Bright colors have their place in our personal gear loadout. Whether hunting, day hiking, canoeing, or out shooting for the day, finding gear in the brush or low light is important. This goes beyond gear: Finding lost people is even more important.
The tactical and outdoor gear industries have been predominantly using black, OD green, and camouflage for their gear, which doesn’t help casual outdoorsmen who want to keep their gear visible. Lucky for us, more color options exist now than there were ten years ago for backpacks, tents, knives, and clothing.
A camper or survival student usually hits the woods determined to blend in with the wilderness. Donning green, black or camo, he rarely thinks of the slight chance he may need to be seen for emergency reasons or to find his own way back to camp or vital gear. Clothing and backpacks that blend in will not help Search and Rescue (SAR) efforts should he become lost.
I’ve seen students come into a survival class completely camouflaged from head to toe, with a camo pack, knife, and tarp/tent. When we discuss practical signaling in case of an emergency, we point out the importance of having at least something on the body that is very bright to contrast with the environment.
If a person sustains an injury, it is difficult to find them under any circumstances, but when they are wearing earthy colors, the chances of finding them decrease even more. If they had brightly colored clothes or pack, they would be much easier to locate.
When packing for any outdoors trip (unless doing covert operations), include something that can be mounted up high on a pole or hung from a tree or trail marking to catch attention on land or from the air.
The backpacking world has come to recognize the need to be seen. Gossamer Gear, a backpacking company that has made its reputation with ultralight backpacking gear such as backpacks, sleeping mats, tarps, and accessories, has been offering bright royal blue and white gear for years. A lost person walking or hiking with a bright-colored backpack is a walking beacon for attracting attention that could save their life.
Over the past eight years, a plethora of knife companies have made high-visibility tools part of their product lineups. ESEE Knives made the pink Izula knife part of the mainstream knife world back in 2008.
Soon after, a horde of companies, including Spyderco, TOPS, Benchmade, KA-BAR, and many custom companies realized the need to make their tools visible to the average Joe, who was not engaging in covert operations but just enjoying the outdoors. From blade coatings to sheaths and handle materials, many production knife companies have added orange, pink, bright venom green, blue, red, purple, and everything in between to their products.
One custom knifemaker who has taken high visibility to an über level is Dan Eastland of Dogwood Custom Knives, with his groundbreaking handle materials. Dan told me he has crawled around in debris looking for his knife, hoping to find the handle before the blade, many times. His development of what he calls Firefly is a game changer.
Firefly is a proprietary material that provides eight to ten hours of glow from 30 minutes of direct sunlight. The bright-colored resin makes it highly visible in dim or dark lighting. Dan said that having chunks suspended in the handle increases the surface area of the glow material.
Firefly is very resistant to the elements. Small pieces that have been drilled out are being tested as hammock attachments to help see the lines in the dark or as zipper pulls for a backpack or pouch. Dan said they would also make handy trail markers.
Imagine a lost hunter or hiker who is hunkered down using earthy colors for his tarp or tent, and a search party comes along while he is asleep. It would be very hard to find the person in the day, not to mention in dim light. This is a case where bright orange, blue, or yellow (in some environments) shines.
Call it a rescue beacon that works while you are sheltered and sleeping. Or if you make camp and set out to explore or look for a source of wood, a bright-colored shelter is easier to see on the way back from a distance. Many times I’ve gone somewhat far from camp for tinder, only to end up a little “off course.”
My bright yellow tarp and royal blue backpack hanging from a tree stood out and acted as a lighthouse, keeping me moving in the right direction. Having equipment that contrasts with snow, green vegetation (jungle), desert, and woodlands is a must for any serious outdoorsman, even if it means having only one brightly colored item.
Getting found if injured or finding loved ones may depend on the ability to signal for help. A brightly colored tarp that blows in the wind when held up over one’s head or lashed to a stick catches the eye of anyone who sees it and can bring the assistance needed.
Hats and scarves do the same thing, but when it comes to emergency signaling, the bigger the better.
It happens: People make a camp or set out from an established hunting camp or cabin and get lost. If you can break away from the colors that blend in and instead bring along something bright that contrasts with the environment, you’ll be ahead of the game if an emergency arises and you need to be found.
SAR will thank you for it!