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Best Personal Locator Beacons and Satellite Messengers

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Personal Locator Beacon and Satellite Messenger Devices

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This is a gear review about the Best Personal Locator Beacons and Satellite Messengers in 2022.

No serious backcountry explorer should be without some form of personal locator beacon. These small and simple items are used to send out a distress signal when you’re in need of rescuing.

Although we all may hope never to use one, they should still form a vital part of the emergency gear for any outdoor person.

To make your decision easier, I’ve rounded up some of the best personal locator beacons (PLBs) and best two-way satellite messengers on the market. 



Best Personal Locator Beacons 2022?

What are the Best Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) in 2022 are:

Best PLB for Backpacking – Overall

Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB1

Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB1

Weight: 4.1oz / 116g
Pros:

> Portability – Small and lightweight, to fit into any emergency kit.
> Ease of use – With a simple button system, it can be operated in even the most distressing situations.
> Price – With just a one-time cost, it’s cheaper than a subscription model.
Cons:
> No two-way messaging – The uses are limited, as you can only send out a signal.

If you’re after a no-frills personal locator beacon then the RescueMe gets the job done. This small device is purchased for a one-time price and comes with a 7-year battery and warranty.

Should you need an emergency rescue, it can be operated with a single hand to send an alert to the dedicated search and rescue satellite network.

The RescueMe offers no two-way communication, and simply sends out a distress signal with no further information.

This device is reliable but minimal. The satellite coverage is excellent but with no other forms of communication, there are definite limitations. If you want simple, then this is the Personal Locating Beacon for you.

The one-time purchasing price makes it cheaper than many other devices.

If you are looking for something simple, reasonably priced, easy to use, and reliable then this may be the Best PLB for Backpacking to get right now.

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ACR ResQLink PLB

ACR ResQLink PLB

Weight: 5.2oz / 148g
Pros:

> Price – Only a one-time purchasing fee is required, with no additional subscription costs.
> Buoyancy – For use on the water.
> Ease of use – ACR has worked with hikers for a device that’s incredibly simple to use.
Cons:
> No two-way messaging – The uses are limited, as you can only send out a signal.
> Portability – This is larger and bulkier than some other PLBs.

The ResQLink View is another basic device, designed to send out a signal in the most distressing of circumstances. 

There are three levels of signal technology integrated into the ResQLink View – GPS Positioning, a 406MHz signal, and 121.5HMz Homing Capabilities.

Once your signal has been sent out, this powerful technology will quickly and accurately relay your information to a worldwide search and rescue network.

There are a few other features of the ResQLink that make it a desirable choice. There’s a built-in buoyancy for water use.

A range of attachment clips, including a belt clip and an oral inflation tube clip, give it increased wearability for varying activities. And the built-in Infrared and bright LED strobe lights to ensure extra visibility for nighttime rescues.

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ACR ResQLink 400 PLB

ACR ResQLink 400 PLB

Weight: 5.28oz / 150g
Pros:

> Ease of use – In a distressing situation, the ACR ResQLink 400 is intuitive and basic.
> Infrared and bright LED strobe lights – The built-in lights are invaluable for assisting a low-visibility rescue.
> Price – No subscription costs, and a cheaper device all around.
Cons:
> Basic – This is an incredibly basic device, with no two-way communication and limited features.

The ACR PLB is a basic unit that’s linked to a trusted network of search and rescue with proven results, then the ResQLink 400 is a decent purchase. 

With an intuitive button system, a built-in infrared and bright LED strobe light, and compact size, the ACR ResQLink 400 will slide easily into anyone’s emergency kit.

It may not have the features of some higher-end devices, but it will send out an emergency beacon.

It can be frustrating to purchase PLBs because it’s an expensive item that you don’t want to use. A ResQLink 400 will give peace of mind without the high prices of some other options. A good option for a basic hiking beacon.

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Best Satellite Messenger 2022

The Best Satellite Messengers 2022 are:

Best 2 Way Satellite Messenger

Garmin InReach Mini 2

Garmin Inreach mini 2 handheld GPS messenger

Weight: 3.5 oz / 100 grams
Pros:

> Ultra lightweight
> Very Good battery life
> Small size
> 2-way communications
Cons:
> Small Screen
> Need a subscription to use the features
> The 2 way communications are not as easy as Zoleo or Somewear Labs.

New in 2022 the Garmin InReach 2 is an improvement from the very popular Garmin InReach mini. This new model has a digital compass and a trackback feature so you can follow your own tracks if you got lost. But most impressive is the increased battery life.

Although this is an improvement on the inReach mini it is not so impressive that you should get rid of your inReach to upgrade. In fact, with the now-discounted price of the inReach mini, you could save some money by buying that.

Overall, if you are looking for a device that tracks your location, has the ability to contact emergency services for rescue, and has two-way satellite communication then this is the best 2-way satellite communication device on the market.

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Best Satellite Communicator for Smartphone

Zoleo Satellite Communicator

Zoleo

Weight:
Pros:

> Still works of you your Smartphone has no battery or is broken
> Multi-signal messaging – The two-way communication functions uninterrupted across a range of signals.
> Preset ‘I’m OK’ message – A reassuring bonus should your smartphone break.
Cons:
> Limited on-device communication – If your smartphone breaks, the Zoleo loses much of its originality.

Zoleo may not have been around as long as Garmin but they have a much better user interface than Garmin. Their two-way messaging system works across cellular, wifi, and satellite signals, for uninterrupted communication. That feature alone makes it a winner.

Add to that the fact that it is very reasonably priced and the plans that you need when using this device are quite a lot cheaper than the competition. With messages, weather, incoming and outgoing SMS, and more all on your own dedicated phone number.

The downside is that without the smartphone, the Zoleo has limited functionality. The SOS signal still works, but only a basic preset ‘I’m OK’ message can be sent. So when using this device, be sure to carry a backup battery bank.

Overall, this has a good user interface and a solid option for someone wanting to use the best 2-way satellite messenger communication device. And all this at a good price.

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More Satellite Messenger for Backpacking

Somewear Labs Global Hotspot

Photo courtesy Somewear Labs

Weight: 4oz / 113g
Pros:

> Subscription costs – A limited subscription is cheaper than many others available.
> Portable – The device is very small and lightweight at only 4 oz.
> Two-way messaging – By being linked to a smartphone, the Global Hotspot contains consistent communication with the outside world.
> GPS Tracking – GPS tracking can be used without the need for a smartphone
Cons:
> Reliance on smartphone messaging – A smartphone is much more breakable than a satellite messenger.

The Somewear Labs Global Hotspot is a relative newcomer to the market, and with that comes some great features.

Most notably, the Global Hotspot can be used both as a stand-alone emergency device and with a mobile smartphone. This has its advantages, and it has its drawbacks.

When connected to a smartphone app, the Global Hotspot can be used for two-way non-emergency communication with family and friends. It can switch between cellular networks (if available), wifi and Satellites as needed. This is something that Garmin can’t do. This feature is what makes the Somewear Labs device so good.

Need help with navigation? Download maps to your smartphone and uses them offline when navigating in the backcountry.

There is the ability to receive 7-day weather forecasts while off-grid in the middle of nowhere. And if the weather does turn bad the device floats and is water resistant to 2 meters for 30 minutes. Wish I had all these features when I was thru-hiking some remote sections of trail and bicycle touring in very remote areas.

It also features GPS tracking which will allow friends or family to track your exact location or follow your path in real-time. A great GPS tracker for hikers is so much more than just a satellite locator. The GPS tracking can be toggled on or off from the device, so there is no need to have a working smartphone for the tracking.

There is paid subscription service to use the device for two-way communications, which is a lower cost than most others on the market.

The device itself can be used to send out an SOS signal, which communicates with GOES Worldwide. If your phone breaks or runs out of battery in the middle of nowhere the SOS button on the device will still work.

The Somewear Labs device battery lasts a very long time, up to 10 days without charge when tracking at 10-minute intervals. It can send or receive more than 1000 messages on one charge. It can be charged via micro USB which can be plugged into a portable charger.

This is a smart service all around, I think devices like this will become the future of backcountry communications. Think about it, a system that can be used in an emergency to effect a rescue and be used for communication with family and friends and tracking.

This is one of the Best 2 Way Satellite Messenger Devices on the market right now at a competitive price.

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Garmin InReach Mini

Garmin InReach Mini

Weight: 3.5oz / 99g
Pros:

> Two-way device communication – Messages can be sent and received via satellite, on the device itself.
> Size – Incredibly compact, it can be carried with no problems.
> Smartphone integration – It pairs with a smartphone for maps and improved communication.
Cons:
> New updated model available
> Small screen – It can be tedious to send messages from such a small device.

For such a small device, the Garmin InReach Mini is stuffed full of features. From two-way messaging to a 24-hour SOS service, this is a palm-sized electronic to meet almost every need.

Other than the size, a huge advantage of the InReach Mini is you can send and receive messages from the device itself.

So even if you’re paired with smartphone breaks, you can continue to communicate via the global Iridium network. It also makes for a great satellite hiking tracker being able to send waypoints from the device.

The SOS signal interacts with GOES services for worldwide rescue and confirms whether your message has been sent and received.

There are a few downsides to this otherwise fantastic device. The small size is ideal for portability but does affect the ease of use. The communication is satellite only, so it doesn’t link to a cellular conversation. And the subscription costs can add up.

Overall, a great hiking emergency beacon and a popular gift that parents can buy their kids when they decide to go hiking alone!

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Garmin InReach Explorer

Garmin inreach explorer

Weight: 7.5oz / 212g
Pros:

> Two-way device communication – Messages can be sent and received via satellite, on the device itself.
> Smartphone integration – When your smartphone is powered up, the Explorer app is easy to use.
Cons:
> Size – This isn’t the most portable and using the screen is still tedious.

If the Garmin InReach Mini covered almost everything in a small device, you won’t be surprised to learn the larger bulk of the Explorer houses the complete package. 

Alongside the standard SOS messaging, the Garmin InReach Explorer features sophisticated two-way communication, access to maps and navigation tools, and even weather forecasting.

Of course, much of this is available via subscription costs. It even pairs with a mobile device, for easier communication.

The only disadvantage to the InReach Explorer is its size and having to be stuck using the Garmin platform. Despite the bulk, ease of use is nowhere near that of a phone. And more compact devices have similar usage. A popular Garmin Emergency Beacon with Satellite Messaging for hiking.

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Spot X

Spot X Satellite messenger

Weight: 7oz / 198g
Pros:

> Keyboard – The Qwerty keyboard sets this device apart from other messengers.
> Smartphone Integration – For easier use.
> Battery life – A longer battery life than some similar devices.
Cons:
> Bulky – The usefulness of the keyboard is slightly undercut by the size it adds.

For people who like to go minimal in their packing, the large Spot X may seem like an odd choice. However, the Spot can be used similarly to a smartphone, meaning only one device is necessary.

The integrated Qwerty keyboard makes the two-way messaging system of the Spot X easier to use than that of the Garmin.

It comes with its own number as well, so people can contact you easier without an already open line of communication. It also has share features and a compass, alongside the standard SOS.

There have been a couple of incidents when the Spot did not make contact with satellites, including with a hiking buddy of mine.

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Spot 3 Satellite GPS Messenger

Spot Gen 3

Weight: 5oz / 141g
Pros:

> Lithium batteries make for a quick change in difficult circumstances.
> Ease of use – Communication is simple and intuitive
Cons:
> No two-way messaging – The device only sends messages, it doesn’t receive them.

If you enjoy maintaining some form of communication when you’re exploring, but don’t feel particularly chatty, the Spot 3 has many appealing features.

There is no two-way communication, but unlike basic PLB options more can be sent than just a distress signal. The Spot 3 can be used to send a quick preset check-in message, to ensure everyone you’re still okay.

It also has a tracking feature, for some level of communication. This is all supported by AAA batteries, which are easier to change in an emergency when compared to other charging methods.

There have been a couple of incidents when the Spot did not make contact with satellites, including with a hiking buddy of mine.

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Other Satellite Communication Devices to Consider

Here are some other Satellite Communication Devices to consider or have not yet been tested and reviewed.

  • ACR Bivy Stick – The ACR Bivy Stick has yet to be reviewed but looks good and will be added to the list soon.

Buyer’s Guide

These emergency devices are an indispensable part of the kit for anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors. Here are a few key features to look for, so you can stay safe on your journey.

Emergency messaging

Emergency messaging is the primary function of any PLB or satellite messenger. The device needs to send out a signal that communicates both where you are, and that you’re in danger, and it does so via satellite.

Then a search and rescue (SAR) service can come and find you.

The most basic of devices will only communicate that you’re in danger. More sophisticated devices can be used to communicate in greater detail, so the SAR can respond better.

All PLB and satellite messengers should be equipped with SOS emergency messaging.


Two way Satellite Messaging messenger
Sending Messages using a Satellite Messenger paired to a smartphone – Photo courtesy Somewear Labs

Non-emergency messaging

Non-emergency messaging allows a person to communicate more with friends and family.

A basic device will be able to send out preset messages of reassurance. Other devices can be used similar to a cell phone, only signaling via satellite rather than cell towers.

Some devices also include tracking, which will regularly update a chosen correspondent with your location.

Non-emergency messaging is less important than emergency messaging and more expensive. However, it does greatly improve communication. Another advantage of a two-way system is it allows you to cancel an SOS message should it be sent in error.


Signal

The functionality of any of these devices relies on satellite systems. This is a generally reliable form of communication, but there are flaws. To send a satellite signal the sky must be visible, and a multitude of other factors can cause errors.

A message will only be sent when a satellite is in range, which means there may be times when coverage isn’t possible.

One of the advantages of a two-way messaging system is it allows you to check your signal.  

It’s impossible to check your signal before you go as it depends on so many varying factors. However, each device uses a specific satellite network.

COSPAS/SARSAT, Iridium, GOES, and GlobalStar is all networks with a history of service and a proven record. 


Ease of use

Ideally, an SOS beacon will never need to be sent at all. When they are needed, the situation is often stressful and fraught with danger. An SOS button needs to be easy and intuitive to use.

Other features, such as non-emergency communication, maps, and smartphone apps may be more complicated and will need some time to learn the process.

All these devices are small, so functionality does suffer but those linked to Smartphones will have lots of added functions that stand-alone PLBs do not have.


Size and weight

Portability is an important feature of a PLB or a satellite messenger. They need to be on-hand at all times, and shouldn’t weigh a kit down.

The majority will be small and lightweight, but some more sophisticated options are bulkier.


Price 

There are two price points to consider when purchasing a PLB or satellite messenger. The first is the upfront cost, and the second is a subscription plan. The initial upfront cost of these devices can be expensive.

For a PLB, this is often a one-time expense. Systems with two-way messaging will generally require a subscription fee. In some cases, this is quite expensive.

However, it does allow for greater communication. Always consider both prices before making your purchase.


Battery

Most of the batteries on messenger GPS units need to be recharged on a regular basis. When out backpacking this can easily be done by taking a Lightweight Powerbank for Backpacking or a Portable Solar Charger for Backpacking. Both these options are lightweight and will provide enough power to charge these devices.

Dedicated PLBs have a built-in battery and a test function to ensure the battery is OK. This should be checked regularly. Contact the manufacturer when the battery needs to be checked or replaced.


Conclusion

Here are the Best PLBs in 2022:

Here are the best satellite communicators in 2022:

Another one of the Best Hiking Gear Reviews from BikeHikeSafari.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to register a personal locator beacon?

Yes, most personal locator beacons require registration with the NOAA (National Ocean and Atmospheric Administrator). This is generally a free service and must be done before you take your PLB anywhere.
Each country has its own registration system and when traveling between countries the PLB must be registered in that country.
Registration can be done online and must be updated every two years. You should also update your registration whenever your information changes.

Do I need a personal locator beacon?

A personal locator beacon is an essential part of the emergency kit for most people who enjoy exploring the backcountry. If you regularly venture into areas that are away from other people, a PLB could save your life.
If you spend time on difficult or tricky terrain, then a PLB is a valuable resource. Especially if you enjoy exploring alone, then a satellite messenger allows you to maintain contact throughout a trip.

Should I buy a personal locator beacon or a satellite messenger?

A satellite messenger has more options, whereas a PLB is often cheaper. Which you buy will be a choice determined by where you like to travel, how often you travel, and how much communication you desire.
The advantage of a satellite messenger is that they allow for two-way communication, so you are more connected with the outside world. A PLB can only be used for SOS emergencies, but there are no subscription fees required.
A PLB has a battery that can last for years and a Satellite Messenger has a battery that will last a week or more. The Satellite Messenger battery can be recharged in the field via a USB and external battery such as an Anker battery. A battery on a PLB must be sent to the manufacturer to be replaced after a couple of years.

What is a Satellite Messenger?

A satellite messenger or satellite communicator is a device that allows you to make 2-way communications via satellite. So when there is no cell phone signal you can still make communications. They can also be used for rescue to allow search and rescue to locate you in an emergency.


PLB Story

The weather was miserable when the helicopter arrived due to the Personal Locator Beacon being set off.

It has been raining all day and the wind was seriously strong. I was hiking in the backcountry of New Zealand, alone.

Cold and wet I arrived at a remote backcountry mountain hut. Before entering I observed a Personal Locator Beacon sitting outside with the antenna out and the light on. Something was wrong.

I entered the hut and found a hiker I had met multiple times sitting clutching her shoulder. It was a simple dislocation. In the middle of nowhere, a simple dislocated shoulder means you cannot carry a backpack, you cannot use trekking poles, and cannot walk long distances on difficult terrain to rescue yourself.

In less than 2 hours a rescue helicopter arrived and landed outside the hut despite the challenging weather. The hiker was soon in hospital and made a quick and full recovery.

Had there not been a Personal Locator Beacon, also known as a PLB, or a Satellite Messenger then it would have been a different and difficult situation.

From this moment on, I decided that taking a PLB or Satellite Messenger into the backcountry is a great idea.

Best PLB and Satellite Communicator Device
Best PLBs and Satellite Messengers for Backpackers and Hikers

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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