Wilderness Survival Distress Signals

The wilderness is a dark and lonely place, but there are many ways to signal for help when you find yourself in trouble. This article outlines the most common distress signals that have been documented by hikers and backpackers who found themselves in hopeless situations.

The “ground to-air signals wilderness survival” is a signal that can be used in the event of an emergency. It consists of three parts, which are the ground, air and sea distress signals.

People watching ice racing near sea.

Let’s imagine your aircraft crashes on a desolate island, leaving you alone with just a rugby ball for company (a volleyball isn’t quite masculine enough). Every day, you monitor the sky, hoping, praying, and suffering for a rescue aircraft to come your way. Will you be able to get the pilot’s attention if a jet buzzes your island, or will he fly on by, oblivious to the insane bearded guy yelling below?

Cell phones and GPS units die and malfunction. It’s a crucial ability to know how to communicate your concern using natural resources and simple methods. A guy has to know how to obtain aid whether he’s stranded on an island or lost in the bush.

101 Signal Fire

Vintage boys making large bonfire.

While looking for a pig, make sure you don’t miss out on your opportunity for rescue.

If you don’t have access to modern technology, the signal fire is the most popular and effective technique of signaling for assistance. A well-constructed signal fire will draw attention from miles away. It also has the additional advantage of alerting the wind conditions in your area to an aerial rescuer (i.e. helicopter). A good signal fire, on the other hand, varies from a standard campfire or cooking fire in numerous ways, and you’ll want to make sure you understand these distinctions so your signal is as effective as possible.

You’ll need to assess your resources first. If you live in an area where dry wood is plentiful, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t keep your signal fire going as long as feasible. If you’re in a remote location with little fuel, you’re better off building a pyre and waiting for the right time, such as the sighting of a search and rescue aircraft. If at all feasible, position the pyre(s) in a broad, open area on high ground, where they will be plainly seen. Consider erecting not one, but three of these pyres in a triangle formation, each around 100 meters apart. The number three, like the triangular arrangement, is well recognized as a distress signal across the world.

When it comes to the building of these pyres, you’ll want to make sure that the wood stays dry and ready to light. You’ll also want to make sure that they can be ignited right away if at all feasible. Build a raised platform for your fire to do this. Make a teepee out of three long, straight boughs by tying them together at the top with wire, string, or vine. Then, halfway down the branches, tie cross-thatched branches to the three supports to create a platform. You’re ready to add your gasoline now that you’ve got this support system in place.

How to burn a fire with dry tinder illustration.

An alternative to using a teepee.

For the first layer, you’ll need excellent, dry tinder. An abandoned bird’s nest, as well as paper, wood shavings, or dried grass, make great tinder if you can locate one. After a heavy covering of tinder has been laid down, add little wood kindling in the shape of broken up twigs. As with a typical fire, the size of the fuel should grow as the layers are added. Add a layer of peat moss, damp leaves, or other decaying plant life on top of the primary fuel wood for a fire that burns slowly but still produces a lot of smoke.


Because your signal fire must generate a lot of smoke, the last layer should be made up of green, leafy plants or brush. When green, live brush is added to a blazing fire, it produces a dense white smoke very instantly. If you’re stuck with a non-functioning car, you may use tire rubber and crank-case oil to create a dense plume of black smoke that will be more apparent on a cloudy day.

At night, it’s less vital to make smoke and more important to have huge visible flames.

Burning fire with tree leaves illustration.

Torch of the Tree

You may make a “tree torch,” which the US Army refers to as an alternative to conventional signal fire. You can construct a large torch out of a tree in a clearing that has green leaves and is far away from other trees (thus less likely to start a forest fire). Fill all immediately accessible branches with dry, easy-to-light tinder. When lighted, the tinder burns while the live tree emits a tremendous cloud of smoke that can be seen for miles.

Signals that can be heard

Aside from signal fires, you should be prepared with a variety of alternative signaling options. You should also follow the rule of threes when it comes to noise-based signaling. Three rounds fired five seconds apart will signify trouble if you have a weapon. Furthermore, spreading the bullets apart gives anybody within hearing range time to recognize the sound and then zero in on the location it is coming from. If you don’t spread your shots out, anybody who hears them will assume you’re a hunter who missed his initial shot and is firing many follow-up bullets.

If you don’t have a rifle, a whistle may also be used as a signal. There’s no excuse for not carrying a whistle in your pack; they’re light and take up almost no room. When signaling, use the rule of threes once again. A whistle also has the advantage of requiring minimal effort (as compared to lengthy screaming) and never running out of ammo. Even if you are fully unconscious, you will be able to signal with the whistle if you are coherent enough to put it in your mouth.

Signals that are visible

You may also construct signal mounds to indicate that someone in the vicinity is in difficulty, in addition to your signal pyres. These are three big rock heaps organized in a triangle in an open location that may be seen from the sky. The higher the building, the better, since taller structures throw longer shadows, making them more apparent. If you’re not stuck and want to keep moving, make a huge arrow with pebbles or fallen logs pointing in the direction you want to go. Again, the higher and bigger the arrow, the better, with a minimum length of 10 feet. Keep in mind that if you do this, you must continue to go in the direction indicated. Going off the beaten path might be a catastrophic mistake, and it could lead to search and rescue teams seeking in the incorrect place.


Another obvious alternative for signaling is flashlights and strobes. If you’re trying to notify a target, flash SOS in international Morse code to alert them to your problem (three short flashes, three long flashes, three short flashes). Another method is to redirect available light into a signal using a reflective metal or mirror. Many first aid survival packs contain signal reflectors, but belt buckles may do in a hurry.

Emergency signal mirror illustration. Finally, if your signal is successful, you must be able to comprehend the signal that is returned to you. Your message has been seen and comprehended if an aircraft flies above and rocks back and forth, dipping its wings in unison. At night, a green running light flashes repeatedly to indicate that a signal has been received. They will fly a circle over you if they detect your signal but don’t interpret it. You must make every attempt to explain your condition in this case. Holding your arms up in a Y pattern indicates that you do need assistance. No, you do not need help by holding one arm up and one arm down in the form of an N.



The “international distress signal with fire” is a method of sending a message to rescue services. The most common signals are SOS, three dots, and the letter C. Reference: how do you form the international distress signal with fire.

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