Survival Guru

Wednesday, August 03, 2011 11

Q: Can I use a cell phone to call for help in the wilderness?

What are your thoughts on using cellphones to call for rescue in the wilderness? Would I be better with a satellite phone instead?

By: Question from: The Editors, Santa Fe, New Mexico
iPhone
iPhone Photo: William Hook/Flickr

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Outside GOOur hottest adventure-travel tips and trips. Sent occasionally.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Subscribe
to Outside
Save Over
70%

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!

Advertisement

Four-Star Camp Food

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

A:

A few years ago, I would have said to forget about using a cellphone in the backcountry since reception was so limited, particularly in the western U.S. That has changed; even remote regions like the Navajo Nation in Arizona have cell-towers. You're still limited if you're in the bottom of a canyon or between mountain passes. That’s where an Iridium satellite phone would come into play. I have used sat phones in narrow canyons and other places where cellphone reception isn’t available.

Even if you don't have reception, your cell phone can alert rescuers to your location. A lost dayhiker in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix was found by rescuers after they used night-vision goggles to locate her illuminated cellphone screen from two miles away. In another case in the mountains of Oregon, a stranded motorist and her two children were located by plane after technicians triangulated her cellphone transmissions. (She may not have been able to get a signal, but her phone was periodically "checking in" with a nearby tower.)

If you'll be traveling in a remote area, I recommend bringing backup signaling items such as a sat phone, signal mirror, and ACR Strobe light. If you get lost and your cellphone gets reception, great. If not, keep in mind the above stories and continue to use your cell throughout the ordeal as you never know what capabilities searchers have on their end.

 

More at Outside

Next in Adventure (10 of 101)

How do you make a plant-fiber rope?

Read More »
Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.