Should You Carry A Whistle While Hiking? Why It’s Essential


If you are a regular hiker or you are just getting into hiking, one thing you may have heard before is that you should carry a whistle while hiking. I too have heard this before and for the longest time, I hiked many miles without carrying a whistle. What I have come to realize is that I may have been too careless.

So, should you carry a whistle while hiking? You should always carry an emergency whistle while hiking, no matter how long hike may is. The whistle may save your life if anything tragic were to happen to you while you are hiking. A whistle’s sound is much louder and travels much farther than the human voice.

Too many people set out on a hiking trip without an emergency whistle, and every one of those people is placing unnecessary risk on themselves. A very small investment in a nice whistle can last many years and could be the one thing that saves your life if the worst were to happen. That is why I always carry a whistle with me while hiking now and I believe you should too.

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Why do you need to carry a whistle while hiking?

Carrying an emergency whistle could end up saving your life. If you are hiking and an unfortunate event happens such as a fall, overheating, snakebite, etc. then it could leave you incapacitated or at least unable to hike yourself to safety alone. An emergency whistle is there to make sure that someone can hear you and find you.

How far your whistle can carry is largely dependent on the environment that you are hiking in since there are so many factors that can affect how far sound can travel. Things like wind, air density, temperature, pressure, humidity, natural features, etc. all can affect how far sound can travel. Most of us cannot yell and produce a sound as loud as a whistle can, at least not for very long. The average shouting sound by humans is around 90 decibels. You can get a whistle that easily produces over 120 decibels with very little effort exerted.

So the point of carrying a whistle is really to just help someone find you in an emergency situation where you need to be found and need some help. Without a loud whistle you would be forced to rely on shouting in order to alert someone. Humans cannot shout as loud as a whistle, plus it takes a lot more effort to shout than it does to blow a whistle. That is why you need to carry a whistle when you go hiking.

Where should you keep your whistle while hiking?

This is mostly personal preference, but what you don’t want to do is throw it in your backpack and have to rummage through a bunch of other things in order to find it. I highly recommend you strap your whistle to the shoulder pad of your backpack. This makes access to the whistle extremely easy and consistent. Plus, it’s impossible for you to forget it by accident unless you forget your entire backpack (unlikely). Wherever you end up keeping your whistle, just be consistent so you always know where it is.

What could happen if you don’t carry a whistle while hiking?

The worst-case scenario could happen if you don’t carry a whistle while hiking. You have an emergency situation, but you are unable to properly call for help because no one can hear you. You scream and shout as loud as you can, but you will tire pretty fast, plus your voice is not as loud as an emergency whistle.

What kind of whistle should I get for hiking?

Price

When you are getting an emergency whistle for your hiking trips, I would recommend that you don’t go too cheap when choosing one. On the other hand, I am also not saying that you need some kind of top of the line whistle. What I am trying to get across is that your emergency hiking whistle shouldn’t have come from the dollar store. If it is made of cheap materials and quality then it could be inadequate for getting someone’s attention in an emergency situation. A decent whistle can be found for a good price if you can find one with good reviews.

Material

One thing to keep in mind is what material is going to be better for hiking. In general, a very durable plastic whistle is going to be better for hiking as opposed to a metal whistle. This is because if you are hiking in a cold environment then blowing the whistle could be uncomfortable. Additionally, metal whistles are more prone to rusting being outdoors for prolonged periods of time.

While plastic is more ideal for emergency hiking, pay close attention to the quality of the plastic. A plastic whistle can probably be found at the dollar store, but the long term functionality could be questionable. Furthermore, higher quality plastic makes for more effective whistles that can make a louder noise.

Noise level

Obviously, as an emergency device, you want your hiking whistle to be pretty loud. Any whistle that can produce a sound of over 100 decibels is probably going to be good enough. Keep in mind that at this level of decibels, you could hurt your ears if you were blowing the whistle for long periods of time, so ideally you should cover your ears when using it.

Color

Believe it or not, color is an important feature of an emergency hiking whistle. You should get a whistle that is a bright and unnatural color so that it is easy to find. This can be particularly helpful in the dark. Stay away from darker colored whistles and whistles with natural colors if you can since they are hard to spot. I think orange is probably the best color for an emergency whistle.

Portability

Most whistles you find are going to meet this criterion, but you want to make sure that your whistle can attach to your pack and that the strap is strong enough to last so you don’t end up losing your whistle. 

How to properly use your whistle in case of an emergency

There is a universally known whistle code that signals an emergency situation. If you are in an emergency situation and need to use your whistle to call for help then follow these simple steps:

The three blast S.O.S method:

1. Blow loud for 3 seconds

-Pause for 4 seconds

2. Blow loud for 3 seconds.

-Pause for 3 seconds

3. Blow loud for 3 seconds

-Pause for 30 seconds or so.

Repeat.

This is called the three blasts distress method and it is pretty much known around the world as a distress signal and a call for help. Ideally, if someone hears your distress calls then they would respond with two whistle blasts. You would repeat each other’s calls until you are found.

There are many other codes that have been developed using whistle blasts, but for the most part, you need to know that three equal blasts mean S.O.S or “help!”.

How to maintain your emergency whistle so it lasts for years

You shouldn’t need to replace your whistle very often at all if you take care of it. Give it a quick inspection each time before you leave for your hiking trip to make sure that everything is in working order. Maintaining your emergency whistle is simple. If it gets wet, then dry it as soon as you can. If it gets dirty, then clean it as soon as you can.

Simply run your whistle under some water or place it in a sink of water occasionally. Be sure to let it completely dry out by wiping it down afterward. You always want to make sure that there is no trapped debris inside of your whistle. Lastly, always do a quick operation check before each hiking trip.

Related Questions:

Should you carry a mirror while hiking?

Signal mirrors can be a helpful device to carry while hiking. Intense backpackers in particular, usually like carrying signal mirrors. Mirrors often come as a combination with other gear such as small compasses.

Do whistles scare bears, mountain lions, or coyotes?

Typically, a whistle is a poor deterrent of predatory animals such as bears, mountain lions, or coyotes. Don’t rely on your emergency whistle to act as a safety device against such animals. Instead, you should follow proper procedures for encounters with these wild animals.

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Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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