Basic Signaling Techniques for Wilderness Survival

A hiker who went missing for three days in the Sierras was found alive and well but could have been found sooner had he used proper signaling techniques.

Although he was well equipped with the proper gear for his trip, he still managed to put search crews to the test. Here’s what he could have done better.

Most searches for lost hikers include aerial resources consisting of high-tech cameras and thermal imaging systems. But using duct tape to spell help on a granite slab (which was his only distress signal) doesn’t exactly stand out in an area surrounded by granite slabs.

RELATED: How to Build the Best Shelter

Make sure your distress signal stands out. Choosing green boughs instead would have made a huge difference.

There were many large patches of snow in the area where he became lost. An even better signal would be to use those same boughs (or branches or anything dark) and make a signal in the snow. Use caution however in spring snow and use a long branch to probe in front of you. If the snow seems stable enough, carefully stomp out a big X and layer it with contrasting debris.

Considering that he had plenty of gear, he could have cut strips of cloth and marked the area around his tent and beyond. There have been numerous cases where search crews have walked right past someone’s shelter. Use any method possible to draw attention to your whereabouts. If it looks “out of place,” someone will investigate it.

RELATED: How to Make Fire with Hand Drill

A whistle can be heard for miles. Three blasts of any loud sound is an international signal of distress (yes, shoot that gun if you have it!). There was no indication that he attempted this. Remember that you can be heard better and seen better if you get to the highest point around you. If you’re in the thick woods, your call will be considerably more muffled.

Even if you don’t have a signal mirror with you, you can still make a bright flash that can be seen. If you have cookware (like he did), you have a signal mirror. Even if you don’t stand there trying to attract attention, you can lay it out in an open spot. There’s a pretty good chance that the two Blackhawk helicopters flying around searching would have seen a flash at some point. Use whatever means you have to draw attention to yourself. He could have used his cell phone too.

The hiker mentioned that he was afraid of causing a forest fire so he built a small personal fire on a rock slab. Smoke can bee seen for miles in the forest and will almost always draw attention to it. A huge mistake was for him to not utilize his fire as a signal. Throwing any green foliage on a fire will create thick black smoke.

RELATED: Castaways Rescued from Deserted Island

Most people who become lost these days are located by their cell phones. In the area where this hiker was lost, the signal was great and he had his phone. Always make sure your phone is fully charged when you venture into the wild or better yet, get a solar charger or battery pack. Until his phone died, they had his location. Your phone will send off a “ping” wherever you have a signal and you can be tracked. Had he kept it from going dead (which is pretty easy if you turn it off), they would have known exactly where he was.

On a positive note, the hiker did a good job of being prepared for the conditions and was in great condition when he was found. However, being prepared “gear wise” should never be put in front of mental preparedness and basic survival skills and knowledge. This young hiker could easily have been found the first day he went missing. Blackhawk helicopters aren’t cheap to fly . . .

© Pavel Shlykov | – Woman with red falschfeuer. Help signal.