A quick introduction: I’ve been part of the prepping community since before I was born.  My parents lived through the shortages of WWII and their parents lived through the shortages of the great depression.

I remember mom putting away a few hundred jars of garden vegetables every year she had a garden.  She would buy 20 gallons of milk and freeze 18  gallons when we got home from the store.  Our house always had multiple refrigerators and/or freezers.

As I prepared to leave home, mom and dad helped outfit my car.  It wasn’t the car that was important to them, it was making sure that I had everything I needed, just in case.

Over the years, I’ve followed that.  When I met my mentor we talked about “end of the world.”  He use to joke that if I could get him to the “we have wire” stage, he could take us the rest of the way to modern computers.  So I did the research into how to get from nothing to everything.

Some years later, I joined some local groups that were interested in preparing.  Once there, I found that I and my ladies were doing the teaching. We still educated ourselves, but we were much more likely than others to be skilled in a very wide variety of things.

What do I do first?

This is the most common question asked of people getting into preparing.  And it is a good question.  If you ask on this forum or that forum they will happily tell you how to spend thousands of dollars in order to “get started”.  And all of that is nice, but it doesn’t teach the most basic structure first: How do I prioritize my preparations.

The Rule of Three’s

You can survive:

  • Three minutes without air
  • Three hours without shelter
  • Three days without water
  • Three weeks without food
  • Three months without hope

There are always going to be people that want to argue about whether “it is really three weeks?”  “What if…?” The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter.

This is a structure to help you get started in preparing and to make good decisions on where to put your priorities.

So what does it mean?

Three minutes without air

If you aren’t breathing, you are not going to survive.  Seems simple, but the first rule is to make sure you keep breathing.  This translates into first aid and stop the bleed.

Make sure you have first aid gear and know how to use it.  Make sure you have “stop the bleed” or “blow out” kits.  These will keep you alive long enough to worry about shelter.

Longer term, this is personal hygiene equipment and products, so you keep healthy. Think about basic items: soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, bandaids or bandages, crutches, inflatable casts, etc.

Three hours without shelter

Once you are sure you are going to continue to breath, you need shelter.  This isn’t just tents and huts and houses, this is everything that shelters you from the elements.  It is hats and coats, clothing, rain coats, tarps, sleeping bags, socks, boots, and of course tents, huts and houses.

You should consider just how long you would survive in 40F rain without some sort of water proof gear.  You would quickly start to get hypothermia. Your body is losing heat faster than it can produce it.  You will die.  And hypothermia sets in at when the core temperature reaches 95F (35C).  

At the other extreme, hot days can lead to over heating, dehydration, nasty sun burns and a host of other issues which will kill you.

Three days without water

Water is of higher priority than food.  The number of people that have a 6 month supply of food and have no idea what to do if the taps stop flowing is mind boggling.  You need water.

Water is both short term (what you carry with you), medium term (how you get more to carry with you), and long term (how are you going to get the 4 to 6 liters of water per day to live comfortably).

Remember, water is used for more than just drinking.  It is used for cleaning and cooking.

And all of the water you use needs to be clean enough for the use you put it to.

Three weeks without food

This people seem to have in spades.  Unfortunately, most people don’t consider what it takes to prepare their stored foods.  Nor how long they will be eating it, nor just how little they actually have.

A comment that has been made many times is something like: Have you tried to eat just 72 hour bars for 72 hours?

Three months without hope

If you are using your preparations, the odds are high that bad things are happening to you, or to the world around you. You need something to keep your spirits up.  That is hope.

Hope includes games to play, radios to listen to, books to read.  A little bit of chocolate candy or hard candy hidden away to make everybody a little happier.  It can be a favorite stuffed animal or a picture of loved ones.  

Hope is a requirement for living (as opposed to surviving), and for long term survival.

Next: How long will this go on?

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By awa

13 thoughts on “The Rule of Threes – How to prioritize your preparations”
  1. I made a ‘solar still’ to produce potable water from water. It doesn’t make enough for even one person to live on, much less a family, however it is a step in the right direction.

    1. home spun berkey water filter setups. pair of 5 gallon buckets and the right filters, and you can be well on your way to making clean water. I added 2 such setups to my prep pile.

    2. Good for you for practicing before you needed it. There are a couple of ‘solar still’ descriptions out there. Most of them don’t produce as much water as you might require, but some is better than none. Look into what you can do if you use fire instead. Look into what you can accomplish with a coil of plastic tubing, a pot of cold water and a pressure cooker venting steam into your plastic tubing.

  2. I have a 1 acre pond 10 feet deep with running stream runs all year through it…. I think Im all set on water heh heh.. good post Sir. We need a refresher sometimes

    1. You have a great source of water. We do took. Besides water on our own property, there is a fresh water lake just a half mile down the road. The issue for us isn’t getting the water. It is making it clean enough to drink.

    2. Yup, and that’s great until some fallout from a dirty bomb ends up in it. Or some chemical residue from any number of sources.

      You still need to have a substantial amount of stored water of known quality.


  3. Funny you mention parents and grandparents living through hard times. I had one grandmother that lived through great depression and spent money as fast as she got it the rest of her life. Her learnings from that were that any dollar you had today could be worthless tomorrow, so spend it as fast as you can to at least get something out of it. My other grandmother that also lived through the great depression was the type to wash tinfoil and save bacon grease. Her lesson from that hardship was to save and prepare.

    Luckily both my parents were the save everything mode, part of which passed on to me. I still spend too fast, but I also try to save. My wife, who grew up with a mentally unbalanced father who blew the family budget on drugs and whores every month, is more like my first grandmother (although she denies it vehemently). If there’s money in her account at the end of the month, I’m in shock. Before we married she spent her paycheck on payday and then struggled to the next payday.

    She’s better now, but we still have two accounts because I have to manage all bills. And yes, the last few years have changed her mind on prepping. We have several month’s worth of food, some water (if the tap stops, I have a few not so good ideas). ammo, and emergency supplies (that we euphemistically call “camping gear”).

    I like you rule of threes.

  4. To add to hope, having a close community is big part of that- a fact that the Covid lockdowns have gone far to prove.

    Churches and synagogues have been an enormous help in times past and currently for that matter.

    1. Having community is a good way to survive. It is also a good way to starve. The problem with community is that there are always those that don’t have enough, or that are just that needy.

      Do you have the strength to look into the eyes of a very hungry three year old and say “no, you can’t have any of my food.”

      Your survival in such a situation might depend on the weakest link.

      On the other hand, having a set of trusted trading partners goes a long way. As does the relationships that you can develop. Just remember, when preparing, 6 months of supplies for 4 people only lasts 4 months with 6 people. And it only lasts a few days once the local community decides to share your horded goods with the entire community.

      Lots of people know the story of the “stone soup”. Where a stranger comes to down. Promises to make a wonderful soup for all the starving people in the village. And with just a stone.

      He cons the villagers to put their food into his pot, a little at a time. At the end of the day, everybody in the village has a wonderful dinner of a great soup.

      The villagers that put their food into that pot were conned. The con artist got feed for the cost of stirring a pot of water. He borrowed the pot, he used other people labor for the wood under the pot. He borrowed the spoon he used to stir the pot. At the end of the day he left that village with a full belly, ready to con the next village. And a week later, those villagers are dreaming of the soup as their bellies grumple and they struggle to survive.

  5. I would like to suggest, Prepper: Surviving the Tough Times Ahead. It’s on the only internet, for free.

    I also suggest, Nuclear War Survival Skills. It’s also on the internet for free

    Someone You Know

  6. Also on the importance of water. As a merchant seaman you learn that you don’t eat unless you have water, it takes a lot of water to digest food and it will only increase your rate of dehydration. Well laid out article on thought process.

  7. Way back when the Boy Scouts were still Boy Scouts, I did leader training. I added the idea of preparing their Scouts to spend an unplanned night in the woods (or wherever) to the First Aid segment. I used the rule of 3s, but I haven’t heard of the 3 months element.

    I probably wouldn’t want the bus to think that they might be lost for more than a day or two. 8>)

    Good article. Also, a good point from @Capt CJ. Most people seem to focus on food, not water.

Only one rule: Don't be a dick.

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