Using Emergency Flares For Hiking and Backpacking

While flipping through an old backpacking magazine I got to a page discussing the benefits of carrying emergency flares. They talked about a bunch of different reasons why you should carry flares in your pack.

As somebody who’s never even thought about carrying flares, I started wondering if I was missing something. Do backpackers and hikers still carry emergency flares? I’ve never heard of anybody carrying them, but that doesn’t mean anything. So I started asking around and quickly found out why nobody I knew carried emergency flares.

Should Hikers and Backpackers Carry Emergency Flares?

There’s really no reason for backpackers and hikers to ever carry emergency flares. They’re heavier and not as effective as modern signaling devices and they’re downright dangerous. Nowadays you can get most of the benefits of flares at a fraction of the price.

Perhaps a better question might be: Why do you think you need flares? What function would they serve and could that be served by something else? Is there ever an appropriate time to carry flares?

Modern Alternatives to Flares

Flares haven’t been popular among hikers and backpackers for decades. After the rise of signal lights, personal locator beacons and satellite phones, they just aren’t as useful as they were in the past.

  • Personal Locator Beacon(Or EPIRB): Over the past couple of years personal locator beacons(On Amazon) have significantly dropped in price. Thanks to satellites, PLBs can be used in even the most remote locations on the planet. Just press the emergency button and rescue teams will arrive in minutes.
  • Satellite Phone(Cell Phone): In the past couple of years satellite phones have largely replaced the PLB. They can be used anywhere on the planet and prices have dropped significantly. If you have a long backpacking trip planned you should definitely check out the Garmin Satellite Phones(On Amazon). You have to pay a monthly subscription for the satellite phone plan(like 15$), but you can easily cancel it month-to-month.
  • Emergency Signaling Lights: Most modern-day backpacking headlamps have a strobe function. Even the cheap Black Diamond Headlamp(On Amazon) that I carry has a strobe function and it’s definitely an attention-getter. Why risk burning down the forest when a headlamps strobe lasts longer and attracts more attention.
  • LED Road Flares: In the past 5-10 years LED Flares(On Amazon) have nearly replaced traditional road flares in most areas. With 3 AAA batteries LED Flares last for days and you don’t need to worry about fire damage. Plus they only weigh a couple of ounces.

Flares Can Be Extremely Dangerous

If you’re not careful flares can be extremely dangerous. Although you probably won’t burn yourself, you might burn down the forest. Who knows where that emergency flare will land after it’s shot into the sky. You don’t want to be responsible for a raging forest fire.

There’s No Safe Way to Use a Flare Gun

There’s no easy and safe way to use a flare gun in the backcountry. Shooting a flare gun out in the woods will cause a fire, there’s no avoiding it. Flare guns are designed for marine use only.

When Should I Use a Flare?

Flare guns and road flares are surprisingly heavy(over 1lb) so they don’t make sense for backpacking. However, car campers might want to toss a few road flares(On Amazon) in their emergency roadside pack. Personally, I would prefer LED Road Flares(On Amazon) over traditional, but it’s up to you.