Survival Series – Priorities for Surviving

This is a series I’d like to start about wilderness survival.  For those of you who do a lot of hiking, camping, canoeing or kayaking or even for those driving in remote areas, this series might help you if you get lost or stranded in the wilderness.


Mrs. Jarhead in front of a survival shelter - our first igloo! Despite being a little lopsided it worked great. Click photo for a closer look.

To start with we’ll talk about the Rule of Threes.  There are variations on this rule, but in keeping with the KISS method here’s my version of it.  Remember, this is for adverse conditions.  If it’s a sunny day shelter might not be as urgent; however, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.  If you’re going to be out over night a shelter should be at the top of your survival to-do list.  If it rains that night and you’re stuck outside without a fire or shelter it can go from miserable to deadly in a very short time.

Rule of Threes

  1. Air – you can survive three minutes without air
  2. Shelter – you can survive three hours without shelter
  3. Water – you can survive three days without water
  4. Food – you can survive three weeks without food

These are generalizations of course, but if you think about the order they fall in you’ll know what to work on next.

For example:  if you’re on a canoe trip with your friend and your canoe tips over in some rapids you’ll want to work on getting out of the water first.  (Obvious, I know, but work with me here.)  Once you’re in no danger of drowning and you pull yourself out of the water the next thing you’ll need to worry about is shelter and getting dry – especially if it’s cold.

After that’s taken care of you’ll need some potable water to drink.  You can filter it with a t-shirt, but there’s a decent chance the water will have various organisms that can make you sick.  You’ll have to find some way to purify it before you drink it.

Once you have shelter, fire, and water you can then start thinking about food sources.  Survival is a full time business especially if you start out with very little!

Just for fun I’m going to set up a little problem and I’d like to see how you’d solve it:


Problem:   going back to the example above let’s say that you’ve tipped your canoe over on a camping trip and lost all your gear except for three items.  I’ll let you choose the three items.  (This is a spin off of a contest that Dave Canterbury ran over at his site.)  Another condition is that you’re in the back country and you’ll be expected to survive at least three days without help.   Here’s my last low blow –  the only food you can have is a package of beef jerky that you had in your pocket.  The rest of it was swept away by the rapids along with your cooler.  Sorry, the beer and water is gone too.  (Ain’t I cruel?)

How are you going to survive?  Using the three items you were able to recover answer these questions:

  1. What kind of shelter will you build?
  2. How will you dry out?  (The temperature up here in Maine in early May is about 55 degrees to 60 degrees F during the day and dropping into the 40’s at night.)  Use the environment in your area as a guide.
  3. Where will you get potable water?

If you don’t have any idea about this, but are interested in looking for some answers on your own browse around the web and check out Youtube.  There is tons of information out there about surviving in an emergency situation.

As to the three items think of what you would have in your canoe if you were on a week long camping trip.  Would you want a tent and sleeping bag?  An axe?  A lantern or flashlight?  A coil of rope?  A rifle or pistol?  Water purification tablets?

-Jarhead Survivor


I’m going to come back in the next post and work on all the questions above.  Bear in mind there is no one single right answer because as long as you survive you’re a winner!

Take what you have to work with and use it to survive any way necessary.  Be creative and remember that a little knowledge goes a long way.

In the next survival post I’ll list the three items I’d want and tell you why.

29 comments… add one
  • Templar May 6, 2011, 9:48 am

    Don’t forget “3 seconds of inattention” !

  • Joe May 6, 2011, 11:50 am

    I’m looking forward to this series. I blogged recently about The Rule of Three. Similar to Templar, I’d heard 3 seconds without hope.

    As for the three items I’d like to have (of course disallowing a satellite phone):
    – A good high quality multi-tool.
    – A Magnesium Fire Starter.
    – An empty 1 lb coffee can.

    With these three items, you could easily survive for three days. And quite comfortably, I might add.

    • Jarhead Survivor May 6, 2011, 8:30 pm

      Hi Joe – I’ve heard of the three seconds without hope, but templar threw me a little with the three seconds of inattetion. I assume he’s referring to not paying attention – like driving and texting or something?

      Excellent answer, by the way.

  • gat31 May 6, 2011, 1:19 pm

    Well l’ve thought about this a bit and here’s my best scenario. Number one, being a girlscout, we learned to single crochet twine to make necklaces, keychains, etc. So if l knew l was going to go camping for a week, l know l would have made a necklace out of twine with my firesteel on it. Also, l would have on a belt with my knife in a holder so l would assume l wouldn’t lose those things. But just to be on the fair side the only thing from my canoe would be a pot.
    So first thing would be to get a fire going. Strip to skivvies to dry clothes. Since l’m overweight and menapausal, l’m sure a hot flash will be by anytime to warm me lol. While clothes are drying, l’ll be searching for a site to make a shelter something out of the elements as much as possible. Hopefully something with sapplings that l can bend together. In the woods in our area, we have palm plants that have the big palm leaves. l would cut those for bedding and cover.
    Now that clothes are dry, and shelter area is decided, l’ll be scanning the river bank for fishing gear. Seems like every bank of water around here has old gear tied up in weeds and trees. If l don’t find any, then l’m digging for bugs to feed fish with and tieing knife to a good stick to try and gig some.
    Just so ya know, When l’ve established sleeping area, l do plan to take logs and surround the area and then urinate on the logs to try and keep bigger animals away. So now that its dark and l’m exhausted, probably only had water l boiled and maybe maybe not fish to go with it, l’m covering my exposed skin with mud (to keep down bugs) and going to bed.
    Day 2 will be fixing the shelter to adjust all the issues l noticed in the night. Gathering firewood to last for the day but banking the fire too.
    Looking for food. Bugs, bark, wild greens. Trying the fish thing again.
    Also fresh water mussels, shrimp, and crawfish. If all else fails, eatin’ me some of that beef jerky! Somehow try to put an indicator on the river bank to my location for any possible rescue attempt.Pretty much repeat this process til day three, then l’m trekking back down the river towards the way l came in.

  • Jarhead Survivor May 6, 2011, 1:56 pm

    Hey gat – that’s an impressive answer!

    • gat31 May 6, 2011, 10:48 pm

      Thanks Jarhead.
      l have to say this though. This would definately be a total emergency situation as l’m not crazy enough to go camping on purpose anywhere that gets 40 degrees at night. But worse case scenario, and l’ve lost my mind, can’t you heat rocks in the fire and bury them just under the dirt to sleep on for warmth too?

  • Nor' Country May 6, 2011, 9:24 pm

    To add to the rules of the threes:

    You can survive about three months without talking to another person… (Isolation is different for everyone, of course. My teen-age daughter can’t go three minutes without talking to her friends… :)

    You will have three years to write your survival story (if you live through your ordeal)…

    If your survival story is good enough, the movie to be made from your book will be on TV in three years…

  • irishdutchuncle May 7, 2011, 1:46 am

    i wrote a long, involved comment. it was almost ready to send, when i moved the keyboard, to keep the cat from stepping on it, and managed to delete the whole thing.
    anyway it could be worse… it could be raining also. i like Joe’s list better than the one i had. i didn’t include anything in which i could boil water.
    i try to keep things i can’t do without, such as my key ring, tied to myself. (i may get myself a “biker” wallet too) when i’m “outdoors” i try to make sure i have a “SPACE”/ res-q blanket in my pocket.

    this is a bad scenerio. you’re wet, and it’s cold enough that hypothermia could set in quickly. the first thing i’d do on shore, is to eat the jerky, while wringing out the wet clothing. (yes i’d share it with my friend)
    gat31 has thought the situation out pretty well. (see above)

    • Jason May 7, 2011, 11:24 am


      The only thing more frustrating than accidentally deleting your long hard work is accidentally posting in before you edit it & or decide if it is worth posting.

      • irishdutchuncle May 7, 2011, 12:14 pm

        i really try to avoid that. i’m obnoxious enough as it is, but i try to take special care with the comments. i don’t want to look back here in a few days and cringe at what i wrote. thanks to rangerman, jarhead, and all the other bloggers out there for “putting-up” with my comments.

        • Ranger Man May 8, 2011, 7:44 am

          We’re like a big family … kinda …

          • irishdutchuncle May 8, 2011, 11:54 am

            i’m that uncle that my “real family” rarely sees. (probably for the best) i’m not totally useless though… i can often be used as a bad example. that’s why i continue to show up as a commenter on survivalist blogs. (i do know a few things, that others should hear)

    • Jarhead Survivor May 8, 2011, 6:48 am

      That sucks that you lost your comment Irish. I’ve done that before and usually just walk away in disgust.

      • irishdutchuncle May 8, 2011, 11:40 am

        sometimes it’s just as well…

        mom always insisted: do your best. it really wasn’t my best, and anyhow, shorter is usually better. (as a kid, i wasn’t really allowed to be a “quitter”, though there were more than a few times i should have walked away in disgust) sometimes walking away is absolutely the right thing to do.

  • Wally May 7, 2011, 6:30 am

    If for some reason I only had three items on my person after an event like this, I’d hope those three were the following:

    – Leatherman multi-tool
    – 50′ of paracord (TONS of uses, easy to unsplice)
    – magnesium firestarter

    First off::
    -strip down, wring out the wet clothes and hang’em up.
    -pump out a quick 25 set of burpies to get the blood flowing and internal furnance going.
    -gather up some twigs, leaves, branches, cut off a 10″ strand of paracord, unsplice it and “fluff it up”, use the mag-starter to get a blaze going.
    -chomp on a piece of jerky while gathering more burnable caca.
    -cut off another strip of paracord and lash the tops of 2 or 3 young saplings together to make a cheezy but functional shelter for putting more of the burnable caca with the shelter soon getting turned into a more weatherproof establishment by cutting of ligher saplings/branches to add to the sides and tops.
    -once the fire is roaring, work on drying (in order) my jacket>boots shorts>hat>shirt>pants>socks.
    -hunker down for the night, catnapping while keeping the fire stoked.
    -spend the following day improving the campsite. chomping on found bugs/grubs/ants/new shoots on the pines. Setting up some snares with unspliced paracord. Start digging a water-hole about 2 feet from the river to “naturally” filter the water.
    -Save the jerky for when I decide to hoof it out of there…all the while not forgetting to keep the faith and understand that it can ALWAYS be worse.

    • Jarhead Survivor May 8, 2011, 6:52 am

      Excellent answer.

  • john May 7, 2011, 12:46 pm

    (#1) a 8″ survival knife/saw of stainless steel with at least a 1/4″ tang.

    (#2) a magnesium fire starter

    (#3) 1/8+” bottom 16oz stainless steel cup with handle

    • Jarhead Survivor May 8, 2011, 7:05 am

      Without giving too much away from the next post, this is very close to what I would take as well.

  • loneprep May 7, 2011, 10:34 pm

    Long time lurker here, but this seemed too fun to pass up.

    I’ll go with what I usually have in my pockets or on my person 95% of the time for a sense of realism I suppose:
    #1 A butane mini-torch lighter (I’m a smoker. Terrible habit but if I have to pick smokes or my lighter gonna be the lighter.)

    #2 My 4in Frosts Mora knife. (Great “cheap” knife I carry with me whenever I’m in the woods.)

    #3 My key chain as it’s 15ft of braided para cord.

    As for what I would do based on my geography and time of the year? Well first off get those clothes off as soon as possible. Attempt to use my lighter to get my fire going, if the mini torch is too water logged I would use a hand drill to get one going. I’m not saying I’ve perfected this method but I have used it to get a fire going a few times. Hypothermia would be an issue this time of the year in Iowa. The water is still cold, and the weather is finicky. We can have high’s approaching 80 one day and only hit high’s in the 50’s the next, so drying out and a source of warmth would be important.

    Fire going clothes dry now what? Build a shelter. Saplings are easy to come by, and my knife and limited para cord would be used making a lean to. Easy enough to build. It wouldn’t be super water tight, but I think I could manage a fairly good shelter. Lots of broad(ish) leaf underbrush for cover.

    Next I would scavenge. Waterways in Iowa are pretty polluted, and useful garbage is everywhere. Ideally I would want to find some plastic sheeting (make that lean to REALLY dry) and a water bottle/old beer, soda, or tin can to boil some water. (Both of these man made resources are pretty abundant on Iowa waterways, about the only benefit of people not giving a crap huh?)

    Speaking of water … water would be a concern. Field run off and silt in even smaller creeks/rivers. Enough to worry me when I drink it. I usually don’t carry a water filter on my person, in an ideal world I would want to run any water I got out of an Iowa river through a filter, but in this scenario, I suppose I would run it through my folded up tshirt for a “filter” and boil it. Since I am more than likely going to find a few pop cans, maybe make a sand and charcoal filter in one? It’s a thought. Definitely better than nothing. Say I don’t find anything, I would probably dig a pit like Wally next to the river to filter the water. Wouldn’t be my first choice though.

    3 days without food. Realistically in that time without gear to fish or bait for traps I’m not going to catch much to eat, and you aren’t going to die from starvation in 3 days, just be miserable. I have the bag of beef jerky, I would probably boil a little of it at a time with some wild violets (the leaves taste a bit like spinach, and they are growing everywhere this time of the year.) If I don’t find something to boil water in, I would just nibble on the jerky and a LOT of violets. That would probably hold me over for a few days until the posse comes looking for me!

    That’s what I would (attempt) to do during my 3 day unplanned camping trip in the woods.

    • Jarhead Survivor May 8, 2011, 6:59 am

      Hey Loneprep – great answer. I really like the part about scavenging as every time I’m in the woods I always seem to find old bottles, cans, plastic or something that would help improve a survival situation.

  • Odd Questioner May 8, 2011, 12:37 am

    Okay – the three items:

    – a brand new Winnebago full of… (heh, just kidding :) ).

    Okay, okay:
    – pocket knife with a small saw blade in it (which I actually do carry when camping)
    – cigarette lighter (I smoke, so no surprise there on my part. The smokes will have been soaked and useless anyway)
    – a can of some sort (even an aluminum soda can).

    First steps:
    – Check myself for injuries (adrenaline is good for hiding the small ones)
    – Check to see what I do have (and what I’m wearing, etc).
    – Look around for five whole minutes, then force myself to sit and think for ten more.

    Next steps:
    Take off the socks and hang them up somewhere – put the shoes back on (but only until I finish the next bit, which is…). Take the lighter and set it somewhere nice and conspicuous to let it begin drying out a little.
    – Get up a small lean-to shelter out of small branches, preferably evergreen ones. The movement will keep me warm, and that warmth will begin to dry out the clothes.
    – Gather up some tinder, kindling, and small branches, blow the lighter completely dry, and start a fire near the shelter’s mouth.
    – once the fire is started, spend a short moment warming up, then go get some bigger close-by logs and bring them closer.
    – take off and hang the clothing somewhere very close in the shelter while staying near the fire and sitting in the shelter to keep the wind down. Give it about 30 minutes or so to dry out.
    – Once the clothes are dry, get dressed, and go get some bigger logs – enough to last the night (while checking/feeding the fire with every trip back).
    – Once that’s all done, use the can to go get some clear fresh water, and start boiling it.
    – Take a break while waiting for the can to cool off. Figure out how to ration out that jerky – may wait until morning to have any.
    – Suck down the now-sterile water (bonus – if my can hald soda earlier in the day, it may still have some sugary residue that dissolved in the water :) ).
    – Maybe boil some more water, but this time start thinking of a way to keep the fire bright throughout the night (to make it easier for rescuers to find), and to start making the shelter comfy if I can.

    The rest would focus on figuring out where I am, if I (honestly) know the area well enough to strike towards a road or nearby town/camp/etc, and if not, start looking for forage and find ways to attract attention from searchers and any passers-by on the river.

    • Jarhead Survivor May 8, 2011, 7:04 am

      Excellent point about checking yourself for injuries. I tend not to do that in certain situations. One time I broke my ankle hiking deep in the Maine woods. In all the excitment of getting out and getting it fixed I wound having problems with a cut on my finger!! I got it one night while hanging my food bag out of reach of bears. Lucky they had given me antibiotics for my ankle, surgery, etc, but it could have gotten ugly.

  • Jason May 9, 2011, 9:53 am


    Coincidentally, I have 3 questions.

    1. How long did it take you to build that igloo?

    2. Did you make each block & how did you do that?

    3. Was it warm inside?

  • Jarhead Survivor May 9, 2011, 10:46 am

    Hi Jason – It took about four hours to put that igloo together, not including the time to pack down the snow the night before. That was probably another 1/2 hour or so of tramping the snow down and then letting it “set” so that we could mine the area for blocks.

    Yes, we made each block. Like I said above, take your snowshoes and tramp down snow over a wide area – maybe 15 or 20 square meters – and let it set for awhile. Then I took a long knife – I think it was at least a 16″ blade – and cut the blocks out of the snow. (Well, Mrs Jarhead did anyway. I was the structural engineer.) It was relatively warm that day, somewhere in the area of 25 to 30 degrees, so the snow was heavy and wet. That made for smaller blocks than customary.

    Yes, it was very warm inside. Poke a hole in the ceiling and light a candle and it warms right up. We actually made the area she’s sitting in into a snow tunnel and plugged the end up with a pack. Worked great!

    • Jason May 9, 2011, 12:29 pm

      That is the coolest thing ever! Sorry for the pun but I am so glad you shared that because it would be a fantastic project & adventure to incorporate with (my) kids.

      If you were to sleep in it what would you do, would you try to sleep elevated on a cot of sorts to keep the floor moisture off of you?

      I grew up in and still live in Southern California & snow comes in a magazine or in movies so my experience with it is minimal but have great interest in these posts by you and what’s his name – ha, ha, funny me.

      • Jarhead Survivor May 9, 2011, 1:14 pm

        The snow packs down so there really isn’t a whole lot of moisture. I use a regular sleeping bag pad when I sleep on snow. You don’t want to put your bag directly on it, but using a sleeping mat, pine boughs, or whatever to keep you from directly touching it will be enough to keep you warm.

        Also, there are certain ways to cut blocks and then lay them out. Here’s a site that tells a little about building them:

        Youtube has tons of videos on how to do it too.

  • ChefBear58 May 10, 2011, 2:00 am

    OK, I have been in a similar situation to the “hypothetical” one we are talking about here. I am a big fan of keeping certain pieces of kit together, which makes it more likely that if you find one item there will be several useful things inside. When I had my canoe flip on me, I was out with some friends on a 3-day trip. We ended up staying 2 nights where I got to shore, and then went the rest of the way downriver to our destination. So it really didn’t effect our plans to much, except that my canoe had the cooler with fresh foods in it (meat, dairy, veg), my tackle bag and a few of my favorite poles, and all of our packs… the only one that survived was mine, and 2 of the 3 tents we had! Lucky for my friends, I tend to pack enough gear/supplies to keep everyone I am traveling with fed, patched-up (first aid kit, field surgeon kit, medicine for almost anything) and sheltered (to some degree) for up to 3 days.

    However, if I could only salvage 3 things from said canoe tipping incident, I would choose-
    – My US Army issue 2 quart Arctic canteen, which would have made it through in its case… Because that’s what it’s designed to do!

    – My hunting knife, which has inter-changeable blades that fit securely in slits in the back of the sheath that are secured by velcro… So I would have a fillet knife, saw blades (both coarse blade and fine blade), clip-point gut-hook blade, and a serrated blade, and some models have a scissor attachment.

    – My poncho- Military issue, and I keep the liner tied into it so I can use it as a lightweight sleeping bag if need be.

    First things first… check for injuries, then assess the situation, and look around the river bank nearby. There might be some of your gear waiting for you to pick it up, which could be a welcome surprise!

    This next bit some might see as cheating, but I think it is being prepared! So if you are mad because you didn’t think to set your gear up so that you can get by with minimal supplies/gear, then go ahead and call it cheating… I don’t really care!

    Next, check my canteen case, and sure enough… the blast-match I sewed into the inside of the case is certainly there, along with the whittling knife I sewed in next to it… check the front pocket, and there is water purification silver oxide solution (no funky chemical taste, only a slight metallic one), a disposable poncho (folded to 1.5″x1.5″) and a small BASIC fishing kit (6- #6 Diatchi blood red pre-tied hooks, ~50yrds of 12lb test monofilament wound around a small thread spool that also has 6 various types of needles in it, a zip-top “snack size” bag I keep a few “Fishbites” [artificial bait made with natural components] of the bloodworm variety, a few different sizes of split-shot weights and leather man Micro)… There would also be the canteen itself, nestled safely in the 16oz folding stainless steel cup in the bottom of the case, the canteen cup also has about 5’x2′ piece of tin-foil in the bottom of the cup… On the exterior of the case, I sewed on a shirt pocket from a BDU blouse (they don’t match, but it works excellent!), in there I keep a small roll of duct-tape ~20′, a magnesium-block type fire-starter (attached to a stitched in Velcro loop,s so even if the entire pocket rips off, it will stay attached), and a few small blocks of dryer lint coated in paraffin wax, a small first aid kit (sutcher kit, some gauze, sudafed tablets [crushed they can stop serious bleeding], 50′ parachord, a small compression bandage and a few medications [muscle relaxers, prescription pain killers, small tin of 3xantibiotic ointment, and a tin of clotrimazole, anti-fungal], Lidocaine patches [for numbing before sutchers are placed] like I said basic). I would also likely have a few power-bars in the canteen case as well.

    The blade-changing knife would come in handy for getting the shelter set up, and cleaning any fish I might have managed to catch with my little fishin’ kit from the canteen case; And might also be useful in creating traps, a fishin pole, fishing hooks if I run out, and obtaining materials which could be used as cordage.

    If I need a shelter quick, then I could just use the poncho… then the liner from said poncho can be used to keep me warm once it dries.

    My next big issue would be to start a fire, as long as I could find some dead branches, logs, sticks and tinder… Lighting the fire would be relatively easy, because of the blast-match and dryer-lint/wax fire-starters. The great thing about the lint/wax combo, is that they will butn even if they get wet, just wipe them dry as best you can and flake out some of the lint/cut some slices off of them and make a small nest to catch the sparks. They take a little while to get going, but once they do I have had them burn for 20minutes by itself, no additional tinder/fuel required… they are well worth the time investment to make them!

    • irishdutchuncle May 10, 2011, 12:06 pm

      that, is preparedness.

      that’s the way to go into the woods. (instead of clueless) disasters don’t fight fair, that’s the way to give yourself every possible advantage. (because you knew you might be separated from your camping gear)

      another lesson i take away from this is to secure your gear, so it stays with the boat, and/or it doesn’t become a source of injury in the BOV.

    • Jarhead Survivor May 10, 2011, 12:58 pm

      Great reply Chefbear. I agree with Irish. One piece of gear that is designed to serve multiple functions could literally save your life and if you’re smart enough to have it on you when the boat goes over then you’ve drastically improved your chances of living through the “adventure.”


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