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How To Survive in the Wilderness Using Your Mobile Phone

Dean Sherwin 11-01-2010

How To Survive in the Wilderness Using Your Mobile Phone mastAt some stage in everyone’s life, a situation will turn dire. A nice hill walk is ruined by high winds and rain. A snapped ankle leaves you stranded in a forest. A broken down car means you can’t make it through an isolated area and it’s getting dark. Thankfully, most of these cases will be short-lived as they tend to sort themselves out.


Someone else will come along, you’ll be spotted or you’ll be able to get yourself out of the situation. However, if it hasn’t been resolved after two or three hours the situation needs to be taken to a new level of seriousness. When survival experts discuss how to survive in the wilderness, they all agree that keeping calm and thinking straight saves more lives than satellite phones, flares, life rafts and ration packs put together.

The one great thing about getting lost or stranded (as compared to twenty years ago that is) is that we all have a little survival tool nestled in our front pockets – a mobile phone. This can be used in so many different ways to save your life, it’s unreal.

Calling for help

The most obvious. In fact, if you haven’t done it in the first two hours of being lost (normally out of pride) then do it. If you are struggling to get a signal dial ‘112’ – the international number that will connect you to your emergency services. You don’t need to have a signal on your network. All mobile phone masts will allow a phone to connect to their network regardless if it’s registered with another network once the call is to the emergency services.

The myth of not having any signal at all is an internet hoax. You do, just not on your own network’s. Furthermore, the phone’s keypad doesn’t have to be unlocked to facilitate those not familiar with mobile phones and doesn’t even need a sim card.


Mobile phones send out a ‘ping’ every few minutes to connect to a mast. This will normally enable authorities to pin-point your location within a few miles. Maybe even half a kilometre if you’re lucky. This is the same triangulation method used by insurgents and kidnappers to locate targets. To conserve battery, turn it on once every half hour or so and allow it to connect to the network. When it has done so that means a ‘ping’ has been sent out.


Text Messaging

By trying to send a text (even if it fails) you could save your own life. Type out an SOS message giving details of your last known whereabouts, your physical condition and direction you’re travelling and send it to everyone in your contact list. If your phone picks up a signal, even for a few seconds without you realising, it will try to send the message out to as many people as possible.

If you have any other software, apps or an alternative contact method on your specific phone (GPS would be one which springs to mind) use it!

But let’s say you’re nowhere near a mast. Caught in the middle of nowhere. Cut off.  Surely your mobile is just another inanimate object weighing you down. Think again.


Most phones now have camera flash which can be turned on torch mode which provides you with a great torch for navigating at night. The really bright light is also very powerful. So powerful that it will enable you to signal ships, aircraft and people from miles away. Sony Erricson’s and other brands also have a pre-programmed SOS signal which can be transmitted using the light. If your phone doesn’t have a flash, you can still use it like the above but the power of the light will be much less. One tip is to have the screen illuminated white by opening the SMS screen.


If you don’t know the universal Morse code distress signal, it’s a good time to learn it.

As a Portable Survival Guide.

Right now, as you sit comfortably knowing there’s a million mile gap between you and danger, might be a good time to prepare for the day when that gap is considerably  smaller. Taking pictures of diagrams of huts, fire-starting techniques, food gathering and hunting instructions, etc. and storing it on your phone will serve you well in the wilderness.

Making small text files or to-do lists is also a good idea for saving basic survival information. Instead of spending six hours trying to create a fire and fail you could have one blazing very quickly indeed by following simple, accurate instructions. This cuts out “˜trial and error’ which could potentially kill you should you have to much of the latter. Refer to this post for a list of websites to help you prepare.

As a Storage Box.

How To Survive in the Wilderness Using Your Mobile Phone 358309802 2739352245 mMost phones will have enough room between the battery and the back cover to allow for the storage of some basic items. I suggest stowing a razor blade which could be used for fashioning tools, preparing food and other such activities. Also, a sheet with condensed survival instructions is a good idea (bits of this can also be used when starting a fire). Print on both sides, use small text and fill as much of the sheet as possible.


Putting this in a small zip-lock plastic bag may also be advisable in case you drop your phone in water. Fit as much as possible. Other items you may consider are fishing line, a fishing hook, sowing needle and a picture of family, friends, girlfriend, boyfriend etc… to keep morale up.

As a Signal Mirror

Many phones come with metal casings. You could remove the back cover and make it shiny by scraping it with a rock or blade. This can then be used as a mirror-like surface to attract attention to yourself should you spot a plane or people.

As a Tool Itself

Finally, if all else fails, you could use the phone itself as a tool. If it’s made of metal, sharpening the back cover into a blade is a good idea. You could also smash the screen and use it to tip an arrow. The battery can also be used to start a fire if you happen to have steel wool by touching it off the terminals. It’s all about using your imagination.

Do you have any other tips to add? How would you survive in the wilderness by using your phone as a survival tool?


Image Attribution: Eirikso, scottfeldstein

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  1. Joseph
    September 16, 2017 at 2:20 am

    a bit late...there is an Altoids mint survival kit post on-line. It's something I recommend to backpackers and carry in the backcountry myself. You can buy, but I recommend making yourself. As for plane travel, best to query TSA before trying to board. happy trails!

  2. Sid
    February 1, 2010 at 12:25 am

    haha .. nice info`

  3. Hendo
    January 30, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Just curious, but the razor blade (and paper)won't cause the battery to heat unusually, will it?

  4. tom olofsson
    January 26, 2010 at 8:14 am

    I love these tips. I have been lost in the woods and just sitting down and reading the stored info may be enough to clear the head long enough to get your bearings.

    There is a great survival/first aid app available at [Broken URL Removed]

    I would be cautious about carrying a cell onto a plane if it had a razor hidden in it. It might be tough to explain.

    tom o.

  5. lazlo
    January 17, 2010 at 4:59 am

    The razor blade issue is interesting. I wish the comments about it weren't so snarky because it makes discussion impossible. I DID immediately think about the issue and the airport and concluded that it is worth pointing out. If you never travel on planes it might make sense; I think the place to put it would be in a backpack or something similar - maybe with a razor. It's an interesting suggestion but it's not something I would do. I think the text messaging suggestion was excellent.

  6. Kim
    January 12, 2010 at 8:10 am

    I'd suggest sending your SOS text to your Facebook or Twitter status and even your blog...anything that will reach multiple people at once....

    • Dean Sherwin
      January 12, 2010 at 10:45 am

      Great idea.

  7. Akshay S Dinesh
    January 12, 2010 at 4:36 am

    And we can always use it instead of stone to throw down deers.

  8. jason
    January 12, 2010 at 1:32 am

    Gave me a great laugh this morning. Thanks.

    Kids, always ask and adult before stashing a razor blade in the back of your phone. You may avoid jail.

    • Dean Sherwin
      January 12, 2010 at 10:44 am

      Jail? Really?
      I think a razor blade in a zip lock bag along with survival instructions will tell a pretty clear story to any police officer about why it's there.

      If it was in your pocket, or was an actual knife - fair enough. But come on, it's a razor blade inside of your phone, hardly illegal. Any judge would throw that case out of their courtroom.

  9. Cid
    January 11, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    My tip, stay out of the wilderness....lol!

  10. Larry B.
    January 11, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    You can also store episodes of Mac Gyver for inspiration...

  11. Grant
    January 11, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    I think it would be really hard to explain to TSA why there was a razor blade stowed behind your batter...

    • Dean Sherwin
      January 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm

      A quick explanation like

      "Oh yeah, I read an article on survival and it suggested that."

      No cop will arrest you for that!

  12. Scott
    January 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Sometimes, during a catastrophe, there are so many people trying to place calls on their mobiles that it's difficult to get through to anyone (also, providers will often curtail usage by the general public, reserving communications for emergency services). During these times, text messages are much more likely to go through, so that's something to keep in mind, too...