Aside from water, shelter, food and medications, one of the most critical resources you’ll need in a survival situation is information. Specifically, you’ll need to know what is happening in the world, so that you can use this information to improve your chances of survival.
You may, for example, need to learn about upcoming weather changes, hear messages from authorities or even learn about the movements and activities of hostile humans.
But, while it will be helpful for you to hear and receive information, you may need to send information too. For example, you may need to get messages to loved ones or emergency responders in the event of an accident.
There are a variety of different communication tools that will be helpful in this regard, and you’ll want to ensure that you have at least one in your bug out bag. Below, we’ll compare and contrast some of the primary forms these devices can take and explain their basic usage.
In their simplest form, emergency radios only perform a single job: They transmit emergency warning announcements issued by the proper authorities. This includes weather bulletins, AMBER alerts and signals produced by the Emergency Management System.
However, modern emergency radios often provide a number of other capabilities to help you survive and remain informed during an emergency situation. For example, many modern emergency radios not only pick up the AM spectrum, they also pick up FM signals and those carried by other frequency bands too.
Try to select an emergency radio that bears the NOAA NWR All Hazards logo. This ensures that the radio meets a few key technical specifications and that it can be used to pick up area-specific messages and signals. This will prevent you from wasting battery power while listening to weather warnings for distant lands.
You’ll also want to select an emergency radio that is built for life in the wilderness. This means looking for radios that are as water-resistant as possible and packaged in a rugged exterior case. This will help prevent your radio from breaking, should you drop it on the trail.
Note that some bare-bones emergency radios must be used with headphones, while others possess built-in speakers and project sounds through the air. While headphones can be very inconvenient to use, they require far less power than speakers do, so they’ll help you make better use of the energy resources available to you.
Most emergency radios are powered by batteries, but you’ll always want to select a model that can utilize multiple power sources. Some units can rely on AC power and others can be recharged through an included solar panel. Many also include a hand crank, so that you can use muscle power to run the unit.
Some of the very best emergency radios even feature charging outlets for other devices. This can be extraordinarily helpful in a survival situation, as they’ll let you charge things like a cell phone or GPS unit.
Two-way radios (including HAM radios, among others) are potentially life-saving tools that you may want to include in your bug out bag. Capable of receiving and transmitting information, two-way radios can allow you to communicate with rescuers or other survivalists, and you may be able to listen in on conversations between hostile humans too.
The use of two-way radios is strictly regulated in most areas (primarily by federal-level agencies), so you’ll want to be sure to follow all applicable laws and regulations when obtaining and practicing with your radio. This won’t likely be a serious concern during a bona fide emergency, but it is important to stay within the boundaries of the law in normal times.
Be sure that you select a two-way radio that can be programmed to remember a given frequency, this way you’ll be able to communicate with others you may encounter during the survival situation.
A cell phone is obviously one of the most effective communication tools in the modern world, and they may provide similar value in an emergency situation. Even the most rudimentary cell phone will likely allow you to make and receive calls, send and receive text messages and surf the web for news and information.
However, cell phones have a number of weaknesses that will rear their ugly heads during a SHTF scenario. For example, cell phones rely on a functional cell network to work. In the event of a widespread disaster or hostile invader, the cell phone grid will likely be disrupted, which will limit your ability to use the phone.
Even if the local cell phone network remains intact and operational, the increased cell traffic that is likely to follow an emergency will make it difficult to get a call through.
Additionally, cellular phones are notorious for being battery-draining, power-hungry devices, which must be charged very regularly. This will be hard to accomplish in most survival situations, which can render your phone useless in a very short time.
A satellite phone differs from a cell phone in one crucial way: Rather than relying on a cell phone network to send and receive messages, a satellite phone communicates directly with communication satellites high above the earth’s surface.
This not only makes satellite phones the preferred communication tool for most outdoor adventurers, as they work in remote areas in which cell phone networks are not available, it also makes them more useful in a survival situation. While cell phone networks go down regularly in even normal circumstances, satellite communications rarely fail.
You’ll pay a good bit more for a satellite phone than a regular cell phone, but this is money well spent. Satellite phones function slightly differently than cell phones, so it is wise to practice using yours a few times before finding yourself in the middle of an emergency, with a phone you are unable to use.
Infrared beacons emit a constant or blinking signal, which relies on light waves that are too long for the human eye to detect. However, most modern rescue helicopters and search parties are equipped with infrared viewing technology, which will allow them to see these signals clearly.
These types of devices are of most use when it is necessary to communicate your position to friendly responders, while still maintaining a low profile to avoid the eyes of hostile forces.
Power-Free Signaling Devices
Unless you have a perpetually rechargeable device that is capable of charging your cell phone, two-way radio or satellite phone, you’ll have to default to power-free communication tools in an extended survival situation. Fortunately, there are still a variety of ways to signal your presence to rescuers or transmit very simple messages.
Some of the most effective methods include:
Signaling mirrors can be used to concentrate and reflect sunlight toward rescuers or those with whom you are trying to communicate. If you are skilled in the use of such mirrors and familiar with Morse code, you can even use them to send and receive messages.
Purpose-built signaling mirrors are available, and they work exceedingly well for the task. However, you can use just about anything reflective – such as a polished aluminum can or broken piece of glass – in a pinch. But because signaling mirrors are very effective and don’t take up much room, most survivalists will find it wise to include one in their bug out bag.
Flashlights are very helpful for sending visual signals, but they are rarely of much use during the day. You can use them in the same manner as signaling mirrors and use them to transmit messages in Morse code. Flashlights are pretty standard tools found in most bug out bags, and you don’t need to pack extra flashlights just for this purpose.
Many flashlights have a “beacon” feature built in, which is designed to keep the light blinking at regular intervals. This helps to conserve battery life and it automates the signaling process to some degree.
Whistles provide you with an audible way to alert rescuers, and you can also use them to transmit messages via Morse code, in the same way you’d use a flashlight or signaling mirror. Whistles are especially helpful for survival situations, as they require no batteries. Additionally, whistles are surprisingly loud, and they’ll carry your signal for quite a distance – particularly in open habitats.
It is generally preferable to select a whistle that does not include a pea – especially in cold weather. This is because a pea can freeze to the side of the whistle, thereby rendering it useless.
Another great benefit of whistles is that they do not require any training or experience to use. You could hand a whistle to a child or stranger if need be, without having to train them to use it. Just establish a simple code before separating to facilitate communication.
For example, one short blast may indicate that you want the other party to come to you, while one long, sustained blast may mean that you are headed to the other party. Three short blasts could be used to indicate an emergency or request assistance.
Personal alarms are self-defense tools designed to thwart attackers by emitting a painfully loud sound. They are typically triggered by pulling a corded pin, which then sets off the alarm (they’re deactivated when the pin is replaced).
You won’t want to hold one of these alarms in your hand while waiting for help to arrive; instead, you’ll be wise to place the alarm in an open area on high ground. You can then activate the alarm and retreat to a comfortable distance, while you watch for help to arrive.
These types of alarms will drain their batteries very quickly, so it is wise to wait until you see or hear rescuers (or you otherwise learn that they are in the vicinity) before activating the alarm.
Glowsticks or chemlights can also be used to signal rescuers in low light conditions. Glowsticks rely on the chemical energy stored inside them to produce light, so they do not require batteries. However, this also means that glowsticks cannot be recharged, nor can they be turned off to conserve energy.
However, glowsticks are both affordable and lightweight, which means that you can pack a handful of them in your bug out bag. This way, you could even use several glowsticks to create more obvious visual signals. For example, you could place several in such a way that they make a large geometric shape, thereby increasing the odds that they’ll be noticed by emergency responders.
Ribbon or Trail Tape
Flagging tape or ribbon is a lightweight and compact material which should always be included in a bug out bag. Just be sure to purchase an easy-to-see color, such as fluorescent orange to maximize the ribbon’s value.
The best way to use flagging tape is by tracing out large letters or symbols on an exposed hillside or along the side of a cliff that faces a popular trail or thoroughfare. You can even make large arrows, which will indicate your location or direction of travel.
Flagging tape is useful for many other things too, making it doubly valuable in a survival situation. For example, you can use it to mark the location of your shelter, should you need to go off into the wilderness searching for food or resources. This way, your location will be much easier to find when you return.
Like glowsticks, flares aren’t technically power-free devices, but they contain all of the energy they’ll need to work. Flares create an incredibly bright light, and many will also produce colored smoke to further help alert rescuers.
Be sure that you use and store flares properly to avoid injuries and make it a practice to never stare directly into the burning portion of the flare, as this can cause temporary blindness. You’ll also need to ensure that the flare does not drip flaming embers onto dry leaves or other flammable materials.
Fires are often quite visible from a distance at night, and the smoke they produce can make an effective visual signal during the day. It is often more helpful to build several small fires arranged in a geometric pattern than it is to create one large fire, but be sure that you can monitor each of the fires from a central location.
If you need to increase the amount of smoke your fire produces, you can place green leaves and vegetation on top of the flames. Just be sure that your fire still gets enough oxygen to remain burning while you do so.