The Priorities of Survival are the absolute base requirements to wilderness survival, and they are true anywhere in the world. They are based on the initial Rule of Threes which states that one can survive for…

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter (assuming harsh exposure to heat/cold/wind/rain/snow etc.)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

This Rule of Threes provides us with an order for our base requirements, or Priorities of Survival…

Air – This is such a basic need that little instruction is provided. If someone finds themselves buried in an avalanche or landslide, or underwater the natural instinct is to strive for air immediately. All we advise is to try and avoid getting into a lack of air situation in the first place. Take care if an avalanche or landslide danger is present, avoid confined spaces (holes, caves etc) and water (diving) without appropriate training.

Shelter – To last a night without shelter of some sort is difficult in any climate, and if there is inclement weather, surviving the day can be a trial as well, especially if you or a member of your party is injured. Find an open cave or crevice, build a waterproof bivouac or lean-to…set up your tent or tarp if you have one…and do this as soon as you can. Don’t waste time thinking you may not need it, as soon as you know you are lost, walking is of no further benefit so find an appropriate campsite and make yourself comfortable…you could be in for a long wait.

Fire – Fire not only provides warmth through the inevitably long night, but it also helps keep some critters like mosquitoes away, can purify captured water and act as a signal. Getting fire is paramount to survival for many reasons and should be the first priority after the shelter. The psychological benefit alone is worth ensuring you have a nice toasty fire to keep you safe and warm.

Water – Even if you are lucky (prepared) enough to have a couple of litres of water with you, it’s worth setting up Priorities of Survival Water Filtering Sun & Stars Bushcraft various collection traps, and figuring how to filter and boil with what you have available. Water can take a long time to collect, sometimes at a rate of only a cup a day (assuming you’re not near a stream of sorts) so set up your catching, distillation and transpiration traps as soon as possible to ensure maximum collection…who knows how long it will be until help arrives. Waiting until severe dehydration sets in before trying to find water is not helpful.

Signalling – Most people lost in the bush are found within a week, but they’re only found if the searchers know where they are. Good preparation is paramount here so always have a plan, and tell someone where you’re going and when you’re expecting to be back. If it’s a multi-day trip, leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member so if the worst does happen, the Search and Rescue (SAR)team at least know your plan, which is a good place to start looking. All this information can drastically reduce the time it takes to find you, but the individual on the ground still needs to locate you in thick bush and you could be anywhere, so you have to make yourself visible. Build a fire, use a signalling mirror, whistle, morse code, personal locator beacon…there are all sorts of techniques to make sure you’re as visible as possible to rescuers and once you have the first three priorities sorted, this is your next one, to try and get rescued as soon as possible.

Food – Most hikers who are lost need never get this far. Sourcing food in the bush is key to long term survival, but it takes much dedication and discipline to do correctly. Some plants are only edible in certain seasons, or stages of their fruiting cycle, some have almost identical impostors that are highly poisonous, and to eat an animal with a disease you are not trained to identify could be fatal. Safe foraging, plant identification, animal trapping, dressing and cooking are all advanced skills that if done wrong can lead to illness or even death. Food is of paramount importance to long term survival and important for any bushcrafter to study, but for your average hiker to survive after getting lost or injured, you’re probably best leaving this one alone. That said, if you frequent the same places often, get to know your local wilderness, learning even just a couple of edible plants and their growing habits should be enough to stretch out that 3 week mark, and build on this foundation as you learn to source all you need from nature itself.

These core priorities of survival help shape not only our mind and training, but also our equipment. Any good Personal Survival Kit (PSK) should be able to cover these requirements. There are often fishing kits included, fire lighting abilities, small knives and cordage for shelter building etc, but if you are choosing or building your own PSK, ask yourself if you could reasonably use the contents to cover the above tasks. If not, then change some of the items or go find a different kit.

One final piece of advice; USE YOUR SURVIVAL KIT. Practice with it, train with it…if you’re lost in the bush or injured, do you want that to be the first time you look at your PSK? When you realise the matches don’t really strike, or the knife is corroded or the blade too small and you don’t know how to use the wire saw. This makes a stressful situation 100 times worse and is very dangerous. Get to know your kit, ensure it’s always full and in good order when you go out, and you’ll always know you have the safety trio; knowledge, technical ability and equipment to fall back on if the unexpected happens.

Stay safe out there, and hopefully you’ll never need to find out how good you are.