The “11th Essential” – A whistle for your walk


Stainless steel emergency survival cartridge whistle

“A whistle is one of those things I always carry and never have had to use. I suppose that’s a good thing.”

That sums up many attitudes about the value of carrying a signal whistle on backpacking trips and hikes.  Personally, I believe the list of “ten essentials” should include this eleventh item.

My informal survey on a backpacking forum produced in an array of answers.  The first made me raise an eyebrow: “…to help scare away a bear.”

I can attest from personal experience that this does not work on at least one Pennsylvania black bear, who might even now still be chuckling it up with his furry buddies about the backpacker whose bluff he called.  Banging pots and pans didn’t work either.

But I digress.

A wise viewpoint mentioned “a whistle gives you the opportunity to ‘scream’ over a prolonged period because it takes much less energy to use a whistle than it is to scream.”  Which makes me think if something in the forest is making you scream would you even be able to use the whistle?  A little Halloweenish there?

According to one hiker a whistle offers a “very small weight to benefit ratio,” and another added that “a whistle is cheap insurance.”

A writer on the forum reminded stated “No whistle thread would be complete without mentioning the universal distress signal…three sharp blows.”

Innovations in backpacking manufacture have resulted in a whistle being placed in the pack harness near the sternum strap.

“I have a (very loud) safety whistle clipped to my shoulder strap where I can blow it without having to un-clip it. It lives there. It’s just a smart thing to have handy…”

“One should have a whistle and have it in a location that is VERY easy to get to, not buried in your pack. I liked the ones I saw standard on Osprey packs. I thought those were perfect.”

Then there’s this tip on the do-it-yourself-found-in-nature type of whistle you can create which suggest you “look for the cap of an acorn. Play with it around the fire and use your thumbs to make a pie shape and blow, loudest whistle ever.”  Lots of free time being used there.

Acorn caps for whistling courtesy Pistruiatu on Flickr

Another school of thought dispenses with the whistle altogether by stating “no bells or whistles needed.”  Yet another entry offered: “Bottom line: Stay ON THE TRAIL, and you would never need a whistle, or a signal mirror, or a flare gun, or a PLB , or a GPS, or anything else on the AT.”

The one I found most compelling was the case for buying a “Storm whistle.”
“The LOUDEST whistle I have ever used is pea-less, and the brand name is ‘Storm’. Whenever I demonstrate it, I have to hold my ears…!!”

“…it’s the same one lifeguards use at the shore…clearly the lightest loudest…whistle on the market.”

Looks interesting; maybe I’ll consider it.

And what survey would be complete without a humorous take on signaling methods on the trail:  “Have you considered smoke signals and banging sticks on a log?”

Nah.  But maybe that “Storm” whistle…

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5 Comments

Filed under Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Backpacking, Hiking, Long distance backpacking, Outdoor skills, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

5 responses to “The “11th Essential” – A whistle for your walk

  1. We are prepping for our first overnight hike. I already had a whistle on my list. Do you have a link to the other 10? Thanks!

    • Check hikesafe.com for more info, but here are the “10 Essentials” for every day trip or longer hike:

      1. Map 2. Compass 3. Warm Clothing :: Fleece and/or Insulated Jacket, Long Pants (wool or synthetic, NOT cotton), Hat (wool) 4. Extra Food and Water 5. Flashlight or Headlamp 6. Matches/Firestarters 7. First Aid Kit/Repair Kit 8. Whistle 9. Rain/Wind Jacket & Pants 10. Pocket Knife

  2. I have had to use my whistle while on the trail in an emergency situation because the rescuers were coming from a different route and couldn’t find us. Thank goodness for it because my friend was suffering from heat stroke and needed attention quickly. I have always carried one and will continue to think it is an essential piece of my gear

  3. Anything that makes you safer on the trail should be considered. Whistles are universally accepted as a means of calling for help. Why not here?

    • Thanks for your input Jack. Even when I take local walks in neighboring forests I carry a whistle. I believe it’s indispensable in town or country when you’re walking.

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