Calling 911 in the wilderness can be spotty at best. Even with advancements in cell phone services, the natural topography of the landscape and forest growth can inhibit your ability to call for help in an emergency.
Although commercial and military distress beacons have been used for decades, the FCC has only approved them for individual use since 2003. Since their introduction to the consumer market, the devices and services used to provide this lifeline to civilization have evolved into something everyone should have. Knowing what these top devices and services offer will help you select the best one for your needs.
No hidden fees — ACR ResQLink+ Personal Locator Beacon ($241)
At 5.4 ounces and only 4.5-inches long, the ResQLink+ is both a small and buoyant Personal Locator Beacon. With three levels of integrated signal technology, 66-channel GPS, a powerful 406 MHz signal and 121.5 MHz homing capability, the ResQLink+ quickly and accurately relays your position to within 100 meters or less to a network of internationally monitored, government operated search and rescue satellites.
ACR Electronics Inc., the ResQLink+ manufacturer, stands behind their product with a 5-year warranty against factory defects in materials and workmanship from date of purchase, and will repair or replace it at no cost. There are also no other fees, beyond the purchase price, to operate. Simply register your ResQLink+ PLB online with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at and hit the trail.
Backed by the most reliable network of search and rescue satellites, the ACR ResQLink+ is right for you if your top priorities are safety and peace of mind, and you want no extra fees or hidden costs. It is also highly recommended if you plan to adventure beyond the borders of the continental U.S.
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The lightweight option — SPOT GEN3 Satellite Personal Tracker ($150)
Launched in 2007, the original SPOT was one of the first to introduce enthusiasts to the concept of emergency satellite messaging devices. Since then, SPOT has continued to develop and release a line of products allowing you to stay connected to family and friends, and when needed, request emergency assistance from remote locations in the wilderness.
SPOT messenger’s onboard GPS chip sends your location and preselected messages to communication satellites, which relay them to specific satellite antennas around the world. Satellites and a global network route your location and messages to the appropriate network, which are delivered (depending on your instructions) via email, text message, or direct emergency notifications to the GEOS Rescue Coordination Center.
SPOT GEN3 can be purchased at most outdoor retailers for $150 but also requires a basic yearly service plan to operate for $150 or $15 per month. There are two service plan upgrades offered for more customizable tracking and messaging for additional fees.
At only 4 oz with lithium batteries, the SPOT GEN3 is extremely packable and with over 4800 rescues to date, it is worth the additional weight. The SPOT GEN3 is right for you if you are looking for peace of mind regarding safety, especially when out of cell phone coverage.
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For text addicts — DeLorme InReach SE Satellite Communicator ($243+)
From “hi” to “help” and any messages in between, the DeLorme InReach SE makes it possible to stay in touch where cell phones don’t. Using InReach SE’s color screen and virtual keyboard, you can both send and receive text messages and easily share your journey with family and friends, all thanks to the Iridium satellite network with 100 percent global coverage. In the event of an emergency, you can trigger an SOS, receive delivery confirmation, and then have a two-way text conversation with the search and rescue monitoring center until help arrives.
The durability and accuracy of DeLorme InReach SE has made it a favorite of outdoor adventures. The device’s GPS boasts an accuracy to +/- 5 meters, and has sustained incidental water exposure by being submerged one meter for 30 minutes. Its exterior case is rugged, dustproof and impact-resistant to Mil-STD-810G for shock and IP67 for dust. The InReach SE is also energy efficient with 100 hours of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode.
All these features come with a price tag, starting with the InReach SE purchased at most outdoor retailers for around $250. An active satellite subscription is also required to use the unit. First, there is an initial account activation fee $20. Then you must choose between two categories of plans — either one of the annual 12-month contract plans with lower monthly fees or freedom plans, which require only a 30-day commitment. These plans range from $20 a month to $100 a month.
The DeLorme InReach SE Satellite Communicator is by far the best for sending and receiving messages. The InReach SE is right for you if money is no object and your priority for staying in touch when you’re out of reach. If there are concerned loved ones who want to track you, this device is by far the most reliable and it’s the only device that reliably lets you communicate two ways.
Each of the devices covered here have a proven track record and could save your life. Ultimately, the decision lies in how connected you want to be when on the trail and how much you are willing to pay for it.
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