The most common signal to come to mind for many is old faithful: The smoke signal. Now before you go on thinking “I've got this”, let us fill you in on a few facts that will improve upon what you may already know and prepare you for better results:
During daylight, build a smoke generator and use smoke to gain attention. The international distress signal is three columns of smoke. Try to create a color of smoke that contrasts with the background; dark smoke against a light background and vice versa. If you practically smother a large fire with green leaves, moss, or a little water, the fire will produce white smoke. If you add rubber or oil-soaked rags to a fire, you will get black smoke.
In a desert environment, smoke hangs close to the ground, but a pilot can spot it in open desert terrain.
Smoke signals are effective only on comparatively calm, clear days. High winds, rain, or snow disperse smoke, lessening its chances of being seen.
During darkness, fire is the most effective visual means for signaling. Build three fires in a triangle (the international distress signal) or in a straight line with about 25 meters between the fires. Build them as soon as time and the situation permit and protect them until you need them. If you are alone, maintaining three fires may be difficult. If so, maintain one signal fire.
When constructing signal fires, consider your geographic location. If in a jungle, find a natural clearing or the edge of a stream where you can build fires that the jungle foliage will not hide. You may even have to clear an area. If in a snow-covered area, you may have to clear the ground of snow or make a platform on which to build the fire so that melting snow will not extinguish it.
A burning tree (tree torch) is another way to attract attention (Figure 19-1). You can set pitch-bearing trees afire, even when green. You can get other types of trees to burn by placing dry wood in the lower branches and igniting it so that the flames flare up and ignite the foliage. Before the primary tree is consumed, cut and add more small green trees to the fire to produce more smoke. Always select an isolated tree so that you do not start a forest fire and endanger yourself.
We've got some rad gadgets to bring with you during outdoor treks and activities that will prove their weight in gold when an emergency arises and you need to be found. Head over to page 3 and learn about which items NEED to be in your wilderness arsenal.