Whistles have developed a bad rap among survivalists, so we’d like to set the record straight. Some claim that only wimps carry these devices, since a truly prepared individual will be able to self-rescue in any scenario. Frankly, this is an ignorant viewpoint, and it seems most common among those who naïvely believe they’re infallible. In reality, there’s always a slim chance that Murphy’s Law will kick in and you’ll end up in a situation you can’t get yourself out of. If that happens, you should be able to make your whereabouts known to anyone in the area. Although calling in the cavalry should never be your primary plan for survival, it’s a necessary contingency for times when all else fails.
In Issue 37, we covered visual rescue signals such as flares, strobes, reflectors, and smoke. These tools are ideal for signaling over long distances — for example, to a helicopter overhead or a ship on the horizon. They’re also suitable for wide-open spaces. On the other hand, audible signals are most valuable at shorter range, especially when visibility is impaired. You might be stranded in a dense forest, stuck at the bottom of a deep ravine, concealed by darkness, or cloaked in a snowstorm. In any case, it’s a good idea to carry at least one of each type of signaling device when you venture off the beaten path.
Whistles are inexpensive, compact, and weigh next to nothing. They can be tucked into a pocket, attached to a keychain, or integrated into other pieces of gear, only to be used if circumstances get dire. More importantly, they allow you to generate clear and consistent sound that can carry for miles. It sure beats yelling until your vocal cords give out, or attempting to whistle through lips parched by dehydration and exposure.
We collected seven rescue whistles and used a decibel meter to compare the maximum decibel output of each (average of three blasts at 10 feet). Read on and consider whether one of these last-ditch tools deserves a place in your SHTF kit.
Coghlan’s Six Function Whistle
Dimensions: 3.2 by 1.2 by 0.9 inches
Weight: 1 ounce
Maximum Output: 106 dB
Long-time readers may recall that we’re not typically fans of all-in-one survival tools, and this whistle hasn’t changed our minds. The sound is loud and clear, and the liquid-filled compass can help you get your bearings. There’s also a fold-out lens for fire-starting, and the world’s tiniest signal mirror — as last-resort options, they’re better than nothing. A single LED offers weak, bluish light output, and a thermometer indicates ambient temperature. The latter tool is an afterthought; if you’re trying to survive scorching heat or freezing cold, knowing the exact temperature will be near the bottom of your priority list.
- The whistle works great.
- A spare compass is always handy.
- Jack of many trades, master of none, and bulky as a result
- Flashlight is dim, takes obscure SR1121 batteries, and is easy to accidentally activate.
DIY Paracord Bracelet Whistle
Dimensions: 10 by 1 by 0.3 inches
Weight: 1 ounce
Maximum Output: 95 dB
MSRP: Approxamately $15
If things go off the rails, you may not have access to your backpack or even the contents of your pockets. So, we made this paracord bracelet using about 15 feet of 550 cord, a button compass, and a polymer buckle that contains a whistle, ferro rod, and ceramic razor blade/striker. We even slipped two individually wrapped water purification tablets under the compass. All of these items were found in a parts bin, but you can buy the components for a few dollars each on Amazon or eBay. Search “paracord bracelet instructions” online for a DIY weaving guide.
- Wearable design makes it virtually impossible to lose
- Customizable with tools for navigation, fire-starting, water purification, and more
- Ordering and assembling the parts requires more patience than off-the-shelf options
- Mini whistle requires more pressure to produce clear sound
Dimensions: 2.6 by 0.9 inches
Weight: 1.9 ounces
Maximum Output: 80 dB
This keychain-sized device uses a single CR123A lithium battery to produce audible and visual distress signals for up to 72 hours. To activate it, simply twist to loosen the tailcap. A shrill siren blasts from the omnidirectional emitter once every 10 seconds; if it’s dark, a light sensor will also trigger four white LEDs for a 2,000-
lumen flash every 3 seconds. The NWE30 is impact-resistant against 1-meter drops, and IP68 waterproof up to 2 meters of immersion. A battery and key ring clip are included.
- Produces continuous signals with no effort from the user. Just set it and forget it.
- Takes a common battery, so you probably already have spares in your pack.
- Didn’t come close to the advertised 120 dB, and was far quieter than other whistles
- If the battery dies and you don’t have a replacement, it’s useless.
SABRE Personal Alarm with Key Ring
Dimensions: 3.3 by 1 by 0.5 inches
Weight: 0.8 ounces
Maximum Output: 92 dB
Of all the whistles in this guide, this has the most dubious premise. Rather than being marketed as a backcountry signaling device, it’s said to “deter an attacker and help you to escape to safety.” SABRE’s product description even uses the cringeworthy line, “Empower yourself with extreme stopping power when you need it most.” Hyperbolic marketing aside, the alarm is activated by pulling it firmly to separate from the attached key ring pin. Replace the pin to silence the alarm. A National Breast Cancer Foundation pink version is also available, indicating this product’s target demographic.
- Pull-pin operation doesn’t require fine motor skills, and works one-handed
- Perpetuates negative perceptions of rescue whistles. If you want to be truly empowered for self-defense, seek training and lethal/less-lethal tools.
- Requires four tiny, specialized LR41 alkaline batteries
TOPS Knives Survival Whistle
Dimensions: 2.8 by 1.1 by 0.3 inches
Weight: 0.3 ounces
Maximum Output: 110 dB
MSRP: Free with Knife purchase, $15 for 5 pack
Many gear companies include promotional swag with their products — stickers, pens, beer coozies, etc. Whoever thought up the idea of including a free whistle with every TOPS survival knife deserves a raise. It’s something we can actually use, rather than toss in the junk drawer or trash can. This simple polymer whistle feels durable, produces a multi-tonal “train horn”-style sound, and slips into a pocket or knife sheath pouch easily. We were pleased to learn that, just like the company’s knives, these whistles are made in the USA.
- Free with any knife purchase; also available in inexpensive five-packs
- Made in the USA
- Thin rectangular mouthpiece makes it slightly more difficult to produce clear tones
WE Knife A-05B
Dimensions: 2.2 by 0.3 inches
Weight: 0.3 ounces
Maximum Output: 104 dB
If you’re hiking in the backcountry, functionality is much more important than aesthetics, but for everyday-carry tools, we prefer a sleeker appearance. WE Knife nailed it with this slim whistle, which is machined from a solid piece of 6AL-4V titanium. This material makes it light, durable, and reliable. It also looks great, with intricate grooves, a laser-etched logo, and a contoured nozzle. Three flame-anodized colors are available, including purple (model A), blue-bronze (B), and teal (C).
- Machined titanium construction is light and very strong
- Small and stylish enough to remain on your keychain at all times
- Nothing noteworthy — it has one job and does it well.
Weewooday Loud Sound Emergency Whistles for Camping Hiking Hunting Outdoors Sports
Dimensions: 1.8 by 0.3 inches
Weight: 0.1 ounces
Maximum Output: 96 dB
MSRP: $7 for 12 pack
Yet again, we dove into Amazon’s virtual bargain bin to see what low-budget offerings we could uncover. You can make wee-woo noises all day with this aluminum whistle from Weewooday, available in 12-packs straight from China. Black or red anodized finishes are available. Each whistle consists of a thin aluminum tube, a plastic sound insert, and a key ring. The product description says it’s useful for a wide range of purposes, including “contact partner and confirm location,” “anti-harassment,” and “playing with dogs.”
- Low bulk price means you can hand these out like candy on Halloween
- Shoddy machining and assembly left us with some whistles that work fine, and others that barely function at all
- Requires significant pressure to produce a clear tone
MORE POCKET PREPS
- Keychain Tools
- Emergency Signaling Tools
- Gut Hook Knives
- Non-Metallic Weapons
- Impact Tools
- Neck Knives
- Micro Folding Knives
- Glass Breakers
- Knife Sharpeners
- Individual First Aid Kits
- Wallet Sized Tools
- Boot Laces
- CPR Masks
- Money Clip
- Mini Pry Tool