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Types of Beacons

photo of a locator beacon

Locator Beacons

Top Picks

How we choose: The best beacons highlighted here were selected based on 64 reviews of 21 products. Our top picks are those that are readily-available in the United States and have received the highest overall ratings from reviewers.

How we test: Trailspace is powered entirely by our community of readers. The reviews posted here reflect the real-world experiences of outdoor enthusiasts just like you.

If you've used a beacon that you think should be listed here, please share your experience.

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Top Locator Beacon / Handheld

Garmin inReach Explorer+

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (3 reviews)

If you're looking to combine your messaging and GPS needs into one device, this is it.

Reasons to Buy

  • Rugged design
  • Trustworthy mapping
  • Detailed maps
  • Good battery life

Reasons to Avoid

  • Not as user friendly as some Garmins
  • Not as many bells and whistles
  • Almost exactly the same as the older one?

I've acquired this GPS for a solid price of $300 through incentives of my workplace, and its the best $300 I've spent on gear. This GPS has accompanied me on any challenging hike, backpacking trip, backcountry skiing, or any trip into the mountains.  Communication (Requires subscription) As shown in some pictures I've uploaded, this GPS doesn't anything special in terms of features. But what it does do it does well. The communication aspect of this GPS is easy if you have a phone, and still very manageable when only using the device.

Read more: Garmin inReach Explorer+ reviews (3)

Locator Beacon

Garmin inReach Mini

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

I'd recommend this device for anyone going on an extended wilderness trip where they likely won't have cell service. I used it for a week in the Sierra Nevada mountains and it was very helpful as it allowed my group to stay in contact with our families on the outside to notify them of changes in our itinerary. Definitely a must-have from a safety perspective.

Reasons to Buy

  • Long battery life
  • Lightweight
  • Reliable
  • Easy to use

Reasons to Avoid

  • Slow to send/receive messages
  • Somewhat expensive

Ease of use: I found the device easy to use. There are just enough features to be useful, but not too many to the point of being confusing. Also you can connect it to your phone via Bluetooth (even if you don't have service on your phone) and control the device from an app which really streamlines the whole thing. Features: The most important feature for me was the ability to send and receive custom messages. This allowed us to have meaningful contact with the outside world while on the trail.

Read more: Garmin inReach Mini review (1)

Locator Beacon

McMurdo Fast Find 210

user rating: 5 of 5 (2 reviews)

Being difficult to rate something I've never actually had to use, an excellent product for one that needs a long term insurance product that doesn't incur monthly billing.

Reasons to Buy

  • No recurring bills
  • Uses NOAA SAR technology
  • 5 year battery life

Reasons to Avoid

  • Does not float
  • Expensive
  • Must be sent back to have batteries replaced (5 years)

I have been in the market for a PLB for a VERY long time. Many companies (SPOT, DeLorme) have a recurring monthly bill for their services. I wasn't interested in a product that will cost THOUSANDS over the years, but needed something in case of the worst-case-scenario ever happened. I have been backpacking for 30 years, and decided to stop gambling.  The local REI has upgraded to the FastFind 220, which put this on clearance for $150, now we're cooking. Prior to this purchase, I was also looking at an ACR product (also good), but most decent PLB's are $250 minimum.

Read more: McMurdo Fast Find 210 reviews (2)

Locator Beacon / Handheld

DeLorme inReach SE

user rating: 4 of 5 (5 reviews)

The safety of an SOS button connected via satellite to a monitoring response team combined with features you can use on every trip. Those features include two-way texting including localized weather reports, live updating of your personal online map and others you can choose or ignore as desired. The device and subscription service are not cheap, but for those venturing far afield, especially those who go alone, it gives a good return on the investment.

Reasons to Buy

  • Good connectivity to stable network
  • Settings allow for customized use
  • Good battery/power efficiency even in cold
  • Online mapping features both live and after the trip
  • Social media connectivity for social folk
  • Bluetooth capability

Reasons to Avoid

  • Keying process is time consuming when messaging
  • Web site has many features that are hard to undersand at first

Lots of function packed into a pretty small package, the Delorme inReach SE is either a safety device with lots of useful functions or the other way around. Whether you carry it for safety or for the other functions it isn't that big of a load for what you get as far as I'm concerned. Measuring roughly 6"x2.25" if you count the antenna it weighs 6.8oz/194g on my scale when full charged. Not sure of the weight when the battery is empty :) Subscriptions Rates as of Feb 2017. Since a lot of people were asking I've added their current list of plans and prices for the needed subscription service.

Read more: DeLorme inReach SE reviews (5)

Locator Beacon

ACR ResQLink

user rating: 5 of 5 (1 review)

As a pilot and sailor I've used EPIRBs for many, many years.  Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) were introduced into the United States not too long ago and I immediately purchased an ACR Sarlink.  Now ACR has introduced the ResQLink PLB and this is a backpacker's dream. It's about the size of a flip model cell phone at 1.3" x 1.9" x 3.9" and it weighs a scant 4.6 ounces.  Due to space limitations let me just say that the beacon transmits to high and low satellites whose sole purpose is search and rescue.

Read more: ACR ResQLink review (1)

Top Handheld GPS Receiver / Locator Beacon

DeLorme inReach Explorer

user rating: 5 of 5 (2 reviews)

This is a must have item on a backcountry thru hike! GPS satellite communication device with tracking and text messaging capability and SOS.

Reasons to Buy

  • Create multiple routes
  • See your tracks and navigate with onscreen maps
  • Trigger an SOS
  • Send and receive texts
  • Post social media updates
  • Share your location, GPS coordinates, course, elevation and speed

Reasons to Avoid

  • Expensive

I bought this device at a recent REI Garage sale for a steal! I've been wanting one for a long time and now I own one! I activated it immediately, which was easy to do. There are multiple different plans to choose from. I have loaded more than 50 trails and routes to the device and it is amazing! I'm super excited to have this device for my upcoming JMT thru hike in August. Piece of mind out in the backcountry will be nice for sure. Also the capability of letting my family back home know I'm OK and where I am exactly is pretty sweet! 

Read more: DeLorme inReach Explorer reviews (2)

Locator Beacon

ACR ResQLink+

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (2 reviews)

Lightweight, small, and has the reliability of ACR behind it (I trust ACR locators).

The ACR ResQLink+ is a replacement for my old heavy ACR TerraFix 406 PLB. The ResQLink+ is 1/4 the size of the old PLB and about 1/6 the weight of the older model. I had to use my old old PLB when I tore my right quad tendon while hiking White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah NP. Help did not arrive until I reached the parking lot. I got help from some ice climbers and a father and daughter out for the day.   At that time, the PLB was already old, the battery was in need of replacement, and I was in the mountains.

Read more: ACR ResQLink+ reviews (2)

Top Avalanche Beacon

Backcountry Access Tracker 2

user rating: 4.5 of 5 (1 review)

This is such a simple transceiver to use. I'd recommend it for any recreational user. It's also commonly used by ski patrollers.

Reasons to Buy

  • Easy to use
  • Good value

This transceiver is very simple to use and that's what makes it so great. When I do practices with friends with other digital units, they seem to get hung up on other features and confused about how to interpret what the transceiver is telling them. This is due to not practicing enough, but with the Tracker 2, it is far more intuitive and even without much practice can be effectively used.  Some people express concern over multiple burials with this unit but Backcountry Access has good information about this on their website.

Read more: Backcountry Access Tracker 2 review (1)

More Reviews of Beacons

Trailspace reviewers have shared 64 reviews of 21 different beacons.

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