Signal Mirror – Lifesaver or BS?

Video how to use a signal mirror

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.

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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.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>