What’s The Best PLB for Hiking?

A PLB device offers the best chance of rescue in a survival situation.

A PLB device offers the best chance of rescue in a survival situation.

Though we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst. No matter how experienced you are at hiking, there’s always a risk of an accident or emergency. You could become lost, break your leg, or become trapped without warning. A PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) will drastically improve your odds of being rescued quickly during a survival situation. It’s an essential piece of equipment to bring whenever you venture out to remote or difficult-to-reach areas.

While all PLBs are designed to aid in rescue, there are many different emergency electronic devices available. It’s difficult to know which features you need, and how to sort through the marketing jargon. Some even require you to purchase a subscription service. Which device is right for you, and which ones are worth the money? Don’t panic! We’ve put in the research to help you to choose the best PLB for hiking.

What electronic device do I need in an emergency?

There are a few different emergency electronics on the market. Most common are phones, but both satellite and cell phones tend to have the same drawbacks.

  • Phones have a habit running out of battery when you need them the most.
  • Coverage can be sketchy, and is dependent on weather conditions and the landscape.
  • Even the most rugged phones are not usually designed to survive the water, shocks, and vibrations associated with traumatic events.
  • Another downside to using a phone as an emergency aid is that they don’t tell rescuers exactly where you are.

GPS devices can often be what got you into trouble in the first place. Additionally, their signals can bounce off of, or be absorbed by, trees, snow, or cliffs.

Some emergency devices, such as SENDs, require subscriptions and become dead weight if you don’t pay. A SEND uses a weaker signal than a PLB, meaning overhead obstructions, such as cloud cover, may block the transmission.

Trees, terrain, and cloud cover can interfere with the signal emitted by some emergency locator devices.

Trees, terrain, and cloud cover can interfere with the signal emitted by some emergency locator devices.

Personal Locator Beacons

PLBs that operate on the 406MHz range are the most reliable option. These devices emit a beacon that informs Search and Rescue exactly where you are. Most also include a 121.5 MHz homing signal, which rescuers can use as a backup to the GPS coordinates. You register a PLB using its unique serial number, so emergency services knows not just where you are, but who you are and who else to contact.

Advantages of owning a PLB for hiking

A PLB can save your life. It’s really that simple. There are a range of options available for emergencies, but a PLB is without a doubt the most reliable. They do lack two-way messaging, unlike other devices, but are more affordable and have a proven track record. In an emergency situation, a PLB is your best chance for a safe rescue.

While you should carry a GPS device and a cell phone, along with your physical gear (such as water purification tablets, flashlight, first aid kit and a survival blanket), there’s no reason not to carry a PLB. They are usually surprisingly small, tough, and require no second thought (other than tossing it in your bag) until a survival situation occurs.

What features should I look for a PLB?

Ideally you should purchase a PLB from a reputable brand. The best PLBs are made to exacting standards. Features vary a lot, but generally the best models are the simplest ones. All you really need is a button to alert the local authorities to your location, a homing beacon, and a built-in strobe light. Anything else is just extra.

Battery life can be very short for some emergency devices but the best models, while not disposable as such, are single-use items. After activation and rescue you will need to send the battery off for replacement. While a mild nuisance, it’s actually a fantastic feature, as you know the device will work when necessary and will stay ready to use for many years.

ACR ResQLink Plus 406 Personal Locator Beacon

Image of ACR ResQLink plus 406The ACR ResQLink Plus 406 is a compact PLB—fantastic not just for hikers, but also for anyone who enjoys outdoor activities. As small as a cell phone, this device floats and has a rugged, waterproof design. Features include a 406MHz signal and a 121.5MHz homing beacon, an LED strobe light, and built-in GPS. This is everything you need in a safety device.

It’s important to note that the default GPS settings only work in the US, but reprogramming to a different region is possible. The satellite and homing signals, however, work throughout the world. Buyers say it provides a huge sense of security, although the majority (thankfully) have never had to use it.

Registering the device is surprisingly easy. Over half of PLBs are unregistered, but registering aids rescuers in getting you home safe and sound. While not cheap, this product will last many years and, if you do ever need to activate it, this device can safe your life. That’s money well-spent.

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ACR PLB-375 ResQLink Personal Locating Beacon

Image of ACR PLB-375More affordable, and slightly more basic compared to the model above, the ACR PLB-375 ResQLink is still a fantastic PLB device. Especially for hikers, this simpler model features the same life-saving features as the ResQLink Plus, but is a little cheaper. The only real differences are that it’s a little smaller and lighter, and less waterproof. If you are likely to get in a river, then the Plus may be a better option for you.

For overland hiking and trips into the great unknown, this model is definitely a great, affordable choice. Reviewers say it’s smaller than a cellphone, is easy to pack, and offers peace of mind. While not as waterproof as the Plus, this tried-and-tested PLB is an essential piece of kit that can save your life in an emergency, no matter where you are.

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Stay safe!

A PLB is an absolutely necessary piece of equipment for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. There are many other emergency electronic devices available, but a PLB with 406MHz satellite signal and 121.5MHz homing signal has been proven again and again to be the best. Our top choice for the best PLB for hiking is the ACR PLB-375. It’s tough and built to last, and is an affordable investment that may well save your life.

Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Texas Military Department and Loren K.

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