Signal Mirror Mesh Fireball

Signal Mirror for your Survival Kit


A ‘real’ signal mirror is a mirror with a built-in way to precisely aim it’s reflection (from the sun), and is intended to alert others of your location.

While an ordinary reflective mirror can also be used as a signaling device, it cannot be precisely aimed and ‘flashed’ at a target like a purpose-built signaling mirror.

The secret to a true signal mirror is this:

“Retro reflecting” material.
A reflective mesh which assists while aiming the mirror.


“Retro reflective”.

In the context of a signal mirror aiming device (with a round hole and ‘mesh’ in the middle), the mesh material actually consists of tiny glass beads glued to a screen.

This feature creates a fireball on the mesh (an image of the sun), which is used to indicate where to point the mirror. You tilt the mirror to overlay the fireball on your target.


The original patent (# 2,557,108) for the signal mirror was issued in 1951 to inventor, Richard Hunter.

A few key notes from the Military Specification:

MIL-M-18371D(ASG), Mirrors, Emergency Signaling

– 2 different types of signal mirror, a 2×3″ and a 3×5″
– 2 layers of glass laminated together with a sighting device and lanyard
– Wide angle retro reflecting material for sighting


Signal Mirror Aiming Instructions

1. First, reflect sunlight from the mirror onto a nearby surface, hand, etc., so that you can identify where the bright spot is initially before you actually aim it.

2. Bring the signal mirror up to eye level while looking through the sighting hole. You will see a bright light spot on the mesh. This is the aim indicator.

3. Hold the mirror close to the eye and slowly turn and manipulate it so that the bright spot (fireball) is on the intended target.

It takes a little bit of practice, but you’ll figure it out…

Note: Signal mirror flashes may be seen for many miles, even in hazy weather.

Note: Never look directly at the sun, that includes through the aiming hole!


Not all Signal Mirrors are alike

Not every signal mirror is made from glass. In fact most are made with plastics and other reflective coated materials for lighter weight and cost.

The signal flash produced from a GLASS mirror is far brighter and more effective than a plastic signal mirror.

Here’s a glass signal mirror made in the USA, and a military approved and issued item.
It’s the same one that I keep in my kit:

Adventurer Series Military Grade Signaling Mirror

Once you get used to how it works, it becomes very obvious as to the advantage and usefulness of the reflective mesh material and the ‘fireball’ that is superimposed on the mesh when you’re aiming the mirror properly at the target.

Here are a few pictures which hopefully shows the effects.

Note: The mesh fireball appears much brighter in real life, compared with the photos.

Signal Mirror Mesh Fireball
You can see some of the sun’s reflection on the tree through the center hole, while also seeing some of the fireball on the edge of the mesh.

Signal Mirror Reflection
Having a signaling mirror of real glass will reflect a brighter flash than the plastic varieties.

Signaling Mirror
Signaling Mirror


  1. I was unaware of this feature with this signaling mirror. A real nice feature.

  2. Dang it Ken, you just LOVE spending my money HAHAHAH
    Been needing a good one anyways, thanks for the Article

  3. Hmmm. Very interesting. I had seen ‘signal mirrors’ for survival packs before, but I guess I never figured that one with an ‘aiming device’ would be as complex and effective as this one you described. ( guess I just thought it had a hole in the reflective surface.) you learn something new everyday. Thanks Ken!

  4. Great article Ken as these tools are much easier to use than a straight mirror when used in the field.

    I have used the mirror in my high-end Suunto forester’s compass to flash my location to helicopters during medevacs in the mountains. It saves radio time and battery life. We still used flashing lights as beacons in the landing zone at dusk.

  5. What NRP said! There are so many cool items. Thank You SSI as you are helping to purchase my lifestyle……………….

  6. Wow,, these are neat!
    Who knew there was a special mirror, put these in our favorites list page.
    Thanks Ken.

  7. In a pinch, a CD will work. Round, highly reflective surface, compact size and a hole in the middle.

    1. @ Burt G,

      Now that’s a great suggestion. I bet most people have some especially in their cars. In the military we called that ” field expediency!” Using something meant for one job as a tool for another. For sure in a pinch a CD would/will work. Thanks for the tip.

      1. I used CD’s (blank CD ROM’s) hanging all around my mini vineyard when I lived in CA. Helped to keep the birds from completely getting all the grapes when they turned blue/purple. Although it was still a never ending battle. They still got their share regardless of what I did…

        1. Yea, there’s always someone trying to get CD to work, and pinching me usually does it.

          CD in Oklahoma

        2. When I was teaching wilderness emergency communication….. I set up a reflective target about 1/4 mile away and did a myth buster type thing, where the students tried all the internet suggested substitutes for a signal mirror ( CD, shiny dog tag, a plain 1″X 1″ mirror, cell phone screen, an automotive rear view mirror, and a coke can lid) although these items would reflect light, the success rate for lighting up the target was very low. When given a 3X5 glass signal mirror the success rate was almost 100%

        3. Ken,
          Yeah and the deer get a share too! Didn’t have any luck with CDs, but red/ silver Mylar tape does work well. I think the birds/ deer see a flash of red and think it is a predator ‘eye flash’.
          For signalling planes and such, I have thought about cutting open a pop can in a pinch and using the inside surface, pretty bright.

    2. Although it sounds like a great idea, CD’s are really hard to aim and are not very efficient beyond a coupe of miles or so. I can deploy my 3X5 glass mirror and accurately target an aircraft at 36,000 feet.

  8. In Arctic Survival School MANY years ago we used this type of mirror. We were also taught if we didn’t have this type of mirror to extend one hand and make a “V” with 2 fingers. put your target into the “V” and flash the sun reflection at your target. It does work. I have my old military survival mirror in my old survival pack that I used when I still flew the Alaskan Bush along with other signaling devices. Never rely on one.
    At night a 20 minute highway flare tied to a length of 550 cord and spun in a circle in a snow covered clearing can be seen for miles.

      1. Another version of the flare signal is a glow stick ( bracelet or necklace) tied to a string. They are dirt cheap at dollar stores. Easy to store, long shelf life, and stay lit up for hours.

      1. Good topic Ken. I’ve owned few over the years. Last one got sold along with the abandon ship bag when I sold my sailboat. Just bought a fishing boat so time to put together another bag.

        We tend to concentrate on the end of the world stuff and forget that things csn go horribly wrong on day to day basis for folks. A guy was just rescued off of the Florida coast after drifting for more than a couple of weeks in a broken down boat. His rescue probably would have been much quicker if he had a PLB or EPIRB with him. Flares and strobes also make it easier for others to notice you’re in need of assistance, especially at night.

        One of our docs was retiring and was planning on hiking the pacific coast trail. Our manager was trying to think of a good retirement gift and I suggested a PLB. She asked what it was. I said it was for when you fall and can’t get up in the middle of nowhere. You push a button and a helicopter comes. It sends your coordinates to a satellite which relays it the government. Sometimes it is nice to see them!

  9. I have my military issued mirror from way back.
    It has many miles on the trail.
    Don’t leave home without it–

  10. – I actually have two; one is from the Boy Scouts, and is probably a 1950’s design. It had a cross-shaped cut in the center of a piece of shiny metal. It lives in my sock drawer. The other is GI issue, glass like the smaller one described above. it is much brighter than the other, and lives in my BO bag. i had at one time a plastic one, similar to the larger one above, but it was not as bright as the glass. It got lost somewhere along the way.
    – Papa S.

Comments are closed.