Survival Fundamentals

From personal survival to community survival, we have to start with the basics of staying alive. Whether at home or in the woods, we require the same things to survive and thrive. The numbers below are based on averages and vary based on health level and how much you had to eat or drink before you are in a survival situation. They are also based on you staying alive and in extreme situations; not just feeling uncomfortable. 


3 Minutes without Air

It's important to be able to protect your lungs from more than a few minutes of contamination. 

       Breathing air from a house or building fire or forest fire might not seem very likely from your day-to-day experiences, but the severity of the consciousness of breathing that smoke for just three minutes can kill you slowly over many years. Since your lungs can be permanently damaged in minutes, it is at the top of our risk factors to consider. It is the most server and the easiest to prepare for.


        “… more than 70,000 patients are enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program, and nearly 21,000 of them are specifically getting treatment for conditions caused by the toxic and hazardous air.” Link      

       “Ten years after the WTC attack, lower respiratory symptoms (LRS) such as coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, or using an inhaler still affected rescue and recovery workers, area residents and workers, and passers-by. Half of those with persistent LRS also had PTSD, depression, or generalized anxiety disorder.” Link      

       “When the Twin Towers collapsed to the ground on September 11, 2001, a massive cloud of smoke, dust, and debris released hazardous asbestos fibers and other toxic substances into the air. Asbestos fireproofing materials from 20 stories of the towers came showering down on New York City.” Asbestos, 9/11, and the World Trade Center. Link     

       After Covid, we all have masks these days and can find them everywhere. Which is great. Even if you have your shots, it's still a good idea to keep one on you in case you need it. For your home, good air filters for your A/C are a great place to start. Plants like Peace Lilly's are also great at filtering the air. 


 3 Hours without Shelter

in extreme weather


A Shelter is anything that helps you maintain your body temperature.

       It can be anything from the clothes you are wearing, to a mylar blanket or tent, to your apartment or home. In many cases wearing the right clothes is the best start for surviving extreme weather that can kill you in a few hours. The most important consideration with shelter is keeping our Core Body Temperature at equilibrium, meaning maintaining the correct balance of hot or cold. 

       Our bodies are great at maintaining equilibrium. If the weather is nice, it can do this fine on its own. However, sweat cools us off by evaporation, and our bodies will focus on keeping our core warm at the expense of our hands and feet. Our bodies know how to survive. We need to know enough to help it out in extreme weather.


3 Greatest Risks for Shelter.

  1. Strong wind on our bare skin.

  2. Being wet in the cold.

  3. Being dehydrated in the sun.

       1. Stong wind on our skin for a few hours will make it almost impossible for our bodies to keep our core warm, just like blowing on hot soup or coffee. Wind will also dehydrate us by drying out our skin faster than our bodies can replace on their own and will need a lot of water. In some cases, even a single wall and no roof can give you enough shelter from the wind to give your body the help it needs.


       2. Being wet in the cold makes it very difficult for our bodies to warm us up. Wool is a material that will warm us up even if it is wet. That's why wool socks and wool underwear like Smart Wool is so popular with hikers and other outdoor people. Wearing layers that you can remove to keep you warm but not make you sweat is also a balance that takes practice. 


        3. Dehydration in the heat is very dangerous because it happens slowly. If you are working in the heat, feel hot, have been sweating, and stop sweating, and your temperature and heart rate are high, that is a dangerous sign you are dehydrated. This is because your body doesn't have enough water to produce sweat. A hat and long sleeve shirt will protect you from the sun and more than just a sunburn. It can keep your body from becoming dehydrated because it protects you from the wind. The long sleeve shirt will absorb your sweat and create a small barrier between your skin that will keep cool.


      Knowing how to protect your body with the right shelter comes with practice. No matter what form of shelter you are using, it's essential to know how to repair a rip or a broken window in an emergency. For example, having some good tarp and a way to tie it down over a broken window in an ice storm could save your life if the power is out. 



3 Days without Water

if you have shelter


       Another part of the equilibrium our bodies need help with is balancing water and salt. Our bodies need both to work correctly. Most people know the group of salts that we need as electrolytes. Too much water or salt is unhealthy for you. Our bodies lose salt by sweating. So if you are sweating a lot for a few hours and drinking water and not replacing the salt, the water and salt inbalance can become deadly. 

To Much Water and Not Enough Salt Can Cause

  • Weakness

  • Fatigue or low energy

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Muscle cramps or spasms

  • Confusion

  • Irritability

 On average, we need 1 Gallon of Water a Day. When calculating how much water to store for your family, plan for one gallon of water per person per day. Add one gallon a day if they are sick or pregnant. Store a lot of water but be sure you use it and replace it. 

      Store some unscented bleach just for treating contaminated water. You can plan on filling up your bathtubs for water, but don't count on it. Store enough water for everyone in your house for three days, then add more.



30 Days Without Food

if you have shelter and water

Food may be the first thing people think of when thinking of a survival situation. This is because your brain needs fuel to function correctly, and how well you think can have a significant impact on the plans you make, and your morale will only go down over time in a survival situation without food. So it’s essential to make your plans quickly, within the first 8-16 hours.


       It can vary depending on what you have been eating the past few days and hours, your general fitness level, and how hydrated you are. On average, after 6 to 10 hours, your body starts to turn to the muscles and liver to produce energy. After around 24 hours without food, it starts converting fat and other tissues. Fat itself can’t pass the blood-brain barrier, so the liver makes ketones which is where we get the term ketosis from. For the next three days or so, your body will start eating itself, metabolizing itself to produce energy, and go into survival mode. 

       After 72 hours, you won’t feel as hungry because your body is adjusting, but you will not be able to think very well. So, from that point of view, eating is essential to keep your brain and body functioning. Carbs fuel your brain and give you energy, protein helps your body preserve your muscles, and a little fat will help with both. Food is also a huge morale boost. Your body reacts to food in extraordinary ways, and how much you ration your food should not be based on hunger, but when you need to think clearly, and when you are getting depressed. 

       If you have good shelter and a good source of clean water, you may survive weeks without food, but after a few days, you will have very little energy, get tired quickly, and probably sleep a lot. So if your survival plan is going to require energy, ration your food for those days.