No matter how experienced a hiker is, the unpredictability of the wilderness can turn a simple pleasure outing into a fight for survival. An injury, sudden changes in the weather, an encounter with an aggressive animal or a simple navigational miscalculation can drop you squarely into an emergency situation.
Keep in mind that as long as you’ve told someone where you’re going and when you expect to return – an essential safety precaution for any hiker – then someone will eventually come looking for you. It’s up to you to make sure they find you. Forests, ravines and other terrain can make it difficult to spot a lone hiker, especially at night.
More than one lost or stranded hiker has been saved because of a simple piece of technology: an LED flashlight. By knowing how to use your flashlight to signal for help, you can increase your changes of being found before the situation becomes dire.
STEP 1: Be seen.
When attempting to signal for a rescue, it’s important that your light is powerful enough to penetrate the darkness and be seen from the air as well as from afar. For this reason, it’s better to bring an LED flashlight than a traditional incandescent one. LED flashlights provide a high-powered beam that can be spotted from several miles away.
If you have space in your pack, an emergency LED lantern can also help rescuers find you more easily. Today’s LED lanterns can offer up to 100 hours of battery life and provide helpful area illumination as well as an emergency strobe for getting attention. Some lanterns even offer a red emergency light.
While it’s important to stay put and not wander around while you’re waiting to be rescued, it may be worthwhile to find a high point or a clearing from which to send your signal to increase its chances of being seen. Do this only if you are uninjured and can see a better location from where you are standing.
STEP 2: Signal for help.
While it may be tempting to leave the light on at all times, especially if you are alone at night, it’s important to use your flashlight sparingly to preserve the batteries – even if you have a long-lasting LED flashlight.
Instead, send brief blasts of light by turning your flashlight on and off. Three flashes in a row will generally indicate to any onlooker that you’re in need of help. You can also use the Morse code signal for distress, which is three short blasts, three long blasts and three more short ones.
An LED flashlight can be used to signal a helicopter or a search party in the distance, so remain alert for lights, sounds or other signs that a rescue party may be in range. Preserve your batteries as much as possible so you’ll be prepared for this moment when it comes.
STEP 3: Wait for help.
Once spotted, you may be tempted to head toward your rescuers, but this can be a huge mistake. The last thing you want is to signal where you are and then not be there when help arrives. Plus, wandering around in the dark can increase your chances of becoming injured.
Instead, keep your cool and wait for them to come to you. Continue signaling with your flashlight periodically to help guide them toward you.
If you plan on hiking off the beaten path this summer, remember that your basic survival kit should include a means for signaling for help. By telling someone your plans, packing emergency LED flashlights or an LED lantern and keeping your cool in an emergency, you can vastly increase your chances of being found before the situation becomes dire.