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Survival Signs

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Survival signs can take several forms

There are many types of survival signs. The most common warn people of road conditions and hazards. Centuries ago people used quilts to warn others of emergencies. Certain quilts were hung to warn visitors that there was a sickness, a baby was born, or that a death had occurred.

In the wilderness there are signs that will alert you that dangerous predators live in the area. Search and rescue personnel use signs to inform others that an area has been searched.

Animal Signs

If you are in the woods and see slashes on tree trunks, these are made by bears. If you see these marks stay alert at all times. Take precautions to store your gear at least 15 feet off the ground at night. Cougar signs are more difficult to read. The footprint of a large cat has a unique signature. If you find a track place a stick along the outside edge of each outside toe print. The sticks will cross in the middle of the center pad. The sticks will cross at the bottom or not at all if the print belongs to a wolf, fox or coyote.

Signal Fire

Setting a signal fire is one way to alert rescuers to your whereabouts in the wilderness. Smoke is the key to a signal fire. The fire does not need to be large but it does need to produce large quantities of smoke. Burning green or wet leaves, or wet, rotten wood will produce lots of smoke. Use rocks or a pit to avoid starting a forest or brush fire.


Creating S.O.S. survival signs are only useful if you have a large open space and the materials to construct signs of this type. Logs, rocks or clothing that is weighted down are a few suggestions. It is unusual to have enough burnable materials to set an S.O.S. sign on fire so common in movies.

Signaling for Help

Signal mirrors and whistles are another way to signal for help. A mirror’s reflection can be seen from great distances. These survival signals are used in areas where signal fires are not possible. They are lightweight and easily transported. Nitro-Pak has a number of signal mirrors and emergency whistles available to add to your backpack or go bag.

Message Signs

A cairn of rocks is a method of communication that has been used for thousands of years. Rocks are placed in a pattern to indicate water, shelter or other important information. This method is easily adapted to suburbia. A specific stack of rocks or bricks could be used to inform others that you are sick or not home. More complex designs could point others in the direction of a safe place, food or water. Using words is also another way. The word poison could indicate sickness, while the word happy might say that all is well. Colored fabric or paper could also used.


There are a few signs that indicate unsafe areas especially in large cities. Scorch marks on sidewalks, bullet casings, vehicles that have been stripped, and bloodstains would all indicate that the area is not safe. If you reside in a large city you could design a set of graffiti type symbols that could be used to alert your neighbors to danger, illness and safe places.

There are many survival signs both naturally occurring and man made. Create your own set of survival signs for you and your neighborhood. It might come in handy.

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