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Recommendations for a Personal Locator Beacon

I am interested in purchasing a PLB and curious to listen to any suggestions, reviews, feedback regarding brands and/or specific models that anyone has to offer.

13 Replies

Hello @bkrauter and great question! Here  is where I would start -- REI's how-to on selecting a PLB or Satellite Messenger. It has great info on the differences and helps you narrow down the decision to choose one over the other.

If you're settled on a locator beacon, they have some advantages. They don't need a subscription fee and often have a long-lasting battery. On the flip side, you can't send any message other than SOS.

The ACR ResQLink 400 is a popular choice in our stores, and ACR has a couple of other models from which to select your amount of features.

Hope this helps, and happy trails!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@bkrauter I've had the ACR ResQLink for several years, and am glad to see that users are pretty well satisfied.

That said, I'll be looking for one which is also a satellite messenger, especially if I only need to activate a subscription while I'm using it away from home, and can receive critical information like weather updates.

Here's a pro tip, when you get one.

Let others in your group know you are carrying a beacon and show them how to use it.  It does no good if you're the one who's injured (maybe unconscious) and really needs it, but no one else knows it's available.

REI Member Since 1979

@bkrauter I have been using a SPOT Gen 3 for about a year.  It does require a subscription. I loaded cell phone numbers of family/friends. It works well no matter where I have been.  That said, you lose signal in a thick stand of trees, spotty reporting.  To be sure this is pointed out in the literature and on their website.  Easily programmed from a laptop or cell phone. Yu can program  messages into it to show where you are and a separate message; say if you wanted to report that you were at your destination of are back at start point.  It can also be tracked in live time with a link provided on their website,

@Russ1663 Thank you! I will certainly take a look at the SPOT Gen 3! I really like the real time tracking option online!


Thank you for the link @REI-EricP! It was very helpful.  Upon review, it would seem that perhaps a satellite messenger might be better suited for me so I could provide updates to my wife at home and she could possibly monitor my progress online which would definitely give her more peace of mind.  Any recommendations you might make?


Glad that the article was able to give you some clarity @bkrauter ! Now as far as satellite messengers, you've got a couple of options.

If you're looking to save weight and space, it's hard to beat the Garmin inReach Mini . It comes in at only 3.5 ounces, so for a lot of folks that's a real plus. It's sister product, the inReach Explorer, is basically your navigation tool and satellite messenger all-in-one.

The Spot X is a very popular choice among outdoors people. I can tell you from working in the stores, a lot of people gravitate towards it. I think its big advantage is the size of the screen (larger and easier to read) and the amount of features it has. And while it is heavier than the inReach Mini, it has over 4x the battery life.

Honestly, you can't go wrong with either model. It might be worth checking out the current suite of subscription packages for each company -- that could be the deciding factor between these two great brands!

Hope this helps, and have fun out there!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@bkrauter For hiking, assuming you carry a suitable smart phone, it is hard to argue with the Garmin InReach Mini. It is small light and does what is needed for the places that still don't have cell coverage. The InReach gets you SOS and both preset and custom two way messaging and weather reports. It effectively has worldwide coverage although there may be political restrictions.  Once set up it can work independently from the smart phone but it is much less convenient to send custom messages that way. Two way messaging is a big advantage in a real rescue situation for obvious reasons.  Also with messaging you can summon help from friends when the "emergency" is not life threatening but merely uncomfortable.

It does require a subscription but you can put that on hold when you are not using it. The granularity of that is not great but it's not unreasonable. If you hike/travel a lot then they have an annual plan.

Garmin also has InReach enabled hand held GPS units that are more self contained and don't need a smartphone to make them work optimally.   Unlike the Mini,  these units are still useful GPS mapping devices when your subscription is suspended.  They are heavier and while they do combine the GPS mapping function I'm not convinced they are worth the extra weight and cost given that GPS mapping is essentially a free or inexpensive smart phone feature these days.  That might depend how well the GPS function works on your cell phone and also if you are only using electronic navigation then having a backup unit might be wise.  Personally I like to carry a "paper" map at least of the general area as a "backup" because maps being large are better at providing an overview with sufficient detail.

We used a Mini in the Sierras last year for tracking and messaging and it worked well.  The SOS function was thankfully never required so I can only go by the promise on that.  Clearly its ultimate effectiveness will depend on local SARS resources which is another reason the separate messaging function is useful.

Other devices may be more appropriate for water intensive activities.  It has no automatic  beacon

Thank you @OldGuyot  for your input!  The InReach Mini is definitely an option I'm looking at closely!  I appreciate your explanation of the two way messaging feature and its convenience when paired with a smartphone, since I always have mine with me when hiking since I use the ViewRanger app for following routes/laying down new tracks.  This seems like it would be very advantageous for readily communicating in an emergency situation.

Does the InReach Mini have a feature that your progress can be monitored by someone in real time?


@bkrauter Yes there is a tracking feature.  It is not exactly "real time".  You can set the frequency of update.  You view it via a link to a Garmin service which you can give out to people.   A low frequency update saves batteries and is generally sufficient for friends and relatives to follow along with the fun of your progress.  You can switch it off at night to save battery,  but as far as I know there is no automatic "nighttime" mode that puts the device to sleep and wake up at a certain time which would be nice.  You might use high frequency in a rescue situation or if you were negotiating more dangerous terrain where a fall is possible or possibly in a deep densely forested valley where satellite communication is spotty on the basis that more frequent messages increase the chance or some getting through or possibly if you are traveling in a vehicle.

Garmin has their own route planning app that works with the InReach.  I don't remember the name off hand.  Probably you can exchange route files with it but I don't have any experience with that since the device we used was not owned by me and we did not use Garmin for navigation preferring cached maps on smart phones and printed maps.