Should I Use A Whistle For Hiking?

A hiking whistle is a nice feature to add to your backpacking gear. They are tools you can use for protection against wildlife, and emergencies to get attention.

According to about 2000 people get lost while hiking each year. Some estimate it’s much higher than that because many go unreported because they find their way out on their own.

Who gets lost and why? Here are a handful of interesting statistics:

  • Hikers who start between 2-3 pm.
  • Mostly men.
  • Men ages 20-25 and 50-60.
  • More people are lost between June and September.
  • February and March are the most dangerous (in terms of deadly).

These are important stats to know. Even more important is why people get lost. According to

  • 41 % wandered off the trail
  • 17 % became lost in “bad weather,” 
  • 16 % fell off the trail
  • 8 % became separated from their group
  • 7 % were injured
  • 6 % were caught by the setting sun 5 percent cited loss or failure of equipment
  • 1 % cited other causes

The video below shares the story of a group who were lost for a few days in xxxx.

The majority of these situations were avoidable. Although any of us can get disoriented or lose a trail in the wilderness, there are basic principles to follow and tools to have that minimize your chances of getting lost.

One tool is a whistle. How can a whistle help? In this article we cover the two reasons you need a whistle, how to use one in an emergency. Plus we tell you what to look for in a whistle for hiking.

What is the Whistle on a Backpack for?

The two basic reasons for a hiking whistle are:

1. Protection

Many hikers feel safer having a whistle to deter wildlife, but there is some question if a whistle is effective against larger preditors (Bobcats, Mountain Lions, Bears). The Human Society, however, recommends using a whistle as a deterant. In an article on protecting yourself against Cougars, they write:

Bring along a whistle or an air horn that could help scare away wild animals you may encounter.

Some wildlife professionals believe it can actually attract wildlife likes Mountain Lions and Bobcats.

My wife always wears a whistle around her neck. She blows it in unfamiliar territory and when we are rounding corners (which is recommended). When she sounds it I often quip, ‘Here kitty, kitty!’ She doesn’t like that very much. I’m joking, but it does make a point. Some wildlife will come to see what the noise is all about.

Since the verdict is still out (at least from the professionals I’ve spoken with), do what you are comfortable with. I think a whislte will discourage an attack if it is used in conjunction with other practical tips when encountering wildlife.

The most important protection in the wild is bear spray, a knife, or gun. Make sure you know the gun carry laws in your area before you enter a trail.

Perhaps the best deterant to ‘wild cats’ is your own voice. Studies done in California revealed Mountains would abandon their prey if they heard human voices. You can read the results of the study here. Most wildlife see humans as a ‘superior preditor‘ so they are more afraid of us than we should be of them. Just don’t be dumb; they are wild. Which means unpredictable.

I bring this up to make the point: Anything you can do to set yourself apart and make yourself more dominate, the better. A whistle can play a role in presenting yourself as superior.

The Effectiveness of Bear Spray

Dr. Charles Preston of Golden Eagle Research says bear spray is more effective than a gun.

Bear spray is more effective in more attacks…where the person being attacked used bear spray, more than 90% of those folks escaped unscathed.

There were a few injuries, and no fatalities when people used bear spray in those studies.

…Using firearms to fend off an attack, with a long gun it’s a little over 70% effective, and with a handgun its about 84% effective.

While whistles can be a preventative tool when hiking, having bear spray is essential. For detailed information on the effectiveness of bear spray, read this article from The Wildlife Society.

2. Emergency 

The second reason to carry a whistle is for a signal device in case of emergency. A whistle is louder than the human voice and can be heard at much further distance. It is recommended to carry a whistle for emergency situations when you need to call for help.

Where to Carry a Whistle While Hiking

My wife carries one around her heck. Others suggest hanging it from your backpack. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. In the long run, I prefer to have one on my person. If I’m separated from my backpack (could happen in a number of scenarios), I have access to it because it is on me.

What To Look For In A Hiking Whistle

Emergency hiking whistle
CCO License Media Cloud Pro | Unsplash_21_02_17_1_17_41

Because your hiking whistle is part of your toolkit, it needs to meet certain criteria.

1. It needs to be durable

No need playing around with a cheap plastic whistle from Dollar General. You need something that will last a long time and weather the storms of your hiking journeys.

We recommend a stainless steel or high durable plastic whistle.

2. It needs to be waterproof

You want to make sure your whistle works in all weather conditions, especially water.

Most emergency situations are due in some part to weather related events. Your equipment needs to work in severe weather events. Make sure your whistle is waterproof so you do not have a malfunction when you need it most.

3. It needs to be loud enough

Your whistle should be about 110 decibles. Under normal conditions this can be heard up to 1.5 miles.

To compare, most referee whistles are between 113 and 127 decibles.

What Are The Proper Hiking Whistle Signals?

It’s important to know how to use your whistle in an emergency. It’s not enough to ‘just blow it.’ You need to understand the basic emergency codes (language) of a whistle.

Here are the basics:

  • Three (3) long blasts lasting 3 seconds each = Help Me.
  • Two (2) long blasts = Come Here.
  • One (1) long blast = Where Are You?

The most important to remember is the standard distress signal is three long blasts.

Some people prefer to use the SOS morse code. Many believe SOS stands for ‘Save Our Ship’ or ‘Save Our Souls.’ This is not correct. But that’s really not the point. It is a universal distress signal. It is represented by 3 dots plus 3 dashes plus 3 dots.

That translates to three short blasts with a whistle, followed by three longer blasts, then three more short blasts.

To keep things simple, most hikers use the standard distress call of three long blasts.

In this video, Alaska Granny demonstrates how to do a distress signal with a whistle.

What is the Best Hiking Whistle?

For years I carried a cheap whistle I purchased at Walmart. It worked. For a while. I eventually decided to invest in something more durable and dependable. The last thing you need is a whistle that won’t work in an emergency situation.

The Top 5 Recommendations from Morning Hiker

These are top rated whistles for hikers, campers, and survivalist. Each one is an excellent choice for protection and emergency situations.

Recommendation #1: Green Survival Whistle

This 7-in-1 survival whistle is the ultimate whistle to keep with you at all times. It’s the only one you’ll ever need. It can be used as:  The Whistle to call for help.  The Whistle to alert people to danger.  It can also serve as a Self-defense Whistle  to defend yourself if attacked.  

This SE 7-IN-1 Green Survival Whistle is a great, compact self-rescue whistle for your keychain or to keep in your purse or backpack. It is made of plastic and has a bright green color. It can be purchased as a single unit or as a 4-Pack. It comes with a lanyard so you can wear or hang the unit. The SE 7-IN-1 Green Survival Whistle is very loud and can be heard from a long distance.

SE 7-IN-1 Green Survival Whistle – CCH7-1G

  • Includes: whistle, magnifier, flashlight, storage container, compass, thermometer, and signaling mirror
  • Green plastic body
  • Batteries and lanyard are included
  • Compact and lightweight for easy storage and transportation


Recommendation #2: Emergency Zone 5-in-1 Survival Whistle

The Emergency Zone 5-in-1 Survival Whistle is a tool designed to be used in any emergency situation. It is a must-have accessory for your survival pack, glove box, and home.

This emergency whistle produces five different sounds to alert rescuers to your location in the event of an emergency. The whistle is easy to blow, and the emergency pea produces a loud, shrill sound. This whistle includes a wrist lanyard for easy use.

Emergency Zone 5 in 1 Survival Whistle.

  • SHRILL WHISTLE: What happens when you are lost in the woods and need help? A SIGNAL WHISTLE is the very thing that could alert rescuers to your location.
  • COMPASS: This nifty tool comes with a COMPASS that can help give you the direction you need
  • CONTAINER: can hold whatever valuables you want to protect from the wear of the environment.
  • SIGNAL MIRROR: The bright ORANGE color is more visible in certain settings, and can help alert rescuers.
  • FERRO ROD: can help you start a fire to not only keep yourself warm, but also can be used as a smoke signal to give your location.


Recommendation #3: JHY 2 Pack Outdoor Emergency Survival Whistle 

The JHY 2 Pack Outdoor Emergency Survival Whistle can be used as a tool to scare away animals when you are camping, hiking, running and other outdoor sports. The whistle is also a good helper for running, hiking, cycling, camping, backpacking, etc.

This product is an outdoor survival whistle, which is flashlight and compass built in one. It is made of special plastic material and features the IPX-4 waterproof grade. High brightness LED light and rotation compass.

JHY 2 Pack Outdoor Emergency Survival Whistle 

  • EMERGENCY WHISTLE for the safety of hiking and camping trips on a keychain for easy access.
  • GREAT FOR A WHISTLE EMERGENCY. Great survival whistle for Rescue in emergency situations.
  • EASY USE HIKING WHISTLE – Takes less effort to make a loud whistle sound.


Recommendation #4: LuxoGear Emergency Whistle

Whistle for all outdoor activities, hiking, camping, etc. The whistle is made of polycarbonate, and the lanyard is made of polyester. The whistle is lightweight. The polycarbonate body is impact and water resistant. The super loud whistle helps to alert others of danger. The whistle has a lanyard for easy carrying.

LuxoGear Emergency Whistles with Lanyard Safety Whistle

  • SUPER LOUD survival whistle: double tubes emergency whistle, high pitched powerful noise maker with dual sound chambers, can provide up to 120 decibel dB sound power, enough to be heard over a mile away.
  • PEALESS DESIGN means no moving parts, nothing to obstruct sound, and nothing to jam, break or freeze.
  • ADJUSTABLE REFLECTIVE LANYARD and CLIP, high visibility even in the dark with slider button to adjust length around neck, long lanyards can easily loop through backpack.
  • SUPER DURABLE high impact ABS plastic construction ensures strong durability and complete waterproof moisture resistance.


Recommendation #5: Michael Josh Ourdoor Emergency Whistle

This pair of emergency survival whistles is designed to keep you safe in any survival situation. When hiking, biking, camping, hunting, or for any other outdoor activity, these loudest whistle can get your attention and signal for help. The compact, lightweight design allows you to carry it with you anywhere.

Michael Josh 2PCS Outdoor Loudest Emergency Survival Whistles

  • Louder Sound,double tubes can provide up to 150 decibels,can be heard for far distance.
  • Strong and Durable,stainless steel material ensures the whistle durable
  • Good Environmental adaptability – The whistle has no built-in pea ,so it will not mold and breed bacteria because of the pea.You can use it in any dust or dirty water environment
  • Convenient and practical,with kering and carabiner keychain,can tie on your backpack,belt.


Final Thoughts on Why A Hiking Whistle Is Important

A whistle may be a small part of your hiking gear, but it can be a great safety tool in an emergency.

In this article we talked about the purpose of a hiking whistle and how to use one in an emergency. We also gave you three requirements for a good whistle.

For more hiking gear recommendations, visit our shop.

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