“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and … blow.”
Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, 1944
A simple wolf whistle may have suited old Bogey, but none of us can sustain the energy or ability to keep shouting or whistling without mechanical means for assistance in the event of an accident or when trying to attract attention over distance. For that reason, anyone venturing into the countryside should be carrying a whistle.
A whistle he says, he’s ‘avin’ a laugh! Also, who cares what and which damn whistle is carried? Well, I would argue that a little thought should be given to this essential piece of kit, then purchase the right one, attach it to your pack, belt or hang it round your neck, and promptly forget about it until the, hopefully never realised, time comes to use it.
Three Points of the Compass carries a whistle in his pack. The actual one carried has altered slightly over the years. Usually because I have lost one and simply picked up the next brightest, shiniest one on offer near the till in an outdoors equipment shop.
There are some quite large and chunky whistles available that combine any number of functions- mini compass, mirror, holder for matches etc. However I believe that none of those are a particular benefit. This is one item where dedicated practicality and effectiveness is to the fore. The point of a whistle is to be heard. When looking to change my whistle recently, not only was I looking at effectiveness, I was also looking to shave a few grams off if possible. In really cold weather, a metal whistle can be painful on the lips, even sticking to them. Plastic is a better medium for a whistle, being robust and long lasting, provided the whistle is well made from a reputable manufacturer, such as any of those looked at here.
Pea less whistles have no moving parts that can jam in the whistle body cavity or become gunged up with mud and other grime encountered on the trail, or inside the pack for that matter. While this is perhaps unlikely to occur for most of us, it may be a consideration for some.
The volume stated on some manufacturers websites needs to be taken with more than a pinch of salt. Many manufacturer tests will have been in optimum conditions and a general look around secondary sources seems to indicate that many have failed miserably to replicate claimed ‘loudness’. I had a glance around at those whistles Three Points of the Compass has carried and used in the past, also those whistles that gain favour with many hikers. A whistle is not a particularly expensive piece of kit so I purchased an additional handful and set about trying them out.
The recordings I have made and include below were all made together, in exactly the same circumstance, same amount of ‘puff’, same distance from microphone, same recording volume. I have only edited them in length and recording output is the same for all.
Where you will carry a whistle will also influence your choice- hung from the belt, around the neck, or in the pack. I prefer to carry mine clipped just inside a pack pocket. Obviously not the best location should I be separated from my pack, that is my choice. Therefore, the bulk of a whistle is a secondary concern for me. Just as well it turned out when I tested this small group. Some whistles come with a length of cord or similar, some do not. This is very much of little concern to me. Far better to attach your own length of whatever length and colour you want, or attach a mini ‘biner if that is your choice. If using a neck cord, you may like to consider if it should incorporate a ‘break-away’ in the event of your getting snagged up. Any whistle carted along with you for hundreds of miles should be robust enough to stand rough treatment, work in wet, hot and cold conditions and be easily bought into use. It is no use carrying a whistle and when having to use it in an emergency, finding it almost impossible to use with frozen fingers or gloved hands.
The orange marine safety whistle, or Perry whistle, has been knocking around in various guises for decades. Made of lightweight plastic, it floats, is pea less, and, in common with all those shown here, will work in the wet.
I carried this whistle for quite a few years before moving over to one of the tubular metal whistle that tempted me at the cash-till one day, why, why…
This is a cheap ‘n’ cheerful whistle that is idiot proof to use. It floats and clears easily of any water inside once blown. The long body on the Perry whistle means there is no problem holding it with gloved hands while not blocking the whistle window. It is quite flat in profile and hangs well round the neck with a large 6mm hole through which to pass a length of cordage, split ring or mini-‘biner. The only thing that counteracts its suitability is its performance . I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with the Perry whistle, or the sound emitted, however these days it is only moderate in performance when judged against a couple of the others looked at here.
Fox 40 Micro
The Fox 40 Micro is the smaller version of the popular Fox 40 whistle. Originally developed as a pea-less whistle by Ron Foxcroft while he was a referee, who had experienced problems with his typical refereeing whistle and its pea becoming stuck or clogged with dirt or water. The ’40’ in the company name refers to Foxcroft’s partner at the time- Joe Forte. If the whistle is submerged, once removed from the water, any water in the whistle chambers drains immediately upon blowing the whistle.
The accompanying blurb to this small pea-less whistle states that it ‘cannot be overblown’ and can be heard for miles. Perhaps in perfect conditions I would say. The whistle is too small. Even with the un-gloved hand it is easy to block the side windows on the whistle body, muffling the sound emitted. This small whistle may suit children in a hiking party though. Despite Fox advertising these whistles as emitting 110dB, I don’t believe this, I also find the high pitch a little indistinct, the deeper tone of its larger sibling carries better I believe and would be more noticeable. All that said, there is little to go wrong with this whistle, it is robust and is unlikely to suffer crush damage. The shallow profile also means that it would hang around the neck comfortably. Despite its small size and not being the easiest to blow, this is now my EDC in my work bag, its small size and weight acting in its favour here.
Fox 40 Micro whistle
Combined pack buckle/whistle
5g (though part of a pack suspension system)
Many modern packs; Osprey et al, come with a sternum strap that combines a buckle and whistle. Obviously these are going to be quite modest affairs, some are very small indeed. So it may be questionable as to how effective they are. Well, listen to the recording below. This, admittedly on the larger scale of buckle type whistles, is actually a pretty effective whistle. The sound is sharp, clear and penetrates well.
That said, if you are wearing your pack, the whistle is always convenient and to hand. The sound emitted is quite high pitched and could easily be lost in the surroundings. For any apparent fault, these are a handy back-up to a primary whistle, just not something to be relied on in isolation.
Sternum strap whistle
Lifeventure aluminium whistle
I purchased one of the tubular Lifeventure whistles quite some years ago, not only that, but I also kitted out my family with one each. I may have given a brief toot in the store when I bought it, but it hasn’t touched my lips in all the years since. There any number of versions of this whistle from countless suppliers, many no doubt applying their name to a generic product. You can even find a titanium version if you want, please don’t bother. You may think that this whistle is defective so bad is its sound, but I tried it against two other identical whistles I have and the results were the same. A moderate blow is OK, it is when you really blow that the sound utterly fails to emanate. The suffering from over-blowing is to its detriment.
I was quite shocked to find just how ineffective it was when recording a couple of blasts for this test. A modest puff in a shop may produce a good clean sound, giving it a good blast with the intention of alerting someone simply overwhelms the chamber and results in nothing discernible. Listen to the recording below and you will see what I mean.
Fox 40 Sharx
This is a classic piece of kit. Justifiably so when you hear it. Four internal chambers gives a loud, clear sound and the two slightly different tones emanating from the two sides of the whistle are effective. The harder you blow, the louder the sound.
The Fox 40 Sharx is a good size, fits comfortably in the hand but may be a little bulky in profile to hang comfortably around the neck. The raised plastic bars on the side mean that it is easy to hold in the fingers without obstructing the side windows. It is also possible to get a newer variant of this whistle made of “polycarbonate with co-moulded elastomer for slip resistance“, which will, supposedly, improve handling in the wet. But this carries a weight penalty (almost doubled in weight) and, as whistles go, this basic model isn’t exactly a lightweight. But come on, who is going to complain about carrying a sub 14g whistle!
As to what colour to have, well, take your pick. There are quite a few on offer. The bright red shown is a good choice though.
The cord loop holder offers a choice of attachment methods. All in all, this is a well thought out, well designed and effective whistle. An excellent whistle, it has now become a favourite of mine and accompanies me on Day Hikes.
Fox 40 Sharx whistle
The Jetscream Micro, a flat ‘micro floating whistle’ from US company UST (Ultimate Survival Technologies), is an orange ABS plastic item made in China. It is high pitched if not as high as others reviewed here, and loud when blown with gusto.
Weight is negligible with supplied 140mm loop cord attached, it weighs 3.8g, or 3.2g without. Which is more than the advertised 2.8g, but I am not going to be writing to the manufacturer to complain.
The small hole for the cord is not particularly well orientated for practical use however the flat profile should mean that it is reasonably comfortable if worn round the neck.
Like others here, the sensible bright orange build means that this diminutive whistle should not easily be lost and will float if dropped in the water. However, you want another colour? you got it! There a quite a few variants available.
This is another pea-less design and there is just about nothing that can go wrong with this product, being virtually crush proof.
This whistle has its fans. I am not amongst them. As to its suitability for hiking- I think its small size and moderate sound work well if utilised as a keychain item, or if the preference is for something to be worn around the neck, which I do not. It is small, and therefore it is possible to block the side windows with fingers, however the design of the whistle makes this less likely an occurrence.
Jetscream Micro whistle
Storm Whistles- Wind Storm
The Wind Storm from Storm Whistles is the smaller sibling of the famed Storm whistle. The Storm whistle is a quite phenomenal piece of kit, however I felt it was too large and slightly heavy to consider it here. Hence my looking at the smaller Wind Storm (right) instead. This smaller whistle is advertised as being the second loudest whistle on the market, the loudest being the Storm. Listening to them both, I can quite believe the hype. The Wind Storm comes in three colours; black, yellow and orange. I purchased the latter as it is a safety item and not the time to be looking at more muted colours. The quoted statistics, on paper, appear less impressive than some rivals- 103dB that ‘can be heard up to a half mile away’, however these appear to be verifiable statistics, and again, you only need to hear this whistle in comparison to the others to appreciate its effectiveness. As to the capability of being heard up to fifty feet away under water, I am not sure that many hikers are going to put that to the test.
There are two main chambers in the design of this whistle, an upper chamber that contains a ‘pea’ and a lower resonance chamber. The ‘pea’ or small ball inside the chamber creates a pulse in the whistle cavity. The resultant sound is multiple in tone and really carries well. My notes on this read- “good rumbling multi-tone that reverberates“- not sure what I mean by rumbling, but it certainly reverberates. Another whistle that can not be over-blown- the harder you blow, the louder the sound.
You can see the seal joining the two halves of the body together. I am unsure how much stress this would take compared to the almost crushproof capabilities of other whistles looked at here.
When this arrived in the post, I held it in my hand, compared with the others looked at and thought ‘no-way’, it was just so much more bulky. However, having blown it, heard it, and compared it. It is the Wind Storm that now finds its way into my pack for longer excursions into the back-country. Note that while seemingly bulkier, it is more that the shape gives an initial bulky appearance, it lacks the smooth almost uninterrupted lines of many whistles. The Wind Storm is more ergonomically suited for use as a whistle, being easier to hold and blow. It also actually comes in a little lighter than the also excellent Fox 40 Sharx. Should the pea design on the Wind Storm ever prove problematic, and my belief is that it will not, then the pack sternum strap incorporating a whistle is there for back-up
Wind Storm whistle
The International Distress Signal
By way of reminder, the International Mountain Distress Signal is six three-second blasts of a whistle followed by a minutes silence, then repeated. The reply is three whistles. Keep blowing so that location can be determined. In North America the distress call is usually three blasts of a whistle with two as a reply.
Many people are more familiar with the Morse Code ‘S.O.S-‘. Three short blasts, three long blasts, three short blasts. While correct in a maritime environment, it is not correct on the trail. That said, who is going to mind? It is still a repeated three blasts and most people will know what it means.
On no account should a distress signal be used ‘in jest’ as it is quite easy to put others in either danger or at least greatly inconvenienced.
A whistle can also be used for general communication, just be careful not to put blasts too close together or they are likely to be mistaken for distress. Also, try not to use whistles with impunity, they are intentionally loud, and can be quite obtrusive to other hikers, perhaps hidden from you. A single blast asks- ‘where are you‘? Two blasts request ‘come to me‘.
I stated at the beginning of this post that I was hoping to shave a few grams off the weight of the whistle carried, instead, I ended up with a whistle that is far more suited to the job in hand- i.e. making a racket in the event of an emergency.
Not only do the majority of the whistles tested produce at least reasonable results, as would many others on the market, but two in particular stood out as quite supreme items- these were the Fox 40 Sharx and the Wind Storm. One is pea less the other has a pea. Both are almost, if not quite, perfect. You pays your money and makes your choice…
As for Three Points of the Compass. I will now carry the Fox 40 Sharx on Day Hikes and the larger, lighter, Wind Storm on extended, multi-day hikes. It is on the latter that I am more likely to be getting off the well-beaten track. With not only a lower number of people within earshot, but potentially, a greater risk to myself due to the terrain.