perhaps a few of you can do it, but it is not easy for most of us. And that last minute is not easy or fun!

Man in the desert dying of dehydration

This man is lost in the desert and completely exposed to the elements. Without water and shelter, his life is in grave danger.

Your body can potentially endure three days without water, but only in an ideal situation. And we don’t recommend that you try this as the repercussions of doing so can be extremely dangerous. If you are exerting a lot of energy, in a hot/humid/windy climate, those conditions can literally pull the moisture right out of your body and you can begin to really feel the effects of dehydration in less than a day!

And going without food for three weeks? Forget about it. Yes, you may live through going without food for three weeks, but it is going to be a MISERABLE three weeks. Your metabolism actually starts to work differently in just a matter of six hours without food. For most of us (everyone’s body is unique), the default metabolic process at work known as glycolysis (blood glucose provides most of the energy) switches to ketosis (the body’s energy comes from ketone bodies in the blood), meaning your body is now pulling energy from its “battery bank” (fat cells and eventually even muscle tissue). This switch between these two metabolic processes is what causes many of us start getting cranky, a condition many have affectionately referred to as “hangry”.

Without getting too medical/scientific… your body starts to “cannibalize” itself in roughly six hours. Now I know what you are thinking… “I could actually stand to reduce my fat reserves!!” Well while this may be true, we all know that starving yourself is not the best or healthiest way to lose weight.

Men dying of starvation

This disturbing photo of Russian, Polish and Dutch slave laborers from 1945 illustrates just how much abuse your body can take in terms of starvation and malnutrition and stay alive. But is this any way to live? Obviously these men did not have any choice in the matter… but you do!! 

While your body may be able to survive for three weeks without food, you can and will feel the effects of a lack of calories WELL before you reach the end of three weeks. Even after as little as a day or two (again, everyone is different) you will begin to start feeling low energy levels, light headedness, impaired judgement, impaired motor skills and other such symptoms. This can be quite dangerous in a survival situation making you feel extremely uncomfortable, prone to making bad decisions and even injuring yourself. This is obviously not ideal.

The truth is… your body can actually survive longer than 3 minutes without air. You will be unconscious after the first three or four minutes, but you can/will likely live. Your body can go as long as 3-8 days without water (depending on your conditions/circumstances), but you won’t be enjoying yourself one bit. And some people have been known to go 70 days (10 weeks) without food and survive!!!!

So as you can see, the “Rule of Threes”, while perhaps a helpful yet very loose guideline, isn’t intended to be taken too literally. The “Rule of Threes” is a merely an easy to remember loose guideline intended as a worst case scenario! You want to avoid pushing your body anywhere near these limits at all costs.

That is point of preparedness. Make sure that you have built into your plans, kits and skill sets to keep your family warm/cool, hydrated and fed. Every day. All day. Not just the bare minimum.

Author: Josh Nieten

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