On a recent winter backpacking trip there was some confusion and danger of separation of the group.

The group had not walked together before. Some members were not very experienced, while others were quite fit.

The group separated several times, during night time. Later days there were fogs.

This gets me wandering, is there a standard set of signals between mountaineers in the range 500m - 10km with a flashlight. As, for example, this site, demonstrates body signalling at distance.

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Here is a list of the messages that I anticipate to be often useful in hiking, climbing emergencies:

Reverse SOS

  • We are here. (Because of poor visibility) we will stay stationary. Safety is this way. We are waiting for you.


  • Who are you?
  • I am number 8.
  • I am the last in the walking line.


  • I understand and agree.
  • I do not understand or do not agree.


  • How are you doing?
  • Everything is OK, we are proceeding as planned.
  • We have a problem, but there is no danger.
  • We are in danger. Help.

Most people can't work with Morse code, and even a printed sheet of the code would be impractical without previous training.

My question is is there a similar system of signals? Something like a circle with the flashlight, pointing something with the beam or a cross with the flashlight.

  • Note that by mountaineering I mean any activity in the mountains/nature. I did not know the true meaning of the word until AM_Hawk's post.
    – Vorac
    Jan 4, 2014 at 23:52

2 Answers 2


I cannot say if there are standard signals between mountaineers, however from hiking I know the following three light signals are used:

  1. Warning: Wave the flashlight back and forth to signal a warning to those around you. Use this signal when you spot a potential danger such as a wild animal, steep cliff or unsafe terrain.

  2. OK:Point your flashlight toward the ground, holding the flashlight by your side. Draw a circle on the ground using the light emitted by your flashlight as a pen. Use this signal to inform those around you that everything is okay.

  3. Distress: Three flashes in a row will generally indicate to any onlooker that you’re in need of help. You can also use the Morse code signal for distress, which is three short blasts, three long blasts and three more short ones.

  • @vorac Sorry for not addressing the Mountaineering aspect of your question. I felt it necessary to point out the light signals that I have been taught for hiking. I'm looking forward to seeing an answer regarding mountaineering specific signals, if any, as I am an aspiring mountaineer. Great Question Vorac!
    – AM_Hawk
    Jan 4, 2014 at 21:21

Mountain distress signals vary slightly depending on what country you're in. In the UK, the general distress signal is to use a whistle (Alpine distress signal), not a torch. This is so it can be identified in poor visibility. Many backpacks come with a whistle integrated into the webbing, the bright orange bit below:

rucksack chest strap buckle incorporating whistle

It's usually 6 blasts of a whistle at roughly one minute intervals.

I think you can do the same thing with a torch if needed but a whistle is generally recommended.

You should only do this if you are in genuine peril as anyone hearing this should immediately make their way to you in order to attempt to help and/or call mountain rescue. Being unsure of other members of your party probably wouldn't constitute a good use of this signal.

  • 1
    I am always grumpy towards people in the mountain/parks, shouting "OH GOD I AM FALLING HELP ... haha, just joking"!
    – Vorac
    Jan 6, 2014 at 20:10

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