By Dean Sherwin

At 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 will be spotted or you will 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.

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. 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 tower. This will normally enable authorities to pin-point your location within a few miles. Maybe even half a kilometer if you are 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 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 are travelling and send it to everyone in your contact list. If your phone picks up a signal, 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 are nowhere near a tower. 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 and other brands also have a pre-programed 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.

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 a trial and error which could potentially kill you should you have to much of the latter.

As a Storage Box

Most 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.