How To Signal For Help In The Wilderness

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Being lost can be scary but being lost in the wilderness can be downright terrifying. No one likes to admit that they need help, but if you’re a couple of miles deep in the wooded forest or somewhere on a mountain range that you don’t know the name of, it’s probably a good idea to ring in some help if you can. The following are a few ways to signal for help if you’re in the wilderness. Note that it doesn’t matter where you are in the wilderness, signaling for help will always be difficult due to the distance from human civilization.

  • Cell Phone:  We all instinctively grab our cell phone anytime we want to reach out and touch someone. Cell phone coverage in the wilderness may be spotty or weak. Even if you have one bar you can send a text message most of the time. Text messages tend to be the only method that works when the signal is that low.
  • Mirror:  A cosmetic mirror or an actual signal mirror can reflect sunlight towards a target. In this case, the target could be a low-flying plane to get their attention. People have snapped off the rearview mirror in their vehicles to get the attention of authorities for rescue. 
  • Flag:  Although it may seem absurd, a white or bright red flag might help to garner more attention to your position. Neon reflective tape, a bright yellow vest, and anything easy to spot out in the wilderness can be used. If you attach it to a long stick or branch and wave it around it will signal to rescuers that there’s movement and life where this flag is.
  • S-O-S Pattern:  Making SOS in the sand on an abandoned island works. You can use sticks and logs to create a great big SOS that can be seen by a rescue plane or helicopter. In addition to this creating patterns outside of what is natural can lead rescuers to you. Drawing huge arrows to your base camp with rocks so that anyone in the air can see will help guide the plane directly to your base camp.
  • Flashlight:  Just like using SOS in the sand, a flashlight can be used to signal SOS using a flashlight. To do this, in the middle of the night flash the flashlight on and off three times then pause. Repeat this process multiple times so that the message cannot be mistaken.
  • Satellite Phone: This is the more expensive technical solution for finding assistance. A satellite phone will run you about $100 a month, so unless you’re consistently going out into unexplored territory, it’s not on the list of must-haves. It will work better than a cell phone. You will still need to know your coordinates of longitude and latitude to get a rescue.
  • Make It A Triple: Internationally creating three of something is a signal for distress. This includes three bonfires, three blasts from a shotgun, three whistles, three rocks in a triangle, or three flashes of light in succession.


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