The Rule of 3’s to Survive any Situation

August 10, 2020

A Better Way to Remember and Survive

  1. What Is The Rule of 3
    1. Air – minutes
    2. Shelter – hours
    3. Water – days
    4. Food – weeks
    5. Hope – months
  2. Remembering the  Rule of 3: (A.C.H.E.D)
    suffer from a continuous dull pain”

    1. Aspirate – Air
    2. Cover – Shelter
    3. Hydrate – Water
    4. Eat – Food
    5. Desire – Hope

Whether it’s an earthquake, a riot, or a terrorist attack, being prepared is critical in any situation as disasters can happen anytime and often without warning. Being prepared is not only about having the necessary supplies and gear, but it is also knowing what to do. You could be at home sleeping when an earthquake suddenly strikes or out on a hike in the mountains when a fire ignites and traps you.  You could be safely in your office when the power goes out or an act of terror throws the city outside into total chaos.

When this happens, what should be your top priorities in order to survive? One of the rules that preppers and survivalists follow during any crisis is the Rule of 3. It’s a rule that can help you do certain things first to ensure your survival. Memorizing this rule can increase your chances of survival in any dire situation.  

It’s easy to be frightened or overwhelmed when the calm of our world suddenly falls apart.  In this blog, we’ll discuss what the Rule of 3 is and how to apply this principle during any catastrophic situation.  We’ll also look at an easy acronym to remember to ensure your survival priorities are stronger than the crisis you are facing.

What is the Rule of 3

The Rule of 3 is a rule that survivalists and preppers follow to help them remember what is the most important thing they need to do first when they’re put in a disaster situation. Read anyone’s survival story and the chances are they knowingly or unknowingly survived because of the Rule of 3.  No one knows exactly where the rule started, but some believe it was taken from the United States Air Force S.E.R.E. Program –Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.

The Rule of 3 essentially means you can live and survive for:

  • 3 minutes without AIR
  • 3 hours without SHELTER
  • 3 days without WATER
  • 3 weeks without FOOD
  • 3 months without HOPE 

AIR: Three Minutes Without Air

AirOxygen is the most basic and important thing we need to survive. Without it, we won’t have a chance to survive for more than 3 minutes. This is why you need to put priority in finding breathable air during a disaster period. For example, if you’re in the middle of a wildfire, the first thing you need to do is to prioritize finding a way to breathe properly without the toxic fumes and smoke entering your body. Has the building around you collapsed?  Look for air flow and try and find breathable pockets of air.  Can you tear a piece of cloth, wet it and make a bandana?  This will keep toxic dust from blocking your airways.  This same method will work for a short period of time in a fire or smoky situation.  The wet cloth will help to filter the air and deflect some of the heat.  If your boat capsizes, look for the direction of the bubbles.  They will always rise up.  If you can’t escape, is there a pocket of collected air under your boat?  Air – it’s the thing you need the most.  If you cannot aspirate for a period longer than 3 minutes, death is certain.

SHELTER: Three Hours Without Shelter

ShelterIf you find yourself in a situation where moving to a safer environment or extricating yourself completely from the crisis is not possible, you will need to prioritize the next part of the Rule of 3– Shelter.  In heavy rains, never camp by a river.  In a fire, never rest until you are below and downwind from the fire, as fires will burn with the wind current and up.  In an earthquake, make sure you have shelter from the elements.  The second part of the Rule of 3 is all about shelter.  Once you’ve found a way to have breathable air, the next thing you need to prioritize is shelter. The environment that we live in can be harsh and our bodies are not designed to withstand what nature can throw at us. Shelter is critical, especially if you find yourself unable to make it back home because of the disaster. Providing temporary shelter is one of the primary relief actions that governments take so people in affected areas will have a place to sleep and keep themselves safe after a calamity has destroyed their homes.  Shelter serves the critical role of shielding you from the elements and the environment.

WATER: Three Days Without Water

WaterWhen breathable air and shelter are not an issue, then the next thing you need to focus on is finding clean water to drink. Water is critical to our survival, more so than food. The adult human body contains up to 60% water and several of the vital internal organs, like the brain, heart, and lungs, are all made up mostly of water. This shows how important water is in our life, which is why we can only survive without water for 3 days. When you find yourself in a disaster situation, water should be your priority, especially if the situation may last for days.  In addition to storing water for an emergency, consider filling bathtubs or other large vessels at the onset of an emergency situation.  You can survive for days without food, but you won’t survive much more than 3 days without water. 

FOOD: Three Weeks Without Food

FoodFood is important but it isn’t your first priority after a SHTF scenario. There are countless stories of people surviving for days, even longer without any intake of food. An example is when a Thai soccer team and their coach survived being trapped in a cave for 17 days in 2018 without any food. They used the dripping stalactites for water and meditated to help them not think about food. Our bodies can survive without eating anything for 3 weeks as long as we have water to drink. Not having food can cause starvation, which will have other side effects and can even lead to death. This is why it is still vital to prepare enough food supplies or find sources of food after a grid-down scenario. People who survived during a calamity for weeks and months were able to do so because they also found a source of food aside from water. 

HOPE: Three Months Without Hope

HopeThe last rule is a bit subjective since this will really depend on the person and the circumstance. In a prolonged crisis, your survival may rely upon your personal reserves of hope.  Can you maintain positive progress towards your survival?  Can you look forward to another day, week, or month when no possible solution is on the horizon? Though others believe people can survive for roughly 3 months without any hope, we think it is actually the most critical thing you need for your survival. If you’re already losing hope that you can get out of the collapse, what would motivate you to try to survive in the first place? The problem with losing hope is that it clouds your mind and prevents you from seeing the entire situation and noticing that there are still things that you can do. This is why we believe hope should be the most important thing you need to prioritize when you’re put in a disaster situation. 

Remembering the Rule of 3 (A.C.H.E.D)

“For minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months I A.C.H.E.D.”  The Rule of 3 was created for survival in the wilderness to help people prioritize things when they’re put in a tight spot. However, this code can also be applied in your preparation for surviving in an urban setting during a disaster.  The challenge for most people is remembering the rule of three.  The incremental periods of time are easy enough to remember: minutes, hours, days, weeks, months; however, the order of what you need to survive has to be memorized.  The chances are that if this is your first exposure to them, you have to struggle to remember them. If that is the case, how could you remember them in the stress of a disaster situation?  Remember instead the phrase “For minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months I ACHED”

This phrase will expand the applicability of the Rule of 3 and help you to remember it during the stress of a crisis in an urban environment.  Remember the Rule of 3 by remembering the word “ACHED.”  Ached is to “suffer from a continuous dull pain,” and any SHTF situation can be a prolonged and continuous pain that needs to be dealt with.  As an acronym, ached stands for Air, Cover, Hydration, Eat, Desire.

Air is the critical component where minutes matter.  Cover, here, we also expand in concept to include cover as in a hat, protection from the sun, rain, and win and cover as in “cover me” to remember to create a defensible shelter of protection, as well.  While you may already have shelter in some crisis situation, you need to be aware that cover also includes protecting your body directly and indirectly.  The H in “ACHED” is hydration.  Here too , I am trying to expand the definition of water.  The liquid in canned foods, the morning dew, rain, the toilet tank, even water remaining in the pipes leading to your house are all sources of hydration, so it’s important to expand the definition from just finding water in the wilderness.  The “E” is simply “Eat.”  Finding sources of consumable food, foraging in an urban environment, gardening in plots of land, balconies, or even window sills are all methods of critical food resources after a crisis.  And finally, the D is “Desire,” defined as “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.”  To be hopeful and desirous of emerging from a catastrophe, staying positive when everything looms like a dark cloud over you, finding the calm moments when you are spending the majority of your time in a panicked frenzy for survival, will be the key element to your long term survival.  

So remember, minutes, hours, day, weeks, and maybe even months you “A.C.H.E.D.- Air, Cover, Hydration, Eat, Desire,” but if you prepare and keep your head about you, you can survive.


The Rule of 3 can help you know what you should focus and prioritize first, not only in preparing but also in case you find yourself in the middle of a disaster with no gear or supplies available.  Remember the priorities by remembering the phrase “For minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months I ACHED.”  This will ensure you know the priorities of survival in any given situation, and you remember that the pain will be temporary if you apply the principles, prepare, and persist.

We hope you gained new insight when it comes to focusing and prioritizing your preps.

As always, please stay safe out there.

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