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Surviving in the Wilderness

A lot of people have the romantic dream of walking off into the wilderness and living off the land. The wilderness is not romantic; it will kill you if you give it a chance. Staying alive in the wilderness is work.


Rule of Three’s

Ron Hood of Hoods Woods is credited with coming up with the Rule of Three’s. I always teach people to use this rule when setting priorities in the wilderness. The rule tells you what is important by telling you how long you can expect to live without taking care of the basics.

The rule says: You can live three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food.

That is it, simple, remember it and you will be able to figure out what to do next in any wilderness situation. You must also remember these are generalities and take into account extreme conditions.

We will skip the air part since if you are breathing you are set in that department.



Three hours without shelter seems awfully short but things can go south quickly if you are unprepared.

A few years ago a man and his boys went on a day hike in Missouri. The day was in the 60’s with sunshine. But in the afternoon a front came through that dropped temps into the 30’s and a heavy rain started. They missed the trail back to camp and were not found until the next day. All three had died of exposure since they had no shelter.

Exposure is what most people who die in the wilderness die from. Maintaining body temperature is your number one priority. I always say fire is a type of shelter, since it will keep you warm and dry you out.



If you have found a way to stay warm your next priority will be to find a potable water source. The people who survive a few days lost in the woods are usually reported as hospitalized being treated for dehydration.

People can live more than three days without water but your judgment goes downhill quickly when you are dehydrated.



If you ask 100 people on the street what is the first thing they would do if they were lost in the wilderness, the vast majority will answer “start looking for something to eat.”

Food is your last priority in a wilderness survival situation. You may feel light headed at first when your body has burnt up the easily assessable calories, but eventually it will start burning stored fat for energy. You will feel hungry but your blood sugar will have settled down and you should have modest energy.



The actual first thing you should do when you realize you are lost in the wilderness is to STOP, if you are not in immediate danger. If you can find a clearing or water course close by move to that, or move higher to get a look for familiar land marks, but give up the idea of continuing on if you truly are lost. It is best to take care of the basics and stay safe until the rescuers have a chance to find you. A fire will keep you warm and signal you location.

Wilderness survival is all about keeping your head, thinking through your situation and using the Rule of Three’s to set your priorities.


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