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Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter
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Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 06/20/2013 18:23:19 MDT Print View

Hello all. I'm rounding out my kit and see a backup light, whistle, and fire starter frequently included on gear lists. I don't have these items and would love to hear recommendations. I'm considering these options:

- whistle: Fox 40 Micro

- fire starter: Light My Fire Scout Firesteel Fire Starter (do I also need matches or tinder?); how does this compare to a bic?

- backup light: Photon (Micro light II, Freedom Micro), Princeton Tec (Pulsar/II, Impulse), and the Fenix E01 (this Fenix may be overkill since I carry a Zebralight as my primary)

I'd also love to hear about any other small odds and ends I could be missing (I have basics like compass, first aid, etc., covered).

Thank you.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Missing "essential" items on 06/20/2013 19:07:55 MDT Print View

Whistle: Brian Green did a test of several whistles here:
I have the Fox Micro but I thought the aluminum "toy" whistle, like the blue one in his photos, was much louder and easier to use.

Firestarter: I have the ExoTac NanoStriker, but have never used it. There are trips where I will bring it as a back-up but I think it's easier to just carry 2 Mini-Bics. Bonus: I came across someone last year who had forgotten matches or a lighter and I was able to give him one. I also carry a small ziploc of matches & cotton tinder.

Back-up Light: I carry a Fenix LD01 as my primary light (in case I have to hike at night) but mostly use a Photon on the included lanyard. This saves the battery life of the LD01 and has almost always been enough light to use around camp.

I also bought a neon-pink roll of mason's line (braided nylon) at Home Depot. I put a short loop on many small essential items just to help see them when packing up the next day. I also take a small piece of tyvek (a race bib) and place that on the ground inside my shelter. This is my "landing pad" (for lack of a better description) where I always (try to) put essential items so they are in ONE place. Simplifies trying to find things in the dark or when packing up in the morning.

Craig .
(zipper) - F

Locale: LOST, but making good time
Re: Missing "essential" items on 06/20/2013 19:45:38 MDT Print View

I don't carry a back-up light, I just turn around and go the other way.

What? Oh, I thought you meant back-up. Nevermind...


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 06/20/2013 20:10:42 MDT Print View

I've been walking for >50 years.

I have never carried a whistle, and have never met a situation where I needed one or where it would work. Marketing toy.

Of course I carry a Bic lighter - to light my stove for cooking. I carry a second, small, Bic wrapped up in plastic in my FAK. I have used it once or twice - that's all. And I carruy it becasue my main Bic lighter is getting very low in butane. (Actually, I used it because I had forgotten to pack my main Bic!)

I do not carry a back-up light, but sometimes my wife who walks with me may have her only micro-light. But I do check my light before any major trip.

There's a lot of gear being recommended for 'just in case'. In general, the idea gets pushed by retailers who want to sell you something. A major part of the UL concept is to break free of this extra 'just in case' needless weight (which rarely gets used), and to rely instead on thinking. Brains are much safer.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
One or two of the three on 06/20/2013 20:44:56 MDT Print View

Back-up lights have become much less important with the durability of LEDs and the long battery life IF your light will put out with low batteries. I have one LED light (that I no longer trust) that needed a reasonably battery voltage and would cut out with weak batteries. No moon? I've got a little squeeze light. Any moon out? Nah.

A mini Bic is my primary. If you get it soaked, it can take a while to dry enough to ignite a canister stove. A light-my-fire will get you going in that situation. Or, I've got some very small plastic vials that would hold about 3 wooden strike-anywhere matches and have a water-tight stopper. Failing that, you have to rub two Boy Scouts together, very quickly.

Skip the whistle. Skip the signaling mirror. I've never met anyone who ever met anyone who has ever used one to signal for help. Pull cactus thorns from their lips?, yes. Signal for help, no.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
backup light alternatives on 06/20/2013 21:08:11 MDT Print View

I'm not a big fan of carrying a whistle, though sometimes do, and my fire starter solution always at least starts with the idea that I'm typically carrying a fair bit of dry toilet paper (not idea, but at least something).

Backup light: I see two alternative uses for this. (a) something to see with briefly when your headlamp batteries inevitably need to be changed in the dark, or (b) something to use if your headlamp is lost or broken or you don't have spare batteries or something along this line.

I typically carry a really lightweight and small pinch type LED light for the latter, (b). I rarely bother to get it out for (a), as I find it's easier/faster to just use my smartphone display (optionally with a "flashlight" app) while changing batteries. The smartphone isn't optimal as a backup light in the event of losing or breaking my headlamp, but depending on time of year and type of trip, it's sometimes an acceptable option IMO.

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
Whistle can be helpful on 06/20/2013 21:15:51 MDT Print View


I have been in situations where a whistle has been helpful. My wife and I backpack a lot with our children and all family members carry a whistle.
From time to time we are in situations where we separate - often because I go out of the way to fish an extra spot, while my wife continues with the kids. The sound of a whistle carries way further than that of a voice and makes it easier to locate each other. So in group situations - especially with children - it can be useful to carry a whistle.


jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: backup light alternatives on 06/20/2013 21:31:59 MDT Print View

Photon Freedom is like a LED pinch light - button battery, 0.25 oz

Except when you pinch it, it will stay on. You can turn it on really dim so it lasts quite a while. Possible to use as a primary flashlight.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Whistle can be helpful on 06/20/2013 21:36:02 MDT Print View

I usually carry whistle, 0.2 oz

Yeah, I've never used it, but if I was lost and people were looking for me it could be useful, louder, can use it for a longer duration of time

Just because you've never used something doesn't necesarily mean it doesn't make sense to carry

Joshua B
(leukos) - F

Locale: Chicagoland
Finger whistle on 06/20/2013 22:19:34 MDT Print View

I can whistle quite loudly using my fingers so I have wondered if on the rare chance I needed to signal if I could just use my fingers rather than carry a piece of plastic. But then I wonder how well that would work if my fingers were broken or my lips torn or I'm in freezing temps...then the idea of carrying a plastic whistle doesn't sound so bad.

kevin campbell
(rockymtbiker) - F

Locale: Michigan
ligher lights on 06/20/2013 22:54:06 MDT Print View

I've got a whistle, but haven't used it, ever.

Lights- I have a photon, a headlamp with lower light output that last really long, and my main that lasts a few hours. I try to use the Headlamp that runs on 1 AAA & doesn't put out loads of light the most. When I need to really light up things after dark, I use my ZebraLight, it is incredible. When I researched lights for my pack last year, this light was recommended by all the light enthusiasts across the is a link...

Lighters- I have some waterproof matches in a sealed container. Never use them. I use my Windmill waterproof & Windproof lighter. Fast, reasonably light, clear SO as to see if it is getting low on fuel, and has never failed me. Here is a link...

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
whistle on 06/21/2013 11:17:56 MDT Print View

Why a whistle? Monday on Quandary Peak, two hikers got cliffed out and had to wait overnight for help. The hikers, from Tennessee, used a whistle to alert searchers from the Summit County Rescue Group. Officials say that whistle helped expedite their rescue.

During an accident involving my own hiking group in August in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was waiting with an injured man on a steep cliff. Hours later I heard two rangers on the cliff above me whistling. I yelled, but they never heard me. They later said they only found me because they spotted me waving my arms on the slope. A good reminder that in an emergency situation, the whistle needs to be in my hand and not on my pack on the ground.

Anna DeBattiste, the Public Information Officer for the Summit County Rescue Group said, "all of our rescuers carry whistles attached to our backpacks to help find people. A whistle carries so much further than a person's voice."

the weight of a whistle wont kill you ... hell if you wear it like you should it doesnt even count towards you "pack weight" ... so you can still be that XULer


John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: whistle on 06/21/2013 11:22:11 MDT Print View

Hi Eric. I have been on a trip where a person was lost all night long. A whistle is what helped to find them quickly the next morning after they spent a night out in 20 degree temps.

You won't ever need them until you need them. I'd imagine there are many stories of how the whistle has helped persons get found. I'd also imagine a google search will find several stories of getting found with a signal mirror, but I do not carry one since I hike in groups.

Edited by jshann on 06/21/2013 11:23:33 MDT.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
re on 06/21/2013 12:18:19 MDT Print View

Whistle on the sternum strap is such a good idea.

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Re: One or two of the three on 06/21/2013 21:19:02 MDT Print View

I have done a fair amount of SAR, mostly in southern Arizona. We have responded to legitimate rescue situations that were initiated with both mirror flashes and whistles. They aren't items that are likely to be in routine use, but they are quite useful when you need help. Both items are well worth their weight.

Christopher *

Locale: US East Coast
Re: Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 06/21/2013 22:30:30 MDT Print View

I have actually used my whistle several times to chase away bears. I sound like a little girl when I try to yell. Not very intimidating. Enter the man-whistle.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
Re: One or two of the three on 06/21/2013 22:31:53 MDT Print View

"Skip the signaling mirror. I've never met anyone who ever met anyone who has ever used one to signal for help."

They say that there are no strangers, just friends you haven't met yet. Here are some friends David hasn't met yet:

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: One or two of the three on 06/22/2013 03:05:09 MDT Print View

James, I'm not sure he and I would be friends. "Tired, dehydrated, and hungry"?!? When I'm tired, dehydrated and hungry, I drink something, find something to eat and head home. I don't use a flashy thing nor want six (6) different agency mobilized unless someone is really in trouble and not just flashing his little flashy thing.

The websites that link to each other are weirdly hyper about how a signal mirror saved him from a non-emergency and how there is some conspiracy among other media to ignore that aspect.

You're not wrong to carry a mirror if you want. I'm not wrong to do otherwise or to discount most things that conspriacy theorists go on about.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter on 06/22/2013 05:44:27 MDT Print View

Matthew Steiger
(txlur) - F
fox40 on 06/22/2013 06:39:28 MDT Print View

I believe the fox 40 is recommended over the toy pea whistle as it does not have the ball inside that can freeze up, and fail to sound.

Good thread. Whistle as bear deterrent is interesting.