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Technology can sometimes get you into trouble and it can sometimes get you out of it. A lot of experienced preppers will caution those journeying into the outdoors to not rely on technology too much, I tend to agree. But no matter what someone says about technology, almost everyone carries a smartphone wherever they go.
It follows that if you get into a survival situation, there is a good chance you will have a smartphone on your person. It’s said that in a survival situation, a person should take stock of absolutely everything they have, and in this article, I want to discuss some of the ways a smartphone can help you out.
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1. Call For Help
Yeah, I know, using a smartphone to call for help during an emergency is pretty darn obvious. But let’s make it a little more difficult and say that the phone can’t get a signal. Without a constant signal, you will not be able to place a call.
However, even without a signal, certain applications may still open, such as your email or a texting application. Open these applications, type out your message, and send it. Without a signal, the message will stay in “pending” or “sending” mode and won’t actually be sent. But through your activities, you may stumble upon an area where there is a brief window that the phone can get a signal. When this happens, the message will be sent.
Additionally, it requires more data or more of a signal for a call to get through than it does for a text message. So, even if you can’t place a call, you should always attempt to send a text message.
In a situation like this where a steady back and forth conversation cannot take place, be sure that the information is direct and to the point because you may only get one chance.
For example, someone might send the following message, “Help, I’m lost.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with this message, but if it were the only message that could be sent, it wouldn’t be very helpful to potential rescuers.
A better message would be something like, “I need help. My last known position was thirty miles west of Highway 64 just past the bend in the river. Right leg is broken, don’t have any supplies and not wearing weather-appropriate clothing.”
This lets the person know that you need help, your medical status, approximate location, that you are unprepared, and that you are in immediate danger if the weather turns bad.
2. Shine Some Light
Being in the dark can be uncomfortable for some and operating in the dark can be dangerous for everyone. As long as you have a working smartphone, you have two sources of light.
The first source is the flash component of the camera. Within the phone, there is an application that turns the flash into a flashlight.
If for some reason the flash stops working there is one more option, and that is to use the screen itself as a light source. Simply turn the phone around and point the screen in the direction you need to see. Screens on a smartphone can be quite bright, but they are no flashlight. They will work best in extremely low light situations and only to see at very close range.
3. Download Useful Information
Every year, phones are able to store more and more information. Other than storing pictures, videos, music, and games, a phone can store other useful information that can be helpful in a survival situation. If it is downloaded directly to the phone, then the information can be accessed without a network connection.
Some helpful information to download to your phone would include topics such as:
- How to procure food
- How to find water and make it potable
- First aid and other medical information
- Building a shelter
- Making knots and other tools
- How to start a fire
Individual documents covering the topics above can be downloaded and stored on the phone, or you could download a couple of outdoor/survival apps. These apps can be great because they include much of the above information, and they work without a network connection.
The important step to remember is to download all this information before you find yourself in the midst of an emergency or survival situation.
4. Take a Snapshot
You might not think a camera would be useful in a survival situation, but since there is one on your smartphone, you might as well use it.
Did you eat something that made you sick and you don’t want to forget what it looks like? Take a picture of it.
If you are fortunate enough to have a physical map, take a photo of it. This way you will have a backup map in case the original map gets destroyed or lost.
When you are on the move to find resources or self-rescue, take photos of the path or prominent landmarks to avoid backtracking or becoming more lost.
5. Using a Dead Phone
At this point, all the uses for the smartphone were dependent on the phone having power. I would guess that most people don’t carry an extra battery pack or portable solar panels to keep their phone charged. If you don’t then it is a great idea to plan for that.
If you are not rescued, at some point the phone’s battery will be drained or the phone may fall into a stream or it will break for a variety of reasons. So, does that mean the phone is useless and should be ditched? Not necessarily.
While every phone is different, the following ideas are ways to make a dead phone useful and should work for most smartphones.
6. Signal For Help
A signal mirror isn’t any more complex than an object with a reflective surface. Signal mirrors are all about getting someone’s attention through visual cues and there are two ways to use a smartphone to grab someone’s attention.
The first way is by using the phone just as you would with a signal mirror. The large screen will be your best bet at reflecting sunlight in the direction of potential help. Although depending on the color or finish of the outside of the phone, the backside could be used as well.
The second way is to leave the phone in an open area, say on top of a rock or in a clearing, where it could be spotted by a SARs member or someone passing by. A phone should stick out against the natural background to someone using binoculars to slowly survey the area.
Lastly, if the phone is still functioning, the flashlight could also be used as a signaling device.
7. Make a Cutting Implement
There are components of a smartphone that could be fashioned into a cutting tool, but the phone will need to be broken into for you to accomplish this, so be sure your phone is dead and gone before doing this. If at all possible, try to find something to pry the phone apart rather than smashing the phone against some rocks. This will help to keep the components intact and prevent them from spilling all over the ground.
The three things that could be used to create a cutting tool are the screen, circuit board, and any pieces of metal that are sufficiently large enough.
Choose the piece of material that you want to make the tool out of and begin shaping it and sharpening it by grinding its edges against a semi-rough rock.
This isn’t going to produce a “badass survival knife” that can be abused from dawn until dusk, but it will provide a tool with a point or sharp edge.
8. Make a Compass
Here is one method for making an improvised compass in the wild.
- Find yourself a thin piece of metal such as a pin or needle.
- Next, rub the metal many times against a magnet in one direction, this will magnetize the metal.
- Now, find a calm puddle of water and place a leaf or piece of grass on top of the water and then place the piece of metal on top of that.
- The magnetized metal will cause the leaf to rotate and the needle will align itself in a north-south direction.
- The direction in which the magnet was run along the needle will be pointing north.
How does a phone help you with this? Because there are small magnets and pieces of metal inside of them. The magnets can be located around the end of the phone where the speakers are. Once the magnets have been removed, use them to magnetize a piece of metal that you already have or one obtained from the phone and the above steps to make an improvised compass.
9. Starting A Fire
There is a relatively simple way to start a fire using just a battery and a piece of metal. To do this, place one end of the metal on one battery terminal and place the other end of the metal on the other battery terminal.
This technique is usually shown by using a 9-volt battery and some fine steel wool. I don’t think many people usually carry steel wool with them and a 9-volt battery isn’t what is in a smartphone, but the above technique may still work even if the battery is getting low on juice.
After prying the phone apart, locate the battery and remove it. The terminals on a phone battery are usually located on the same end and should look like small, gold-plated, rectangles. The terminals may not be labeled but the positive terminal should be on one side, and the negative terminal should be on the opposite side.
Now use a small piece of metal such as an aluminum gum wrapper, aluminum foil, steel wool, or similar piece of metal scavenged from inside of the phone to touch each terminal. Depending on the size and shape of the metal, it may just get hot enough to combust some tinder or it may even produce a flame.
Two quick notes about using this method. Be sure to have plenty of extremely dry tinder available because the flame that is produced may not last that long. Also, be extremely careful when performing this because there is the possibility that the battery itself could overheat and burst.
The best ways in which a smartphone can help you in a survival situation are going to depend on the phone being functional and having battery power.
This is why I cannot stress enough to prepare your phone before you ever leave your house. It is a good idea to invest in a screen protector, a durable phone case that will protect the phone from impacts, and an alternative power source such as an extra battery pack or portable solar panels to keep the battery charged.
I hope this article has helped you to see some different ways to use a smartphone in case you ever find yourself in a survival situation. If you have any questions, thoughts, or other ways that a smartphone can be used in a survival situation let us know by leaving a comment below.
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