Updated: October 14, 2016
Personal Locating Beacon Reviews:Personal locating beacons (PLB) are becoming more popular and affordable for boaters, skiers, and hikers that are often off the grid of traditional cell phone coverage and need to rely on an emergency locator system in case something goes wrong. We live in the Portland, Oregon region and every year there are lost hikers in the Cascade mountains either hiking deep in the woods or climbing mountains like Mt. Hood. Over the years technology has made it easier for search and rescue services to locate these lost or hurt individuals, but it still isn't perfect and if you don't carry a personal locating beacon, it's even more difficult to find you. Many day hikers go out with just a cell phone and think that will save them. Yes, it can, but only if you are within range of a cell tower so you can get service. Once beyond cell service, you are on your own and will need the assistance of a PLB to get accurate readings on your whereabouts. Climbers are starting to be required to carry these locating devices when they set off on their adventure. It definitely helps rescuers in locating lost or hurt climbers/hikers/skiers/etc. Down below we will go into several of the most popular personal locating beacons on the market - which features to look for, pricing, reviews, and personal experiences with them. Considering they could potentially save your life, it's a good idea to do your research and make an informed decision on which PLB is best for your situation.
Choosing a Personal Locating Beacon - One of the first factors that comes into play is - Where will you be using the beacon? Are you a boater that will need a device that is waterproof and has a LED strobe light if you are lost in the water? Will you be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and be off the grid for days/weeks on end? Are you a skier that likes to go into the back country and ski big powder bowls - with the risk of being caught in an avalanche? As you can already see there are countless scenarios where having a personal locating beacon could come in handy. Not all transmitters are able to be located when inside something like a snow cave. Also, don't rely on the homing beacons to instantly have someone up and helping you. In some cases, storms have caught climbers off guard on Mt. Hood and it could take days for rescuers to get to your location safely. We found an excellent article explaining the difference between locating beacons (SPOT, PLB, MLU, RECCO, and Cell Phone) - READ IT HERE. The two most popular styles of locating beacons are the Personal Locating Beacon (PLB) and SPOT (Satellite Personal Tracker). Both devices are easy to use and they provide authorities with your GPS coordinates via satellite. The big difference is that the PLB devices like the ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ Personal Locating Beacon don't require an annual fee unlike the SPOT Personal Tracker which does. The PLB devices transmit to the international satellite rescue system while the SPOT devices communicate to the Globalstar satellite phone network. SPOT uses a commercial system and therefore requires a yearly payment. No matter which system you are using, they both require that you manually activate them in case of an emergency. On a recent backcountry hiking trip into the Sierra Nevada mountains, our group decided to rent 2 personal locating beacons just in case something went wrong. You are literally removed from civilization when up at 12,000 feet or more high in the Sierras. Our trips take us at least 50 miles beyond last contact with cell phones, so in case of an emergency, you are looking at a long trip out and if you get lost, the PLB could be a lifesaver. The cost of owning a personal locating beacon is between $250 to $400 - you can find them online at Amazon or in stores like REI. The SPOTs are cheapers, around $100, but the roughly $100/annual fee does not make them cheap to operate. Keep in mind that the PLBs require special batteries and once activated, you'll need an eventual battery replacement which is costly. SPOTs use AA lithium batteries which can be replaced. Top sellers include the Fast Find 220 Personal Locator Beacon, ACR ResQlink 406 Personal Locator Beacon, ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon, SPOT-3O Spot Gen3 GPS Satellite Messenger, Yepzon One Personal GPS Locator, and the Trackimo TRK-100 Universal Personal GPS Tracker. From owner reviews and talking with experts in the field, your best bets are ACR and SPOT, although many consumers have great things to say about the Fast Find 220 since it's easy to activate, subscription free, has a built in strobe, features a 6 year battery life, and is compact and easy to store. Register your device with the NOAA or if you own an ACR, go to their website and they'll help get you registered properly. After reading dozens of reviews and talking directly with search and rescue teams, there is no locating beacon that is the 'best', but certainly some devices work better than others and have a solid reputation. Ultimately, you hope you never have to use one of these, but in that rare situation it comes up, you want one you can trust your life with. Browse the best selling personal locating beacons here.