Best Personal Locator Beacons for using in the US in 2022

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Have you ever been lost in the Supermarket? 

How about on the trail?

Every year hikers and travellers get lost in the woods and the ones that get saved quickly and safely have been equipped with a personal locator safety beacon - get rescued, get out. 

NASA has a firm estimate of 351 American lives were saved in 2021

Could that be you in 2022?

Here's how to find and review the best locater beacon for personal use.

What is an emergency personal locater beacon?

A distress beacon is a small, lightweight device. You raise the aerial, push a button and it transmits a signal via satellites to tell the local authorities that you require urgent assistance.

Each country has its own Rescue Coordination Centre (in America this is usually the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration that monitors for and then responds to all beacon activations. These units work quickly to find out as many details as they can about who set off the beacon and promptly send search and rescue teams to assist.

A distress beacon lets you instantly signal for help and they work almost anywhere in the world sharing your location so the search part of the rescue operation is easily accomplished.

There is a range of beacons that can be used:

  • PLBs - Personal Locator Beacons for use on land and during recreational activities
  • EPIRBs - Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons for use in boats and commercial vessels
  • ELTs - Emergency Locator Transmitters for use in aircraft.
You may sometimes see these units also referred to as Satellite Messengers (as they use GPS tracking which is done via satellites that roam the heavens).

Obviously, you as a hiker and outdoors person should be seeking the best person locater beacon available per your means. 

Here's the sweet spot for many outdoor enthusiasts in the States:

mcmurdo personal locator beacon 2022

McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon

Featuring a Minimum 24hr continuous operation and no subscription fee to use, the McMurdo Fast Find is a very popular seller on the Amazon site

For use on land or sea (such as canoeing adventures), this unit will give you peace of mind whether you are travelling as an individual or with your family or hiking party.

The unit casing itself is a soft neoprene float case that can be removed for non-water activities.

If you are based in America you will obviously buy the unit for the US market and register the device with NOAA.

A buyer of the Find Fast on Amazon said: 

"Many people have died because they were injured and couldn’t get help. Check out Missing 411 on YouTube. I’m a single mom clearing land deep in the forest and I saved until I could purchase it. It stays strapped on my belt. Once activated, search and rescue will be alerted and help will be sent. I hope I never need it but I sure feel safer and my family feel safer knowing I have it. If someone you love could benefit from one of these it would make a great gift."

Next up on the list of the best personal locater beacons is a classic from Garmin

Garmin is world-famous for making products that use tracking technologies - from pig hunting trackers to walkie talkie radios - and PLB:

garmin inreach personal locater beaconThe Garmin inReach Mini is a quality product that can be paired with the app on your phone and can perhaps somewhat unexpectedly send and receive many types of messages (which can be quite handy if you've set the unit off and would-be rescuers need to have a chit chat. 

The unit offers customized individual text streams, bulk pre-programmed messages (so you don't have to type out the same "I'm doing fine" message to each person), and GPS and web-linked live tracking. 

Be absolutely mindful that this unit is a subscription-based model which requires a monthly fee for use of the service.

The official line says:

"inReach Mini is your go-to connection for maintaining off-the-grid contact. It’s our palm-sized satellite communicator for adventures where size and weight matter. inReach Mini lets you send and receive text messages, track and share your journey and, if necessary, trigger an SOS alert to contact the GEOS 24/7 emergency response team. With inReach connectivity, your family and friends will know they can stay in touch globally."

  • Small, rugged, lightweight satellite communicator enables two-way text messaging using the global Iridium network (satellite subscription required)
  • Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center (satellite subscription required)
  • Access downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery and more by using the free Garmin Eathmate app and compatible devices
  • Optional inReach weather forecast service provides detailed updates directly to your inReach Mini or paired device; basic and premium weather packages available
  • Send and receive inReach messages through compatible Garmin devices
Which is some great marketing speak and all but how do real users who have bought via Amazon rate and review the unit?

"Now for the big questions: Does it work? Do I need it? Is there something better for me? YES IT WORKS. The satellite communicator on this newest model works as reliably as the older versions. In other words, if you can find some sky. it will get your messages out and responses back. The time it takes depends on how much sky you can see and how often you check for satellites. The MINI will check once each hour, or you can manually check at any time. There is no additional cost to listen for satellites. As for the new GPS features, they are also reliable as you would expect coming from Garmin. The screen on the InReach is smaller than top of the line dedicated GPS devices. The user interface is not touchscreen, but it works fine in bright sunlight. That's on purpose. Unlike simple GPS units that only receive signals from orbiting GPS satellites, the InReach battery is designed to also send messages to a different group of communication satellites from Iridium located miles in space and still last at least 50 hours in the backcountry. To achieve these goals the battery can't support ultra bright or touch screens. But I have found that by cupping my hand over the screen I can read the finest detail at high noon on a sunny day. The topo maps on EarthMate are fully detailed with altitude rings clearly marked and showing the type of terrain. Even some stores and business names are given in the towns. So to be clear, this is a robust, reliable satellite communicator and GPS orienteering device all in one package with the ability to last 50 hours on a charge if used responsibly. I have had my InReach last well over a month by lowering the screen brightness when not in the direct sun, turning it off at night and contacting friends and family only three times a day at prearranged times to minimize when the InReach needs to seek satellites. EarthMate on the phone will provide ALL of the navigation features even if the InReach MINI is turned off."

One user was not too happy about connectivity:

"This expensive device is just terrible. I purchased it because I spend a lot of time in an area with no cell coverage and I need to check in with staff. It can take 15 minutes for it to find a satellite or it might not find a satellite at all. Even in clear open sky, it won't connect. It's very disappointing."

Bear that in mind, but here's a great user review:

BUY THIS. BUY IT NOW. I can't say enough good things about this product!! We use this for backpacking and hunting purposes. The membership is completely worth your money even when you might think you won't need it... you will. We have been using this for a few weeks now, the battery life could be better but its not horrible. The messaging capabilities is awesome - especially for worried spouses or family members. The Bluetooth part and the Earthmate app is also awesome - especially when you need to send a detailed message via Garmin and can't spell everything out on the Garmin itself. The ease of use and the simple user interface is pretty great and easy for just about anyone willing to learn. The SOS button is an obvious and clear choice of greatness. So far we are loving this product and I like showing it off to my fellow hiker friends!

Just yesterday this item paid for itself 8x over just about... our garage had been robbed and my hiking pack was stolen among other expensive items. Thankfully, the night prior after returning from a hike, I was a lazy S.O.B. and just dumped my bag on the garage floor and went to bed. My awesome inReach mini was in the bag and still on! Thanks to that pesky subscription (that I was almost too cheap to pay for) We were able to track my device to the thief's location and police were able to get 90% of our stuff back. The other 10% was food items and a few charging cables and a cheap small battery charger. Easily replaceable. But we got back over $2000 worth of stuff back because of this Garmin!
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