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Personal locator beacons do pretty much what they promise:
locate your person,
and then report your position to someone who will perform a "search and rescue" to find you.
The best personal locator beacons for hikers are small, portable, reliable and weather proof.
But there's one thing you need to know right away:
There is no two-way communication available with beacons, only the transmission of an SOS.
So why would you want to carry one on your hikes?
A PLB is designed for one thing: to send an emergency message.
You have to be in a dire emergency situation to consider activating it.
It's important to understand the distinction between a non-emergency and a "quick, hit the button" situation, because once you hit the "HELP" button, your message goes via satellites to some pretty high powered folks:
They won't be pleased to rescue someone with a broken trekking pole, if you take my meaning.
And the cost of your rescue gets billed to YOU.
So if you plan on carrying a personal locator beacon, be very sure you need to deploy it before sending that emergency message.
babies work, and work very well, to send an SOS that will get you
rescued ASAP (having fun with the acronyms yet?).
To make your learning curve short and simple for how to use a PLB properly for an emergency rescue:
Only you can answer this question, by calculating your personal risk/benefit ratio.
There are types of hiking which skew this ratio toward probably wanting to carry the best personal locator beacon available.
Let's take a look so you can identify your needs.
This is one of the very best reasons for carrying a PLB: solo hiking.
When you hike alone frequently (your canine companion doesn't count in this discussion), or venture off established trails into the backcountry, consider the merits of these lightweight portable personal locator beacons.
While you are probably very committed to safety and advance planning of routes, you can't control sudden weather events or trail closures.
You can't predict wildlife encounters.
And you have no control over accidents or injuries that can happen to any of us on a trail, especially when you're way off the beaten path.
For these reasons, I'd recommend a PLB in your backpack.
And don't forget, you have to activate the device.
If you risk going into the backcountry on a regular basis, perhaps it's time to take a look at purchasing one of these devices.
Let's define backcountry first:
I've been on backcountry Alaska trips where I had great peace of mind, knowing we had a PLB with us.
Calculate for yourself the worth of what you are purchasing:
But keep in mind:
Tip for backcountry adventures:
If you can purchase trip insurance for your hiking adventure, do so.
If you hike on your own, insurance won't be an option.
All costs of a rescue operation will come out of your pocket. But in an emergency, don't let that stop you from hitting the go button!
If you're a casual dayhiker and you stick to well marked, established trails, you probably don't need a device of this technological sophistication.
However, if you're hiking with kids who love to venture off trail, leap off rocks, jump into streams and run ahead of you on the trail, maybe a PLB is a good idea for your peace of mind.
A quick calculation on the probability of needing one, using these questions:
If you're within a few miles of a trailhead, and pass a lot of folks on your way up and back down the trail, you can rely upon the good graces of other hikers to help you in an emergency.
And if your luck is running high, maybe one of them will have a PLB.
If you activate your PLB, do everything you can to make yourself highly visible to the rescuers.
Some PLBs have LED strobe lights to assist with this very smart move.
If you carry a reflective space blanket, a whistle, an old CD or DVD you can flash, use those to attract attention once you hear the helicopter or see rescuers approaching your area.
And here's the clincher:
Get out from under trees, ravines or rocky overhangs, into as much open space with a view of the sky as possible, before you activate your PLB.
Alright, time to do some thinking about the best way to transmit a one-way SOS message for immediate rescue.
Here's one that gets good reviews:
ACR Electronics RESQLink + GPS personal locator beacon.
This may sound like harping, but please! Once you buy a PLB, register it immediately and add "battery checks" to your hiking calendar.
If a PLB doesn't sound right for you, maybe you need a SEND device (Satellite Emergency Notification Device) instead.
Personal Locator Beacons
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