Help Me Choose

There are primarily two types of hiking emergency beacons. They are the Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and the Satellite Messengers. The easiest way to keep them straight is to think of the PLB as a One-Way SOS Distress Signal with little or no way to communicate. The Satellite Messenger also has the SOS Signal but they typically allow for two-way texting, smart phone syncing and some even have topo navigation with maps.

Hiking Emergency Beacon

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)

  • Sends SOS message to rescue teams only
  • Cannot cancel the SOS call
  • No subscription fees
  • Usually works better in remote areas internationally
  • It has a stronger signal than satellite messengers
  • Long battery life, as in years, not days (the PLB is not using the battery until it is activated)
  • The SOS distress calls are monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA)
  • The PLB acts as a beacon to help the rescue teams find you (a built in strobe light would be helpful)
  • You are required to register your PLB with personal information about you only

rescueME PLB1

ACR ResQLink 400

ACR ResQLink View

Emergency Satellite Messengers (ESMs)

  • Sends SOS messages to rescue teams, PLUS you can send messages to family and friends
  • You can cancel the SOS call in many cases
  • Significant subscription fees
  • Coverage depends on the company and the signal may not be as strong as the PLB
  • Unobstructed view of the sky is needed
  • Shorter battery life due to all of the additional features, plus it is on while you are on your adventure.
  • Some models have topo navigation with maps
  • Way point tracking for family and friends, and even social media
  • Most models are capable of bluetooth pairing with your smartphone
  • Some models will sync with your fitness watches and devices

Garmin inReach Mini 2

Garmin GPSMAP 67i

Garmin Montana 700i

Things to Consider

Satellite network coverages are strong throughout the U.S. but make sure you check the coverage maps when traveling internationally and also confirm that your device is allowed in the country you are traveling to.

Remember to use your cell phone, if you are fortunate to have reception, as you will be available to provide more detail to the rescue teams looking for you. You can provide them with more detail on your approximate location and the condition you are in.

Only send an SOS call or distress call if your life is in immediate danger and will result in loss of limb and/or life. Rescue teams are being stretched thin at times as they are having to respond to “non-life” threatening calls.

Garmin GPSMAP 67i

Which Hiking Emergency Beacon is Right for Me?

There are some great options on the market that have many different options plus it gets more complicated with the different subscription plans. Here are some things to consider to help you make your decision.

  • What is most important to you? Determine your priorities.
    • Cost
    • Quick Messaging
    • Battery Life
    • Size
    • Navigation tools
  • Do you need the locator all year or only seasonaly?
  • Is texting and communicating two-way important?
  • Are pre-set messages good enough for what you need?
  • Do you want to pair the locator to your smartphone?

As you can see, only you can determine what is best for you. Consider what it is that is the most important thing for you. It may be enough to save some money, yet have the peace of mind that a rescue team can find you if trouble already has.

Here are Some PLBs and Satellite Messengers for you to Consider

Garmin inReach Explorer+ [Satellite Messenger]

  • Send and receive text messagesGarmin InReach Explorer
  • Setup pre-determined messages
  • Creates messages on the device but does not have a keyboard
  • The only model that serves as a handheld GPS navigator with built-in topo maps
  • Built-in altimeter
  • Built-in barometer
  • Built-in accelerometer
  • Request weather updates
  • Larger and heavier
  • IPX7 – Waterproof
  • Size = 6.5″ x 2.7″ x 1.5″
  • Weight = 7.5 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • Easy 2-way messaging
    • Great smartphone app
    • Loaded and proven global network
  • Con’s
    • Expensive initial purchase
    • Heaviest of the satellite messengers

Garmin inReach Mini [Satellite Messenger]

  • Send and receive messagesGarmin InReach Mini
  • Setup pre-determined messages
  • Create messages typed on the device but there is no keyboard
  • The InReach Mini has many of the same features as the InReach Explorer+ when synced to a smartphone
  • Can be synced with the Garmin Forerunner935 or the Fenix 5 series watches
  • Request weather updates
  • Monthly subscription plans are available if you only plan on using it part of the year.
  • Polo to pole coverage internationally
  • IPX7 – Waterproof
  • Size = 3.9″ x 2.0″ x 1.0″
  • Weight = 3.5 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • Small
    • 2-way messaging
  • Con’s
    • Typing a message is slow

SPOT X [Satellite Messenger]

  • Send and receive messagesSPOT X
  • IPX7 – Waterproof
  • IP67 – Dustproof
  • Will not sync with your smartphone
  • Built-in keyboard
  • Programmable waypoints
  • Comes with a unique U.S. mobil phone number
  • Operates on the Globalstar Satellite Network
  • Larger and heavier
  • Size = 6.5″ x 2.9″ x 0.9″
  • Weight = 6.7 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • 2-way messaging
    • On-device keyboard for easier messaging
  • Con’s
    • Bulky
    • So smartphone interface

SPOT Gen3 [Satellite Messenger]

  • Send messages ONLYSPOT Gen3
  • Three message options to choose from
  • The custom messages have to be composed at home, not on the device
  • Messages can only be sent to, up to 10 pre-determined, contacts before your trip starts
  • IPX7 – Waterproof
  • Monthly and yearly service plans available
  • Can charge with a re-supply power pack or extra AAA batteries.
  • Size = 3.4″ x 2.5″ x 1.0″
  • Weight = 4.0 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • Compact and lightweight
    • Rental options
  • Con’s
    • Only 1-way communication
    • No smartphone interface

Somewear Global Hotspot [Satellite Messenger]

  • Offers global coverageSomewear Global Hotspot
  • Ultralight
  • Compact
  • Text communication
  • Bluetooth
  • Location tracking
  • Weather reports
  • IPX7 – Waterproof
  • Size = 3.6″ x 3.0″ x 0.8″
  • Weight = 4.0 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • Small
    • Affordable subscription options
    • Proven satellite dispatch networks
  • Con’s
    • Only supports SOS on the device itself

Bivystick [Satellite Messenger]

  • 2-way satellite communication, with synced smartphoneBivystick
  • Share your location via text message, Facebook or Twitter
  • Tracking at 10 minute intervals
  • Detailed 3 or 7 day weather forecasts
  • Access to downloadable offline maps
  • Battery backup
  • Affordable monthly plan
  • Communicate with rescue teams directly
  • Weght = 12.0 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • Reliable network and dispatch service
    • Solid construction
  • Con’s
    • No functionality without your smartphone
    • Large and heavy

Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB1 [Personal Locator Beacon]

  • Waterproof to 15m
  • SOS for emergency services
  • Fast accurate positioning
  • 7 year battery life
  • No subsription
  • High intensity (1 candela) strobe
  • Homing beacon to aid in location by rescue teams
  • Size = 3.0″ x 2.0″ x 1.3″
  • Weight = 4.1 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • Reasonable initial purchase price
    • No paid subscription
    • Proven global network
  • Con’s
    • No “non-emergency” messaging

ACR ResQlink View [Personal Locator Beacon]

  • BuoyantACR ResQlink View
  • LED strobe light
  • Self test
  • 66 channel GPS
  • Easy emergency activation
  • Antenna clip
  • Battery replacement free of charge if you use it
  • Size = 4.5″ x 1.9″ x 1.6″
  • Weight = 5.4 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • COSPAS/SARSAT’s reliablilty and long track record
    • No annual subscrption fees
    • Simple operation
    • Excellent “emergency-only” personal beacon
  • Con’s
    • Large and heavy

ACR Aqualink View [Personal Locator Beacon]

  • BuoyantACR Aqualink View
  • LED strobe light
  • Self test
  • 66 channel GPS
  • Easy emergency activation
  • Screen displays GPS and LAT/LON
  • Battery replacement free of charge if you use it
  • Size = 5.8″ x 2.3″ x 1.5″
  • Weight = 9.2 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • No annual subscription fees
    • Simple operation
  • Con’s
    • Large and heavy

GoTenna Mesh [Satellite Messenger]

  • Send text and GPS without cell or wifi
  • Works with any smartphone
  • Up to 4 mile range
  • Great for communicating with groups
  • Affordable
  • Size = 5.0″ x 1.2″ x 0.5″
  • Weight = 1.7 oz.
  • Pro’s
    • Light and compact
    • Customizable communication network
  • Con’s
    • Limited coverage area
    • Limits to secure emergency services

Check out these articles HERE to learn more about Hiking Emergency Beacons.

If you would like additional information or to see other models, go to my REVIEW PAGE, leave a COMMENT BELOW or send me an EMAIL.

Check out these top 11 satellite communicators of 2023 in this YouTube video below.

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2 thoughts on “Help Me Choose”

  1. I have both the Acr Resqlink and the Spot X. I tried the Spot 2 weeks ago and was not impressed. I hike in a forested area with a limited view of the sky. I sent 7 messages to the same number and 3 were received.
    I carry the acr with me and leave the Spot at camp.
    Any idea of which 2 way communicator works best with limited sky view?

    Reply
    • Hi Jim.

      All of the satellite messengers and personal locator beacons will have issues with limited views of the sky but I prefer the Garmin inReach Mini and the Garmin inReach Explorer+. I believe they are more reliable and have additional functions that are important to me. They also have global, pole to pole coverage, where the SPOT products do not.

      I personally carry the inReach Mini as my primary satellite messenger. It is synced with my smartphone so I can get the topo maps and most of the same functions that the inReach Explorer+ has. My son uses the Garmin inReach Explorer+ as his primary satellite messenger. I do mostly day hikes or short overnight backpacking trips, so the inReach Mini is perfect for me.

      Let me know if you have any additional questions.

      Rick

      Reply

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