MESSING ABOUT: Always consider the “rule of threes”


by Ron Maxwell, China School Teacher/Outdoor Enthusiast

The more one wanders about in the land of survival talk, the more one hears about the rule of threes. It has been approached by many writers in many styles with many words and I claim no exclusivity to any part of it. The rule of threes is however a clever thing and worthy of our consideration. For those of you who have not heard, the rule of threes is a set of guidelines to use when prioritizing needs in a survival situation. A human can live three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, three weeks without food. Simple, yet elegant, the rule of threes can be easily memorized and put to practice.

Deal with each of the rules in turn when packing your bag. I don’t have worries about allergies or asthma, but if I did, an EpiPen and an inhaler would be first in the kit. Air sorted? Move on to shelter. Protect yourself from the wind at night with a tent or a tarp shelter. A water shedding outer layer will keep your rainy days usable, while a warm layer will make chilly afternoons and evenings comfortable. Check to see if you have the right rated sleeping bag for the season you are enjoying. I also always pack the reflective automotive sunshade to put between me and the ground for insulation and an emergency mylar blanket for an added layer above me just in case.

Water is easily the heaviest thing you will carry. In Maine, there are many sources for water so one could plan a hike around ponds and campsites and be very comfortable. Make sure to treat all water before you drink it. I went online and researched filters that went as high as a $100 but then settled on one for $20. It threads on a standard soda bottle for convenience and its price point was low enough that breaking or losing it didn’t worry me. You could just as easily use a simple can to boil the water to kill the microscopic contaminants. Different sources say different times for boiling, but I always go for five minutes at rolling boil. I start each day on trail with two 1-1/2 L “disposable” water bottles full of filtered water, one on each side of the pack. Excessive to some, but I find more is better than not enough.

Food is the last of the threes and I cannot conceive of going three weeks without. My breakfast plan is a high nutrition grain mix: amaranth, chia, quinoa and oats. Amaranth is high in protein, fiber and healthy oils. Chia is high in Omega 3s which are anti-inflammatory and it also slows how your body converts carbohydrates to sugars. Quinoa is a complete protein (it has all the necessary amino acids), has a low glycemic index, is high in fiber and has magnesium. Oats are high in dietary fiber, lower cholesterol and are filling.

Lunch is out of a bag while walking, usually homemade granola and a bag of trail mix. I carry coconut oil separately to add to the granola because it seems dry without something and milk just doesn’t work on the trail. Also, the added calories are always welcome when one is exerting in the woods. Dinner always starts with drinking water setting up camp. Then I eat whatever can be made with whatever energy is left. Ramen and bouillion and prepackaged meat usually work well for me with green tea.

Planning using the rule of threes is an effective survival strategy. Preparing for the weather will keep you comfortable. Keeping hydrated maintains body temperature and removes waste from the body. Portioning your meals and pre-bagging the day’s food at home is an easy way to control / plan the amount of food consumed. And that is how we thrive in the Maine Outdoors.


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