Survival 101: In the End, You Just Need Three Things

 Survival 101: “In the End, You Just Need Three Things”

Here’s the scenario:

Your home is an ash heap, your vehicle has been stolen, and all of the supplies in your B.O.B. are gone.

You have lost everything.

Well. almost everything.

You are still alive, but if you aren’t careful, you’ll end up dead.

All that you have left is a lanyard with three items dangling from it.

These three things:



A whistle, a knife, and a magnesium firestarter.

Sure, you could use a whole pile of stuff in a critical situation, but right now you need to focus on NEEDS.

NEEDS (in threes):

Food–thirty days

Water–three days

Shelter–three hours

Air–three minutes

I really like the simple graphic that Self Reliance Outfitters uses to make this point:

Source: Self Reliance Outfitters at
Source: Self Reliance Outfitters

So, assuming that you have enough air to survive more than three minutes, then your next highest order of need is to be prepared to survive the next three hours.

If the temperature is anything below 70 degrees F/21 degrees C, then there is the possibility that you could suffer from hypothermia rather quickly.

Protecting your body from heat loss is the most critical need that you have when temperatures drop.

Oftentimes people assume that they need to move, or eat, or that they need to do SOMETHING when faced with a potentially life-threatening situation.

Well, forget everyone else, and think about this: you DO need to do SOMETHING:

1.) Stay calm–breathe deeply, stop what you are DOING.

2.) Assess your surroundings–according to Les Stroud there are three zones of assessment (read about them here).

3.) Prepare to insulate your body against temperature extremes–through portable shelter (clothing) or by sheltering in place.

Once again, SHELTER (especially in overly cold or hot situations) is critical.

In nature, if the temperature drops to a hazardously cold temperature, even deer will stop foraging–they instinctively know that maintaining body temperature is a higher need than hunger.

Learn from animals–they’ve been living in the wild a lot longer than you have!

Shelter can be something as simple as a warm coat.  It can be as complex as a $3.5 million wilderness lodge.

The important thing to be concerned about is to avoid wind and to conserve heat.

That’s when a knife comes in handy.

Sure, a knife is a multi-tool, but in this case you can use your knife to strip bark off a tree to make cordage (rope), to cut boughs (like boughs of holly, except that in this case you want pine boughs), and to sharpen branches for stakes.

Presto, now you have a shelter! (Well, not exactly.  Outdoor Life has a great article about 15 survival shelters here.)

Okay, enough on shelters.

How about FIRE?

Fire is not an absolute necessity in a survival situation, but it certainly is a top three item.

Under ‘normal’ conditions, a small fire may not provide enough warmth to keep you alive if you are stranded outdoors in -40 degrees weather.

But, if you are snugly secure in a fire safe shelter or an igloo, a very small fire (think whale blubber or seal oil in a small tin can) can raise the temperature indoors to a balmy 32 degrees F/0 degrees C.

So, fire.



I carry a magnesium fire starter with me everywhere that I go–oh, yeah, I guess you already know that, since the photo shows my survival lanyard.

I have tried matches, lighters, flint and steel, friction, and several other methods of fire making.

I prefer my magnesium stick for two reasons: I can get a fire going in wet weather, it and isn’t likely that I’ll run out of magnesium or the attached striker before I make a fire.

I purchased my magnesium starter at Harbor Freight for a very reasonable price.  I wrote about it here: “Survival Tip: Survival on a Budget CAN be Done!

The last thing, the one that you’ve been waiting for, is a WHISTLE.

The scenario that we have formulated isn’t really a “I’m lost, please come find me” type of situation, but a whistle will allow you to communicate over long distances.

If you have become separated from your companions (loved ones, mates, co-workers, fellow soldiers), a whistle blast can travel places that a bellow cannot.

Imagine that you have shouted yourself hoarse, and then help arrives within a reasonable distance.

Your pathetic, gasping “HELP!” will only alert the squirrels in close proximity of your presence, not your rescuers.

Take your cue from the movies–Rose tries to cry out, but none of those in the lifeboat here her cry.

A few weak toots on the whistle, and she Is located.

It was too late for Jack, but Rose’s “heart will go on..”

(Yes, I am making reference to a cheesy romance movie on a survival blog–Titanic…)

For more on using Morse code with your whistle, go to


To wrap it up, even when things look impossible, and it seems that you cannot survive, REMEMBER: you still have the most important three things!

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