I recently bought a personal locator beacon (PLB) to make sure I have a way to call for help when the shit hits the proverbial fan.

What got me thinking …

While hiking the Kumano Kodo in Japan in 2016, I encountered several signs warning for local snakes. At that moment I realised I did not know what to do if I got bitten. Bind it probably. But then … try and contact local authorities and wait? Drop my gear and get to the nearest village as soon as possible? And what to do if things would be even worse? There were quite some moments on the trail where I did not have any cellphone coverage …

As I spend the vast majority of my hikes and long runs alone and love trails that do not have too many tourists, I spend quite some time on my own. With no one there, you are literally left on your own when something goes wrong, whether it is an injury, animal bite or attack or -as I almost recently did while hiking the Laugavegur trail in Iceland– if you get lost in a snow storm.

So, I set out to find ways to have a fallback option if the sh*t hits the proverbial fan.

Options

Several options I considered:

  • My phone: I quickly discarded this option as too often on remote trails, there is no cell phone coverage. Also, phones run out of battery, are dropped and broken, so … no, let’s not depend on that.
  • Garmin inreach+: Then I considered the Garmin InReach line of products. A combination of satellite messenger and Handheld GPS. I love Garmin and their products and I was looking for a Handheld GPS, so this would be a perfect combination. However, while browsing through reviews it became quite clear that the Handheld GPS functions were not that impressive. With that in mind, close to 500 euros (+ monthly subscription to be able to text) became quite a steep price. I will probably reconsider when Garmin will release new versions in the future, but for now: no.
  • Spot Satellite Messenger: I then looked into the Spot Satellite Messenger. However, too many reviews talked about flaky connections and not being able to connect in remote areas.
  • ACR ResQLink: Finally, I looked into the ACR ResQLink personal locator beacon. It lacks satellite messenger capabilities but seems to be the most durable and reliable of all devices mentioned.

What I settled on … a personal locator beacon (PLB)

So I settled for the ACR ResQLink personal locator beacon.

Just make sure you decide between the ResQLink (non-buoyant – normal hiking, dry land) and ResQLink+ (buoyant – floating, mainly for watersports) and that you buy that can be registered on your country (each country has different ways to register).

Hopefully, I won’t be needing it soon.

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23 comments
  1. Just a quick note on using a PLB in Japan – unfortunately at the moment, PLBs are only allowed to be used on the ocean in Japan, and only if you’ve got a Japan radio license. I figure it is unlikely you’d be prosecuted (I have no evidence to back this up), but still, best to know the restrictions. I put together a deep dive into the matter here:

    https://hokkaidowilds.org/can-use-plb-japan

    Basically, PLB use in Japan is illegal unless a) you’re on the ocean, b) you’re using a Japan-authorized PLB unit (only the Japan version of the ACR ResQLink+ is), and c) you’ve got a Japan radio license. There seems to be some efforts to allow their use on land too, but who knows when that’ll happen.

    That said, satellite messengers like SPOT and Garmin inReach are fine.

  2. hey !

    thanks for writing this.

    Have you ever taken your resqlink to China (or transited in China) and if so, may I know if you had any problems with airport security there? They are quite strict particularly with batteries and I don’t want to throw away a couple hundred dollars because of security….

    1. That is a good question. No, I did not (yet) bring it to China. I quickly did a Google search and could not find any information. I could, however, find some dealers in Beijing, what would give me the impression that Resqlink usage would be ok in China. I reached out to Resqlink to hear their experience – if I hear from them, I will reach out to you.

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