Do I Really Need a Whistle When Hiking or Backpacking?

Whistles are commonplace in sporting events and other loud activities. But do they really have a place on the hiking trail? You may have seen ads for “survival whistles” and wondered if they actually help at all.

Whistles are important pieces of hiking gear because they enable you to make loud, shrill sounds that travel farther than a voice. Survival whistles can help scare off wildlife and/or signal your position to search parties. They are cheap, lightweight, and essential items.

Even though you may not use a whistle during the majority of your hikes, you never know when it might come in handy. If you ever find yourself in an emergency situation, this is one item you’ll want to have on hand. Whether you’re dealing with a wild animal, or are lost in the thick trees, a proper whistle can save your life.

Whistles: A Low-Effort Noisemaker

One of the biggest benefits of a whistle is that it’s more powerful than a voice. When humans shout, we usually average about 90 decibels. That’s a decent volume, but it’s hard to sustain for a long period of time.

On the other hand, whistles can usually produce over 100 decibels (closer to 120) and it’s much easier to produce that sound (source). You just need to blow air, with no need to strain your vocal cords. Shouting can get exhausting quickly, and you’ll have a hard time making your voice heard once you start to get hoarse.

Additionally, whistles are incredibly lightweight. They only weigh a few ounces and are easy to attach to your backpack or belt. Everyone in your group should have their own whistle, especially children. They are harder to hear and their voices will give out much faster.

Survival whistles are convenient, but incredibly essential pieces of equipment for any hiking trip.

Helps Searchers Find You

One of the main benefits of a survival whistle is the extra volume and range you will have. Most hiking and backpacking trips are completely safe, and you won’t usually run into a crisis. But when you do, it’s important to be prepared for it!

If you or your group get trapped in a hard-to-reach area, you may need to wait for help. In this scenario, it’s vitally important that you can let others know where you are. The noise of a whistle carries quite far, and it’s not a common sound in the woods. There may be background noise, but a whistle is distinct enough to catch the attention of other people.

Consistently blowing a whistle will also help people narrow down the direction that it’s coming from. You’ll need to keep up a steady stream of noise to help search parties locate you. That level of noise-making would be almost impossible if you were just relying on vocal shouts for help.

Wild Animal Protection

In addition, a good whistle can also be a handy animal deterrent. Most animals won’t approach humans if they know that they’re there. A lot of wildlife encounters become dangerous because the animal was startled. If you let the wildlife know that you’re around, they have enough time to get out of the way and choose a different path.

It’s a good idea to make noise as you go. You can do this by maintaining a conversation in your group, playing music through a portable speaker, or blowing a whistle from time to time.

Bears aren’t particularly scared of whistles, so you may need to rely on bear spray or another deterrent to keep them at bay. However, deer, raccoons, and other types of wildlife will be off-put by the shrill, loud sound of a whistle. If you happen to run into these animals and want them to go away, you could try tweeting your whistle a few times.

How To Signal For Help

If you only blow your whistle a few times, people may not hear it, or will just assume you’re leading a scout troop through the woods. So when you’re in. real emergency situation, there are certain patterns you can follow that will make it clear that you need help.

One of the easiest techniques is the 3-blast distress signal. When you need help from others, blow your whistle 3 times, for 3 seconds each. Take a quick breath in between each blow so that you don’t become lightheaded. Wait until your breathing pattern has settled, then repeat the process again.

This signal is distinct, and most people will recognize it as a call for help if they hear it a few times.

Tip: Don’t use up all your air on long, single blows. This practice can create a weaker sound overall and will make it harder to breathe.

If you want to use a more distinct message, you can use Morse Code to send out an audible SOS. The pattern for an SOS signal is three short tweets, three long tweets, then three short tweets again. In Morse Code format, this would appear as three dots, three dashes, and three dots ( . . . _ _ _ . . . )

These signals will communicate a clear message to others on the trail, and will eventually attract help.

Recommended Whistles

Now that we understand their importance and the correct way to use them, what kind of whistle do we need? Survival whistles come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, but they’re pretty simple at the end of the day. All you need is a good whistle that will make a loud, clear sound.

Below are a few popular models that can help you narrow down your choices.

Rugged Valley Emergency Survival Whistles

These whistles are made from durable plastic and can create a sound that’s 130 decibels loud. They’re lightweight and easy to clip onto a backpack or wear around your neck. They’re also durable against water and other natural forces.

ALPINISM Emergency Whistle Survival

Ths ALPINISM whistle comes in a pack of one or two. They’re made from sturdy metal and come with a carabiner and lanyard for easy accessibility. It’s made of rust-resistant materials and creates a loud clean tone.

Fox 40 Classic Whistle – Black

The Fox 40 is regarded as one of the best plastic whistles on the market. It’s nice and simple, with a classic design. It can reach up to 115 decibels and the sound can travel up to 1 mile. It’s very resistant to water and moisture damage and will stay functional in wet environments.

Final Thoughts

Survival whistles can make all the difference when you’re in an emergency situation. The first step to staying safe is making sure you have access to help. A whistle will deliver your cry for help in a much louder way over a longer distance. Every adventurer should have a whistle or two as part of their essential hiking gear.

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