Hiking to known places usually wouldn’t worry you enough to search for something that can help you in an emergency. However, if you’re an adventurous hiker that wanders into unknown and remote places, you may certainly feel the need of having a way to contact emergency services (particularly a government search and rescue service) if you end up being in an unfortunate situation.
And a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is the answer to this problem. It’s precisely what advanced hikers look for, and it’s what you should consider picking too after going through the reviews of the 5 best Personal Locator Beacons for hiking below.
Best Personal Locator Beacons for Hiking
Here are our hiking personal locator beacon reviews.
The ACR ResQLink 400 is a very complete personal locator beacon but with no bells and whistles. However, this also translates to a very simple operation and great ease of use, which is definitely what you would want if you’re only looking to use an emergency help function that a beacon offers.
You need to register with the US government, but it’s free and easy to do following the well-explained instructions you get with the unit. Based on user reviews, it never disappoints when you go offshore and your cell phone service gives up on you. This is precisely what you need in a PLB.
It turns out to be a great device to use if you tend to hike into unknown areas and need something reliable to use in an emergency situation. Do not let its basic operation make you confuse it with something like an emergency radio. It’s a true PLB and an emergency radio can’t do what a PLB does.
- Simple and easy operation
- Reliable even in the remotest of locations
- Doesn’t need a subscription
- Detailed instructions for free registration in the US
- Doesn’t support popular Rescue Response Insurance Plans like Garmin and Spot do
If you’re after an advanced PLB device that actually offers much more than basic PLB features, then the Garmin in Reach Explorer+ would hit the spot for you. It offers 100 percent global Iridium satellite coverage and two way messaging, 24/7 connection to the interactive SOS search and rescue monitoring center, ability to share your location with your family and friends, pairing with a mobile device for advanced map access and much more.
All these advanced features do come at a price, but if you’re an adventurous hiker and could do with some help with respect to where you’re and the unknown routes to get to where you want to be during your hiking trips, it would be well worth it.
It’s one of the few PLB devices that allow you send text (SMS) messages and emails to anyone you want. It isn’t any more difficult to use than other PLB devices though, as it connects you to the international search and rescue team at the press of a button.
- One of the most advanced PLB devices on the market
- Ability to locate yourself and find routes accurately
- Ability to communicate with anyone via SMS and email
- Pairing feature to connect to your phone
- The global two way messaging system requires a subscription plan
- Some users mention that the customer support is disappointing should you need it
If you’re looking for something compact and lightweight to slip into your pocket when hiking into rough areas, the Garmin InReach Mini would fit the bill well for you. Its global two way messaging system requires a subscription, but if want to stay connected to certain people no matter where you go it’s a worthy investment.
It’s a quick, easy way to provide peace of mind to your family when you go hiking, as you can let them know about your precise, accurate location at the click of a button. It’s easy to pair this device with your smartphone or tablet, which makes the communication and typing very easy and convenient.
Of course, it lets you stay connected to the rescue monitoring center 24/7, and you can reach them whenever you want, from wherever you are.
- Small, compact, lightweight and super portable
- Great way to provide peace of mind to your family when hiking into unknown regions
- Easy to connect with your smartphone and tablet
- Easy to seek help thanks to the 24/7 connection to the rescue monitoring center
- The battery life isn’t great; carrying a solar power bank or something of the sort is adviced
Here’s another ACR PLB device that does exactly what a PLB device is expected to do, and without a subscription just like the other ACR device we reviewed above. That’s right – you don’t have to pay anything to have an emergency safety option with the 406 MHz Emergency Distress Signal.
It offers global coverage, and comes with LED strobe and infrared strobe. There’s a self-test feature which is incredibly useful, so that you don’t have to find out whether the device works or not when you actually need to use it. Some users did mention about their device failing the self-test, but also that ACR was responsive and shipped a new unit that worked well.
It’s small and lightweight too, and definitely a great, easy-to-use PLB device when going on adventurous hiking trips.
- No subscription required – completely free operation
- Global coverage
- Useful self-test feature to make sure the device is working
- Small and lightweight
- Some users found their newly shipped device failing the self-test, but the ACR did ship them a new, working unit; so performing the self-test is important
The McMurdo FAST FIND 220 is one of the more unique PLB devices that offers the best of both worlds. It allows you to have advanced functionality far better than with basic models, but without having to pay for expensive annual subscriptions like with most of the advanced PLBs.
It’s easy to use, there’s a self-test button, a bright LED SOS light, and it supports a continuous operation of over 24 hours. A particular user mentioned in their review about this product that they are an elderly hiker and it gives them a lot of peace of mind.
The registration with NOAA is quick and easy, and you would be able to do that without any issues despite the instructions not being very clear.
- Excellent value for money as it’s one of the more functional PLBs without any subscription charges
- It’s easy to operate and great for hikers
- Quick and easy registration with NOAA
- Lightweight and portable
- The battery may have to be replaced in around a year or two of use, and it costs around $85 to replace it
Personal Locator Beacon for Hiking Buyer’s Guide
The ability to quickly and conveniently connect to the emergency service (a search and rescue monitoring center) is of paramount importance. All our reviewed products have this ability, which by the way something like a handheld Ham radio for survival doesn’t, just in case some of you may be wondering.
Some hikers would also want to have some additional features and functionality, such as the ability to share their location with their family and friends. There are also other features like two way communication, and the ability to send text messages and emails to anyone you want.
The ability to pair to a smartphone and tablet for advanced map access and enhanced convenience is also an important feature to many users.
However, all these features come with a price tag. So if you’re looking for something well beyond the basic functionality of a PLB to make a search and rescue center locate and rescue you, you need be prepared to shell out more money.