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    • As an avid outdoors person often wondering miles from roads and climbing big mountains, I own a Personal Locator Beacon and I believe carrying it on adventures is an absolute must.

      A personal locator beacon, fairly new tech, is probably the most incredible piece of safety tech you can buy today. A PLB is essentially emergency help button device. Pressing the button sends an SOS with your GPS location via satellite link to government agencies. The US Coast Guard, Air Force, and SARSAT will receive the SOS. One of them will dispatch local search and rescue to your transmitted location.

      The device is merely a tool to send a message of distress. It’s equivalent to calling 911 for help, but it works anywhere, outside of cell, wifi, even CB radio range. You don’t get any special treatment for owning the device. This is NOT press-a-button-and-a-helicopter-miraculously-saves-you tool (though helicopter rescues are fairly common). A local SAR will decide to how to safely access you. Response time in remote wilderness areas can vary from hours to days, depending on weather, daylight and location, so immediate medical attention and survival skills are still necessary when waiting for help.

      You can be sure SAR will send you a bill later, but doesn't matter if your life relies on it. Oh, and a very large fine if you were lazy and didn't make every reasonable attempt to save yourself before pressing the button. And even bigger fines if it’s a false SOS.

      What kind of PLB do you have? If you don't have one, why not?

    • I love these but the reason I don't have one is cost. I'm cheap. Super cheap. I love the concept but I feel like the price is expensive for what it is. What I'd like to see is a cheap unit (say $20) with a $80 fee or something for using it in case you need it, rather than a big fee up front.

      That will keep those from abusing it but would allow more people to have it in case of emergency.

    • I carry an ACR ResQLink+. I highly recommend this device. IMO, at about $230 (there are NO monthly fees; battery life is 5 years; replacement battery costs about $100) they are very cheap insurance ($46/year) that you will get the best possible response in a life threatening emergency. I am a retired Fire Rescue professional and based on my extensive research and personal experience, this is the only device I would recommend someone carry to access rescue in a true emergency. (BTW, whether after being rescued you will be charged or fined anything at all depends on the policy of the jurisdiction in which you were rescued. My department and all other local depts. of which I am aware charge nothing for pre-ambulance/heli rescue services).

    • I too carry the ACR ResQLink+ for the exact same reasons. Price in the long run is much cheaper than its competitors.

      But most importantly, the ResQLink+ is a PLB, and it is another grade above its non-PLB competitors, “satellite trackers.” A PLB is a government regulated designation for devices that meet very specific requirements to operate on the COSPAS/SARSAT

      COSPAS and SARSAT are operated by governments, looking out for peoples' best interests, unlike like their for-profit competitors, have vetted learnings and protocols from military applications, and more direct access to SAR resources.

    • i hear you. it’s expensive, and for some it’s even hard to afford…

      my ACR ResQLink cost me $230. For the risk I expose myself doing stuff like climbing in the backcountry and winter backpacking, I’d be willing to throw down $1000 for it. it’s insurance that I need

      if you can’t afford the PLB, and even if you carry one, share your itinerary with someone back at home and have a set time for them to call SAR if no response from you.

      Before PLB’s were a thing, I carried a HAM radio with police, fire, and ranger frequencies programmed in. I do a lot a backcountry in the sierra, and they have quite an extensive array of repeaters through the national parks, so you can often talk directly to LE / rangers deep in the mountains far from cell service, an effective tool in SAR that you cannot do with a PLB. Only $24 will get you started. If you're out of range or no one is listening you're SOL, so I'd suggest considering to save up for a PLB or split one between your group if you usually travel in a group

    • Sorry to ramble on about this topic, but I am invested in this issue. IMO, a two-way radio does not take the place of a PLB for several reasons. First, technically one needs a license to operate a HAM radio (and to my knowledge, all other forms of 2-way radio do not have enough range to always be useful in the backcountry). Second, as you mentioned, if no one is listening you are SOL. Third, if you are too incapacitated to speak or too disoriented to be able to operate the radio and to determine and convey your exact location, you are SOL. Fourth, unlike any other device, with the push of one button a PLB will reach help immediately via satellite (i.e., requiring fewer relays of information (which take time and might cause errors)) and will automatically convey via GPS your exact location; and in a life threatening emergency you need help ASAP (there exists in such situations what is called in emerg. medicine the "golden hour", which refers to the concept that people who are found and attended to within an hour stand a much greater chance of survival). Finally, in my experience with SAR, even if you have a cell phone with service, if you call 911 for rescue, and use your phone GPS, there is a lot of room for error (e.g., you may not reach the closest 911 dispatch center, your location may not be given with enough accuracy, etc.). The PLB above prices out to $33 per year over 10 years (figuring in initial cost plus 5 year battery replacement); to me this seems extremely cheap when one's life is on the line.

    • 100% agree. The time and effort to get a HAM radio license is greater than the cost of a PLB, so my suggestion is shortsighted and irrelevant for those looking to save money. Thanks for correcting and teaching me.

      To elbarote: A HAM radio is not a replacement for a PLB, and was something I carried with me before the days of cell phones then PLBs. I am also a licensed HAM operator / GSM license holder.

      Growing up in the backcountry without modern tech, we learned quickly that minor accidents could be life threatening. Signaling for rescue was limited to stuff like smoke signals (really bad practice these days) or flashing mirrors at aircraft. A HAM radio became another tool to carry that could work a little better in certain circumstances. Even if you had to hike miles up mountains to get a signal in, you were better off.

      @flei - So considering the greater cost, do PLB's lower the cost of rescue and make it safer for SAR personal (I think so)? Being cheap and not owning a PLB also puts others at a higher risk.

      Really, you shouldn't be in the backcountry without a PLB these days. Buy one before investing in a new backpack, shoes, new shinny, ultralight cams, etc. Everyone will be better off in the long run.

    • In the early 2000’s I was first responder to my buddy that crashed greenlaning on an enduro adventure at 70mph in the Mojave Desert. He was passed out on the ground for 5 minutes, then woke up mumbling and having seizures. We were miles from a paved road. No cell service in those days. I couldn’t leave my buddy so I had to signal SOS with my dirtbike headlight to a ranger station miles away.

      A PLB would have been the BEST thing to have but in those days they weren't really a thing. A HAM radio might have worked in that situation because we were a few miles LOS from a ranger station, but a PLB would have been perfect. It would take me a few seconds to activate, and then I could spend the rest of the time aiding to the victim. With a HAM, I'd have to find a channel with people on it and describe where I am in a flat, uniform valley. Not really useful!

    • Hi, I’m with you on a PLB being an excellent thing to have (I ride adventure motorbikes, sometimes a bit off the beaten track and it’s nice to know my ResQLink is with me), but just wanted to clarify that here in Europe (and indeed in most of the world) there are definitely no charges for being rescued, nor fines for accidental false alarms. Deliberate false alarms may well get expensive fast but so they should. Also, in many countries registering the PLB is a legal requirement (it’s usually free). A PLB alert will still be acted upon though under all circumstances, registered or not.

    • although l have a device, I feel in some ways that it was better not being tied to the outside world.

      Which is not to say don’t take one but consider the responsibility when you do.

    • I have a SPOT device that I've been carrying for the past 10 years. I've never had to use it for an emergency but do use it to send a nightly message to my wife letting her know I'm OK and my location.

      I don't like the annual fee, but consider it just the price I need to pay for safety.

    • here in Europe (and indeed in most of the world) there are definitely no charges for being rescued, nor fines for accidental false alarms.

      👍 I'm learning a lot about the expenses of SAR. I've been in the process of getting people from the wilderness into life flights to hospitals. Those patients were hit with $10k+ bills for the helicopter ride. That's hospital transit, not being rescured. Good to know that activating the PLB button might not end in financial ruin.

    • I feel in some ways that it was better not being tied to the outside world.

      That's why I like my ACR ResQLink. There's no tracking, no messaging, and no radio. It's merely another tool in my first aid kit.

    • I just listed to an episode of the Sharp End Podcast about a guy who nearly died lost in the snowy Sierra.

      By late April, Marcus Mazzaferri had already hiked nearly 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. He was just about to stop for the day near Tuolumne Meadows, high in Yosemite National Park, when he came across a swollen creek and decided to cross it before setting up camp. What happened next left Marcus all alone, with no gear, 15 miles from the nearest road. His story will make you wonder: What would I have done?

      He had a satellite messenger in his pack that washed down a river. Like him, I've never carried my PLB on my person, rather always somewhat accessible in my backpack. This really makes me rethink carrying it on my body in a pocket, via a strap, or some other attachment method.

    • I used to use a SPOT locator when I did solo rides in the California and Nevada desert. I don't use it any other time and have since let my membership lapse. I think it's money well spent if you do any kind of remote or solo riding. If you consider the cost of motocycling then it's a miniscule amount in comparison.

    • That's the thinking I use - I'll spend $$$ on gear for the bike, etc., so I should be willing to put in $15/month for the insurance policy.

      Also, @ian408, great tip - I'm moving the new Garmin one I'll be getting from the top case to the front pocket of the jacket.

    • I don't carry one, I prefer to get into and out of trouble on my own. True, most of my time in the Sierra Nevada is in the context of leading (volunteer) Sierra Club backpack trips, and we now carry satellite phones, because liability. But even when I go on my own, solo, overnight... I eschew the digital devices. I prefer being off the grid and responsible for my own fate.

    • While that sounds noble and selfless, the reality is that if you get lost or stranded, someone who knows you are missing/delayed is going to contact the authorities and they ARE going to come to find you whether you want them to or not. Not being able to know your exact location (since you don't have a PLB, etc.) will cost rescuers time, resources and likely increase the danger to them. It will also end up costing those that pay for you to be rescued more money (i.e, in most places, the taxpayer). Since it will also likely take longer to find you, your situation may become more critical, or you could die; this very negatively impacts your family, friends and others. I therefore conclude that, IMO, not carrying a PLB into the backcountry is, rather than selfless, selfish.

    • That's a great perspective, thanks. True, I ensconce myself in an "old school" frame of mind when I'm backpacking, knowing that people have been tramping off-trail through the wilderness for over a hundred years, long before electronics provided means of telling someone at home where we were. But... I hear you. A search *will* take place, because I let my wife know where I'm going and when to expect me back home. And since searchers *will* make use of whatever technologies they have access to... knowing my coordinates would help them.

      I just rearranged my thinking on this. :deal

    • @andrew, I too go backpacking to detach from society. I leave the tech at home (except my DSLR). I'm old school in that way. It was hard for me to stomach purchasing/carrying a PLB, but now carrying it with me on all my trips, I've realized it's pretty old school too. My ACR ResQLink is literally just a big button. Unless I activate it, I am still completely detached from society. Even when I do activate it, I'm off the grid. There are no communications. It's a silent call for help. So I think you'd be surprised how uninvasive it is having a PLB on you. At least for me personally, I'd feel a little less off the grid if I were carrying other equipment like a Sat Phone or Messenger.

      Until we had the conversation on Cake, I viewed my ownership of a PLB as something fairly selfish: an SOS button to save ME. But @flei got us both to reconsider our views. It's quite the opposite, it's the selfless device.

      Hugh Herr describes a terrible accident requiring him being rescued:

      We suffered some severe frostbite and hypothermia because of the frostbite. ... Our physical condition, to me, was the least of my concern. We were plucked from the mountain and we were told that a volunteer rescuer had died [trying to rescue us] from an avalanche. The news of that was just horrible, so I really didn't care what was happening with my physical body. I was just devastated by the news that a fellow climber had perished.

      I couldn't imagine carrying the burden of a rescuer dying in attempts to save me. Now that we have PLB's in this day and age, I'll always carry one to keep other lives possibly a little safer.

    • +1 on the SPOT. If nothing else, the peace of mind (piece of mind? ;-)) it gives my family when I'm out and about is priceless. Worst case scenario something happens and I can't push the button, there's still a track of where I've been that would help them find where I am.


    • It's really cool to see how much people love their Spots. I love my ACR ResQLink, but my loved ones at home don't have the same peace of mind that Spot users' loved ones do because the Spot has tracking and the ability to send pre-programmed messages

      It's exciting to follow my friends' Spot tracks on their adventures sports, including flying gliders across the country and hiking the PCT.

    • 3 hikers in Denali were recently rescued as a result of their PLB transmission. It reminds me that a PLB is another level above a SPOT in terms of triaging the rescue. For these hikers, the transmission was directly picked up by a SARSAT satellite, and the request was dispatched by NOAA to the Alaska National Guard. For a SPOT, the SOS feature would first route through the private company's support center where they would hopefully know who to call given the conditions. I trust my goverment to save my life more than a small private corporation. Sorry to criticize satellite messengers like SPOT. I just want people to be aware of satellite messenger vulnerabilities so we can be as safe as possible when adventuring.

    • I was on several Sierra Club backpacking trips this summer with an inReach device, and was party to several incidents that came up on other trips, where I was the designated contact for people in the field. Some observations:

      InReach coverage seems really good, even in Sierra Nevada canyons. We were never unable to get a signal, though there were often delays, waiting for confirmation that a pending message had been sent. I love the iphone integration, and ability to send messages to groups of people, quickly added from contacts on the phone.

      Receiving inReach messages was really cool, since each is tagged with map coordinates, and a link to the location, in their own mapping service. Getting a response back while in the field sometimes took over ten minutes, even when the person "at home" replied right away.

      They were critical in assessing fire and smoke conditions in the mountains, where people at home could be ready to check with CalFire and relay information.

      Sadly... they also shattered the sense of remoteness I love in the wilderness. I found myself waiting for the beep of an incoming response, even if just a heart emoji from my wife. But it's the price to pay for connectivity. I'll get my own soon, and pair it with my phone.

      We also carried satellite phones on the trips, but did not use them. If there had been a true emergency, such as needing medical attention, we would not have hesitated in turning to the sat phones, since they provide a superior real-time voice connection.