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concerning signalling mirrors
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Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
concerning signalling mirrors on 10/24/2011 09:33:42 MDT Print View

Now and then I read folks posting along the lines of "I use _____ as a signalling mirror" or "My _______ is multi use as a signalling mirror". I'm not posing the following question as a response to any one of those statements because I'm more curious about the wider BPL population than I am about any one individual.

Two part question:

a) Do you carry a reflective signalling device (either single use or multi-use)
b) Have you demonstrated to your own satisfaction that you can successfully get someone's attention with that device?

Johnny Duke
(jd1987) - F
Re: concerning signalling mirrors on 10/24/2011 09:44:31 MDT Print View

I carry a brunton compass that has a mirror on the inside of the lid. Its around 1.2 oz I believe, but I don't carry it all the time.

And no - I've never used it to signal. I know how to "aim" it in theory, but have never practiced it.

Andy F
(AndyF) - F

Locale: Ohio
Re: concerning signalling mirrors on 10/24/2011 09:45:02 MDT Print View

a) Do you carry a reflective signalling device (either single use or multi-use)
Yes, 1/2 of a small Coghlan acrylic mirror which I cut in half. It weighs 0.3 oz. I wouldn't carry it if I didn't need it to floss dental work.

b) Have you demonstrated to your own satisfaction that you can successfully get someone's attention with that device?
On a sunny day in my backyard, yes. During the day, it's the best visual signalling device I carry. I also don't pretend that it's as good as a special-purpose signal mirror. I'd also be making a very smoky fire.


"In normal sunlight, the flash from a good signal mirror can easily be seen for 10 miles and generally the flash will be visible up to 50 miles, depending upon atmospheric conditions. The record rescue from one is 105 miles, at sea. A mirror will even work on bright overcast days and with moonlight, though with much reduced range."

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Signaled aircraft many times on 10/24/2011 10:01:50 MDT Print View

In the days before GPS, fighting wildfire in the boonies, we'd use signal mirrors often. The ones we used were government issue with a sighting hole in the middle that showed a bright spot where the reflection was aimed. On a sunny day it was usually easy to get the attention of aircraft miles away. It should be pretty easy to do the same with just about any small mirror, like a compass mirror, by holding out your other hand at arms length between the mirror and the target, to see where the beam is aimed.

Geoffrey Lehmann
(yipper) - MLife

Locale: deep south
compass mirror works fine on 10/24/2011 10:57:44 MDT Print View

Even with GPS I still use a mirror to signal my location to helicopters in wildland fire settings, and my compass mirror works great. Pilots pick up that flash right away and can head for your location. I have also used a mirror flash to signal my location to vehicle and bulldozer operators.

Hold your mirror near your eye, point the index finger of your other hand towards whatever you wish to signal, and flash the reflection off the end of your finger.

I have a student archeology crew in the summer, and during survey work we amuse ourselves and annoy one other by flashing each other in the eyes. Good signalling practice...

A. yes, Silva 27. B. yes


Edited by yipper on 10/24/2011 11:07:25 MDT.

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: concerning signalling mirrors on 10/24/2011 11:09:21 MDT Print View

Instead of carrying something that could work as a signal mirror, I carry a signal mirror which can server double duty. It's a carry over from my BWCA trips where low flying aircraft are quite common, but I can imagine it would still be useful in the mountains where I hike today. I've tested it's effectiveness and my use of the device with my dad ~1 mile away.

I use my mirror to remove and put in my contacts every day and where campfire's are not allowed I use it along with my windscreen as a reflector for my tealight candle. It's quite cozy! 1.8oz on my scale with protective foam envelope.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: concerning signalling mirrors on 10/24/2011 11:45:16 MDT Print View

I use an MC-2 compass with a large, high quality mirror and rely on that for a signal mirror. I have carried AMK and ACR brand mirrors with sighting aids in the past. I found the AMK to be the lightest with the best features. I do use the same mirror for personal grooming and first aid.

I use the technique of washing light over my outstretched finger that is placed over the target. I have practiced the technique.

Mirrors have limitations:

The sun needs to be up-- not a nighttime device!

I've always assumed that it needs to be sunny weather--- I may be wrong. I live in a climate with 200+ days of cloud cover and more so in the mountains, so I don't see it as a primary signaling device. Does anyone know if white cloud cover will reflect enough to be noticed?

Mirrors are of no help in heavy foliage and I hike in evergreen forests and steep river valleys with limited sighting and access to direct sunlight.

The sun and your target need to be in a proper range of angles. If the cloudy/bright option is good, that need is reduced.

Great for marine use, above tree line, in flat open country, from clear high points, etc.

The real purpose of the mirror on a compass is to allow you to see who is lost :)

Edited by dwambaugh on 10/24/2011 13:08:25 MDT.

Henk Smees
(theflyingdutchman) - MLife

Locale: Spanish Mountains
Mirror is NOT required; you can use something else. on 10/24/2011 14:08:46 MDT Print View

Hi Jim,

Short answers.
A: No; and B: Yes.

Longer answers: I’ve never, ever, taken a signaling mirror on my trips but on a recent 6-day trip (July 2011) in the Spanish Sierra Nevada I blamed myself for not carrying one. One of my friends had gone missing. Last time we saw him, he was ahead of the rest of the group going up a pretty large mountain and, although we had arranged to meet down in the valley, we followed him up that same mountain, thinking he would wait for us. Well he didn’t. To make a long story short.... When he realized he had made a mistake, he went down into the valley, only to find out we weren’t there (we were still looking for him high up). To get a really good idea about the situation, here’s some pictures:

Pic 1: Shows the valley “Lavaderos de la Reina” (the red arrow points to where my friend was - almost invisible with the naked eye).

Pic 2: Same picture with a 16x zoom.

Pic 3. Again digitally zoomed in a little bit more.

Pay attention to the black dot at the right of the red arrow in pic 1. That’s the cascade in pic 2. In the centre of pic 2 there is a small stream and 2 rocks: a white one on the left and a dark one on the right (the white one isn’t visible in pic 1 and the dark one hardly). Well.... my friend was waiting exactly in between those two rocks: yes next to the stream a bit nearer to the white rock. To be more precise, those tiny little black dots (hardly visible on pic 2) is himself, his pack and his dog. I prepared pic 3 (on the computer) to get a better idea.

Why did I upload these images? To make it clear my friend was really far away from us; we only spotted him whilst he was on the move. The fact there wasn’t anybody else and that his dog was with him, made us think it was him. I used my 16x zoom camera to find out it really was him. Well, made the picture and then zoomed in digitally; only then I could tell, more or less, it was him.

So now what? Shouting was no good; waving didn’t help. Mobile phone??? No network available :(. It was at that moment when I remembered some survival classes I took over 35 years ago where I was trained how to use a signaling mirror. But...... I didn’t have one. I was watching the picture I had just made of my friend when, all of a sudden, I realized I could use the back of the camera to try to signal him. I tried it out on a nearby rock and indeed I could see the reflection. I moved towards my friend and...... INSTANT CONTACT. He waved, stood up, picked up his pack and walked towards us. We did the same and about 40 - 45 minutes later we rejoined (this means we were at least 3 miles apart -maybe 4-).

This anecdote taught me many things. It’s easy to say: We’ll meet at point X (in this case, my friend had been there before so I thought he’d have no problem in getting there), but it’s even easier that something crops up that makes all the planning not working out well, so...... never, ever allow anyone to get separated if you’re out in a group. The strongest (quickest) person should NOT lead the group; he should stay at the back (to check that nobody gets behind) and the leader should guide the group (to where ever you want to go), making sure he doesn’t walk too fast.

It also taught me, and this is the real answer to Jim’s second question, that you can use the back of a camera as a signaling device and it works VERY WELL.

Edited by theflyingdutchman on 10/24/2011 14:20:57 MDT.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Mirror is NOT required; you can use something else. on 10/24/2011 15:19:20 MDT Print View

"It also taught me, and this is the real answer to Jim’s second question, that you can use the back of a camera as a signaling device and it works VERY WELL."

That's what I love about UL backpacking. The way we learn how to solve problems with things on-hand. I'm always amazed at how many people are unable to do this sort of thing, many of them experienced.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Re: Mirrors have another use. on 10/24/2011 16:18:44 MDT Print View

the number one reason I carry a signal mirror is to use it for "self inspection". If you get hurt and hurt your head/face/mouth/teeth. the mirror will be indispensable to see what the damage is and to make sure you clean and treat it properly. It is just a bonus that you can also use it for signaling.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Mirrors have another use. on 10/24/2011 16:25:22 MDT Print View

Others have written about using a mirror to look for ticks in less ummm "sunlit" places :)

Edited by dwambaugh on 10/24/2011 16:25:58 MDT.

Roger Heward
(green1) - F

Locale: Alberta, Canada
Re: concerning signalling mirrors on 10/24/2011 18:51:56 MDT Print View

b) Have you demonstrated to your own satisfaction that you can successfully get someone's attention with that device?

Definitely, I am part of an air search and rescue group, while playing ground target for an exercise I have successfully signalled a search aircraft on more than one occasion.

The best signalling device we've found is an old CD, hold it close to your face and look through the hole at the plane, then hold your other arm outstretched in front of you and make a V with your fingers, keep the plane in the centre of the V and tilt the mirror until you see the reflected light on your fingers. Keep flashing the mirror, to get someone's attention in an aircraft the flash needs to keep happening (a single flash or steady light will be disregarded as a static reflection off water or some such, only a constant flashing is likely to draw attention)

a) Do you carry a reflective signalling device (either single use or multi-use)

ummm... I have to admit that I don't, I have a CD in my truck, but when ultralight camping I can't think of anything I carry that is reflective (other than perhaps my knife-blade... I'd probably try it in a pinch...) I also have one on my compass, but I rarely carry that as the terrain where I camp most makes a compass relatively redundant (if your hike is up a valley, it's hard to get lost as you'll know very quickly if you climbed one of the mountains on either side!)

Most of the backpacking I do is on relatively well travelled trails, I'm not likely to get lost due to the terrain, and if I get hurt it will be much faster to send someone for help, or wait for someone to happen by, then to wait long enough for a search aircraft ans try to signal them.

If I did more bushwhacking or was in terrain with less definite features than the rocky mountains I'd probably be more worried about it and consider carrying something.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Yep, in my compass and more on 10/25/2011 15:58:18 MDT Print View

First off: great anecdote, Henk! That's an excellent example of how a signal mirror can be so useful other than for planes or dead-on disasters, and a nice reminder how things in our possession can be repurposed. Remember, the face of a watch works, too.

I carry two mirrors: one in my teeny little Silva sighting compass and another ultralight version that's a little bigger and better for using to shave, extract things from one's own eye, etc.

The v-finger, gunsight method is simple to teach and works great.

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
concerning signal mirrors on 10/25/2011 21:27:07 MDT Print View

I have used them frequently, mostly on SAR operations. They work extremely well. I typically carry a small mirror as well as a mirrored compass. They can also be used to beam light into mine shafts and cave mouths. For this application, the bigger, the better.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
CD mirror on 10/26/2011 21:22:57 MDT Print View

I like the idea of a CD--lighter weight than a typical signalling mirror. I have a mirror in my compass--the one reason I haven't junked my heavy sighting compass that was required for the Mountaineer navigation course. I have carried a separate mirror with sighting hole in my emergency kit, but they're heavy. Between the sighting techniques cited, and the CD notion, I think I junk the signalling mirror and use the other mirror, or add a CD to the kit which is lighter (easier to break, though).

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
cd is so single-use on 10/26/2011 21:47:21 MDT Print View

CD's are just plain great reflectors, but you can't use it shave, to clearly see stuff stuck in your eye, etc... The plastic signal mirror I have is like a square, polished CD in terms of material and weight, and I bet it's a little lighter.