If you like to explore new off-road areas, you would be wise to invest in a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger as a safety net.
Getting in your truck or Jeep or UTV and traveling deep into the backcountry away from humanity is the very reason most of us got into off-roading in the first place. But exploring new terrain far home is not something you should take lightly. Precautions need to be taken, including being able to get help if you need it. This is why we recommend carrying a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger with you.
Yes, this technically means you aren’t actually off the grid, but it could very well save your life if things happen to go wrong. And with any luck you will never actually have to use either of these.
Lead photo by Murray Rudd/Shutterstock.com
What Is A Personal Locator Beacon?
Simply put, a personal locator beacon is a compact device that can easily fit in your glove box or backpack and has only one job – to call for help when you need it. To do this, it relies on an intergovernmental satellite system known as COSPAT-SARSAT. This system is dedicated to detecting and locating radio beacons that are activated by people in distress. Once the location of the person requiring help is discovered, the information is forwarded to the authorities and closest search and rescue personnel.
And this isn’t just reserved for the United States. From oceanbound vessels to skiers in the Swiss Alps to off-road desert explorers, a personal locator beacon is designed to get help to people who need it all over the world.
What is a Satellite Messenger
You might be thinking that a satellite messenger is a better choice than a personal locator beacon. Truthfully, there are advantages and disadvantages for each. A satellite messenger lets you send short, digital messages to your emergency contacts so you can let them know you are safe or will be home later than you thought. That direct communication with your loved ones can give you and them a lot of peace of mind.
However, a satellite messenger does not have the advantage of the military-run COSPAT-SARSAT satellite system. Instead it relies on commercial satellites that don’t have the same type of reach. You will also have to pay for a subscription service in order to take full advantage of its features.
Both, however, are a whole lot better than trying to rely on your smartphone, which proves pretty much useless as a rescue device once you run out cell reception. That’s pretty much a given if you stray any distance from cell towers, which tend to be built near the people you are trying to get away from in the first place.
Now let’s have a look at some of the best personal locator beacons and satellite messengers you can buy right now.
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ACR ResQLink 400
Perhaps the most popular personal locator beacon in the industry is the ACR ResQLink 400. Designed to withstand most anything you can throw at it, the ARC RedQLink 400 is ready for use on land or in the water. It even floats. This device requires no subscription – just buy it and it’s ready to use if you ever need it. Features include both global coverage including GPS and Galileo GNSS capabilities, strobe and infrared strobe, five-year battery life, and 24+ hours of operational life. Small enough to keep just about anywhere, the ACR ResQLink 400 is just 4.25 inches long, 2.03 inches wide and 1.49 inches deep and weighs just 0.33 pounds (133 grams). Retail price is about $300.
Ocean Signal boasts that its rescueME PLB1 is the world’s smallest personal locator beacon. Measuring 2.95 inches long, 2.01 inches wide and 1.28 inches deep, this device can easily fit in your pocket. Features include a retractable antenna, seven-year battery life, seven-year warranty, 24+ hours of operational life, and requires no subscription to use. It also comes with a flotation pouch. Retail price is about $289.
Garmin inReach Mini GPS Satellite Communicator
Weighing just 100 grams, the Garmin inReach Mini is the brand’s smallest satellite communicator. In an emergency, you can send an interactive SOS message to GEOS, a 24/7 global monitoring and response center (subscription service). It also offers location sharing with your contacts and access to the InReach weather forecast service. You can pair the inReach Mini with a smartphone, tablet or compatible Garmin outdoor device to access topographic maps and aerial imagery. The internal battery provides about 90 hours of life when you are in the 10-minute tracking mode. Retail price is about $300.
Spot 3 Satellite GPS Messenger
If you are looking for a more affordable alternative, the Spot 3 is an intriguing option. Retailing for about $100, it offers a line of communication when you run out of cell service. If you get in trouble, the device sends alerts to the Emergency Response Coordination Center, who provide your GPS coordinates to local response teams. The Spot 3 also offers motion-activated tracking and uses a vibration sensor to tell the device to send track updates when you are moving and to stop when you do. You can also send a pre-programmed text message or email with GPS coordinates to up to 10 contacts so they can see where you are and where you have been. This device does require you subscribe to a service at an additional charge.
ZOLEO Satellite Communicator
The ZOLEO two-way satellite communicator is another option for those looking for some added peace of mind off-road. Like other devices here, there is an SOS button that will send your GPS coordinates to a 24/7 monitoring/dispatch center (GEOS) and you will get a confirmation that it was received. There is also a check-in button that allows you to let your contacts know that you are doing well and send your GPS coordinates to them if you desire. You can also pair the ZOLEO to your smartphone with the ZOLEO app, which will allow you to send or receive messages virtually anywhere on the planet. The app also offers weather forecasts and location sharing. Prices start at about $200 and you will need to sign up for a plan (starting at $25 per month).
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