Personal Locator Beacons

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Over the past 10 years or so and new piece of equipment is gaining popularity with hikers – the personal locator beacon. These devices weigh 4 or 5 ounces, and can send a satellite signal if a hiker is injured, lost or in danger. The signal is relayed to search and rescue personnel who can mount a rescue operation. Most of these PLB’s and similar ilk cost close to $300 and require a subscription. A Google search can provide you with all the information you need to learn more.

It seems to me that today many hikers are so risk adverse; they cannot venture out without all manner of emergency or back-up equipment to keep them safe. Equipment alone doesn’t keep you safe; skill keeps you safe. Some folks are so paralyzed with this risk-aversion; they seem to be waiting to die, instead of getting out into the wilderness and living life.

Along with these PLB’s, cell phones have gained popularity as emergency items. However, for me, most places I hike don’t have cell phone coverage. Many hikers use smart phones for possible emergencies, and also as a GPS, eReader, or even to listen to music. Many hikers tell me that they need these devices because they get bored. It is beyond my comprehension how a person who is hiking in the wilderness could get bored, not to mention the fact that I think intelligent people never get bored. Oh well.

Along with these electronic devices, the hiker often needs a system to keep the electronics charged – from spare batteries, battery packs, or even solar systems. All of this is just unnecessary weight in my opinion.

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The well prepared hiker knows his skill and experience level, hikes within these parameters, and does not take unnecessary chances. This hiker also leaves an itinerary with a responsible person, so a search can be initiated should the hiker not return on time. Of course, accidents can happen; but for the experienced and skilled hiker these are minimized.

For some people a PLB might make sense. For example on a multi-month trip you can send an “I’m okay” message each day with your exact location. For hikers with health issues, such as diabetes, a PLB might make sense.

For me, the technology separates me from my environment, so I leave the electronics at home and don’t even own a PLB.

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