iRunFar Survival Tip #2 – Emergency Signal Mirrors

You’re in the middle of an easy 10-miler on a trail just outside of town. While up on little-used ridge […]

By on November 13, 2008 | Comments

improvisedYou’re in the middle of an easy 10-miler on a trail just outside of town. While up on little-used ridge top trail, you twist your ankle and snap your fibula. You get up and try to hobble down the trail, but the terrain is too technical for you to make worthwhile progress. Seeing as how you were only going for a short training run on local trails you left your cellphone and Spot Satellite Messenger (iRunFar discussion of Spot) at home, so you can’t contact a buddy for help. You’re also too far from town for any to hear you call for help and there’s little hope of another person being within earshot. What are you to do? Improvise an emergency signal mirror.

A proper emergency signal mirror can easily be seen for 10+ miles (there are reports of sightings from up to 100 miles) and can still be effective under overcast skies and even with bright moonlight. The principle behind an signal mirror is that a flash of light produced from the mirror will catch the eye of individuals, including search and rescue personnel. Signal mirrors are standard items for emergency kits, as well as mandatory gear for races such as the Marathon des Sables.

improvised emergency signal mirror stick methodWhen you need but don’t have an emergency signal mirror, one can be improvised. The face of a Garmin Forerunner 205 or 305 (available from, the mirrored back of iPod, other highly reflective surfaces, or even broken glass will do. While true emergency signal mirrors generally have a built in sighting mechanism, aiming an improvised signal mirror takes a bit more skill. There are two techniques for aiming an improvised signal mirror (1) the hand method (picture at upper left) and (2) stick method (left). Rather than attempt to reinvent the wheel…. er, signal mirror, we’ll direct you to survival experts who ably explain the finer points of improvised signal mirror use:

  • Survival Topics’ Signaling Techniques – A simple, to-the-point description of how to aim a signal mirror. It is also the source of the two instructive images found in this post.
  • SurvivalIQ‘s Means for Signaling – Discusses a wider range of signaling techniques, including fire and smoke, as well as alternate exemplary images of both the hand and stick signal mirror aiming techniques.

Please let other iRunFar readers know if you have or know of anyone how has made effective use of an emergency signal mirror – improvised or not. Please also share any insight or alternate resources on emergency signaling that you know.

iRunFar Survival Tips:

  1. Emergency Electrolyte Sources

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.