Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Survival – and the Rules of 3

I have a request from Ms. Huxley that the next blog topic post be:

Just the Basics – What’s in by “Boogie Bag”?

As I started to work on that post two things became apparent. It’s been a bit since I have updated my gear list – and I want to include a link to that in the post. And second – why the heck do I need to “boogie” anyway. That is the purpose of this post – to put some context on when it’s time to get out of dodge and to provide a basis for a person to evaluate their own “Boggie Bag”. (Yes, I know that the current name is “Bail Out Bag – BOB”, but you’ll kindly remember that I’m a Crotchety Old Guy and I’ve been calling it a “Boogie Bag” for 20+ years, deal with it!)

The general ground rules for an individual’s survival can be summed up in the “Rules of 3”:

Three Minutes without AIR.
Three Hours without SHELTER.
Three Days without WATER.
Three Weeks without FOOD.

Three Minutes

At the most basic level, there is just plain survival – the willingness and intention to keep breathing for the next second, 30 seconds, minute, 3 minutes – it determines the continuation of your very existence. These are the moments when training, habit, conditioning (mental more so than physical) are the only things that will save you. Your canoe flips, you’re trapped under water, pined under a fallen tree – three minutes is your remaining lifespan without air. Are you prepared? You awaken to a smoke-filled room in a hotel on vacation. You find a single clean breath of air before you begin your exit – three minutes to remember how to get out and to exit the building. Your snowmobile and you have been buried in an avalanche. Snow crushes your lungs and fills your helmet and face mask. Three minutes remain until your world ends. You cross an alley at night – and an attacker crashes into you and begins to beat you with a pipe. You have entered the “3 rounds, 3 feet, 3 seconds” arena. Are you prepared to defend yourself?

Survive the first 3 minutes and you have all the time in the world to live. This is when most people die, consumed by fear – paralyzed, uncertain, and unprepared. The first 3 minutes is why you do all the basics – carry a knife in a known location, carry your weapon in the same spot every day, know your route, check fire escape routes, know what floor you’re on, wear a locater, practice close encounter shooting drills. It’s why you spend time in the wilderness, time on the range, check the back of the hotel room door for your escape route. It’s why you integrate these things into your daily life.

Three Hours

You have survived the initial hurdle, the first 3 minutes. You’ve been granted a reprieve – time to gather yourself and focus. Now, before you freeze to death, slip into hypothermia, dehydrate, enter heat exhaustion on your way to heat stroke – you have time to protect yourself, to build an appropriate shelter that will take you to the next level of survival. Have you taken the time to learn these skills? Can you remain calm, focused, intent on survival long enough to gather basic materials to construct a shelter or to search for a natural shelter? Once there, do you have the means to start a fire if it’s cold? (My standard question at this point is: “Do you have three ways to start a fire in your pocket?”) Can you find enough shade to fend off heat exhaustion or heat stroke? Have you practiced this skill set? While 3 hours seems like a lifetime compared to 3 minutes, it is indeed your remaining lifetime unless you can find shelter, get warm or cool and then collect yourself to pass this hurdle and give yourself a real shot at getting out of the situation you are in.

Three Days 

Your body can survive around three days without water. Water is the liquid that allows a body to work. It lets nerves fire, brains evaluate, muscles work and your body cool. In fact it is this last item that contributes in no small amount to how quickly this valuable resource leaves your body.

Dehydration creeps upon a body slowly but relentlessly. A number of years ago I was on a pack trip walking along a nearly dry stream. We were over 9,000 feet and had been hiking since early dawn with packs freshly topped off with 4-days of supplies – total weight around 65 pounds or so. It was July, northern New Mexico and hot. There was no breeze to be had. And suddenly – I was done. Flat out of gas. I’d been drinking steadily draining 3 Nalgenes throughout the morning. It took nearly half an hour and an additional Nalgene to recharge and finish this leg of the trek. This was a trivial event in the scheme of things, yet a solid reminder that water is life and life can be very short in deed.
Two stories – one famous, one not.

Aron Ralston was on a solo trek in Blue John Canyon, Utah. He told no one where he was going, when he’d be back or what his route was. Suddenly, a bolder shifts and crushes his forearm between the bolder and the canyon wall. He was trapped with no possible way of rescue. The book is “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”. His final means of self rescue – he cut off his own arm and hiked onward until he found assistance. You know about this self-rescue because, within the first three days before dehydration incapacitated him, Aron performed a very radical form of self rescue.
He survived.

Our second story did not have a happy ending. Mike Turner was 4 days into a 9 day hike. While walking over a field of large boulders, one shifted, crushing his leg and pinning him within sight, sound and smell of water. We know about Mike’s final days because his journal recounts his end.
Three days grace without water is our usual limit. Have a plan, practice, learn your wilderness skills because nature is just that – nature. It cares little for human error or misfortune.

Three Weeks

Rescue has not been quick. You have survived the opening moments of your challenge, found appropriate shelter and remained hydrated. You mind is still working, you skills have been up to the task. And, yet, here you are – no rescue in sight. You have 3 weeks before your body consumes itself – moves from short terms stores to body fat and finally muscle. The images of the holocaust survivors in concentration camps are an easy reference – yet how many can relate to such horror. For most, death by starvation is stealthier.

Take for example, the story of Chrostopher McCandless. Here was an inexperienced adventurer, looking to the wildness of Alaska to fill the void in his soul. He found shelter in the form of a bus. Water was plentiful. He had a .22 rifle to hunt small game – only to discover that this balance of food intake to expenditure of work was wildly out of balance. By the time he made a decision to leave and return to Anchorage it was too late, he simply did not have enough reserves to walk out. His journal recounts his final days as does the movie “Into the Wild”.

So what does all of this have to do with a “Boogie Bag”? This is survival at the most base level.
These are the hurdles that must be survived or you will simply be a statistic, a victim, a hapless soul that didn’t make it. When you assemble your “Boggie Bag”, tuck it in your car, closet or backroom ready to grab and go make sure it covers everything you can think of to survive for that first 72 hours. Honestly, it takes little more that dehydrated food pouches to extend that to a week with little additional weight. At that instant your gear, your training and your mindset will determine your final fate – life or death.


  1. Thanks--I've sent her the link to your blog.

  2. Did I miss the link to your gear list?

    1. Morning,

      Nope, will have that in my next post. This particular post came about because this is where I start my Wilderness Survival course - with the Rules of 3. I should have the Boogie Bag post and the gear list link up tonight or tomorrow night.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  3. I think this list misses the most important rule of three: Three seconds of stupid will get you killed.