Lost In The Wilderness: How To Signal For Help

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Lost in the wilderness with no way out? Learn how to signal for help when you've lost your modern means to communication.

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How to Communicate When Lost in the Wilderness

Ways to Signal for Help When Lost in the Wilderness

Getting lost in the wilderness makes you vulnerable to accidents. In fact, getting lost in the wilderness is a rough spot to be in.

While a survivalist pride in being self-sufficient, it is also a survival skill to accept help when help is needed. Here are the five ways you can signal for help if you've lost your modern means to communicate.

1. Create a Signal Fire

If you are lost in the wilderness it is important to start a fire as soon as possible. It will help prevent hypothermia, ward off predators and pesky insects, and in case you're lost, send a signal for help!

To make a signal fire a success, you need the smoke to be as black as possible. Black smoke is more visible and usually means (when spotted) someone needs rescue.


To accomplish this, when you hear the fire roaring, place the greenest vegetation you can find and place directly on the flames. I also want to note rubber tires cause black smoke as well.

2. Create Ground-To-Air Signals

If you are in a large open area, an additional signal for help is to make ground-to-air symbols. You can make them with different types of vegetation, such as fallen tree limbs and/or piles of pine needles, etc.

Ground to air signals | Lost In The Wilderness: How To Signal For Help

Just make sure whatever vegetation you use has a visual contrast to the ground so rescuers can see it from the air. Here is an example of different symbols and their meanings:

3. Use Bright-Colored Fabrics to Create a Makeshift Flag

The bright-colored shirt, bandanna, and tarp you packed—put them to good use! Wear the shirt so you are easily spotted by someone.

Use the bandanna as a makeshift flag. Hang the bandanna (now a flag) out in the open and up high so it too can be easily spotted.

You can use the tarp as a shelter at night but during the day make it as visible as you possibly can, especially if you’re in an open area. And, as I mentioned earlier, the brighter your material, the better.

4. Use a Mirror and Reflect Sunlight off of It

Another great signaling device is a mirror. A compact mirror or a car-side mirror is perfect for signaling.

Reflect it off the sun, and others in the distance can see what appears to be a “flashlight.” Do 3 reflective flashes in a row which is the universal sign for help, otherwise known as S.O.S.

5. Blow a Whistle

It is a survival rule never to shout at the top of your lungs for help as this would cause you to lose your voice, get exhausted, and get dehydrated. You only save your breath for this act when you're 100% certain help is very near.

In the meantime, use a whistle and for this reason, I always carry one with me at all times. It’s small but it is LOUD.

Whistle 3 times in a row to signal for S.O.S.

RELATED: Signaling for Help | Different Strategies You Need To Learn To Survive

Essentials for Communicating When Lost in the Wilderness

Here are some things to consider (for signaling purposes) when packing your pack. These things could end up truly saving your life!

1. A Lighter or a Ferro Rod

Both of these fire-starting kit items with a good source of tinder aren't only for warmth, food, and water. It will help you also when signaling for help with a fire.

Finding dry tinder outdoors isn’t always easy. Consider putting the lighter and cotton balls in separate, sealed plastic bags so they can remain dry.

A good source of tinder you can bring from home is cotton balls.

2. A Bright-Colored Sheet

Whether it's fabric, tarp, plastic, or paper, as long as it's visible enough to catch someone's attention will do. When packing for a camp or a trek, bring a bright-colored t-shirt, bandanna, tarp, or raincoat.

Bright orange material is a great example. Orange brings great contrast with your outdoor surroundings, which we will talk about in a minute.

3. A Small Mirror

A makeup compact mirror or a car side mirror are great signalers. Mirrors can also help start a fire so it's a two-birds-one-stone right there for you.

4. Paracord (I prefer 550)

You can spread and secure your tarp for signaling with a paracord, plus a paracord is just an item to always have with you.

5. A Whistle

Here is an item I always carry.


It’s small and will fit on your keychain or around your neck, and it’s great for signaling for rescue.

6. A Survival Knife

All basic emergency kits and BOBs need one. More than any other time, you badly need a survival knife if you're lost in the wilderness.

7. Compass and Map

Always carry a compass and map, and pay attention to the direction of your travels.

This video from Alfie Aesthetics will give you tips on how to increase your chances of getting found if you get lost in the wilderness:

Like I said before, have fun….be adventurous! But always be smart (use your instincts), know your surroundings, never go alone, and stick close to one another.

Always plan and pack ahead of time for ways to signal for help when you head out into the wilderness. Anything can happen!

Always have fun, BUT always be safe and prepared for anything! Being in the wilderness is a wonderful thing—some of the best memories you’ll ever make!

What would you do for yourself if you got lost in the wilderness? Tell us your thoughts about it in the comments section below!

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***Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. Please read our full disclaimer.***

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 19, 2015, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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Lost In The Wilderness: How To Signal For Help

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