How To Signal For Help While Stranded

If (for whatever reason) you become lost or stranded, especially while off the beaten path, among the many important things to do (and not to do) one of them may be the ability to signal others of your location.

Here are a few ideas how to signal for help to others, to identify your location for rescue.




Although in many areas a cell phone call will bring help, consider keeping any or all of these items in your survival kit to facilitate rescue by signaling your location.


Keep a small mirror (cosmetic mirror, etc.,) which can be used for signaling a reflection of the sun towards a target. Consider keeping a specific made signal mirror with a ‘spotting hole’ in the middle. Here’s instructions how to use a signal mirror. If you are in a vehicle, you might snap off the rear-view mirror in the vehicle and use it. If you have any CD’s in the vehicle, use them as a highly reflective surface to signal or hang them on branches.

Fire & Smoke

Have a means to build a fire (matches, lighter, magnesium firestarter, etc..). Once a fire is hot, you could drop some amount of green evergreen boughs on it which will produce a lot of smoke. Oil from your vehicle when spread on a fire will create lots of black smoke. Throwing a tire onto a very hot fire will create billows of smoke once the tire begins burning. An ordinary fire at night will create a significant Infrared heat signature for anyone searching with IR devices. Please do not start a forest fire – use common sense!


Tie some length of any bright colored material to a long stick or branch to wave around and signal at rescuers. A bright object moving against an otherwise ordinary background will stand out quite well.


During the night, the piercing beam of a flashlight will signal your location from far away. Signal for help by flashing three times, pause, repeat. Some LED flashlights have a built in SOS or strobe light function.

Chemical Light-Glow Stick

Visible at night, these are relatively small, lightweight, stay lit for many hours, and a potential lifesaver when needed. One thought is to attach to the end of a cord and spin it around creating a circular pattern if rescuers are potentially within sight.


The sound of a whistle will pierce the air much further than your shouting voice! Keep one in your kit!

Air Horn

Although slightly bulky, a small canister air-horn uses compressed air to screech a very loud horn. You can get these at most any sporting goods store, etc.. Simple to keep in the car.

Radio Transmitter

A CB radio or personal hand held type radios may signal someone within range.

Anything out-of-the-ordinary

In an otherwise natural setting, things that are out of the ordinary will attract attention. In a clearing, align a bunch of logs or big branches into an SOS pattern. Be creative and use what you have on your person, in your kit, or in your vehicle to attract attention. A mylar ‘space blanket’ typically has a highly reflective surface which will be very visible from above if laid on the ground (secure the corners with rocks so it won’t blow away!). Use your imagination with materials that you have on hand to attract attention.

Groups of Three

A distress signal can be 3 fires or piles of rocks in a triangle, three blasts on a whistle, three shots from a firearm, or three flashes of a light, in succession. It is internationally recognized that groupings of three may be an indication of distress or a signal for help.

Leave a comment and add your own ideas to signal for help…



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