Are you able to signal for help if you get lost outdoors?
By Zoey Sky // Aug 19, 2019

Mastering various prepping skills, such as how to signal for help if you're lost, is crucial for your survival in the wilderness. Having different ways to signal for help could spell the difference between life and death when SHTF.


When packing your survival gear, make sure you have at least two or more of the items included in the list below. (h/t to

Cell phones

Almost everyone owns a cell phone, but you can't always expect that there'll be cell service when the grid goes down. If you're lost in a mountainous area with little to no coverage, your phone can't be used to signal for help.

You can avoid draining your battery by sending a text message instead of calling for help. There's a chance that the other person will receive your text, even when the signal is low.

Another option is to rent a satellite phone if you're going on an extended outdoor trip.


Use a small, cosmetic mirror to reflect sunlight towards a target. If you're getting a signal mirror with a spotting hole in the middle for your survival bag, learn how to use it properly.

  1. Reflect sunlight from the mirror onto a nearby surface like your hand. This lets you identify where the bright spot is before you aim the signal mirror.
  2. Bring the signal mirror up to eye level, then look through the sighting hole. The bright light spot on the mesh is the aim indicator.
  3. Hold the mirror close to your eye. Slowly turn and manipulate the mirror until the bright spot or "fireball" is on your intended target. This takes a bit of practice.

Signal mirror flashes can be seen for many miles, which makes them a must-have even in hazy weather. Don't look directly at the sun, especially through the aiming hole.

Alternatively, if you traveled outdoors in your car, you could break off your rear-view mirror as a last resort, so you can use it as a signaling device. Other options include music CDs in your vehicle or anything with a highly reflective surface that can be used to signal. (Related: What’s in YOUR bug out bag? 10 must-have multipurpose survival tools.)


To make a flag, get a length of brightly colored material like an emergency blanket and tie it to a long stick or branch. Wave it around to signal rescuers.

Any bright object moving against an ordinary background will stand out, especially in the morning.

Flagging or survey tape

Keep a length of flagging or survey tape wrapped around a permanent marker in your kit. Tie the tape around trees for a signal or use the marker to leave a message on the tape.

Fire and smoke

Firestarters are a must in your survival gear. Aside from using them to boil water or cook food, a fire can be used to signal for help. Include several firestarters in your bag like matches, a lighter, and a ferro rod.

When the fire is hot, dropping some fresh evergreen boughs on it will produce a lot of smoke. You can also get some oil from your vehicle then spread it on fire to create lots of black smoke.

An ordinary fire at night also creates a significant infrared heat signature. This will help anyone searching with IR (infrared) or thermal night vision devices.

Follow outdoor fire safety tips, be careful, and don't start a forest fire.

Two-way radio

A handheld two-way radio is a great communication choice to have in your survival bag. Use it to contact a family member on the same frequency, like General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) or Family Radio Service (FRS).


A tiny whistle produces a sound loud enough to pierce the air much further than shouting will.


When night falls, a flashlight will alert rescuers even from far away.

To signal for help using a flashlight, make the light flash fast three times, slowly three times, them fast again three times. Some survival LED flashlights have a built-in SOS or strobe function.

SOS patterns

Draw a large SOS into the sand using large rocks or sticks. A big enough SOS can be seen from rescue planes.

Distress signals in groups of three

The following signal in groups of three are internationally recognized calls for help:

  • Three big piles of rocks arranged in a triangle
  • Three blasts on a whistle
  • Three fires
  • Three flashes of light (in succession)
  • Three shots from a firearm

Flare guns

Flare guns are best used if you're in a boat on the water. Using a flare gun in a dry forest may accidentally start a forest fire.

When going camping or hiking, include several signal devices in your survival gear so you can call for help if you get separated from the rest of your group.

Sources include: 1 2

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