Can You Use a Cell Phone for Survival?

You’re alone. Lost. Scared. You need to be rescued. And it’s just you and your cell phone.

Pretty much the only thing every person in this county has on them at one specific time is their cell phone. Once only used as an emergency tool, our cell phones have turned into another appendage – essential for daily living and something we constantly depend on.

As a result, I’ve done some research and have found that there are things you can do with your cell phone to help you survive if you are lost in the wilderness. Now, I know that there are survival apps out there that you can download that will help you if you find yourself in a bad situation, but you need to have a working phone. This is not what this post is about. I’m here to educate you on what you can do physically, with your cell phone.

As I didn’t just want to give out the information without even testing it, I scoured around thrift stores and asked friends, but with short notice, I was unable to find a broken or unusable cell phone to actually use for this experiment. However, I had an old wireless router that we took apart. I chose the router to take apart because it would have some pieces that would be similar to a cell phone. Read the italics after the tips to see if the tip was confirmed or busted. (shout out to Mythbusters!)

First- If your phone works, use it!

If your phone isn’t broken and works, use it to call for help.  At the very least, leave your cell phone on.  If people know you are missing, they can contact mobile carriers that can find which cell tower you are using. Knowing which cell tower you are using provides a general idea of your location. Network cell towers, GPS, and wifi can all help in determining your location. Leave your phone on as long as possible. Packing an extra charger, especially a solar one, will help keep your only line of communication open.

If your phone is broken or your battery is dead and you’re ready to break it open:

The hardest part of all of this would be to take apart the cell phone. Without tools, you’re left to simply hit it up against rocks or smash it, in order to get it open. Maybe if you’re lucky you could find a thin rock sharp enough to pry the sides of the phone apart. Maybe you have a something in a pocket, purse, or car to help pry the phone open.

Use your phone as a SIGNAL MIRROR

Once your phone is open, take out the various pieces. You’ll find that mobile phones have metallic and mirror-like sheets in them that can be used to signal for help. The goal here is catch the sun’s rays in the metal and bounce them back towards your rescuers. Simply place the metallic piece near your chin, hold out your arm towards your rescuers with your fingers displaying a peace sign, and bounce the light in between the two fingers making the v-shape. If you can see the light flashing on your fingers, then you know you are doing it right. Flash in series of three, as signals of three indicate help.

CONFIRMED – We were able to easily find metallic like parts to use as a signal. Just find some direct sun and you can easily send out signal flashes. I was happy to see that this is a feasible survival option.


Use your phone as a FIRE STARTER

Now, this technique might not be the easiest for newbies in the wilderness, but since others have done it, I’ll include it here. Your cell phone comes with a battery and wires inside. Along with some DRY kindling (paper, dead leaves, dry seed pods, tampons/cotton, etc.), the battery, and wires, you should have fire. As this is a very quick process, be sure to have all of your supplies ready at once. When ready, use the wire to touch both the negative and positives ends of the battery at the same time. The wire will become hot fast. Put the kindling on this red hot wire in order to light it. Make sure your kindling has some air flow; you can also help the fire along by gently blowing into the bundle to stoke the fire. Be sure to add thin, dry sticks as the fire grows and only add larger sticks when the fire is well established. This technique only works once with each wire you have because the fire fully disintegrates the wire. This also will work using steel wool to connect the positive and negative terminals on the battery, but who carries steel wool with them?

cell phone survival
Trying to start a fire with the wire from the router and a 9 volt battery. It didn’t work.

PARTLY BUSTED – As we did not have a cell phone to take apart, I couldn’t try this.  However, I did try to start a fire with a wire that was found inside the router. I connected the ends of the wires to a 9 volt battery to get a spark. However, we didn’t get a fire or a spark. The battery simply got hot.  I have my doubts as to whether or not this would actually work, but its’s worth a try.

Use your phone as a CUTTING TOOL

One of the most essential survival tools is a knife. Since it’s not always possible to carry a knife, you may not be prepared in case of an emergency. So, you will have to make a knife. Not only are you supposed to be able to turn your circuit board or metal backing of your phone into a sharp object with only a rock, but you’re also supposed to be able to use this sharp object to cut wood, scrape kindling, or simply protect yourself.  Use the rock like a sharpening stone to create a small knife out of half of the circuit board or metal back. Once you have a sharp tool, use the other part of the circuit board or backing to make arrow heads. Trim down and sharpen branches with your knife and attach your arrow heads to the branches to make arrows (provided you have found something that would work as cording to tie the two together). You can also attach a stick as a handle for your new knife.

BUSTED – Ok, I may not have taken apart a cell phone, but the parts inside our router were very firm and hard to bend and break. Trying to sharpen any metal was deemed useless as we were using Illinois limestone (a softer rock with a Mohs scale of 3-4) to try to sharpen the metal. We ended up cutting into the rock instead of the other way around. This was the most unfulfilling tip, as it was very difficult to bend or break the boards. The best we could do was to bend a sheet of metal into a triangle and try to attach it to a stick. 



Use your phone to MAKE FISHING LURES

This really only works if you have cords, so you might have to unravel a sock or find natural cordage. If you have headphones, you can use the cord of the headphones for this. Basically the only method to catching a fish in this situation is to ‘gorge’ it, meaning you are not hooking it, but rather jamming something into its throat. Not pleasant, but necessary in a situation like this. Gather your cording and break off all the small nubs and parts off your phone that are about the size of a fishing lure. (Consider where you will be fishing: For example, if you’re only near a small river, you’re likely to only catch small fish, so gather smaller pieces as lures, rather than large ones.) Tie these small cell phone parts to your cordage or string, gather some earthworms, and push the worms onto your lure. Now, you can fish!

CONFIRMED – Although we did not get worms and go fishing, this did seem like a possible task. Circuit boards are full of little bits of plastic, in addition to screws and other small bits. Trying to find natural cordage is harder, especially cord that is long enough to allow for fishing. I was able to attach some long grass to my lure, and it seemed fairly secure. Tying a good knot and getting good cord seemed to be the most important task.



Use your phone as A COMPASS?

Most of the information out there isn’t conclusive about using your phone as a compass. The idea is to take the magnet from the phone’s speaker and rub one end of a wire on it several times to magnetize the wire. Once you place this wire on a leaf in a still pool of water, the end you magnetized (or rubbed on the magnet) will point north (in the Northern Hemisphere). However, there are conflicting reports that the wire has to be made of iron and not copper. Other sources believe that the whole wire will become magnetized, not just one part of it. In any case, I prefer to use the shadow tip method to determine your direction. It uses the sun, takes about 30 minutes of time, and is easy to learn. You can learn it here:


The bottom line that I got from this whole experience is to never get into any survival situation. Obviously, this isn’t something we voluntarily do. Many people get into survival situations after simply partaking in normal activities like driving, fishing, or hiking.  So, the best way to be prepared is be educated. Hopefully, you will also have a multitool or knife to make your situation easier. Trying to survive off of your cell phone won’t be the easiest nor the best way to survive. Human hands can’t necessarily bend and break metals. Just remember to use whatever materials you have with you, because most objects can always be used for some other purpose.

Hopefully with a little knowledge, a calm and focused mind, and perhaps a cell phone, you can get out of any survival situation you may find yourself in.

Stay Safe and Happy Travels!


If you liked this article, perhaps you’d enjoy my posts “The Ten Essentials to Survive in the Wilderness” and “Solo Survival: How to Survive Being Lost and Alone in the Wilderness.”


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