Prioritizing Survival Needs? Try This Method

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In an Emergency, the thought of quickly packing up and never coming back can be chilling.  Not only are you forced to choose only a few items from a collection of lifelong belongings, but you have limited time to fit them into a limited space.  In these situations, prioritizing survival needs must be both efficient and effective. 

A survival hierarchy of needs provides a good tool to assess what is essential and what can be left at home.  It’s based on the classic hierarchy of Maslow (which emphasized fundamental human needs, as well as psychological and self-fulfillment needs), but focuses instead on the fundamental human necessities to maintain life.  Let’s look at how the core components of survival stack up:

The survival hierarchy can help you in prioritizing survival needs


#1 – Oxygen/Breathing. Man wearing mask to help him receive oxygen and facilitate breathing, which is essential to life. Oxygen should be at the top when you are prioritizing survival needs

This may come as a no-brainer, but disasters can create smoke, carbon monoxide (a significant threat when working with automobiles), and even noxious gases that can compromise our respiration. When it comes to prioritizing survival needs, this one comes first. A brain can only go 4 minutes or so without oxygen. After 4 minutes, brain damage and/or death is imminent.






#2 – Warmth/Shelter. Small cabin shelter which can help protect you from the cold

Typically shelter is a luxury reserved once food and water have been secured.  Harsh conditions though can result in extreme exposures that humans can only withstand for a short amount of time. If submerged in freezing water, hypothermia can occur in a matter of minutes.  On the other end, sustained body temperatures in excess of 104℃, like during high fever or heat exhaustion, can quickly lead to bodily harm and death.



#3 – Water. Bottle of water

Seeing that our bodies are made up of 60% water, it may come as a surprise that it’s not at the top of the list.  Unlike oxygen and extreme conditions though, water affords more time until lack of it becomes life-threatening; approximately 3 days. Dehydration should be taken very seriously though, and any planning should be focused around the ability to secure potable water. Check out this article to learn the symptoms of dehydration.



#4 – Food. Plate of fruits

Our bodies have recognized that food is fuel, and like cars, have a built-in fuel tank.  After our gauge hits empty, we can sustain for up to 3 weeks without food.  That’s simply staying alive, and not accounting for the demands of everyday life, which will be difficult without proper nutrition.





#5 – Safety and Security. 

Barbed wire fencing can help keep out threats, which is also an important consideration when prioritizing survival needs

Now that our anatomy has been appeased, safety and security is the next consideration.  Though personal armament has been a cornerstone of the survivalist movement, it is important to consider the relative risks to your safety beyond self-defense. Maybe your camp is in a flash flood zone, or maybe the old candles you found are actually dynamite. Take an inventory of the imminent threats around you and mitigate them the best way possible.



#6 –Tent which provides a dark place for you to sleep and rest Sleep.

Sharp senses, clear thinking and a rejuvenated mind and body are paramount to a successful survival campaign.  The health risks of sleep deprivation are well documented, as are the impediments it presents to cognition and decision-making.  And though sleep isn’t commonly considered an essential need, bad choices from lack of sleep can certainly put you in a life-threatening circumstance.






No doubt there will be difficult decisions to make when the essential needs above are contrasted with your personal belongings. If space was unlimited, parting with sentimental items would not be an issue.  Unfortunately, most vehicles can’t accommodate a collection of Lawrence Welk Christmas records, and when it comes to prioritizing survival needs, those records simply aren’t going to make the cut.

Think of it this way: yes, the family Grandfather clock passed down from generations had to stay, but the ample supply of gas masks, water, and dehydrated meals that took its place may help preserve future generations of your family to come.

Check out our Survival 101 page for other tips and tricks on prepping and survival skills!


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