I have been hiking for several decades and never thought to see if there were any Emergency Beacons for Hiking, but this summer I was hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park and I saw a hiker with an emergency locator on his backpack. I had to stop and ask him what it was and why he had it. He told me that it helps his family to know where he is and if he needs help when out hiking by himself.
Whether we are hiking alone or with a group, an Emergency Beacon for Hiking should be the first piece of gear that gets added to our pack.
My Journey Begins
Meeting the hiker this summer with the emergency beacon was a wake up call and also the start of my journey to find out more about these locator beacons.
I soon discovered that locator beacons really began with the military in the 1950s and became more widely used in the 1970s by marine shipping and commercial and general aviation.
More recently, the U.S. Congress in 1972, mandated that all aircraft shall carry an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) on board. This was the beginning of SARSAT.
Hiking Emergency Beacon – Course 101
There are two basic type of emergency locators for (land) outdoor adventures. There are the Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and the Emergency Satellite Messengers (ESMs). Satellite messengers have become more popular recently due to the additional features they provide over the PLBs, however, this also comes with a cost. Satellite Messengers have a much shorter battery life, in days, versus years for a PLB. The primary reason for the difference in battery life is due to PLBs not using their battery until it is activated, in a life saving emergency.
One easy way to be clear about the primary differences between a PLB and a Satellite Messenger is that a PLB, typically can only send an SOS message out and cannot receive or send other messages. Once the PLB is activated, there is no way to call of the search and rescue (SAR) teams.
Refer to Which Locator Beacon is Right for Me for more information on these.
Well, its time for me to make a decision. I have gathered a lot of information in the last few weeks about Hiking Emergency Beacons and as I love getting outdoors in Colorado, I need to invest in one of these emergency locators.
I would like to tell you that I already know what one I will be purchasing, but this is a challenging decision as I want to make sure the battery will last for longer backpacking trips, and if I have to use my cell phone to sync, will it also have enough power to last.
I am actually leaning toward a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) as my priority is to be located and rescued if a life is at stake and I am not worried about communicating with family and friends while in the great outdoors. One of the primary reasons I go hiking is to get away from everyone and everything so having a PLB and the peace of mind it brings may be enough for me.
And or course, we can’t for get the cost involved. That will impact my decision as well.
Next time, I will tell you if I bought a PLB or Satellite Messenger and exactly which one. I’ll be taking it out on the trail and will have firsthand experience with it, but hopefully not an emergency.
- Compact, lightweight satellite communicator enables two-way messaging and interactive SOS globally (Active satellite subscription required. Some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of satellite communication devices.)
- Navigate back to where you started by using TracBack routing
- Share your location with loved ones back home at any time (active satellite subscription required) by using your MapShare page or with your coordinates embedded in your messages
- Get accurate heading information using the digital compass — even when you’re not moving
- Sync with the Garmin Explore app and website on your compatible smartphone for trip planning and topographical mapping, and create waypoints, courses, activities and collections you can sync to your device
- Pair with Garmin devices, such as wearables and handhelds, and use them to send and receive messages and trigger an SOS (active satellite subscription required)
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8 thoughts on “Emergency Beacon for Hiking”
I too never knew about emergency beacon for hiking until I met with your blog. I believe that having understand what the difference between the two are, my hiking experience will be tweaked more than before. Sharing your own experience is really good and you have really helped me. Thanks!
John, I’m glad to share these experience with you. I have learned so much about the outdoors, yet I still have much more to learn. I’m just glad I was aware enough on the hike to recognize the emergency locator beacon on the other hiker. It has led to myself and many others ensuring that their chances of coming home after a life-threatening emergency is greatly improved.
Just like you, I place priority over a PLB than giving preference to a satellite messenger. Though satellite messenger have the feature of being able to reach out to people through mesaaginging but I want the PLB especially with the battery life span. I wish to see more and more from you and your website. Thanks
Thank you Tracy. I am fascinated myself with all of the emergency locators out there and I have much research to add and bring to everyone here.
My priority when hiking is to be left alone to enjoy the outdoors but also know that I can be rescued if needed. I like the Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) also for that reason.
My only dilemma these days is if I tell my family we can communicate 2-way, then I will never be able to relax in the mountains.
Thanks for your comments.
This is nice how you can really spot it on his backpack and decide that you really need that. I like this post and how you can explain the difference between the two beacons for land hiking. Thank you for sharing your own experience on this and I expect to see more.
I’m glad to share my experiences with you here. I love the outdoors but I also love knowing I can live to see another day.
Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments.
I guess I have a lot to learn from you as you have been doing this hiking for years! I am really surprised though to read you say you’ve just recently learnt of emergency beacons for hiking, and makes me wonder, in your earlier years didnt you ever have the fear of something happening that might require you to need help?
The reason I am surprised at this is that I am just a beginner and the first thing I decided to do is find out if there are emergency means of communication when I am out hiking in case something happens.
I guess we are all different in our ways though.
I also think this Personal Locator Beacon will serve the purpose for me.
But hope you don’t mind my popping back in to learn of your final choice and how you are getting on with it.?
I love your thoughts and questions. It is funny that I have spent decades hiking and backpacking in the mountains and never gave much thought to an emergency beacon. I guess that’s what happens when you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when no one ever wore helmets, we didn’t even know what a seat belt was and we had steel dash boards in our vehicles.
Most of the times I have been hiking I have been with groups but even then we ran across rattle snakes, and water moccasins, which by themselves could have been a life-threatening event. I have been on the edge of steep cliffs and trails that could have ended badly with one misplaced step. I guess we all think it will never happen to us.
I’m glad you are more aware and conscious of the safety aspects of adventuring into the great outdoors. You are wise to be think that way.