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Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS?
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John Witt
(johnbrown2005) - F

Locale: Portland, OR
Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/04/2008 19:30:14 MDT Print View

After watching the scene in Rescue Dawn where Dieter escapes the POW camp and lives on leaves, only to find himself unable to catch the rescue chopper's attention as it flies over, I decided to get a signal mirror. But in looking at it and thinking about it, I had to ask myself, is this a lifesaver? Or some survivalist hokum? Any thoughts or even better experience? Thanks!

Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

Dual use? on 04/04/2008 20:37:07 MDT Print View

Do you shave on the trail? ;-)

I guess if you broke your leg offtrail and wanted to attract attention, it might work better than shouting. As long as the sun is shining of course.

Do you carry a cellphone?

David Thul
(thuldj) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Try one of these on 04/04/2008 20:37:09 MDT Print View

I have always wanted one of these! Don't know how practical it is. . . what it lacks in lightitude it makes up for with bling and geek factor

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/04/2008 20:38:18 MDT Print View

When I was really being critical about what I should be carrying in a survival kit I asked the same question.

and I found that it is worth carrying, not only can you signal help but you have a mirror that can help if you get something in your eye or need to see your face.
Just make sure it has a sight and is good quality. Ive been told it should be glass as its the most reflective but I really like these ones:

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/04/2008 21:00:07 MDT Print View

It is not necessary to have a sight on a mirror to use it for signaling.

Simply hold the mirror in one hand and extend the other arm with your thumb pointing up. Keep your extended thumb on the "target" you wish to signal. Sight past the mirror and use the extended thumb as a "fore sight" Then adjust the mirror to shine the sun "spot" on the tip of your thumb. This will project the "sun spot" onto your "target" (rescue helicopter?) To allow for parallax you might wiggle the mirror slightly to flash the spot around just a little.

Practice in your own yard. Probably not a good idea to practice this on military or law enforcement planes though.

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
Mirror on 04/04/2008 21:02:18 MDT Print View

I mostly hike in the Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania area - so the trees pretty much prevent using a signal mirror unless you first climb to the top of one mountain ridges and find a cliff / overlook.

Or so I've always thought - until recently...

I went day hiking along the Potomac river during the spring thaw in February and as I was leaving the trailhead I noticed several fire / rescue vehicles pull in and a dozen SAR guys hustle over to an overlook and start looking down the valley with binoculars. When I asked what was up, they told me a hiker had been hurt and they were flying in a helicopter for evac. As I started my day hike, I noticed a helicopter slowly circling one of the overlook / rocky points jutting about 2-3 miles farther down the valley.

The dayhike trail followed a ridge that had several overlooks - and for then next 30-45 minutes I noticed the helicopter was still flying around in the same area. At approximately the 1 hour mark, I noticed they were now flying a "back and forth" search pattern. About 30-45 minutes later, their search pattern legs lasted about 5-7 minutes each way - and were long enough so I could hear the helicopter for 3-4 minutes each leg.

At about the 2 hour mark, I noticed they were now flying the same back and forth pattern - on the other side of the valley - in a bowl shaped side valley. About 45 minutes later, I noticed they had moved to a different side-valley. After another 30 minutes I noticed they had moved to a third location.

At the 3 1/2 hour mark, I noticed they were not flying the great big back and forth pattern (no sound for 3-4 minutes at a time) on the side of the valley they had just searched the 3 locations at.

Around the 4 1/2 hour mark the search pattern had moved far enough away, I couldn't hear it anymore.


Anyway, I got me thinking... What I decided was that if I was injured enough to need rescue, it would probably be near a cliff. Otherwise it would be a sprain I could wrap and walk out on. Further, I figured if my buddy had a head injury or internal problems, etc - I might not be able to leave them and hike out to bring help. Finally, if I was alone, I might be too injured to make a fire to generate smoke, or lay out clothing in a big X pattern etc.

So I think that a mirror might be a good idea. The helicopter would be able to see it, since the cliff doesn't have trees on 1 side - and the SAR guys searched those areas first. I've also read mirros can be seen by pilots a few miles away, and the flickering light gets their attention better than smoke, etc.

But what if it's not sunny the day someone's injured... For those days, I bet those fireworks smoke bombs weigh around 1/3 - 1/2 ounce each. I might start carrying a mirror and a handful (2-3 ounces) of smoke bombs just in case. It would really suck to be injured, be able to call the rescue chopper - and still not get rescued. I bet that chopper searched a 5-7 square mile area - and that area had several named trails with good landmarks to direct help to your approximate location.

Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

kite flying on 04/04/2008 21:11:04 MDT Print View

or then for those not so sunny days there's the skystreme at a svelte 43g

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Signal Mirror - other use on 04/04/2008 21:27:45 MDT Print View

Signaling is only one function.
Like I said it would be invalubale if you got somthing in your eye. Or even more likley -say you fell and cut your face/head or in/on your mouth. How would you know how bad it was? How will you clean it and make sure ther is no debris in it?
The mirror could be a lifsaver in those situations.
Sure you might be able to find a still pool of water but its not going to be as sharp and consistant an image

Edited by MAYNARD76 on 04/04/2008 21:29:14 MDT.

John Witt
(johnbrown2005) - F

Locale: Portland, OR
Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS on 04/04/2008 21:33:51 MDT Print View

I guess the question in my mind is: Does it really work for signalling? How many factors have to line up for it to be effective? Is it a sure enough bet that you could pull it off when injured? Or is it a kind of one in a million thing. I have no data either way.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS on 04/04/2008 22:07:10 MDT Print View

See for illustrated instructions for using signal mirrors.

It is part of the Adventure Medical Kits' Doug Ritter Pocket Survival Pak available at REI and other outdoor stores for $25.
pocket survival pak

The Pak or just the signal mirror itself can be purchased separately from Adventure Medical Kits.
signal mirror

Edited by wandering_bob on 04/04/2008 22:08:08 MDT.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/04/2008 22:30:17 MDT Print View

Bad news: It's harder than it looks if you haven't had someone who actually knows how to do it show you 1st hand. This is because you have a "double angle" problem. This is because to reflect the sun to a would-be rescuer, you have to position the mirror to where the angle between the sun and the rescuer is exactly double of that between the boresight or centerline of the mirror and the sun.

Good news: On a bright sunny day, if you know what you're doing, can reach out 20+ miles.

Have fun.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/04/2008 23:49:05 MDT Print View

I played around with a mirror enough as a kid to know that it probably wasn't as easy as it might seem to signal a plane or heli. And in my quest for lightening and simplifying my gear, it was simply an item that was very unlikely to be used (for signaling). However, I upgraded my compass last year to a sighting compass, which has as a key feature, a mirror! Now I have a mirror that serves multiple uses as part of a super accurate compass, an self-inspection tool (for eyes especially), and a signal mirror. And it is always in easy reach, so if I ever was incapacitated to the point of needing the mirror for signaling, it would likely be in reach.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS on 04/05/2008 00:43:35 MDT Print View

I have never heard of anyone actually being rescued by using a mirror. Nice theory, but ... On the other hand, a camera flash gun pointed roughly at a chopper works very well I am told.

A really good UL mirror with a central sighting hole can be found in your pile of discarded CDs. The weight is small enough that you could consider taking it, and if it gets damaged - well, chuck it out and grab another dead CD.

No, I don't carry one myself.


Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS on 04/05/2008 04:43:40 MDT Print View

Years ago a B-17 was touring the US, raising funds for restorations by selling 30 minute rides. From at least 5 miles away, and at a low angle, I flashed it several times with a sighting mirror. I could easily see the plane 'light up' in the central spot. It turned, flew to me, circled, waggled its wings, and then continued outbound.

In the expanses of South Utah I have practiced 'sweeping the rim' 360°. Easy at noon, difficult morning and evening.

I doubt either would have been possible by 'thumb sighting'.
And being in the southwestern US, sunshine was abundant.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Re: Re: Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS on 04/05/2008 10:08:25 MDT Print View

A few replies...

1. For the sake of 17 grams... yes... I carry one
2. It is possible to use one without a sight... but it takes a lot more skill
3. Yes... they work
4. Unlike a camera (good idea btw)... they don't rely on batteries
5. As for being within reach if injured, always carry your emergency kit on your person! Never carry it in your backpack. A fanny pack (as long as you always wear it) or pockets work.

Timothy Roper
(lazybones) - F

Locale: Alabama
Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/05/2008 10:51:47 MDT Print View

Potential lifesaver - if you practice with it.

I have the mirror pictured above, and it is very effective. I practiced with it on a local river with friends. I would take the boat out and at various places flash them back on the dock. We had cell phones so I got instant feedback on the effect.

Learn to aim it, and you are way ahead of someone who hasn't practiced.

It's just like a tarp, practice setting it up at home, then use it and become proficient under good conditions - don't wait until it's dark and stormy to take it out of the box and expect to be successful.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/05/2008 11:00:21 MDT Print View


... signalling is a tough go when it is "dark and stormy"

Edited by greg23 on 04/05/2008 11:45:55 MDT.

Steve .
(pappekak) - F

Locale: Tralfamadore
Re: Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS on 04/05/2008 11:58:56 MDT Print View

I went for the el-cheapo @ $3.50

Really useful if need to put ointment in your eyes at night.

Timothy Roper
(lazybones) - F

Locale: Alabama
Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/05/2008 13:24:35 MDT Print View


Try reading my post. I was pointing out that waiting until an emergency happens to learn to use a mirror is akin to waiting until it is dark and stormy to learn to set up a tarp.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Signal Mirror - Lifesaver or BS? on 04/05/2008 13:59:47 MDT Print View

I hate carrying the signal mirror.

Take a compass with a mirror and call it good.

Also - a dvd is a simple alternative (and light!)