Personal Locator Beacons for 14ers | 6 Great Options

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The Colorado mountains are an objectively dangerous place to explore. Even with the best preparation and gear, the chance of an accident or injury is always there. Especially if you’re climbing peaks alone, the risk of getting stuck out there is very real if something were to happen. A personal locator beacon, once activated, shares your location with a series of search and rescue satellites. Similarly, satellite messengers allow you to talk with friends, family or rescuers when needed. They’re a very helpful tool for those climbing the Colorado fourteeners. Here are some of the best personal locator beacons for 14ers, based on my research and experience.

The Difference Between a PLB and Satellite Messenger

A Personal locator beacon helps in an emergency by sending out a powerful radio signal that identifies your location for search and rescuers. This provides a safety net for those travelling in the mountain backcountry where cell phones are unreliable. However there are limited features; you cannot undo a call for help or have two-way communication with others. In return, personal locator beacons for 14ers are more affordable and don’t have a regular subscription fee to use. With a 5-year battery life, they’ll last a while with little preparation or upkeep.

A satellite messenger also allows you to call for help and share your location with rescuers. However it packs far more powerful features, allowing you to track and share your movement and communicate with others. Simple models only allow pre-selected messages, while others allow full messaging capability. These models come with a higher price tag, and most require a monthly subscription to get satellite service in the field.

Ultimately, whether you buy personal locator beacons for 14ers or a satellite messenger depends mostly on your budget, and whether you expect to regularly share your location and send messages to others. Now that you know more, here are some of the best personal locator beacons for 14ers here in Colorado

The Best Personal Locator Beacons for 14ers

The ARC ResQLink 400 is the gold standard for a personal locator beacon. The battery is graded to last 5 years, and operate at temperatures as cold as -20 degrees fahrenheit for 24 hours. Just remove the top, extend the antenna, and the PLB will send rescuers your location accurate to 100 meters. However it lacks many of the features that satellite messengers include. Click here to learn more or buy a pair.

The McMurdo FAST FIND 220 is a second tier personal locator beacon that still provides great features at a lower price. It includes many of the same features as the ARC, but is built using more affordable materials. There’s really very little difference between the two options, other than name brand recognition. It also lacks two-way communication features, but will allow you to call for help and share your location. Click here to learn more or buy a pair. 

The Best Satellite Messengers for 14ers

The SPOT Gen 4 is the fourth version of SPOT’s entry-level satellite messenger. It’s one of the cheapest options on this list with a stellar reputation. However, in return for the savings, you can only send pre-determined messages, and you cannot receive messages. It’s great if you want to let others know your status without two-way communication. It is the cheapest satellite messenger, but still requires a monthly subscription fee. Click here for more info or to buy one. 

The SPOT X Messenger is like the Gen 4 but with lots of extra features. The keyboard allows you to send custom messages in addition to pre-programmed comments. You can integrate with social media to upload posts from the field, cancel SOS calls and communicate with rescuers to share important information. However, you’ll need a pricey monthly subscription for all of these features, in addition to a hefty unit price. Click here to learn more or buy one.

The Garmin InReach Explorer is more of a GPS navigator than it is a Satellite Messenger, but it also serves the role of a personal locator beacon. With a bright screen you can download topographical maps and routes before your climb to follow along the way. If something goes wrong, you can contact rescuers and communicate with them. However thanks to all these bells and whistles, it’s the most costly unit on the list, in addition to a monthly subscription. Click here to learn more or buy one. 

The Garmin InReach Mini is a toned down version of the Explorer, smaller in size and weight, it easily fits in your pocket while you hike or climb. In exchange for the smaller size, you lose the navigation screen and topographical map functionality, making this more of a true satellite messenger compared to the Explorer. Like most of the other personal locator beacons for 14ers, it also requires a monthly subscription to use. Click here to learn more or buy one. 

Using Personal Locator Beacons for 14ers

Regardless of which specific model you decide to get, they’re extremely to use. Pack your PLB securely in your bag (some people like to secure it to their pack’s exterior so it’s accessible in an emergency). If you become lost, sick or injured, follow the device’s instructions to activate it, seeking out ridgelines or areas above the tree line for the best signal possible. Some beacons will provide you a sign your call was received, while others do not. Stay near your PLB as much as possible and keep an eye out for rescuers, who may need your help to identify you.

Personal Locator Beacons for 14ers: Let's Review

Accidents happen in the mountains, but you don’t have to be totally on your own. You can get a lot of extra security using personal locator beacons for 14ers. Remember that a PLB isn’t a Get out of jail Free Card… they do not always work, especially in the rugged, rocky terrain in the Colorado rocky mountains. Even if they do reach help, it may take hours or even days to arrive. Continue bringing the right gear, researching your route, leaving your plans with others, and using critical decision making to give yourself the best chance of a positive rescue when using personal locator beacons for 14ers. Safe travels on the trail!

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

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