Survival Priorities & Rule of 3's

Imagine suddenly finding yourself stranded in the wilderness. Perhaps your plane has crashed or you have become lost. Darkness is falling and you are on your own. Self extraction at this time is out of the question.

Your next course of action could mean the difference between a miserable life threatening experience and reasonably comfortable survival.

You are lost and you know you will not be leaving the wilderness today.First order of business – do nothing but relax and think through your situation.

Then, take the decisive actions necessary to keep you alive.

In this Survival Topic we assume you are not grievously injured; that you can still function well enough to take care of yourself but need a survival guide outlining the essential steps you must take to survive in the wilderness. Do the Most Important Survival Tasks First

Flailing around in the wilderness without a well thought out plan isn’t going to increase your chances for survival – but it could reduce them. Proper actions taken in proper sequence will enhance your ability to survive.

The first question you should ask yourself in this situation is “what are the most important survival tasks to be accomplished”?

Many survival guides provide some information about wilderness survival skills but dwell on excessive material devoted to finding food in survival situations. Often there is little consideration given to the important component of timing.

This one-dimensional approach to wilderness survival instruction gives many survival students the mistaken impression that finding food is the most important wilderness survival task. In reality, food acquisition is at the bottom of the list for things that need doing in most wilderness survival emergencies.

The proper order of tasks will take into account that which is most important to your immediate survival. You need a list of things to do; as each task is completed to satisfaction move on to the next in line of importance. In this way you will secure your survival in the environment you find yourself.

The remainder of this Survival Topic will provide step by step a list of the main survival skills you should apply in order to increase your chances of surviving in the wilderness.

First Survival Things First

Should you find yourself in a wilderness survival situation you have your work cut out for you. The first twenty-four hours are the most critical. Within this time frame you must satisfy your basic survival needs; only then is your survival usually assured.

Upon the often startling realization your survival is at stake, and assuming your current state of health is not life threatening, the first thing you need to do is do nothing.

That’s right, do “nothing”

In spite of the often overwhelming urge to take immediate action in the early stages of a survival situation, usually the best thing you can do is take it easy. Have a seat and relax for a few moments. Lay down if that makes you more comfortable. If there is food and water available, have something to eat and drink. Make especially sure you are fully hydrated.

Take it easy. Quell any fears that may be welling up from within to pollute your mind. Remain calm and collected because you will only have yourself and your survival skills to rely upon until rescue arrives.

Take stock of your situation. Hopefully you’ve been reading many survival topics so you’ve got a good survival kit, you know what to do, and you and how to do it. Everything will be fine and soon enough you will be home telling all your friends about this great wilderness adventure.

Inventory Survival Supplies

Once you have complete charge of your thoughts, quickly inventory your situation. Consider the environment you find yourself in and the materials such as clothing, water, survival kit, and other survival gear you have available.

Every situation is different, but try to look about you with the eye of a MacGyver. Take stock of other items you can re-purpose for survival. Depending upon the situation you may have parts available from your vehicle or aircraft such as mirrors (signaling), foam insulation from seat covers, wires (cordage), gasoline (fire), batteries (starting a fire) and other man-made materials.

Observe the natural resources you can utilize to help you survive. Sources of fuel for fire, water, and survival shelter are especially important. Try to locate yourself in an area where these survival resources are close at hand so that you expend a minimum amount of time and energy in gathering them.

Build a Survival Fire

Now that you have your head on straight, I suggest you build a fire. Fire has many uses beyond warmth, light, and signaling. Just the act of making a good campfire has a calming, morale boosting effect that will psychologically save you from yourself. This is very important; in any wilderness survival situation your mind is both your best asset and your worst stumbling block.

Once you make and maintain a good survival fire, you are assured of ample warmth, light, and an increased ability to signal for help. The boost to your morale that a camp fire causes will immediately be felt. With a good fire going, you can safely tackle the next important survival tasks.

However in many survival situations successfully making a fire can be problematic even if you have proper fire starting materials. Fuel is often wet or of poor quality. It may be raining or snowing and there may be high winds. Only through the experience of making many fires in a variety of situations will you master this most essential survival skill.

When you need it most, as in this situation, you will be glad you have honed your fire making skills by repeated practice. Your survival kit should contain at least three methods of lighting a fire. For example waterproof matches, fire steel and butane lighters, so that if one method fails you still have two backups. Fire is so important to wilderness survival this redundancy in fire making gear could very well save your life.

I also recommend your survival kit contains a fire starting aid. Petroleum jelly fire starters or wax fire sticks will be of great help in making a survival fire if the wood is green or damp.

A survival fire is relatively small; gathering fuel is time consuming and energy intensive. You do not want to unnecessarily burn though material faster than you can gather it. Keep your small fire going while you move on to the next tasks.

Make a Survival Shelter

The next wilderness survival priority is shelter from the elements. Without a proper survival shelter you may be exposed to a variety of threats including heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, and pesky insects.

Do not make the mistake of relying upon current conditions to persist throughout your entire survival situation. It may be warm, sunny, and comfortable now, but in the middle of the night you do not want to be awakened by a raging storm totally unprepared.

If possible you have advantageously selected an area for your fire where shelter is already fully or partially integrated, and where there are plenty of building materials nearby. For example a rock overhang may make an excellent shelter and by making a fire a few yards away you may have a very comfortable setup.

If you have your survival kit, you can use your tarp to construct a protected area or even as the basis for a debris hut or snow trench shelter. The type of shelter you construct will depend upon climate, available materials, and your abilities. Once again, the wilderness survival skills you practiced before an actual survival emergency will serve you well.

Obtain Water

Many people do not fully understand the importance of adequate water intake. You can survive for weeks or even months with little or no food, but go without water for even just one day and your ability to carry out the tasks necessary for wilderness survival is greatly compromised.

When you become dehydrated your efficiency is reduced in many ways. You will tire more easily. You will become susceptible to injury and the effects of cold or heat. Morale will drop and a host of other problems ensue. Observe the Rule of 3's

The Rule of 3's are:

  • You can survive without oxygen or with major bleeding for 3 minutes
  • You can survive exposure to extreme cold or heat for 3 hours
  • You can survive without water for 3 days
  • You can survive without food for 3 weeks

Try to locate your shelter and fire near a good source of water. This will save you having to travel far to replenish your water supply. Areas near streams, lakes, and ponds are also likely places search and rescue is likely to look for you. In thick forests these areas are often more open than the surrounding countryside, which improves your ability to signal and to be seen.

Always consider water as suspect in quality. Do not boil your water for ten minutes or longer as many misinformed sources erroneously expound. The myth of boiling water for inordinate lengths of time is stubbornly cherished and recirculated for years.

Boiling your water for any length of time merely wastes fuel and evaporates water. Simply bring your water to a boil; this is more than enough to destroy any pathogens that might do you harm.


With your immediate physical needs taken care of you can turn your attention to signaling for rescue.

There are many ways to signal for help. Your survival kit should contain several items that will come in handy for this purpose.

A signal mirror can be used to flash aircraft and ground personnel from surprisingly great distances. Often a survival signal mirror can be fashioned from a piece of shiny metal or plastic. Some compasses have a mirror as part of the compass casing.

Every survival kit should contain a shrill survival whistle. The blast of a whistle can be heard further than the shout of a human voice. And importantly, you can blow a whistle at regular intervals all day but you cannot do the same with shouting; in very little time your voice will become strained and you will be unable to maintain the effort.

A smoky fire makes an excellent survival signaling device that can be seen and often smelled for miles in all directions. Keep a ready pile of green vegetation next to your campfire and throw it on should you hear the drone of an aircraft.

Extended Wilderness Survival

Now that you have fire, shelter, and plenty of drinkable water you know you can survive in the wilderness for many days if necessary. You have your signaling methods in place and you are safely awaiting rescue.

You can survive for many weeks just as you are but keep in mind that 95% of all wilderness survival emergencies are resolved within just 72-hours. The fact is you’ve got it made. You are now actually on a sort of adventure vacation.

Continue to keep your spirits up by taking action. While awaiting rescue keep yourself busy by improving your campsite. It will help your morale and increase your level of comfort. Improve your shelter and bedding, gather water and firewood, and keep vigilant for the opportunity to signal would-be rescuers.

Survival Food

You will become hungry going without food for more than several hours, but as long as you are properly sheltered, warm, and have enough to drink you will come out of this fine.

There are number of ways to obtain wild survival foods in nearly any wilderness situation. The Survival Topic Survival Foraging on the Move is an excellent example of the abundance of natural foods you can harvest in many wilderness areas. If you can drop your preconceived food prejudices you are often well on your way to having plenty to eat.

As with all the basic survival skills, the ability to find wild foods during a survival situation depends upon previous study and practice. Learn how to identify, harvest, and use the most important edible plants in the area you are traveling in. Think about the various methods you can use to harvest local wildlife. Be sure to cook anything that may contain parasites or disease causing organisms.

Your survival kit should contain the means to fish, trap and snare, cook, and create various tools and hunting gear. A good survival knife, 550 paracord, fishhooks and line will go far in helping you procure wild edible foods.

The skills and experience you have accumulated through practice will serve you well when it comes to finding survival food. Even without a survival kit you can usually figure out ways to utilize the materials you have available to aid in this effort.

It is important to note that plants and insects are often the easiest and most abundant foods to acquire. Fish are also often relatively easy to catch. But depending upon animals for food may be unreliable; hunting and trapping is not always an assured way of obtaining food on a day to day basis even by those with experience. The pursuit of animals can also be time and energy consuming and may even cause you to become separated from your campsite.

Recap of Wilderness Survival Priorities

95% of wilderness survival situations are resolved within 72-hours either by outside rescue or self-extraction. What you do during the first 24-hours will largely determine your chances of survival. After the first day work on improving your situation:

First 24-hours

  • Take stock
  • Build a fire
  • Make a quick and basic shelter
  • Obtain water
  • Set up signaling


  • Continue to improve your situation
  • Find food

Wilderness survival above all is using your best asset to full advantage: your mind. Stay calm and take positive action step by step one survival priority at a time and you will survive to see another day. source


  1. rona said...
    nice posting
    thanks for sharing..
    Bushcraft and Survival Skills said...
    Your welcome glad you liked it!
    twincougars said...
    I think I would modify this sequence a bit. Rather then relax and take stock of the situation as the first think, what I would do is assess any possible life-threatening security issues. For instance, is their gasoline dripping from the fuel tank that could ignite from the hot engine or exhaust? Did the plane his trees that might be almost ready to come down on me? Am I injured? Also, are there time-sensitive things that need to be taken care of immediately? Is there a storm coming? Is it pouring rain and I need immediate shelter? Did the crash start a fire that I might be able to extinguish? Is the plane partially on fire and I need to get the radio or some equipment or gear out before it gets destroyed?
    I must not panic, so yes, I would need to settle my mind just for a moment, but there could be issues that need immediate attention.
    Bushcraft and Survival Skills said...
    The plane crash survival scenario is used in an example to extrapolate on the time tested "Survival Priorities & Rule of 3's". However, you do bring valid considerations of surviving an actual plane crash - Thank you for sharing!

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