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Survival Lab: Vital Signs

When you’re lost or injured, you need a foolproof way to get your rescuers’ attention. Ted’s testing team tried more than 25 devices—here are their ratings of 9 top tools.

 

Cell Phone Smarts
Lost with nothing but your phone? Use it to get rescued.>> Text your last known location, condition, and SOS to your entire address book.
>> Call 911. Emergency calls will go through if detected by any network.
>> Preserve batteries. Turn your phone on for five minutes a day to seek reception.
>> Flash a signal with the screen. Hold your fingers in a V-shape at arm’s length, pointed at your target. Tilt the phone until the screen reflects light at the V; rotate it so the
light alternates between your fingers, flashing your target (see right).
>> Ignite a fire. Learn how to spark a removable three-pin battery (common in flip phones) at backpacker.com/cellfire.

How Far Will It Go?
Know your signal’s best-case distance—and what will reduce it.

Max range: +50 miles

Mirrors Bright, sunny days are best. Cloud cover, rain, fog, and nightfall may cut signal range by 80 percent or more.

Max range: 20 miles

Lasers Night offers the best conditions for an SOS (daylight visibility drops to 3 miles). You must hit your target spot-on to flash it.

Max range: 3/4 mile

Whistles Blowing over water or packed snow amplifies sound; sand, slot canyons, wind, and forests dampen it.

Better Than Screaming No signaling device? Try this: In an open area, lay three large, bright items 50 feet apart in a triangle shape or line.

Plus Sign
HEY! OVER HERE! Click Here To learn how to wolf whistle, aim your signaling device, and survive the backcountry
a little longer with Ted’s instructional and gear-test videos.

 

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