Best Personal Locator Beacon: Choose the Right PLB for a Backcountry Adventure

A personal locator beacon will track your location and send a signal to authorities in the event of an emergency. Here’s how to find the best PLB for you.

A personal locator beacon is an essential piece of emergency survival gear for any serious outdoors person. Commonly referred to as a PLB, a personal locator beacon is a small, portable device that tracks your whereabouts in the backcountry and allows you to send a distress signal via satellite to alert authorities if you get into trouble and need rescuing. Hopefully you will never have to use the emergency alert feature on your personal locator beacon, but as with any survival equipment, it’s always better to be prepared.

You might ask yourself if you really need a personal locator beacon. If you spend any considerable time in remote areas away from other people and out of range cell service, the answer is an easy yes. These are must-have pieces of survival gear for serious outdoor expeditions any time of the year.

Features To Consider When Shopping For a Personal Locator Beacon

Besides the cost, you want to consider the weight of the personal locator beacon, because you’ll be carrying it with you wherever you go along with the rest of your emergency gear. Some have features such as connectivity and navigation aids. Consider how much weight you’ll be comfortable adding to your pack, and if additional features are worthwhile to you.

Is Weight of Your Outdoor Gear a Crucial Consideration?

One main component to consider when putting together your emergency survival kit is always weight. When you’re going into remote areas, odds are that you will want to make every pound count. This means that you need to consider size, weight, and overall portability of your personal locator beacon.

All PLBs are designed to be able to be carried on your person. They should never be so large that you hesitate attaching one directly to yourself or your backpack. That said, there is still a range of sizes available in today’s PLBs. The smallest devices come in it at around 3 ounces, while larger devices can weigh upwards of 7 ounces. Lightweight devices may have less features than larger, bulkier ones, but what you sacrifice in functionality you gain in portability.

Best PLB for Light Packers: Garmin inReach Mini

Ultralight

The Garmin inReach Mini is a pocket-ready satellite communicator. Garmin

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The Garmin inReach Mini packs a real punch for its size. It’s small, rugged, and lightweight, coming in at only 3.6 ounces. It has a reliable SOS, GPS tracking and navigation, two-way messaging, and a functional screen that means you can use the device directly without pairing it to your phone.

Is Communication a Priority?

Many personal locator beacons makers offer different types of subscriptions. Monthly subscriptions are usually better if you only take a couple of backcountry trips each year. Annual subscriptions offer the best bang for your buck as long as you’re consistently exploring the country that doesn’t have cell service. Some subscriptions allow limited two-way communication so you can correspond with your friends and family.

Best PLB for Communication: Spot X

Full Keyboard

The Spot X satellite messenger makes it easy to stay in touch even when you’re in the most remote places. Spot X

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The Spot X is a personal locator beacon that shines when it comes to two-way communication. The device has the standard features that come with most PLBs: the ability to send a distress signal, blue-tooth phone connectivity, and built-in compass. The Spot X also offers a full keyboard, much like the ones found on the original BlackBerry phones. This means you can type with ease and message your friends, family, and partners anywhere in the world. The device is bulkier than other PLBS without this feature, but many find the tradeoff worthwhile.

Do You Want a PLB for on-the-water use?

The predecessor to the personal locator beacon is the EPIRB, which stands for “Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.” an EPIRB is made to be attached directly to a boat, while PLBs are designed for personal use. Both devices track your location and send SOS signals.

An EPIRB is meant to be installed on a boat, and can be set to trigger an SOS automatically when submerged in water. These devices have strobe lights and are designed to float. A PLB isn’t a true replacement for an EPIRB, but it will still work in marine environments, and can be carried by an individual crew member. If you want a PLB that will work when boating, you should get one that floats, is waterproof, and has a strobe.

Best PLB For Marine Use: ACR ResQLink View

Simple Safety

The ACR ResQLink View offers peace of mind for ocean expeditions. ACR

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The ACR ResQLink View is as simple as personal locator beacons go. It’s only function is to send a distress signal—nothing else. The device uses GPS locating, 406 MHz, and 121.5 MHz homing capability to send an SOS, meaning the authorities can find you anywhere in the world, including on the vastest of oceans. The device does not require a subscription, but only works for 5 years, which is the length of the device’s battery life. Several other features make it especially marine-worthy: The beacon is buoyant. It has an LED strobe and an infrared strobe. A multi-function clip allows you to keep the beacon close by at all times.

Do You Want a PLB with GPS, Mapping, Communication Ability, and Weather Reporting?

When you’re considering buying a personal locator beacon, one of the first things that might stand out to you is the cost. These devices are pricey, even the low-cost versions. You might be hesitant to spend that kind of money—but remember, the main role of a PLB is for you to be able to signal for help when in a remote area. It can literally save your life.

That said, some PLBs come equipped with an array of features, all of which can help you stay alive. For a do-it-all PLB, look for one that comes equipped with two-way communication, GPS navigation, ability to download topo maps, and weather reporting.

Best PLB Overall: Garmin inReach Explorer+

Gold-Standard

The Garmin inReach Explorer+ has numerous helpful features. Garmin

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The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is one of the most popular personal locator beacons available today, and for good reason: It comes loaded with useful features. The 100 percent global Iridium satellite coverage means you are never out of reach. The device will trigger an interactive SOS that corresponds with a 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center. You can pair the device with most mobile phones to access features like downloadable maps and text messaging. On Screen GPS navigation allows you to monitor your location, and it has a built in digital compass. The device also boasts a barometric altimeter and accelerometer. This is a relatively large PLB, but has many helpful features.

Best Budget PLB: What You Get For Under $150

Personal locator beacons are expensive, no doubt about it. They provide a potentially life-saving function, and you get what you pay for in terms of reliability. The more you pay for your beacon, the more features you will get. That said, if all you’re looking for is the ability to send a distress signal, you can look for a simple, budget device that could still spell the difference between life and death in a disaster scenario.

Best Cheap PLB: Nexus Wireless Spot Gen4

Affordable

The Nexus Wireless Spot Gen4 is affordable and effective. Nexus Wireless

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The Nexus Wireless Spot Gen4 is a no-frills personal locator beacon. It’s affordable and works well. It’s a one-way transceiver, meaning you can send a distress signal but you won’t be able to receive any updates from the authorities. It will track your location, but won’t help you navigate if you get lost. You can send updates to your friends and family, but you won’t be able to receive their replies. But if you’re on a budget and you want a basic PLB, this is a great option.

PLB FAQ: People Also Ask

Do I need a personal locator beacon?

Whether or not you need a personal locator beacon depends on how much time you spend exploring the backcountry, especially places you aren’t familiar with and where other people aren’t close by. If you spend a lot of time exploring remote areas, you should purchase a PLB.

How much are personal locator beacons?

The most affordable PLBs are between $150 and $200. The standard PLB is around $300, while the top-rate PLBs are upwards of $400.

Will I need to purchase a subscription to use a personal locator beacon?

Most satellite communicators require that you purchase a corresponding subscription, or else your new device will be practically useless. Most subscriptions are offered by the same company that makes the device. So, when you’re looking at personal locator beacons, look beyond the product page. Check out the subscriptions that each device requires.

A Final Word on Shopping for Personal Locator Beacons

A personal locator beacon means that you won’t be stranded without help no matter where in the world you are. It’s a must-have safety device for any hunter, angler, or adventurer who spends significant time in the backcountry. It also provides peace of mind, so that you’ll always have a means of contacting authorities no matter where you are. Get the best personal locator beacon today!