“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.
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…