If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you see that the most foundational level deals with basic survival needs. The things our bodies need to stay alive; or in other words, survival. If we can’t survive, nothing else really matters.
Yet in our modern society, we rarely think about these items, except from a convenience point of view. We don’t worry about having water to drink, we worry about what sorts of drinks we’ll have available to us. Most of us don’t worry about having enough food to eat, but whether it will be the food that we like. This is mostly because we have plenty of the basic things needed for survival. But we could lose all of that in a moment, without notice.
Disasters, crisis situations, and even accidents can quickly shake us out of our comfort zone and put us into survival mode. When that happens, we stop worrying about our favorite television show or what the Wednesday special is at our club. Instead, we find ourselves concentrating on the most basic elements needed to survive. If we don’t understand what those are, or their relationship to each other, we will quickly die.
Perhaps you’ve heard that lovely little bit of poetry, where people say that “food, clothing, and shelter are the basic necessities of survival.” If so, I hope you don’t believe it. While everything on that list actually qualifies as a basic need for survival, it isn’t complete. If all you concentrate on are those three things in the wake of a disaster, you’re going to die.
In reality, there are four basic survival needs, although people often skip over the first one:
- Homeostasis (maintaining our body temperature)
- Clean water
Since there is little we can do about oxygen, most people just refer to the other three items. If we ever find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have oxygen to breathe, I don’t think any of us will be worrying about surviving for long.
Often, these three basic survival needs are referred to in what is known as the “Law of Threes.” That is: You can only survive 30 minutes without maintaining your body temperature, 3 days without water, and 30 days without food. While each of those numbers is an approximation, their general relationship to each other gives us some very clear priorities for survival.
In addition, there are a few other things that we must take care of, as secondary basic survival needs. In one sense, they directly complement those mentioned above, helping to accomplish them, but in another, they are totally separate needs. What makes them secondary basic survival needs is that they are not needed in all cases, but rather in only some cases.
- Fire (to keep us warm and cook our food)
- Self-defense (protection from two-legged and four-legged predators)
- First-aid (in case of injury)
- Communications (to call for help and rescue)
When we talk about homeostasis in the sense of maintaining our body temperature, we’re talking about keeping ourselves from getting too hot or too cold. But in most cases, it is the problem of getting too cold that can kill us. Hypothermia (the loss of body heat) is the most deadly killer in the wild. While you can die just as easily from hyperthermia (too much body heat) you are much less likely to encounter it.
Going back to that little bit of poetry I quoted a moment ago, we find that two of the items in it, clothing and shelter, are both parts of accomplishing the first survival priority after oxygen; that is, maintaining our body temperature. Clothing actually has a practical use, not just style. It acts as protection and insulation so that we can keep our body heat in. The third part of that is fire, which we use to provide us with heat.
Based on these priorities, we can easily see what our first acts need to be in any survival situation. That is, we must find or build shelter and start a fire. Those two items need to be accomplished before nightfall of the first day. The next day we must find and purify water and once again erect a shelter and build a fire and if we move far enough from our original location that we cannot return.
Those three needs alone can occupy a lot of our time in a survival situation, but if we don’t move around a lot, they can be managed. In comparison, finding enough food, once we hit the point where we need to eat, as opposed to just wanting to eat, can be an all-consuming task. Fortunately for us, we can survive for some time without it, allowing us to get the other needs in place before turning to the need for food.
Although the rule of threes says that we can go 30 days without food, the average American can actually go much longer than that. Some studies I’ve seen say that the figure should be 100. But those studies were not taking into account the need for enough energy to do all the other survival-related tasks. They were just surviving, usually in a more or less ideal environment.
Even a person who has ample stored energy in their body’s fat tissue will need to eat in order to keep up their activity level. Fat cells may contain stored energy, but they do not contain stored proteins and other nutrients. So, while you might be able to do without carbohydrates for an extended period of time, if you don’t have food to give you the other nutrients, the body has to turn in on itself, cannibalizing cells to get those nutrients, especially proteins.
Everything we do in prepping and survival, from building a stockpile, to learning survival skills, must take the above-mentioned priorities into account. While there are other things that we will discuss and which you may want to do, they should in no way take priority over these basic survival needs. Producing your own electricity with solar panels can be very useful, but it won’t feed you, give you clean water to drink or keep you warm.