Signaling Techniques for Wilderness Survival

Signaling Techniques for Wilderness Survival
Few things are more frightening than the possibility of being lost in the wilderness with no means of communication. Whether trapped in a dense forest or barren dessert, it is often difficult for rescue teams to locate people who are lost without some sort of sign. Knowing your options for signaling techniques for wilderness survival may mean the difference between life and death.


The most common signaling device is fire. Smoke and fire can be seen for miles, making this a highly useful tool. Fire and smoke are also useful in nearly any terrain. This makes lighters and matches a pivotal part of any adventurer's arsenal. To get a fire started, use your surroundings. Use any brush, extra clothing or other flammable materials you can find. At night focus on building three fires either in a triangle or in a row about 25 meters apart. This is an international distress signal. During the day focus more on the smoke. If your car is nearby, remove a tire and light it on fire. The black billowing smoke can be seen very well from a distance, and the fire can last for hours upon hours. If there is no car, try throwing some moist elements onto your fire without squelching it. This will create a lighter smoke but should still attract attention.


When an air rescue has been dispersed, mirrors can be an excellent tool. Consider packing a compact mirror in your gear bag. If you do not have a small mirror and are stranded with your car nearby, break off one of the car mirrors. Once you have a mirror, it is a waiting game. When a low-flying plane flies near, angle the mirror to catch the sunlight and reflect it up toward the cockpit of the plane. Move the mirror around slightly to avoid blinding the pilot. Ideally, this will alert the pilot to your position.


At night there are few things more telling than a flash of light to let people know where you are. If possible, always carry a flashlight with extra batteries. Other signaling devices include flares, tracer gun ammunition and strobe lights. These tools work well when lost at night but can also be used during the day when an airplane approaches. However, flares and ammunition should never be fired directly at a plane.


One of the most traditional signaling techniques for wilderness survival involves creating large messages that allow a plane to see that you are in danger. Whether in the desert, snow or dense forest it is almost always possible to work your way toward a large empty area where you can make your message. Use colors that contrast with the terrain to spell out S.O.S., or create a geometric shape that is likely to attract attention. Use dark twigs, light brush or extra clothing to create the desired effect. Try to make your message several times bigger than yourself to ensure it is easily seen.

Audio Signals

When a ground rescue is under way or other people may be nearby, it is important to carry a whistle or other audio signaling device such as a gun or bell. In lush forest or when taking cover this can be particularly important. These loud signals can carry much farther than a human voice. These signaling techniques for wilderness survival enable people to find you more quickly with less effort.

Article Written By Heather Rutherford

Heather Rutherford has enjoyed writing professionally since 2004. Her articles have appeared in,,, and On-the-News. She also works intimately with several small businesses to prepare business plans and other marketing materials. Rutherford is seeking an Associate of Arts in business from North Idaho College.

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