The Incredible Shrinking Personal Locator Beacon

A personal locator beacon could save your life. With current models weighing in around 5 ounces, it's definitely worth considering adding one to your survival equipment.

The ResQLink+ personal locator beacon weighs a mere 5.4 ounces.

I detail the realities of survival situations in the current issue of AMC Outdoors—Are Your Survival Skills Ready for Real Life?—including the essential gear that I recommend carrying to deal with a potential life-or-death scenario in the backcountry. These include a large, heavy-duty garbage bag for making an emergency survival poncho; fire-making equipment, including a fire-starter and tinder; and a means to alert rescuers of your location.

And when it comes to alerting rescuers, few tools are more powerful and effective as a personal locator beacon (PLB). Once activated, a PLB transmits a signal to the COSPAS-SARSAT international satellite system. The distress signal—which includes specific location information for the triggered PLB—is then received by the satellite system's on-the-ground mission control operations, which routes the call to the appropriate search-and-rescue (SAR) group for the area to initiate a response.

Each PLB signal contains a unique identifying number specific to the owner, which further assists SAR groups in their response. (You must register a PLB with NOAA before using; registration is free.) You can learn more about PLBs—and the important differences between PLBs and satellite messengers such as the SPOT—in this helpful primer from REI.

When PLBs first became available for use in the continental U.S. in 2003, they were heavy, bulky, and expensive devices, weighing well over a pound and costing north of $500. (I'm still toting one of these bricks around after purchasing one in 2005 for a long solo trip in Alaska.)  Purchasing one was a significant investment of both money and weight.

These days, however, PLBs have plummeted in weight and size, and prices have dropped by roughly half, making them a much more reasonable option for your survival kit. ACR Electronics makes some of the most widely used and recommended options, including the ResQLink+ (5.4 ounces, $289, $50 mail-in rebate currently available).

Keep in mind that PLBs are meant to be used only in life-or-death, option-of-last-resort scenarios—being prepared and avoiding such situations in the first place is always a better option.

Stay safe out there.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.