In November of 2012, Jeff Kish of Portland, Oregon, found himself stranded on Mount Hood. Lucky for him, he had cell service and was able to contact 911. Rescuers used his GPS coordinates to get a preliminary location. Then Kish started posting on Facebook. Through the GPS coordinates linked to his Facebook picture tagging, rescuers were able to find him and bring him back down the mountain around 2:00 a.m., according to Jay Chambers, president of Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR). Kish was cold and wet but able to drive himself home thanks to a common piece of equipment: his cell phone.

Every year people find themselves stranded. Many use their cell phone to reach the help they need. But what if you find yourself outside cellular range, or an electromagnetic pulse or act of terrorism knocks out the cellular grid? What if you find yourself down at the bottom of a ravine having broken your cell phone during the fall and cannot turn it on? Like many other items, with a calm demeanor and a little knowledge, you can still count on your phone as a survival tool.

Creating Fire

Emergency Uses For Cell Phone Parts , smartphone survival, smartphone, cell phone, cell phone parts, cell phone survival
The battery can be used to start a fire, but make sure you have your tinder ready.

In any survival situation one of the most important elements is to keep from succumbing to exposure. Creating fire also gives you the ability to cook food, boil water for drinking, provide light, which will keep wildlife at bay, and create warmth and overall safety. If your cell phone is useless as a primary means of rescue, creating fire is one of the ways it can be repurposed if it has a charge.

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Most battery terminals indicate whether they are positive or negative. If your battery doesn’t indicate this, it will be trial and error as you hold the wire on one terminal and touch it to other terminals until it gets warm. Unfortunately, if the battery is dead, it will be useless as a fire-starter because it will not have enough voltage to heat the element. Also remember that you will only have one shot per copper wire due to disintegration, so have your tinder set up and ready before you connect the wire to the battery. Starting a fire has the added benefit of drawing attention to you if you are looking to be rescued.

Distress Signals

Emergency Uses For Cell Phone Parts , smartphone survival, smartphone, cell phone, cell phone parts, cell phone survival
The screen can be used as a distress signal. Go in through the back of the phone to access it.

Along with starting fire, pieces of a cell phone can also be used to draw attention to you if you are stranded. For example, if you find yourself lost in the woods or the desert and you want to get the attention of an aircraft, your phone can be used for this, too. The screen of the phone, even if it was broken during a fall, will reflect light and draw attention to you. Make sure to protect a section of the screen while you break into the phone. Avoid loose shards as they can quickly become safety hazards.

Cutting Tools & Edged Weapons

Emergency Uses For Cell Phone Parts , smartphone survival, smartphone, cell phone, cell phone parts, cell phone survival
Sharpening the phone’s metal mount offers you a cutting edge for protection and hunting food.

Although most survival-minded individuals will have a knife and/or a multi-tool with them at all times, you might find yourself in a situation where it has been lost or stolen. Regardless, you can’t give up and just wait for someone to help you. You have to adapt and utilize what you do have, and if you have your cell phone then you’re in luck. Having a cutting tool might save your life in a survival situation. Not only can it be used for defense, it can be used to get food. A cell phone has two very useful pieces, the circuit board and the metal mount, both of which can be fashioned into sharp tools. Attaching either of these sharpened pieces to a stick gives you an added advantage by creating a longer-range weapon/cutting tool for backcountry tasks.

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Keep in mind that without a proper screwdriver, which you’re unlikely to have in a survival situation, you will have to break into the phone using any means possible. Going in through the back and prying it open is the easiest way to get to the internal parts. Also, be careful of shattering the glass and getting it in your eyes or damaging any of the phone’s important parts you will need to use.

Although many people view survival tools as fancy, expensive pieces of equipment that you have to purchase and keep in a bug-out bag, so many have found themselves in life-or-death survival situations unexpectedly. A mother and her young child driving home from visiting family find themselves off the road in a ravine as darkness falls. A senior trip turns dangerous as the group loses their way on a mountain trail. A four-wheeler trip goes wrong as the rider finds himself injured and separated from the group. In all of these situations, the chance that there will be at least one cell phone available is high. So even if other survival gear is lacking, no cell service reaches you or the phone is broken, anyone with a little foresight and knowledge can protect themselves, eat, signal, navigate and keep warm and dry using only the material wrapped up in a cell phone.


This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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