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Signaling for help is one of the unsung heroes in the world of survival. While it’s not as exciting to practice as other skills (say, fire starting), it’s something that you should at least think about regularly (if not practice). In its most basic form, signaling is your ticket to go home from a stressful and miserable wilderness survival scenario. If you can manage to attract help, and the good Samaritan is willing to help, you’re out of there. While we should always hit the backcountry with signaling equipment, namely a mobile phone, whistle, mirror, survey tape and permanent marker—you should be prepared for the possibility of losing all your gear. And it is for that scenario, that you need to know how to use things in nature (and even your own body) to create emergency signals.

Audible Signals
These are the first signals you are likely to employ. Any person’s Knee-jerk reaction to an emergency is to call out for help, but that’s not your only option. Try several of the following methods and rotate them for variety.

—Yell
—Whistle (with your fingers, if you can)
—Clack stones together
—Smack hardwood sticks together

Visual Signals
These are the signals that your search and rescue team or a lucky bystander might spot. For fire starting (your number one choice in most situations), make sure you carry multiple fire starting methods in the back country, just in case. Build three fires for an international symbol for “help”. These three fires could be in a geometric pattern (like a triangle) in a low area. You could also place the fires in a row, especially if you are on a ridge or beach.

—Fire (the light, smoke and smell of a fire can draw attention)
—Ground to air signals make with vegetation or other natural materials that are easy to move
—Ground to ground signals involving messages made from the placement of sticks or stones
—”Drawing” on trees with charcoal chunks or a similar writing instrument
—”Flags” made from any material you find or make that is a contrast to the natural environment. For example, use black charcoal to color strips of bark black and hang them up to create a trail or path.

Please tell us how you’d make your emergency signals by leaving us a comment.

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