Columns » Hiking Bob

The argument for Personal Locator Beacons

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Over the last few months there have been a number of news stories about people lost or stranded in remote areas, resulting often in search and rescue missions, or worse.

This past December, a family attempted to drive to the closed for winter north rim of the Grand Canyon prompting rescue efforts. More recently, a Colorado woman who died in Montana after getting stuck on a remote road in Montana; a woman became stranded near the Grand Canyon after he car ran out of gas; and a Colorado family who, while kayaking down a remote Utah canyon, became stranded when they became separated from their kayaks after encountering a rough section of water.

These situations have several things in common, but most notable being that these people had no communication with the outside world when they got lost. In the Grand Canyon and Utah cases, no one even knew the people were missing, and it was only by happenstance that rescuers found them. In the Montana case, the victim attempted to call for help, but her cell phone battery went dead.

Though widely covered, the media reports of these incidents fail to mention that if the people involved had a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), they would likely have been found much sooner.

To be used only in the most dire of emergencies, PLBs weigh mere ounces and send "SOS" signals alerting rescuers that someone is in need of help. The devices send coordinates from built-in GPS data, along with registration information identifying the owner.

The PLB I carry on every hike - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The PLB I carry on every hike

There are different varieties of PLBs, ranging in price from around $150 to $270. Some are designed to operate on government monitored search and rescue satellites, and provide basic "SOS" signaling without any fees. Others operate with privately-owned satellites and provide messaging services, but usually also have subscription fees. You must keep your subscription up-to-date on these devices otherwise the SOS functions won't work. Shop around your favorite outdoors equipment retailers to determine which device is best for you.

Having one of these devices does not mean you can ignore other basic safety guidelines, like telling someone where you're going, when you expect to be back, or having accurate maps and appropriate clothing. But for the price of a good pair of hiking boots, you can take great strides to further increase the odds that you'll be found in case something unfortunate happens.

Free National Park Days:  "National Park Week" runs from April  15th to the 23rd, and to celebrate, entrance to all National Park Service sites is free on the weekends of April 15-16 and April 22-23.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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