Tracking and Signaling For Help When Lost in Wilderness: Survival Tools and Life-Saving Equipment

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In wilderness survival, you usually DO want to be found because you ended up here on accident.

Today is all about how you can be found if you find yourself stuck or lost in the wilderness.


The VERY FIRST THING TO THINK OF is leave messages at home and with trusted family and friends with your intended departure, location, and return.

The next thing you probably need to understand is the modern convenience of GPS Tracking Devices. It is VERY advantageous to have a GPS based emergency beacon to help emergency responders to find you. Why get stuck with primitive methods when the modern methods are so useful.

You should be able to fall back on (and practice) primitive and less technological methods because technology fails, however you should also use technology for the advantages it provides you if it doesn’t fail.

Track 24 SoloMate Lite

If you are lost in a large “pocket wilderness” which is in an urban location where towers are available, there is a great app called Track24 Solo that is FREE. It allows Android phone users to send status and GPS location by email, text, and facebook with a quick message (like “I need HELP”). It will also include a link so people may see location on a map. This requires a cell phone and towers to work, so it is convenient when available, but not reliable for survival in a “deep wilderness” area.

SPOT Connect Personal Tracker

This thing is cool. It is a satellite communicator. It also communicates with iOS or Android as long as the free app is installed via blue tooth. Then your phone can send messages via text, email, facebook, and twitter. It obviously has some tracking and emergency options from the phone. Here is the kicker. It has two functions that work independently of your smart phone: Power and SOS. Connected to a phone, the thing dies quickly. When in SOS mode, it will last five days, and when in Standby, it will last 11 days on the battery. A great addition. To see the coverage map, click here. Price for this is about $170 and you have to pay for a basic service plan of about $100 a year. Worth it if you do a lot in the wilderness. I cannot get a straight answer on the SOS button working without a subscription, so unless you want to pair it, you may be better off getting some other SOS beacon. Click here to purchase the SPOT CONNECT SMARTPHONE SATELLITE COMMUNICATOR.

Find out more here.

DeLorme inReach SE

If you want to spend more money up front, you can pay $300 for this messaging device and only have a $10 plan. The SPOT was only one way communication, but this one is two way and doesn’t require pairing with your phone to do all the stuff, although you may pair it with iOS or Android for more convenience. The Iridium satellite network provides global coverage. Purchase the DeLorme inReach SE here.

If you just want life-saving equipment (they transmit to Search and Rescue) but don’t want the ridiculous messaging and such or to pay a “service fee”. You may get these, which both has good reviews:

Fast Find 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

  • $249
  • Activation Method: Manual. Battery Replacement (Years): 6 Years. Built-In Strobe: Yes. Frequency: 121.5MHz.
  • The 220 is subscription-free and does not rely on commercial call centers. Designed for marine enthusiasts and adventurers. 6-year battery life.
  • Safe stow antenna. Floats with buoyancy pouch (included). Transmits on 406 and 121.5 MHz.
  • Box Dimensions: 3″H x 5″W x 5″L.
  • Weight: 0.5lbs

ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ Personal Locating Beacon with 406 MHz Floating PLB, Built-In GPS, Strobe and 121 MHz Homing Beacon

  • $252
  • Miniature design; small as a cell phone, floats
  • 406 MHz satellite signal
  • 121 MHz homing beacon
  • Built-in GPS
  • Built-in LED strobe

If your technology goes out, you need to know

  1. How to navigate and
  2. How to signal people when you see them.

I covered how to navigate in the wilderness before, so now I will cover the signaling of other people for rescue. Most visual signals are the best ones to use in a passive manner, while audio and mirrors are best to be used actively.


Always know how to build a fire. Smoke and fire can be seen from miles and miles away, even beyond earshot. Always keep lighters, matches, flint and magnesium, and other fire starting tools. It is also important to know how to build a primitive fire when all else fails. Check out my blogs on fire starting and fire building. Building three fires in a triangle or in a row (about 100ft or 30m between fires) is the international distress signal. Burning wet items will create more smoke, and adding petroleum based products will make it black and highly visible.

You can create a “tree torch” if you build a fire and add to the lower branches of the tree catching the entire thing on fire. Careful not to start something you cannot control, so only use isolated trees. Add lots of green shrubs for more smoke.


Mirrors are valuable when air rescue is around within sight. Always have a compact mirror for signaling. This can be a difficult task, so I would recommend getting a slightly more expensive, purpose-built signaling mirror, designed to aim at your target. Try to hit them with sunlight so you can catch their attention.

fig19-3: fig19-4: Tracking and Signaling For Help When Lost in Wilderness: Survival Tools and Life-Saving Equipment : SIGNAL MIRROR ALIGNMENT


If you don’t have a mirror, try anything shiny like a polished canteen, cup, glasses, a belt buckle, or even an emergency foil blanket.

fig19-4: Tracking and Signaling For Help When Lost in Wilderness: Survival Tools and Life-Saving Equipment : SIGNAL MIRROR ALIGNMENT


fig19-5: Tracking and Signaling For Help When Lost in Wilderness: Survival Tools and Life-Saving Equipment : SIGNAL MIRROR ALIGNMENT


When you signal, you want to do a visual transmission of Morse code for SOS (see audio signals).


Tracking and Signaling For Help When Lost in Wilderness: Survival Tools and Life-Saving Equipment


Improvised Methods of Aiming a Signal Mirror For Signaling


Lots of items here th

Since flashing lights do the trick so well, there are awesome items that have been designed to flash, like beacons and the new electronic glowsticks.

You can also use flares or tracer rounds, since they are highly visible. Flares are especially bright and can be seen for miles.


Another technique that almost anyone can do is to create a big SOS, HELP, or a triangle for emergency message. I recommend SOS.

Use high contrast materials that will catch attention. This could be dark wood, or light brush.

If you can find an open spot big enough, the bigger the message, the better the message.


Keep a whistle on you. They are small and loud. You can use them even when you can’t speak due to issues like sickness or hypothermia. They are even built into the zippers of many outdoor jackets now.

You could also use a gun for bell or audio signaling. You could even find loud items to bang together if there is any around.

These methods travel further than your voice, so use them.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, groups of three are key for SOS. If you have a radio, use “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY,” in groups of three, on all channels, but paying attention to local and national search and rescue frequencies, which you should have written down ahead of time.

If you have ANY way to transmit, you must know that SOS in Morse code is:

Other ways to signal for rescue may be:

  • Smoke Grenades
  • Red Star Clusters
  • Spread Clothing on top of a tree
  • Sea Dye Markers

If a plane sees your distress signals, they may acknowledge like this:


Hopefully, this information is coming to you at a point it will be helpful for your next outing; hiking, biking or trekking trip; or prior to some calamity. Thanks for reading my blog, I am glad to serve you.

By the way, I have an AWESOME, product that will be available soon at the Clever Survivalist Store, so keep reading for updates to this.

infographic about Getting Found When Lost in the Wilderness

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Ken is addicted to fitness and mountain biking. He is such a thrill seeker, people are starting to be concerned!He enjoys MTBing, Hiking, Climbing, Geocaching, Orienteering, Weight Lifting, and Wilderness Survival.

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