CAMPING & HIKING

Best Personal Locator Beacon: Staying Safe in the Wilderness

Top gps beacons
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

Lost in the wilderness and need to find your way out? There are many options for this type of situation (i.e. flares, emergency telephone). However, one of the most efficient and reliable ways to ensure sending a clear signal to safety, is a personal locator beacon. When searching for the best personal locator beacon, you want to make sure that the signal will be reliable in all situations and environments.

Having a cell phone handy is not always necessarily good enough if you’re stuck in an off-the-grid area, so having a GPS beacon at your side will ease your worries. These personal location devices are great for travel and can be stored easily in an emergency kit or a hiking and/or camping pack.

TYPES OF BEACONS

When you’re heading out to your next adventure, you want to make sure that you have all the essentials for dealing with an emergency situation. GPS beacons are a great item to keep in our hiking, camping, adventure pack, or even in your car!

Hunting with a beacon

There are a variety of different personal locators, ranging from a casual beacon that allows you communicate with friends or family back home, an all-purpose beacon that simply does it all, or the standard, emergency beacon that is used for simply calling help when needed most. Take a look and feel free to comment on the beacon that you feel would suit your adventure best!

Emergency Beacon

These beacons look exactly like what they are used for: sending emergency signals. These standard, emergency beacons are bulkier than other satellite beacons and definitely aren’t the most stylish of the bunch; however, they get the job done.

These personal locators are great for being stuck in a remote area, whether you’re on water or dry land. Though these beacons don’t always have the options to use two-way communication regularly, they send a signal when needed and can definitely put your mind at ease when you’re heading out on your next trek to the wilderness.

The Casual, All-Purpose Beacon

Some beacons are well-designed for emergencies, while others are great for just about everything else, including emergencies. Whether you’re planning your trip on a GPS route, communicating with other members of your party with you or back home, tracking routes and sending a global SOS signal…the casual beacon does it all.

Found because of gps beacon

It’s great for a family or a pack of friends that are avid hikers, campers or simply adventurers. On these types of devices you can download routes for future use, share your location with others and pair your mobile device.

The Trendy GPS Beacon

This type of personal locator is the whole package. Not only does it encompass the emergency features, compatible signals with all parties and two-way messaging, but it also sports a trendy-looking interface, touch-screen capabilities and even a built-in strobe for a flare-like signal when necessary.

These beacons, though they are pricier than others, are typically the most reliable and encompass the features most would prefer to have before embarking on a longer journey with no cell phone service.

BEACON LOGISTICS

So you have your trip mapped out and you’re ready to hit the road. Which personal locator will bring? A lot of this has to do with the geographic location, cellular signal availability and ruggedness of the adventure. Some beacons work well for water-related travels, while others are better equipped for dry land. Below you’ll find some logistics that will help you make the right choice when deciding on your next personal locator.

PRICE

When purchasing a specific GPS locator, whether it’s built for in-the-car use or the rugged outdoors, you can expect to cough up a little extra dough. Seeing as though we live in a tech-savvy century, each competing brand is going to try to bring a new feature to the table.

Tracking beacon guide

These personal locator beacons typically vary from a low of $125 to a high of $500. The prices tend to vary based on the technical capabilities and the proximity abilities of the GPS locator and signal. Many are willing to pay a little more for the ability to notify others in an emergency situation; sometimes you can’t put a price tag on the safety of yourself and others.

TRACKING CAPABILITIES

This is a feature of the personal locator that varies with each beacon. The amount of tracking capabilities typically depends on the strength of the signal that is provided by the device; many of the devices work on a satellite network that is more reliable than cellular service, especially in the more remote locations.

Some of the GPS locators will also contact the local emergency personnel closest to your location, whether it may be the sheriff’s station or park ranger. The pricier personal locators typically have a higher transmission frequency (i.e. 1215 MHz) than others, ensuring the signal to be delivered to emergency personnel in a quicker time period.

DURABILITY

Durability is important for all products. You are purchasing the product based on the quality of parts, durability of the item and function of use. Seeing as though this is a technology-based product, it must be durable, especially when bringing it to face mother nature.

gps beacon maps and compass

The GPS locator should be able to withstand most weather conditions and have a solid battery life in order to function well and serve its purpose. The newer personal locators are lightweight and compact, allowing you to keep it on you or in your pack; this allows minimal shelter for the beacon, yet helps preserve its durability for temperamental climates.

VERSATILITY IN USE

Some of the personal locator beacons are great for all-purpose outdoor use, whether you’re hiking, camping or simply venturing into the wilderness. Other beacons are designed for marine-life ventures, pilots’ explorations or backcountry outings.

The personal locators that are compatible for water exploration or boating typically are waterproof (or water resistant) and are self-buoyant. The personal locators that may be used in flight typically serve a stronger signal, globally. Land-use GPS locators are typically the most common.

FUNCTION

This is an important specification and will be based on your intention of use and where you are headed for your next trip. If you prefer to just use the personal locator or GPS for emergency situations, a basic locator will do.

personal locator beacon image

However, if you’re looking to stay in touch with your family or friends while you travel, you may need one of the multi-purpose beacons that will not only support two-way messaging, but can also send strobe light signals when necessary and allow you to map out your route along the way. Some higher-quality personal locators (that are typically equipped for flight or marine-life explorations), have similar functions to the multi-purpose beacons, however have a stronger signal if necessary.

Now it’s time to take a look at the top rated products in the market that customers are raving about.

Recommended Personal Locator Beacons

ACR ResQLink 406 MHz GPS Personal Locator Beacon

ACR ResQLink 406 MHzDimensions: 7.6 x 4.6 x 2.7 inches

Weight: 8.8 ounces

Specific features: 406 MHz signal, Compact, Multi-use, GPS, Easy use

Best Use: Boating, Backcountry, In-flight, Remote excursions

This personal location beacon is definitely made for all-purpose, outdoor activities and sports a strong transmission signal. Only being 3.9 inches in length, this GPS locator beacon is smaller than the average cell phone and sends out a transmission 406 MhZ with a 121 MhZ homing capability.

Proving to work in  remote locations, this product has been tested by pilots and boaters. One great feature about this personal locator is it’s easy-to-use function; you simply pop up the antenna and press “on”, and you’re good to go. This personal locator also has self-testing capabilities, ensuring that ResQlink is functional at all times.

Check the price on Amazon

SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger

SPOT 3 Satellite GPS MessengerDimensions: 2 x 5.5 x 7.5 inches

Weight: 0.7 lbs

Specific features: GPS tracking, Two-way messenger, Lightweight, SOS feature

Best Use: Casual outdoor adventures, Hiking, Backcountry, Remote Excursions

This is one of the most affordable, satellite personal locators on the market. With GPS tracking and a two-way messaging system, this is a great device to bring with you on a casual, outdoor excursion that has little to no cellular service available.

Your family and friends can track you at home as you’re venturing out in the wilderness, and you can send daily updates and even a SOS signal if your trip goes sour and you’re in need of emergency personnel. The one downside to this GPS locator is the need for multiple lithium batteries if you’re on an extended-day trip. This is simply the whole package with not all the extra fluff that the other personal locators offer.

Check the price on Amazon

DeLorme AG-008727-201 InReach Explorer Two Way Satellite Communicator

DeLorme AG-008727-201Dimensions: 2.44 inches x 1.02 inches x 5.87 inches

Weight: 7.04 ounces

Specific features: Route planner, 100-hr battery life, 100% global, Two-way messaging, SOS, 24/7 search

Best Use: Backcountry excursions, Remote Treks, Hiking, Boating, All-use

This is one of the best personal locators on the market. Not only can you plan your route ahead of time, download new maps, share your status and route with friends and family, but you will also be working on a device that is 100% global.

This GPS locator beacon comes with two-way messaging capabilities, an SOS feature that is paired with a 24/7 search and rescue capabilities, delivery confirmation for all sharing capabilities and the best part of the whole deal? This satellite beacon has a 100-hr battery life, keeping you wired for at least four days without a charge. Only one lithium battery is needed for this product. This GPS locator is in the $300 range but it’s definitely worth every penny.

Check the price on Amazon

McMurdo Fast Find 220 Personal Locator Beacon

McMurdo Fast Find 220Dimensions:  5 x 5 x 3 inches

Weight: 8 ounces

Specific features: Lightweight, Global assistance, 406 MhZ transmission

Best Use: Marine excursions, Boating, Outdoor adventures

If you’re a marine enthusiast and you’re looking for the best personal locator beacon for your next excursion, you’ve come to the right spot. The McMurdo Fast Find is globally wired and lightweight, sending out an impressive transmitted signal at 406 MhZ.

Designed for on-the-water activities, this personal locator beacon is water-resistant and effectively compact to fit in any bag or on any boat, easily. The emergency assistance features are great for locating the right personnel at the right time. This GPS locator has the standard transmission signal strength and is definitely reliable during an emergency situation.

Check the price on Amazon

DeLorme AG-009871-201 inReach SE

DeLorme AG-009871-201Dimensions: 2.4 x 1 x 5.8 inches

Weight: 7 ounces

Specific features: SOS global signals, 24/7 search, Two-way-messaging, Tracking/Sharing

Best Use: All Outdoor activities, Solo adventures, Rugged adventures

This satellite beacon is right up there with one of the best on the market. The DeLorme personal locators are some of the best out there, with SOS global signals and the 24/7 search and rescue option, this satellite beacon keeps your mind at ease, even when you’re in the most remote locations.

Two-way messenger enabled and the ability to track and share routes/locations on social media, or with friends, this personal locator pretty much has it all. This beacon can connect to IOS and Android devices and is truly connected globally. It works on the Iridium satellite network that has no gaps or weak areas of coverage. You can’t go wrong with the connections for this device.

Check the price on Amazon

GME AccuSat 406 PocketPro PLB w/Integral GPS

GME AccuSat 406Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 3 inches

Weight: 1 lbs

Specific features: 7 year battery life, High-visibility strobe light, Compact, Lightweight

Best Use: Boating, Water adventures, Outdoor activities

This personal locator is not only lightweight, compact and easy-to-use, but it also includes a high-visibility strobe light and non-hazardous batteries, that last seven years. This beacon is digital with a transmission frequency of 406 MhZ and has connections with all emergency services including COSPAS-SARSAT.

It’s waterproof design allows for boating excursions without worry and it also suitable for aviation adventures. This device has a seven year warranty, proving that it is worth every penny, especially because it is not the highest priced on the market.

Check the price on Amazon

McMurdo Fastfind Max-G PLB 85-890-001A

McMurdo Fastfind Max-G PLBDimensions: 9 x 7 x 5 inches

Weight: 2.4 lbs

Specific features: 406 MhZ transmission, GPS locator, Splashproof

Best Use: Boating, Water Excursions, Backcountry trips, Hiking

Priced high and great for emergencies, this water-resistant GPS locator is great for spur of the moment trips and outdoor excursions. Though this personal locator beacon is heftier than others, it has a strong transmission signal of 406 MhZ and is splash proof, waterproof and comes with replaceable battery packs.

Another great feature is that this device can float! Recommended for water-use and outdoor activities, this GPS locator can help you out in an emergency situation, sending for help and receiving feedback in just three minutes.

Check the price on Amazon

THE TOTAL PACKAGE

Before you head out on your next excursion, now you have all the tips and suggestions that you need in order to find your next best personal locator beacon. While some are equipped with GPS and others are programmed to a satellite network, you definitely have your options when it comes to level of connectivity.

Keep in mind that there are a variety of different GPS locators out there; some are great for two-way messaging and route planning, while others are strictly for emergency use on the land, sea or waterways. If you’ve tried one of these personal locators, feel free to share your experience with us! If not, don’t forget to check reviews before purchasing your next GPS locator.

Gps emergency beacon

Another important thing to note is that the battery life and transmission signal of the personal locator is extremely important. It’s great to be well equipped with an emergency device or personal tracking system, but this won’t do you any good if you run out of batteries or the signal won’t send. Most of these devices will work in remote, off-the-grid locations, but you want to make sure that they are fully charged and powered on correctly.

Safe travels, and don’t forget to leave a comment with us down below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Greg Abbot

    I am glad to see so many suggestions that are suitable for excursions for those of us who plan on going out to sea in various areas. One thing that seems fairly noncommittal in many models that I look at is a capability to send out signals to other individuals, say for example others in your group, who might be able to located you faster if needed.

  • Jerry Mueller

    The SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger can offer “off-the-grid messenging”. In a succinct description in their website:

    “The SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger provides a vital line of communication with friends and family when you want it, and emergency assistance when you need it. Using 100% satellite technology, SPOT works virtually anywhere in the world, even where cell phones don’t – all with the push of a button.”

    Great, huh? 🙂
    If you look, closely, most of those personal locator beacons above have similar features.

  • Michelle Greer

    That’s interesting they can offer off the grid messaging. That sounds extremely useful. I can see myself needing something like this. I get lost quite often. It’s hard for me to imagine back in the days of the explorers they didn’t use any of this! It would definitely had been a poor companion for Lewis and Clark.

  • Adam White

    This could be a very important, life saving product. I have seen way too many movies about people going in the woods and not coming out, or not knowing how to get out. This is something I would definitely have this on my list. I cannot stand the thought of being lost. The DeLorme looks really popular. I might have to check that out. Thanks for the great article!

  • Jerry Mueller

    These personal locator beacon is crucial for one’s survival. I won’t even try to convince you otherwise because you’ve seen the news on how some have been lost AND found because of these beacons. If there’s one thing you have to invest in, it’s this!

  • Jerry Mueller

    Hi Adam and thanks for stopping by. Yeah, loving these locator beacons and I say, good choice on the DeLorme. It won’t let you down and it’s so reliable and trustworthy. I hope you get one soon before embarking on your next great adventure! 🙂

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