Anytime you go camping or hiking in the wild, you have to prioritize safety. The great outdoors is an unpredictable landscape, so it’s always good to remember anyone can get lost or injured. Hikers and outdoor sports enthusiasts have come to rely on the best personal locator beacons as their backup plans for situations that call for emergency rescue or aid.
What is a personal locator beacon?
You might be asking yourself this if you haven’t heard of the term before. PLBs act as your voice when no one is there to help you or hear you. Even if your smartphone network is not strong enough to receive a signal where you are going, having a PLB in your backpack makes it easy for someone to find you.
A personal locator beacon sends out an emergency distress signal that is received by satellite and only requires a meager 5 watts of power to operate. By placing your PLB so that it has clear access to the sky with no overhanging tree branches, it can send out a powerful 406 MegaHertZ signal that is internationally recognized as a distress call.
Choosing the best personal locator beacon
PLBs aren’t as common as a survival flashlight or can of bug repellent, but they should be if you hike in remote areas, or go on extended trips where you could get injured or stranded. Also, carrying an emergency tracking device is a great failsafe gadget to have whenever you leave home to travel by car or air.
What model you want will depend on your specific circumstances. Some PLBs have more features and track you more thoroughly, but require a seasonal or monthly subscription to use. Others are very straightforward and can only be used in emergencies. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want something that’s extremely basic or whether you want a more full featured satellite tracker / PLB.
Registering your Personal Locator Beacon
All PLBs are registered with the RSAT (Rescue Satellite Aid Tracking) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) databases. Only when your PLB is activated is your information shared with rescue personnel. The Search and Rescue organizations use the coordinates provided by the databases, along with other essential information in case the person being rescued is not able to talk.
Free registration can be done at www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov
Because personal locator beacons are battery-powered devices, only consider buying ones with an extended battery life. Having a device with a long-life battery could be the difference between life and death. PLB developers have taken this into account and most models come with strong lithium batteries that remain dormant until activated.
The international, satellite-aided Cospas-Sarsat search and rescue initiative program has stipulated further regulations over the production of PLBs:
- They must contain a Class 1, heavy-duty battery capable of transmitting for a minimum of 24-hours in -40°F low temperatures
- Class 2 batteries must be capable of transmitting more than 24-hours in minus temperatures of -20°F
You can check for what purpose your PLB has been made by looking at the battery class. A Class 1 battery is for serious tracking use in challenging terrain or extremely cold temperatures. A Class 2 battery is for recreational hiking trips in warm conditions.
It’s important to remember that the colder it is, the shorter the battery life in your device will be. If you are heading out to difficult terrains and weather conditions, it might be a good idea to pack two personal linked locator beacons.
Keep your eyes open for some additional features that some PLBs have, such as text messaging capabilities and waterproofing. There are sometimes additional services available, but they are not free.
Technically, if a device has messaging features, it may not count as a PLB, but because their purposes are similar, we’re lumping in some items here that are technically ‘satellite messengers’. The main difference between the two is that satellite messengers allow you to communicate even if it’s not an emergency – on the other hand though, they often require subscriptions to the satellite network to use.
Now you have all the information you need to make your choice, here is our list of the best personal locator beacons you can buy in 2020.