Home Survival StrategiesBags & Loadouts The Rule of Threes for Your Get Home Bag

The Rule of Threes for Your Get Home Bag

by Tim MacWelch

Apart from the prepping community, few people seem to understand just how quickly an emergency can turn deadly. How vital it is to prioritize the hazards you’d be facing in an ugly situation. Thankfully, I know I’m preaching to the choir in this publication. Still, I would like to give you some tips for packing your Get Home Bags (GHB) based on the Survival Rule of Threes. Survivalists and wilderness wanderers have prioritized their physical needs for decades with a handy generalization, the Survival Rule of Threes.

woman drinking water from a stream with a lifestrawThis basic guideline states that you can live:

3 Minutes without Air

3 Hours without Shelter

3 Days without Water

3 Weeks without Food

While these numbers are not absolute rules, they’re a reasonable simplification of the length of time the average person could last without these resources. I know that some guy claims to have gone a week without water. The Rule is a basic guide for the average person, not for superman. Let’s put this concept to work in your GHB.

3 Minutes without Air

The rather grim projection of 3 Minutes of life without air typically refers to an event where you’d be drowned, strangled, or otherwise asphyxiated. I told you it was grim. It’s not very practical, or low profile, to walk around town in scuba gear. However, a respirator is a preparedness item that does make some sense. This catch all term could mean anything from a flimsy little dust mask from the dollar store all the way up to a full face respirator or actual gas mask. Now I’m not suggesting that every GHB contain a full respirator, but I am suggesting you think long and hard about the most likely disasters in your area.

man in a factory wearing an N95 face maskIf pandemics are on your mind, an N99 mask will filter out 99% of the droplets that carry viruses and bacteria into the lung tissue. N99’s will also screen out a great deal of dust and other particles. They’re more expensive than the common N95 masks but well worth the money. For the city dweller, you may need something more to cover your bases in the event of a dirty bomb or some similar attack. Grab some N99s and a half mask respirator at any home improvement store. Buy a filter cartridge that deals with dust and one that deals with multiple gasses as one cartridge usually won’t do it all.

Of course, these Home Depot specials aren’t as effective as a proper gas mask for NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) threats but they’re better than nothing. In a top loading backpack, keep your respirator right on top since you may have only a moment to put it on. Just understand that any of these masks, even the papery dust ones MUST make a good seal around your nose and mouth. This means that those of us with mighty beards are screwed. Keep that in mind. Guns don’t kill people. Beards kill people.

3 Hours without Shelter

morning fog in a forest with a tent in the backgroundThe Rule states that you have 3 Hours without shelter. That’s a little optimistic in cold wet conditions that could take you out of the game in less than 3 hours. What kind of shelter do you need? As I’ve preached for years, shelter can mean many things. Your clothing is a form of shelter from cold, sun, and shame. Your vehicle could be a shelter if you’re stuck in a remote location.

The list of shelters can go on and on. For our purposes, we’ll look at shelter items that will fit in a GHB. These items should be easily accessible in your bag, especially the rain gear and any spare outerwear. Don’t keep these items buried in the bottom of the pack.

Rain Protection. Getting wet makes you colder. One key form of shelter is rain protection. Consider something that will keep you dry in camp and also while walking, something like a poncho. Resist the urge to get one of those super thin and cheap emergency ponchos. They just won’t hold up. Go for something a little more durable even though it will be heavier. A poncho can be used for far more purposes than a rain jacket.

a tarp being used for shelterTarp or Tent?  If you’re building a GHB on a hard budget, maybe think about a tarp for a shelter. Practice setting it up quickly and learn different configurations. But as soon as you have the funds, hit the backpacking store and get the lightest tent they carry that’s a top quality name brand. This tent will protect you far better than a tarp, especially when it comes to snakes, spiders, and other unpleasant bed companions.

Clothing and Outerwear.  Keep a spare set of clothes in the bag and adjust them quarterly to match the current season. Your Daisy Duke jean shorts won’t help you much in the winter. Keep outerwear in the bag as needed.

a thermal blanket attached to two trees for shelterWarmth. Start with a space blanket or two if you’re broke. Add an emergency bivy when you have more funds but keep the space blankets in there. Add an ultralight sleeping bag when you can afford it. Experiment with hot water bottles for additional nighttime warmth. Practice making mattresses out of vegetation and urban debris like cardboard. This means you won’t have to carry a bulky sleeping mat. Keep your spare clothes in a sack that can double as a pillow.  

3 Days without Water

bottles of nestle waterThree days without water. That’s all you’ve got. You may not even have that much time in a hot dry climate. Even though some gurus advise us to save weight in our go bags and only carry a water filter, we can all imagine scenarios where there isn’t any water available to be filtered. Carry some water with you! I recommend 2 quarts of store bought water. These are packaged for long life and are in lightweight bottles. Add a one quart single wall stainless steel water bottle as a boiling and storage vessel.

Of course, bring disinfection gear. Water treatment tablets are ultra-lightweight. I prefer chlorine based products because they kill the broadest range of pathogens. A small water filter will last longer than a pack of tablets, though products like Lifestraw don’t filter out viruses. Why not carry both? Water bottles and related equipment should be easily accessible, ideally in an outside pouch on your backpack.

3 Weeks without Food

figuring out 3 weeks of nutritionThree weeks without food. Or was that three months? I can’t throw stones at anybody from my fat house. I’m overweight and so are a lot of preppers. You could speculate that we are preparing for leaner times but I don’t think that’s it. From my observations, I believe that preppers simply love life and great food is one of life’s true pleasures. Whatever the case, I could probably last a lot longer than three weeks. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should go on a starvation diet in a crisis. Stock your bag with food that’s easy to eat, even while walking.

These foods should have a high calorie value and a long shelf life. Also consider items that will help you prepare food and acquire more. A small cook pot and small fishing kit may make sense, especially in an INCH bag or BOB. But for a GHB, who’s going to have time to stop and go fishing in the middle of mayhem? Bring food with you, as much as can be reasonably carried. Believe me, a lighter backpack is nice but not at the cost of starvation. If you’re looking for gear to stuff down into the bottom of your bag, food and cook pots are great candidates. You’ll need them, but not in a hurry.

More To The Rule

water bottle sitting on top of a rock in the middle of a streamSo obviously, the Rule of Threes isn’t an airtight recipe for a bug out bag or get home bag. More complete gear checklists and suggestions can be found throughout the Survival Dispatch Insider publications and website. But I hope the Rule has helped you understand why you need the things we’re recommending. As a final thought, take a look at the modern art of backpacking. The market is packed with tough yet light equipment. Plenty of people are using that gear to walk across entire states and even continents. If you want to see somebody who has the art of living out of a backpack down to a science, observe what the through hikers are doing and what gear they are using. Stay safe out there.

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