When one stops for a moment to think about survival they often conjure the image of John Rambo and his legendary knife. You know the one with the hollow handle, matches, fishing line, and the compass on the bottom? I am not knocking carrying a knife or a mini kit with you in the woods, actually I am fond of doing both, however survival is often much simpler than running around making primitive traps and lighting a fire with two sticks. For example one of the first things that I learned as a Cub Scout was if I was lost hiking, I should stop, stay put and blow my whistle to get found. In my opinion, this should remain true to this day, be you a Webelo, avid hiker, or sportsman. Staying put and trying to get found should be one of the first priorities.
Obviously this can be debated, such as if one falls into a river and is nearing hypothermia, a fire would be crucial, though I still would argue being found would be just as critical. Having someone else build the fire for you as you warm up wrapped in an emergency blanket is much more beneficial than scrapping a firesteel into Vaseline soaked cotton balls as you shiver. In my opinion carrying a whistle and a signal mirror with you should be just as important as a survival knife. Being found before you have to snare animals and combat the elements is paramount. A whistle is a lot louder than you are and weighs almost nothing. I keep mine on a The Paracord-Guy lanyard to make sure it is always on my person, even if I drop my bag, I have a means of signaling for rescue. If I happened to stumble down a hill and break my legs, (ouch!) I can still signal for help even if my pack is above me, with all its goodies.
Above, I am blowing into a whistle I am carrying on a neck lanyard for quick access and security.
We will get into the benefits of the signal mirror shortly. One should not only carry these items but also practice with them. The best part about this, is one can do it in their backyard or local park. No need to worry about finding a place to make a fire or gathering a tinder bundle, you only need a signal mirror and a sunny day. Step one is to go outside. Good, your day is already improved, you are outside. Then take the mirror in hand and extend your alternative arm (the one not holding the mirror) out with two fingers in a V.
Notice the arm is fully extended, one eye closed and sighting hole penetrating the V.
The sighting hole should be used to aim at an object that is in between the fingers, close your non-dominant eye to better focus on your target through the sighting hole. Wiggle the mirror in an up and down motion while ensuring you are hitting the target with a burst of light. If you bring a buddy with you to practice, you can take turns aiming the light at one another (avoid each others eyes!), aim for the chest a few times and you will be an expert in no time. It is also a lot of fun to practice how accurate you are and can be turned into a friendly competition that one day could save your life. A burst of light can be seen from a plane or SAR miles away and takes minimal effort to produce. I would also recommend keeping the mirror in a zip lock bag to help minimize any scratches and to keep it in a separate pocket in your kit. I have done this with the same mirror for three years now and it is still going strong. On your next outing, take a few minutes dust the mirror off and get some practice in and hopefully you will never have to signal with it for real.