Best Satellite Messengers and Personal Locator Beacons for 2020 (July Update)

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Best Satellite Messengers and Personal Locator Beacons for 2020 (July Update)

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Although it’s nice to unplug and truly immerse yourself in nature, it’s important to have some sort of communication device with you should anything go wrong.

Smartphones offer limited connectivity in the outdoor domain and satellite phones can be extremely expensive.

That’s where personal locator beacons (PLBs) and satellite messengers come in. These are your two best options for sending distress signals and could save your (or somebody else’s) life.

There are numerous options available for both types of devices, with a huge range in price and features.

The good news is that with an increasing number of options and demand comes better functionality and less expensive service.

Below we have reviewed eight of the best PLBs and messengers on the market right now in order of price to get you started.

For more information about the difference between PLBs and satellite messengers and what’s right for you, scroll down to our buying guide.

Top 3 Best-Sellers

SaleBestseller No. 1
SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Tracker
456 Reviews
SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Tracker
  • Reduced Size: Easier to carry and travel with, the SPOT Gen3...
  • Custom Tracking Rate: Tracking positions can now be sent...
  • Motion Activated Tracking: An internal motion sensor gives...
  • USB Connection: Enables line power for unlimited use without...
  • Reduced Size: Easier to carry and travel with, the SPOT Gen3...
Bestseller No. 2
Globalstar SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger & GPS Tracker - SPOT X Directional Messenger Satellite and GPS Tracker with Bluetooth
10 Reviews
Globalstar SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger & GPS Tracker - SPOT X Directional Messenger Satellite and GPS Tracker with Bluetooth
  • HEIGHT 6.54 in (16.61 cm) THICKNESS 0.94 in (2.39 cm) WIDTH...
  • WEIGHT 7.0 oz (198.4 g) with lithium batteries
  • IMPACT, DUST and WATER RESISTANT IP67 (Submersible up to 1m...
  • OPERATING TEMP -4 °F to 140 °F (-20 °C to 60 °C)
Bestseller No. 3
Spot GEN3 Satellite GPS Tracker/Messenger With Flotation Lanyard
3 Reviews
Spot GEN3 Satellite GPS Tracker/Messenger With Flotation Lanyard
  • SPOT Gen3 provides location-based messaging and emergency...
  • SPOT uses both the GPS satellite network to determine your...
  • SPOT's SOS function links to GEOS International Emergency...
  • Includes a neoprene flotation lanyard featuring a...
  1. Cheetah Personal GPS Tracker

Weighing just 41 grams, this personal GPS tracker from Cheetah can be attached to a set of car or house keys.

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Device type: Personal locator device
  • Two-way messaging/texting: No

Easy and straightforward to set up and use, you just text the unit a special code plus the mobile phone numbers you want it to send alerts to.

When the user presses the SOS button, all of those numbers receive a “Help me!” text alert with the location details, with a loudspeaker phone call coming through immediately afterwards. Friends and family can also track the user’s real-time movements on an app or online.

The device has a SIM pre-installed in it that can be topped up whenever it is running low and is pre-registered for real-time tracking with iPhone/Android.

The device sends a text message when the battery is running low and users can charge it from any USB or from its own docking cradle. For standard day-to-day use it will run for three or four days before it needs recharging, and even then it will only take 30 minutes to refuel.

Outside of the SOS function, you can simply send a text to the device to get a response that includes the time/date, altitude of the device, speed of movement, its latitude and longitude and a link to open Google Maps for that location.

The two-way voice communication is loud, high-quality sound that allows users to speak to friends and family just like a phone.

Other features include geo-fencing with a range of 100 metres (to alert others if the wearer roams outside a chosen area), fall detection that alerts you if the wearer falls over, voice monitoring option (listen in) and a no-motion alert if the tracker doesn’t move for a set time.

Ideal for anyone that is hiking/backpacking around the UK countryside, or vulnerable friends or relatives, it is weather-proof and comes with a lanyard for carrying.

Obviously the major downside of the device is that it works on a UK-based SIM card and therefore relies on phone towers and signal – making it a no-go for anyone who will be roaming deep in the backcountry or abroad.

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Perfect for urban and local adventures
  • Real-time tracking
  • Only works in the UK
  • Relies on cell towers
  • Alerts friends/family but not emergency services
  1. ACR ResQlink Non-Buoyant PLB

The ResQLink is ACR’s entry-level personal locator beacon and comes in at a very reasonable price. ACR is a reputable company that uses proven technology, compact electronics and a comprehensive network to provide users with reliable emergency communication.

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Device type: Personal locator beacon
  • Two-way messaging/texting: No

Similar to any device that uses the COSPAS/SARSAT communication network, the ResQlink PLB’s explicit function is an emergency SOS transmission.

Whilst they will function anywhere around the world, ResQlinks are pre-programmed with the UK country code so that the first point of contact in an emergency situation would be  the UK Search and Rescue authorities, with whom the PLB would be registered.

Registering your PLB is required by law in most countries and allows global Search and Rescue Teams to know who you are, critical information and emergency contacts.

The ResQlink has been tried and tested in some of the world’s most remote locations and treacherous conditions – just deploy the antenna, pull the anti-tamper seal and press the ON button.

Waterproof to five metres for an hour, or 10 metres for 10 minutes, it is a resilient little device but unfortunately does not float.

A great, emergency-only messaging device without any of the bells and whistles, this will do the trick for most hikers and backpackers.

  • Can be used worldwide
  • Affordable
  • Waterproof
  • Doesn’t float
  • No LED screen
  1. Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1

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Key features:

  • Device type: Personal locator beacon
  • Two-way messaging/texting: No

The ultra-compact rescueME PLB1 from Ocean Signal is a great value option for those who regularly travel across land and sea. Although it is an SOS-only device with no additional features, there is no doubting its reliability and robustness.

Ocean Signal works with the only officially recognised worldwide dedicated search and rescue satellite network (COSPAS/SARSAT).

As this is funded by governments there are no charges to use this service. Taking into account the lack of subscription costs and lifespan of this product, it is significantly cheaper than any of its competitors.

With a 66-channel GPS receiver and retractable antenna, its small size means that it can be fitted into your lifejacket or clipped onto a belt or backpack.

Another thing we liked was that the rescueMe PLB1 can be operated with a single hand thanks to a simple spring-loaded flap that covers the activation button, preventing inadvertent use.

The rescueME PLB1 is perfect for sending out an emergency signal in life-threatening situation, but anyone wanting to send and receive additional messages should look elsewhere.

  • No subscription fees
  • Single-hand activation
  • Compact
  • No two-way messaging or tracking
  1. Garmin InReach Mini

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Device type: Satellite messenger
  • Two-way messaging/texting: Yes

Small, rugged and lightweight, the Garmin InReach Mini allows for two-way text messaging using the 100% global Iridium network

This is by far one of our favourite satellite devices on the market, doing everything any other device can do but in a much smaller package. The InReach Mini is a pocket-sized version of Garmin’s InReach satellite messenger.

Weighing in at a mere 120 grams, you lose maps and navigation, but you keep the messaging, SOS, GPS and mobile companion app of its bigger siblings.

As expected, miniaturisation comes with some trade-offs including a reduced texting interface, navigational attributes and shortened battery life.

Once you have paid for your (relatively pricey) satellite subscription, you can trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center, receive weather forecast updates, send and receive InReach messages through compatible Garmin devices and access downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts and colour aerial imagery.

However, this device is not suited to UK location-fixing or navigation as the datum and coordinates options do not allow for OS grid reference coordinates, which is frustrating.

For those who want functionality without additional tech that might impinge on their wilderness experience, this should be on your shopping list.

  • Two-way messaging capability
  • Lightweight
  • Pocket-sized
  • Texting is slow and difficult
  • Expensive once combined with subscription costs
  • Not great for use with UK OS maps
  1. SPOT X

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Device type: Satellite messenger
  • Two-way messaging/texting: Yes

Looking more like a Blackberry than a satellite device, the SPOT X is a two-way messenger that makes messaging a whole lot easier.

Most other devices require a smartphone for easy typing or just a lot of patience, but the SPOT X has come to the rescue of individuals who wish to function without either.

It is able to send texts independently using a QWERTY keyboard and the user can even tie into their Twitter and Facebook account for social media updates.

For additional capability and interfacing, the latest version of the SPOT X includes Bluetooth functionality that links with a dedicated SPOT smartphone app.

This also allows the user to access their contacts and communicate easily with friends and family. A dedicated mobile number means that others can message you directly at any time.

The SPOT X has a built-in compass and programmable waypoints to help you navigate and the SOS button allows you to speak directly with the 24/7 Search and Rescue center in life-threatening situations.

For anyone who wants to be able to follow this up messages back and forth about the nature of your emergency and confirmation when help is on the way, this is the device for you.

Unlike other satellite trackers, all incoming messages are free of charge to the SPOT user. For non-emergency messaging, the SPOT X is possibly the best on our list.

All sending, receiving and viewing can be completed on the device itself or on the associated smartphone app.

SPOT devices use the Globalstar satellite network, which unfortunately covers only a portion of Earth with some major omissions. Before you buy, make sure to check their website to ensure your destination is covered.

SPOT also offer a Gen 3 device that is smaller and less expensive, but lacks the two-way messaging of its competitors.

  • Smartphone interface
  • On-device keyboard
  • Free incoming messages
  • More expensive than competitors
  • Bulky
  1. Garmin InReach Explorer+

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Device type: Satellite Messenger
  • Two-way messaging/texting: Yes

The InReach Explorer+ is an impressive piece of kit that combines two-way messaging, SOS function and real-time tracking via the global Iridium satellite network. Typically known for their GPS devices, Garmin has brought their mapping finesse together with satellite communication.

With pre-loaded maps, onscreen GPS routing, built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerator the InReach is a quality device for experienced backpackers.

There are two ways of messaging from the device – either by sending a preset message or typing out a message using the onscreen keyboard.

Friends and family can also stay up to date with the user’s whereabouts with global tracking, and track points can be sent manually or automatically at pre-defined intervals of 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes.

When you press the SOS button on the side of the device your GPS co-ordinates will be sent to the 24/7 GEOS Emergency Response Center. GEOS work with emergency services worldwide and use your device’s co-ordinates to ensure you get help.

The InReach Explorer+ can be paired with any smartphone to unlock extra capabilities, download maps and send messages. Users can log in to the online portal to link to social media accounts, setup waypoints and routes and upgrade firmware.

However, this all comes at a cost. Users must pay a monthly or annual subscription that only becomes cost effective when used regularly in remote locations. For anyone that will only be using it once or twice a year, the cost per use would be outrageous.

The additional features also make it relatively large and heavy – an issue for those who like to travel light and fast.

Best for active explorers of remote areas that don’t mind carrying a bit of extra weight.

  • Global network
  • Reliable and easy to use
  • Great additional features
  • High initial outlay
  • Not cost-effective for occasional use
  • Large and heavy
  1. ACR Aqualink PLB

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Device type: Personal locator beacon
  • Two-way messaging/texting: No

The ACR Aqualink is designed for use on both land and water with built-in floatation and waterproofing.

Small enough to be carried in a pack or pocket, its primary function is to send location, identity and distress status to a worldwide dispatch network.

With minimal to no other communication options, you can at least rely on access to the world’s best emergency satellite network.

Once the SOS has been activated, a unique registered distress signal tells authorities both where you are and who you are. The onboard GPS is accurate to within 100 meters and a powerful 406 MHz signal repetitively relays your distress call to orbiting satellites.

A bright integrated LED strobe light further guides rescuers to your exact location on arrival and typical performance is 35 hours.

Although it is more expensive and bulkier than most PLBs, it will float if accidentally dropped overboard. This model also has an LED display that makes it easier to use, allowing the user to follow on-screen instructions and receive information directly.

  • Easy to use
  • Flashing strobe light
  • Reliable emergency satellite network
  • Expensive
  • Bulky and heavy for such limited communication
  1. Garmin InReach GPSMAP 66i

Key features:

View on Amazon

  • Device type: Satellite messenger and GPS mapping device
  • Two-way messaging/texting: Yes

The most expensive but feature-filled option in our lineup is the InReach GPSMAP 66i. It is Garmin’s top-of-the-line handheld GPS unit with InReach satellite communications built-in.

Building on the capabilities of the InReach Explorer, with two-way satellite messaging capable of sending and receiving texts to any number or email in the world, the GPSMAP 66i adds a strong focus on mapping features.

Trigger the interactive SOS button and the GEOS 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center will commence your location and retrieval. Two-way messaging via the 100% global Iridium satellite network means that family and friends can be regularly updated, regardless of where you are in the world.

The 66i is a professional-level, rugged GPS that is built to withstand any outdoor environment. Whether you drop it, sit on it or leave it out in the rain, it trudges on.

The software works well and the GPS fires up quickly and doesn’t lag. The preloaded TopoActive maps with BirdsEye Satellite Imagery downloads maps are great but you can also load additional ones, with a micro-SD card slot to supplement internal storage.

The screen is big and bright, making it easy to read, and users can customise the display to only show what is important to them.

A rechargeable lithium battery provides up to 35 hours of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode, 200 hours in Expedition mode with 30-minute tracking intervals.

Although it doesn’t last as long as the InReach Explorer or Mini, you can tweak some settings to get weeks’ worth of tracking out of it.

Although it is ergonomically designed, it is pretty heavy – weighing in at 250 grams. It’s also incredibly expensive and thus an overkill for your average backpacker.

Our final gripe is that despite its whizz-bang features, the interface is the same old clunky interface that has been around on Garmin units for years and takes a bit of getting used to.

Overall the 66i brings some incredible functions to the table but at this price point, unless you’re a professional adventurist, you might be better off with a simplified satellite messenger.

  • Extensive built in and customisable features
  • Weatherproof
  • Surprisingly good battery life
  • Variety of accurate maps
  • Bright sun-readable colour display
  • Clunky and hard-to-use interface
  • Expensive
  • BirdsEye imagery and some other redundant features

How to Choose the Best Communication Device for You

Satellite messengers have the SOS feature of a PLB but with the addition of tracking and two-way messaging.

This means that anyone backpacking in remote areas can send out an emergency distress signal, followed up with details of your location and issue, or send messages to family and friends.

Essentially, opt for a personal locator beacon if you don’t want to pay regular subscription fees and need an SOS device for emergencies only.

If you also want to be able to send messages or your regular location to loved ones then splash out on a satellite messenger.

There are numerous options available for both types of devices, with a huge range in price and features.

The good news is that with an increasing number of options and demand comes better functionality and less expensive service.

Satellite Messenger Vs Personal Locator Beacons

Although they serve a similar purpose, there is a slight difference between the two.

Personal locator beacons are the safety net of backcountry travel and are simple electronic devices, designed to be used a single time in a life or death emergency.

PLBs send a one-way emergency distress signal that can be pinpointed to anywhere in the world.

This message will result in a full scale search and rescue mobilisation.

Satellite messengers have the SOS feature of a PLB but with the addition of tracking and two-way messaging.

This means that anyone backpacking in remote areas can send out an emergency distress signal, followed up with details of your location and issue, or send messages to family and friends.

As mentioned above, PLBs are more basic in their functionality but will save you money in that they don’t require satellite subscriptions.

PLBs not only send a distress signal and location but they also send the Unique Identifying Number (UIN) of the device.

Each device is linked to the owner’s profile and provides search and rescue with relevant information such as age and known medical conditions.  When you purchase a PLB, you are required by law to register it.

Other benefits of PLBs is that they work in remote areas worldwide, have a multiyear battery life and a stronger signal than satellite messengers.

Messengers however are rechargeable, can send/receive non-emergency messages, can cancel an SOS call if needed and offer a range of GPS navigation features.

Satellite Networks and Coverage

Global coverage is ideal in any satellite device, allowing you to travel to any corner of the planet.

COSPAS and SARSAT are a network of orbiting satellites practically controlled by the military and are the most comprehensive network of location satellites.

Globalstar and Iridium are privately owned satellite networks owned that grant access for a subscription cost. Globalstar is preferable as it covers nearly every region of the earth except remote parts of Africa and the poles.

Additional Features

Even within a particular brand of messengers, different models will offer more or less features.

Alongside two-way messaging you can look for GPS maps, social media linkage, real-time tracking and more. As a general rule, more features will reduce battery life and push up the weight/bulk of your device.

If you want all of the above features with the addition of calls, consider a satellite phone [HYPERLINK].

A Final Note

Some countries do not allow PLB registration unless registered to a vessel and other jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of satellite communication devices altogether.

Be sure to know and follow all applicable laws where the device is intended to be used.

Additionally, most PLBs and messengers are equipped to clip to the outside of your backpack or clothing, but this increases your chance of losing or damaging it.

Store it just inside the top of your backpack, where it will still have satellite signal but remain safe should you find yourself in an emergency.

Personal Locator Beacons – Amazon BEST Sellers

Last update on 2020-07-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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