I hike a lot close to home, but on trails that aren’t a “sunday stroll”. A friend suggested getting an emergency beacon.
I don’t know anything about emergency beacons. Are they worth carrying? Do they work reliably? Are they better than just carrying my cell phone? How do they work? How much are subscriptions for the service?
For your expected use, a cell phone seems like a much better option. I hike a lot, sometimes solo, and often in remote areas, and as of yet I’ve never felt a reason to use a SPOT or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). They have significant limitations that you should be aware of before buying any particular model or type, and understand what can be expected when you hit the button.
You generally use one when you need rescue from a significant distance from the road/help. It doesn’t really sound like you will be in that type of situation. A phone will be able to call 911 or the local S&R organization (where I hike it is Fish and Game) to get a quicker and more accurate response. If you want to inform someone of a change of plans or schedule, texting is more likely to convey a message that is understood and actionable.
You need a means to tell emergency services your location if you are unable to do so or are out of range of cell service. The specifics of the terrain will dictate what that means.
If you are relying upon your cell phone then think about what location information it has. Does your cell phone have GPS that can show your your coordinates? DO NOT RELY UPON a 911 center to be able to determine your location by using their resources. Some centers do not have this technology. The 911 center where I work does not. If we have to ask the phone company to triangulate a call’s location the results are not very precise.
Remember that you might be able to send a SMS text even if the cell coverage is not good enough to maintain a a voice call. Very few 911 centers can receive and process text messages sent to 911. Think about who you could send such a message to who would reliably check their messages and take necessary action.
A PLB is more powerful, but basically does nothing at all except send out a distress signal. If you’re in deep shit, this (especially one that has GPS) is probably the surest way to summon S&R – but there are no half measures here, if you press the button, the cavalry is coming.
Satellite trackers use GPS satellites to fix your position, and can then upload a position ping periodically via satellite - so in non-emergency mode, your friends and family can go online to see where you are real-time. But if you do give out the link to friends and family, you must train them to understand that the signal drops out sometimes, and that loss of signal does not equate to an emergency. The SPOT device is the simplest and lightest (under 5oz), but it’s basic - communication is one-way preset messages or the emergency button. The best batteries last two weeks (with tracking). The Garmin/Delorme is bulkier and has shorter battery life, but does has much more functionality for real two-way communication, especially when paired with a cellphone via bluetooth (the interface is otherwise painful to use). From experience, the Garmin/Delorme satellite network seems to be more reliable. Both the SPOT device and the Garmin/Delorme require an annual subscription on top of the cost of the device.
I often hike alone, and I have a SPOT device that literally saved my life in March, after a serious fall in a remote part of the Grand Canyon.
My daughter elfbabe uses the Garmin Inreach system. It lets her mom and I keep track when she’s on one of her adventures with her hubby and others. She’s programmed it to alert us regularly that she’s not dead when she’s on a trek. It also lets us contact each other, gets her updated info about local weather, and is all around quite useful to her.
But she’s a hard-core ice climber trained in avalanche avoidance and crevasse rescue and how to arrest oneself while sliding down an ice flow. :eek:
So for her (and for her parents’ peace of mind) it’s definitely worth it, as she goes off to scale glaciers and summit Mt. Rainier and other challenging peaks.
She sure didn’t inherit that tendency from me or the Mrs!
[sub]she tells me the biggest challenge on these treks is figuring out where, when, and how to poop[/sub]