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Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starter
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Pete Staehling
(staehpj1) - F
Non-essential on 06/22/2013 07:09:53 MDT Print View

- whistle: I am 62 years old and have never used/wanted/needed a whistle despite spending a large portion of my life in the woods in one outdoor pursuit or another.

- fire starter: I carry a striker type fire starter only because it is easier to light my alcohol stove with one than with a bic. Otherwise the backup for the bic might as well be another bic if you really need a backup. Without a lot of practice, most people will have trouble starting a fire with a striker in ideal dry conditions and wouldn't stand even a remote chance in wet conditions.

- backup light: At the risk of being burned at the stake, I'll say that I always figured that a primary light wasn't really a necessity, let alone a backup light. I went as far as not carrying one, but found that, after scorching a couple meals I did like to be able to look into my cook pot. I then started wearying a $10 eGear Pico light on a chain around my neck as my only light. Since I use it seldom and for a few seconds at a time the 15 hour battery life lasts me a very long time. Mine has been used on many thousands of miles of bicycle touring including a coast to coast bicycle trip as well, on a few short backpacking trips, and has been used around home for over a year and is still on the original battery. It is bright enough to check the color of a blaze at night or to see the bear checking out your canister.

How essential can something that has only been invented in the last hundred years or a bit more be? Humankind got by without flashlights for most of our existence as a species. I think of them as a convenience rather than an essential.

(PNWhiker) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Backup on 06/22/2013 10:00:24 MDT Print View

I have a Coughlan 4 in 1 safety whistle. This also has a compass, thermometer and magnifying glass (stuff you can remove from your emergency kit now). It's 0.8oz and pretty inexpensive. It's also nice that it clips on your pack.

I use a Fenix LD01 as a backup light. It's lighter than a extra AA battery for my headlamp, and it provides full redundancy.

I use the Exotac UL polystriker as a backup fire starter.

All are available from REI.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Mirrors and whistles on 06/22/2013 11:01:40 MDT Print View

I carry a Suunto MC2 compass with mirror. I prefer a compass with a sighting mirror for a number of reasons but having the option of using it to signal someone is just another added bonus. I've used signaling mirrors in training but have yet to use one in a real world emergency.

I'm new to SAR but it's taken less than a year to learn how invaluable a whistle is. I've always carried one and never used it prior to volunteering with this organization; I can see how someone would be inclined to shed it from their base weight. When SAR is banged out for a mission, having the whistle really helps the ground teams zero in on the victim's location. No disrespect to any of the dissenting opinions but they don't weigh much and it's probably worth reconsidering.

I carry the Storm Whistle which is very loud.

Happy trails all.

Edit: I carry a Bic Lighter which has never failed me and matches as a backup. I'm in the market for a Exotac Nanostriker.

I have a $3 led light which weighs .3oz as a backup light. Bright enough to walk with if a marmot ever ran off with my head lamp.

Edited by IDBLOOM on 06/22/2013 11:07:25 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Mirrors and whistles on 06/22/2013 16:20:05 MDT Print View

> When SAR is banged out for a mission, having the whistle really helps the ground
> teams zero in on the victim's location.

A good reason for a SAR person to carry one.
Perhaps not quite as applicable for non-SAR people on a simple trip?


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Mirrors and whistles on 06/22/2013 16:40:16 MDT Print View

I've never found a mirror to be of much use. However, a whistle can be pretty handy. I used to lead a lot of group backpacking trips. On one layover day, the entire group had spread out and was supposed to return to camp in time for dinner. One member was missing and one hour overdue, so we set out in pairs to search. The whistle was worthwhile, because searchers could be heard over a much longer distance than if we were just shouting or something. The missing hiker started responding with his own whistle, and the problem was solved quickly.


Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
Re: Non-essential on 06/22/2013 16:41:49 MDT Print View

"How essential can something that has only been invented in the last hundred years or a bit more be? Humankind got by without flashlights for most of our existence as a species"

Yes... and humans have been dying in the wilderness for a million years or better... natural selection, you know. Yes... the species got along without the 10 essentials... but millions of individuals did not...


John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Non-essential on 06/22/2013 17:22:56 MDT Print View

lol..They used fire to light their way at night more than a hundred years ago. It's not like they stayed home because they didn't have battery operated light.

Edited by jshann on 06/22/2013 17:24:11 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
"Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starte on 06/22/2013 17:31:56 MDT Print View

Whistle--invaluable when backpacking with kids. You should see them come when I blow two blasts, which means dinner is ready! It sure beats yelling! I think that what the SAR folks here are trying to point out is that it's a lot easier for them to find someone if the lost/injured person has a whistle!

Extra light--has been handy several times when Icouldn't find my headlamp in the dark, including the time my dog was sleeping on it! Most of the time I'm not sure why I have it, but it's so tiny that it's no big deal.

Mirror--nice to have when traveling solo and I get something in my eye or a scratch on my face. IMHO, signalling with one is pretty iffy. Mine is really tiny--one of those Coghlan mirrors cut down to 1/4 size. .

Fire starter--I no longer take kitchen matches; the last few boxes I've bought (for the fireplace at home), over half the matches were defectiveand woouldn't light. I take a Mini-Bic, a paper match book, and several of those REI emergency matches that burn almost forever and can't be put out. Plus half an Esbit cube for tinder. Of course I rarely build fires when backpacking.

Edited by hikinggranny on 06/22/2013 17:35:58 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: "Missing "essential" items: backup light, whistle, and fire starte on 06/22/2013 19:00:06 MDT Print View

"Mine is really tiny--one of those Coghlan mirrors cut down to 1/4 size."

hard core light person - cuts down something that's already light to 1/4 the weight : )

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 06/22/2013 19:05:21 MDT Print View

I don't think anyone is wrong to carry or not carry a signal mirror. When it comes to emergency equipment, though, I don't believe that what your friends have experienced is the key to making the decision. I don't have any friends that have deployed a PLB but I still carry one because I believe the benefits exceed the costs. I have a reasonably good idea of the risks I face outside and I've seen reports of a PLB being of great benefit to people in dire straights, even thought I don't know them personally. To be sure some brought it on themselves but plenty of others didn't.

Cherrypicking the 'conspiracy nuts' from the multitude of stories of successful signal mirror use doesn't disprove the argument.

Dan Yeruski
(zelph) - MLife

Re: Re: Mirrors and whistles on 06/22/2013 19:52:58 MDT Print View

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

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

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

I read that three times to try and understand how carrying a whistle would be a marketing toy. someone please explain.

Signal mirror would be handy when the rescue copter is heard coming to find you.

My choice of fire starter is the Spark-Lite.

Edited by zelph on 06/22/2013 19:56:30 MDT.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
tinder on 06/23/2013 19:44:58 MDT Print View

while a reliable spark source is certainly needed, when the chips are down- some carried tinder can make the difference between starting a fire and not- I carry 3-4 tinder tabs and a wetfire cube- a few grams total

for the small weight, I'll continue to carry a whistle and a small signal mirror and keep hoping that I don't ever use either :)

I've found a photon on a lanyard is mighty handy in the dark around camp

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: tinder, etc on 06/23/2013 19:54:55 MDT Print View

For tinder, I carry Tinder Quick tabs stuffed into a spy capsule, which goes on the keyring with my firesteel. There is an AA flashlight and a Fox 40 whistle on the same ring. I carry a K&M match case with UCO hurricane matches and a compass in the end in the other pocket.

Gregory Stein
(tauneutrino) - F

Locale: Upper Galilee
My 2 cents on 06/24/2013 04:21:02 MDT Print View

Hey guys,

For 1-2-3 nights and no night hiking in new moon I use Photonlight Freedom. I do also use it for extended trips when I'm familiar with the surroundings. Here in Israel it is hard to get lost. Much higher chance to find yourself dehydrated (this does happen a lot). For night hiking in new moon I'd use Zebralight H501. In full moon I actually trail run WITHOUT light at all. Just give your eyes 15-20 minutes to adapt.
Ah, my backup light is my Nokia 1280 cell phone which has brilliant light! It's not a smartphone (I don't have one), some of its features: 1 charge in two weeks (!! Oh!), bright enough light which I accidentally forgot to turn off and found that in the morning it is still that bright! The phone weighs 76 grams which is good for ,multiuse and dependable device that:
0) cell phone for emergency
1) backup light
2) my watch (I hate wearing one on my arm)
3) my alarm clock

Each of my kids have one. I do also checked a dozen to choose the one that is really easy to blow through for kid and is loud. +1 for codes like "two short - dinner", "one long - danger" etc. It is also fun when you hike with kids. I would carry one in solo for the reasons mentioned above.

For solo hikes you need one. In Israel we have those tasty cactus fruits. I love them. But it's a bit hassle to take off all the prickles and when you eat it you might get some on your face. Mirror is essential tool for it. If not soloing, then it is not that essential IMHO. Signaling with mirror for greater distance is not that helpful in my opinion. Anyway I carry one. I use 1 laptop HDD plate at 4 grams not a big penalty.

Emergency firestarter:
After buying and testing several options I chose Sparklite firestarter + 6 tinder tabs. This is 10 grams (even 9 :) ) and could be lighted easily WITH ONE HAND! which is very important if you are in an emergency (read broken hand). It is also more dependable than bic lighter. Matches and all sort of fire steels REQUIRE BOTH HANDS until you are some kind of circus actor. However when it's freezing it is easier to use fire steel if you have both hands available :)

Just my thoughts.

Kind regards,


Edited by tauneutrino on 06/24/2013 04:35:52 MDT.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
mirror vs whistle on 06/24/2013 07:18:33 MDT Print View

Terrain might have something to do with the choice. In woods-covered terrain a mirror isn't going to accomplish much, but the whistle will alert ground based SAR. In open country, a mirror might be better to alert helicopters overhead.

I hike a lot in the woods. My compass does have a mirror on it, and if needed, could be used for signaling, but much of the time it works much better for checking out how bad my bed hair is. A whistle would be more reliable in those circumstances.

Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 13:41:43 MDT Print View

Thanks for all of the great comments and suggestions.

What are the pros and cons of a bic vs. firesteel?

John Taylor
(jtaylor) - F - M

Locale: Shenandoah
Can see Pete's point on 06/26/2013 14:38:53 MDT Print View

I completely see Pete's point. For many years I never carried a whistle. I have carried one for the past 5 or so and never have a use for it.

What I consider essential is a quick source of fire, a bandana, and a knife. That about covers everything in my book and I have had some extensive wilderness survival training. I can make friction fire, I can make knives from stone. But why go to the effort when the essentials are cheap and light weight.

My fire starter of choice is the Sparklight system with quick tender. I have used it several times and once in a hypothermic situation In the rain. The system works.

Fire steels are not bad either, but I prefer the Sparklight because of light weight and compactness. Tender included.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 14:43:13 MDT Print View

Carry both. I use the bic for ordinary stuff and the firesteel is for when everything else fails. I have no problem with the extra weight of redundant fire starters.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 15:08:42 MDT Print View

Firesteels are weak fire starting tools. They are always reliable but they need very dry and flamable tinders or a bunch of prep to work. If you have ever done a splitwood fire with a firesteel then you know what i mean. With a lighter you can light up a bunch of wood curls/feathersticks instantly. With a firesteel you need to make tiny scrapings on a flat surface. It complicates things in situations where you are desperate and stressed out. Mastering a firesteel requires a lot of practice.

A firesteel with some easy to light manmade tinder is the best firestarting method. But you need stashed tinder for it to be effective and quick in an emergency. A lighter is much more effective when working with natural tinder.

So i carry both. I carry a kneck knife, firesteel, and tinder around my neck in case i get seperated from my pack. I use my bic for most tasks

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Bic vs. firesteel on 06/26/2013 15:39:25 MDT Print View

"What are the pros and cons of a bic vs. firesteel?"

A Bic is quick and easy, can be used with one hand (let's say your other hand was trapped under a boulder!), and doubles as a light. You can also generate some heat in pinch if you CAREFULLY! run it under a loose parka or trash bag. That is a trick every serious caver learns from people who have done it. A candle is better yet, but a Bic works in a pinch. Even if you run out of butane, the sparker can still light a canister stove. When ever darn thing is wet, you can eventually light a stick on fire by holding it over the Bic. But in those cases, you really want a square of wax paper, a small candle, or ear wax smeared on belly-button lint.

The fire steel works immediately after pulling it from a puddle, which a Bic does not. And, in conjunction with a Bic, you have redundancy. I once arrived at first campsite with no Bic. My best guess is that it slipped out of a pocket while double-checking gear in the hotel room. A fire steel would have been SO much easier than a fire drill carved with a SAK Classic!

For me, bringing only one: Mini Bic.

But for how important a fire can be when things start going badly, a fire steel SOMEWHERE ELSE in your system is worth it to me.