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Signaling for Help in the Wilderness

It is every outdoor adventure’s nightmare—lost, injured, or stranded in the wilderness.  Basic survival skills with any top bushcraft knives should be known and understood by all who venture into the dangerous backcountry of the United States, and a major part of basic survival skills is to understand how to signal for help.

Signaling for help is the key to ultimately getting out alive in a survival situation because until rescue or discovery, the stranded and potentially injured person will have to keep relying on their other wilderness survival skills to see them through.  But the longer one goes without being rescued or discovered, the more likely they are to succumb to the perils of the wilds.

Signaling for help and rescue can be done in several ways.  The most important thing to remember when trying to signal for help is that if the signal itself is not recognizable as cry for help than it will become ineffective at attracting aid.  Some of the best ways to attract attention and signal for help beyond the use of a cell phone or radio while in the wild include:

  • Using signal mirrors.  The flash of a mirror can be seen for miles and is a universally acknowledged signal of help with rescue units across the nation and throughout most of the world.
  • Signaling with flashlights.  Shining SOS in Morse code or simple waving the light back and forth quickly can signal distress in the wilderness.  One should consider placing a crank flashlight in their emergency bag so that they can use a flashlight to signal for help even without batteries.
  • Flares.  The bright and burning light from flares can be used to mark one’s location and signal for help. 
  • Signal fires.  Large and smoky fires can be used in some landscapes to signal for help.  For example, such a signal in a large forest may be less effective than in an open area of dessert.
  • Whistles.  Whistles can help signal aid because their shrill cry can often be heard for miles in the wilderness.