The Best Signal Mirrors for Prepping and Survival

If you are stranded in a coastal state and can only have one small item with you, you want a signal mirror. This small tool is versatile, functional, and an important inclusion in emergency and survival kits. A regular mirror is not quite as good as a signal mirror, but we’ll get into that difference below.

Besides finding the best signal mirror for prepping and survival we explain what signal mirrors are and how to use them. We also give a few options for various budgets, and even suggest a great small-profile signal mirror for EDC use.

We have conducted hundreds of hours of research and testing on survival signal mirrors, finding great values and the best-of-the-best along the way. If you find yourself in an emergency needing to signal for help, one of our signal mirror recommendations will get the job done.


Contents (Jump to a Section)


Coghlan's Survival Signal Mirror

The Best Signal Mirror

Coghlan’s Survival Signal Mirror

Well Designed, Well Built, Rugged

A solid pick for any survival kit. This mirror rivals top-of-the-line mirrors with half the cost. The retroreflective grid makes flashing small targets far away easy for anyone.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Coghlan’s Survival Signal Mirror is your standard 2″ x 3″ signal mirror, but is made of glass, has a waterproof coating, lanyard hole, and the important retroreflective sighting grid that makes aiming extremely easy.

In 2010, Coghlan bought out the Vector I design and added it to their lineup. Signal mirrors made prior to 2010 in the Coghlan line would not be recommended- since they are not watertight nor as effective. After this buyout, Coghlan’s and the MIL-M-18371E from SI Howard (our Upgrade Pick) are the only manufacturers that make glass heavy duty signal mirrors.


UST Marine Micro StarFlash Mirror

EDC Signal Mirror

UST Marine Micro StarFlash Mirror

Small, Lightweight, Tough

This 1.5″ x 2″ acrylic mirror is lightweight and tough as nails. This small profile and lightweight makes it ideal for EDC or small survival kits.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

UST (Ultimate Survival Technologies) has a lot of survival gear at inexpensive prices. The Micro StarFlash mirror is one of their more popular items. It is the smallest mirror on the market with a retroreflective sighting aperture. Other equipment they manufacture include:

  • LED Lights
  • Complete Survival Kits
  • Fire Starters
  • Emergency Shelters
  • Navigation and Signal Devices
  • Cutting Tools
  • Camp Kitchen Tools and Stoves
  • Insect Protection

The Micro StarFlash mirror is a very effective reflective device, and can serve as a small camp mirror as well as a long distance signal mirror. In our tests, this mirror could be easily detected from over one mile away. If you need to go further than that, a larger and glass mirror will serve you better (see our Best and Upgrade picks). Still, you won’t get the small size and lightweight profile from other models.


MIL-M-18371E Signal Mirror

Upgrade Signal Mirror

MIL-M-18371E Emergency Signal Mirror

MIL-SPEC, Waterproof, Glass

The plastic mirrors can all take a step back- this military issued mirror is what operators use all over the world. With the ability to flash signals up to 50 miles away, this mirror is durable and proven.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

The MIL-M-18371E comes in two sizes: 2″ x 3″ and 3″ x 5″. The military issues the smaller size for mobile loadouts, while the larger signal mirror is stowed in vehicle or in-place kits. The retroreflective sighting grid makes aiming quick and effective. Everyone who has used a signal mirror knows that this is the best-of-the-best, justifying the price tag.

SI Howard manufactures the signal mirror glass to a high specification. The cross hatch center allows for precise aiming. The glass coating is chip and scratch proof, and the entire signal mirror is waterproof, and comes with a waterproof pouch for additional protection and convenient storage. With instructions printed on the back the mirror is fool-proof even in the most stressful emergency situation. Since this mirror is also military issue, you may be able to find a used one as military surplus, which is worth checking.


Everything We Recommend

Coghlan's Survival Signal Mirror

Coghlan’s Signal Mirror

A solid pick for any survival kit. This mirror rivals top-of-the-line mirrors with half the cost. The retroreflective grid makes flashing small targets far away easy for anyone.

Where to Buy

$15* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

UST Marine Micro StarFlash Mirror

UST Marine Micro Mirror

This 1.5″ x 2″ acrylic mirror is lightweight and tough as nails. This small profile and lightweight makes it ideal for EDC or small survival kits.

Where to Buy

$12* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

MIL-M-18371E Signal Mirror

MIL-M-18371E Signal Mirror

The plastic mirrors can all take a step back- this military issued mirror is what operators use all over the world. With the ability to flash signals up to 50 miles away, this mirror is durable and proven.

Where to Buy

$27* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing


What is a Signal Mirror?

A signal mirror is a reflective device that uses the sun or other light source to send a light signal to a second party.

Signal mirrors have several applications with their ability to send silent signals long distances without any electronics or moving parts. The two most popular applications are:

  • Military Operations
  • Emergency Survival

We focus on emergency survival, looking to attract attention and notify potential rescuers of our location. Signal mirrors can certainly be used to send information or to signal for tactical operations, but our review and testing has been limited to survival and emergency applications.

Any type of reflective device could be used as a signal mirror.

When you find yourself in a bind without resources, you make do. This could be a cell phone, the bottom of a Coke can, or a grooming mirror. These are all better than nothing, but a signal mirror specifically designed for emergency and survival use makes signaling much easier, quicker, and possible over greater distances.

Signal mirrors for survival are designed with a centered hole, so that you can aim the mirror by sighting through the hole. This hole is called the ‘sighting aperture’ and allow you to be much more accurate with the mirror’s reflected light.

They also usually have the instructions printed on the back, so that makes it easy for anyone to pick up and figure out quickly.

Just how the military likes it: Instructions printed on the back.

Signal mirrors come in a variety of sizes, which mainly effect three things:

  1. Reflection Intensity – large mirrors (over 20″ x 20″ can cause eye discomfort and damage, even from miles away)
  2. Reflection Distance – large mirrors can typically be seen further away
  3. Size, Weight, Profile – large mirrors can be difficult to handle and transport

Larger mirrors are certainly more effective, but size and weight need to be factored in. This is why most survival signal mirrors have a 2″ x 3″ size or a 4″ x 6″ size- these can project bright flashes long distances without overburdening a survival kit.

These sizes should be more than enough: the record for a signal mirror was conducted with a 8″ x 8″ heliograph signal mirror. The signal was visible over 183 miles away.


What to Look For

The best signal mirrors for survival include two important features:

  1. Heavy-duty sealed glass construction
  2. Retroreflective sighting grid

A glass construction makes the mirror very reflective, making it much more effective over long distances. It can be marginally heavier, for it’s size, but the better functionality is usually well worth the added weight.

The glass should be sealed between the plates, to prevent water damage to the mirror and so the signal mirror is rapidly usable even after it gets wet. The MIL-M-18371E is the only mirror that is rated for submersion for long periods or far depths. Coughlan’s signal mirror passed our submersion test, but the sight window can become foggy after extended periods. Coughlan’s signal mirrors made prior to 2010 were manufactured with a gap between the glass lamination, and water would destroy those quickly.

Acrylic mirrors are a second to glass mirrors, with their benefits being that they are lighter, less brittle, and cheaper. They can scratch easier and are ultimately less reflective than the glass models- both can affect their performance in an emergency.

The retroreflective sighting grid is important because it allows you to sight the signal mirror extremely easily. The grid works similarly to the way road signs reflect light back to the origin instead of off at an angle. Small microscopic glass beads are glued to a mesh so that the light can pass through, but the returned reflection is shown as a bright spot on the mesh from the back side.

Retroreflection is not just found in good signal mirror, it is used on reflective tape and vests, road signs (like we mentioned already), and even cat’s eyes.

Retroreflective cat's eyes
Cats have eyes that don’t reflect at angles, but instead back to the source: retroreflection.

There are also some knock-offs still floating around out there – models from less reputable sources that imitate the look of retroreflective signal mirrors, but don’t actually have the retroreflective coating on the sighting aperture.


Why Use a Signal Mirror?

Signal mirrors have unmatched effectiveness for search and rescue operations for how simple and inexpensive they are.

A Navy Search and Rescue helicopter pilot listed a signal mirror as the best gear to signal for rescue. They described the signal mirror as cheap, never runs out of batteries, works extremely well on sunny days and still effective on overcast days. In their experience, a signal mirror “WILL get the attention of a pilot/boat” in an emergency.

Search and Rescue Helicopters looking for a signal mirror flash
USCG Search and Rescue: an ideal signal mirror target.

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary recommends “the first item we recommend you attaching to your PFD is a signal mirror”, highlighting the importance of a mirror for rescue operations. They expand further on this:

“If I had to limit myself to the two most important items […] I would choose the 2 items which are easiest to learn to use, and lightweight – the signal mirror and signal whistle. Your children can use them, your grandparents can use them, they take very little energy.”


How to Use a Signal Mirror

There are two main ways to use a signal mirror. The method you use mainly depends on what type of mirror you have.

  1. “V” finger method with or without sighting aperture
  2. “Fireball” method with retroreflective sighting aperture

The second “fireball” method is only possible with a signal mirror that has a retroreflective grid for sighting. Both methods are good to know, and can help you signal for help in a survival situation.

“V” Finger Sighting a Signal Mirror

You can use the ‘V’ finger sighting method both with or without a sighting aperture. If you have a sighting aperture, the method is much easier since you can quickly sight your target through the hole in the mirror:

V Finger Method for Signal Mirror Sighting

If you do not have a traditional signal mirror with a hole in the center for sighting (or if you have a cheaper model that fogs or obstructs your vision), you can still use your fingers to find the reflected sunlight.

Without direct line-of-sight to the target, you will need to assume that you are missing your target. To compensate for this, keep the mirror as close as possible to your sighting eye and sweep the mirror over the target between your fingers in each direction to make sure you are flashing the target with the mirror.

Fireball Sighting a Signal Mirror

A retroreflective grid creates a ‘fireball’ on the grid that shows you the direction of the signal mirror reflection as you look through the back. This makes it extremely easy to line up the reflection flash and the target.

Rotate the mirror slightly until you have the target and the fireball overlapping. In the sighting aperture, the fireball will not move much, so move the entire mirror so the target is closer to it.

The fireball is much bigger than the flash from the signal mirror, so make sure the center of the fireball is swept over the target.

Fireball Sighting a Signal Mirror

You can still use the ‘V’ finger method along with this method, if you want visual confirmation that the reflective flash is close to your target.

This method of using a signal mirror is the easiest by far, which is why each of our suggested mirrors have a retroreflective grid.

Using the best sighting system could be the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.


Who Needs a Signal Mirror

Signal mirrors are a great survival resource for signaling, but also can be used as a camp mirror, redirecting light for a light source, or for discrete observation.

The sheer versatility of a signal mirror combined with the low profile and weight makes it ideal for a variety of survival kits and loadouts.

The main kits that you should consider a signal mirror for include:

Signal mirrors are an important consideration for both in-place and mobile kits. Some signal mirrors or situations make sense to include them in your EDC loadout.

These mirrors are easy to use and do not have any mechanical parts or electronics, so even kids can use them in survival kits learning survival signaling skills.

If you have a camp mirror but not a signal mirror in any of these kits, it makes sense to add or swap out for the signal mirror since the sighting aperture makes it much more effective for signaling, but it can still be used as a camp mirror.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

An objective look at the best signal mirror is useless without sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our practical military experience and prepping acumen.

Carlson, J. (2014). The Signaling Mirror: A life-saving application of reflection and refraction. The Physics Teacher. 52, 374. (Source).

“Navy OnStar”. (2007). Best signalling equipment from the searchers point of view. ScubaBoard.com. (Source).

Spivak, W. (1998). Safety First!. Duckworks Magazine. Courtesy of US Coast Guard Auxiliary (Source).

Woods, D. (2008). Heliograph and Mirrors. Military Communications: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century. (Source).


The Final Word

There are a wide range of skills associated with prepping and survival with many of them in danger of becoming ‘lost arts’. As supermarkets and supply chain dependence has grown, survival skills are being left behind as society moves forward.

It is important to recognize the power of being self-reliant and having the ability to sustain yourself if the situation requires it. Learning and practicing survival skills- even if it is not your trade- can help you in this pursuit.

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing settled on Coghlan’s Survival Signal Mirror as the best option given the functionality, durability, versatility, and value.

Your specific situation may call for a different solution. We also gave a shout out to a few others options that work well for various conditions and budgets.

Take care of your gear and it will take care of you. Don’t stash it away, but get it out to get familiar with it if you are not using it every day.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.


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The Best Signal Mirror

Rusty

I am an engineer by day, but a prepper 24/7. I am an Air Force veteran that developed emergency and disaster plans as an emergency manager and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters worldwide. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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