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PLB advice needed
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Raquel Rascal
(flutingaround)

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
PLB advice needed on 12/01/2012 17:27:39 MST Print View

Hi everyone,

I want to buy a PLB that could be used primarily as an avalanche beacon for backcountry skiing and secondarily as a backpacking beacon. Can anyone offer any suggestions?

I don't want a Spot...

Edited by flutingaround on 12/01/2012 17:28:11 MST.

Trevor Martin
(trevormar) - MLife

Locale: Rockies/ Desert Southwest
Re: PLB advice needed on 12/01/2012 20:08:52 MST Print View

I am not entirely sure what you mean by a "backpacking beacon that is also an avalanche beacon" but since you exclude the Spot then I will assume that you are talking about using a lightweight PLB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPRB). An EPRB transmits a dedicated radio signal to receiving satellites that can then use the signal to determine your exact location. Newer versions will also send a set of GPS coordinates simultaneously. This system is entirely separate and standalone, as opposed to the Spot which operates using a satellite phone network. EPRBs (in the US) must be registered with NOAA before use.


I have a McMurdo fast find which I use for long /off trail/solo trips mostly as a piece of mind for my family:

http://www.fastfindplb.com/us/products

Which was the lightest available PLB when I bought it (maybe ~2 years ago). They have updated models now and you may want to check out ACR as well. I thankfully cannot comment on its functionality, but it is lightweight.

That being said, an avalanche beacon and a PLB are very different things and you absolutely cannot use a PLB for avalanche rescue. A PLB just signals to search and rescue where you are and that you need help (so that it makes their job much easier) and in the event of an avalanche and you are buried it would likely take too long for them to get to you before you suffocate (the classic statistic is that at the half hour mark 2/3 of people will die from asphyxiation versus if you are rescued in under 15 minutes there is only around a 1/10 chance you will die) and it would be impossible to activate in the event of an avalanche anyways because you must physically deploy a rather large antenna. An avalanche transciever, in comparison, should be on for the entire duration of your tour so if you get caught then your partners can use their transceivers to locate you. They use a much shorter range (~50m or so) radio signal. If you are traveling in avalanche terrain then you and your partners must have avalanche transceivers / shovel /probe and must know how to use them in a rescue. There are a myriad of good, digital, multi antenna avy transcievers on the market now that will give you directional information. PIEPS and BCA models seem to be popular:

http://www.pieps.com/en/avalanche-transceivers
http://www.backcountryaccess.com/products/avalanche-safety/tracker-beacons/

I have used the BCA in the past and it worked well.

If you want to take a PLB on a bc ski tour in case some other non-avalanche issues come up (broken leg etc) where someone needs to be heli evacuated then that is a seperate issue.

Hope this helps,
Trevor

Edited by trevormar on 12/01/2012 20:38:12 MST.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 12/01/2012 20:28:23 MST Print View

Raquel, I think you are confusing the two devices. An avalanche beacon does not do what a PLB does.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: PLB advice needed on 12/01/2012 20:29:25 MST Print View

An avalanche beacon and PLB are two different things. The ACR ResQLink is probably the best PLB right now.

Raquel Rascal
(flutingaround)

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
okay. on 12/01/2012 20:52:32 MST Print View

Thanks for educating me. I have a $200 REI gift card burning in my pocket right now and I was really hoping I could get a one size fits all device. bummer.

Trevor Martin
(trevormar) - MLife

Locale: Rockies/ Desert Southwest
Re: okay. on 12/01/2012 21:21:58 MST Print View

Hi Raquel,

If you are mostly looking to get into BC skiing, I think that you can get the BCA tracker DTS from REI for around $240. I have used this transciever in the past and I liked its simplicity, reliability and its directional information (as opposed to the older analog ones that just beep louder when you get closer).

However, before you venture into the backcountry make sure that you feel confident in using your transciver and in how to use your other rescue tools (ie shovel, probe) to rescue someone who is buried. I like to bury a pack with a beacon in it and practice with friends. Most importantly, however, it is important to have a good understanding of proper terrain selection, snow stability, weak vs strong layers in the snowpack, the influence of weather (wind loading, sun etc). Using a beacon is only one small piece of the puzzle and should really be thought of as a last resort.

If you feel like you are interested in this stuff then I would recommend picking up a copy of Bruce Tremper's book "staying alive in avalanche terrain" and thinking about signing up for an AIARE avalanche level one course. Usually you can do two evenings of class after work and then two field days on the weekend to get your certification.

Happy tracks and stay safe!!

I hope that I have been helpful and not patronizing. I take this seriously because my family has lost friends in avalanches.

Best,
Trevor

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
PLB advice needed on 12/02/2012 17:24:49 MST Print View

Please heed Trevor's advice. Hopefully there are some avalanche safety courses in your area. The best are the ones which combine lectures with a couple days' field trip in which you learn to evaluate snow conditions and terrain, find buried avalanche beacons, do rescue, etc.

While the forecasts are not in your area, the Education section of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center has links to a lot of useful resources about avalanche safety:
http://www.nwac.us/education/
Nothing, however, can replace hands-on education, IMHO.

If you're going alone, you'll want a PLB (although I suggest researching the new SEND (2-way communication) technology, such as the Delorme Inreach, which looks as though it may take over the field. An avalanche beacon is useless if you're alone, because nobody will find you in time. BTW, you can't push a PLB button when you're buried in the equivalent of concrete, either. If you're with a group, you want an avalanche transceiver. With that, hopefully your companions can find you if you're buried or you can pick up their signals if they are buried.

Personally, although I hike and backpack solo all the time in 3 seasons, I don't go out alone in winter snow except along well-populated trails in relatively flat areas where there is no danger of avalanche runout (they can go quite a way across a valley and up the other side!). The margin of safety is a lot thinner in winter! (I do hike alone in winter below the snowline, but our PNW climate is a lot milder than yours--which is why I retired out here instead of moving back to Wyoming!)

Edited by hikinggranny on 12/02/2012 17:59:14 MST.

Trevor Martin
(trevormar) - MLife

Locale: Rockies/ Desert Southwest
Re: PLB advice needed on 12/02/2012 17:41:22 MST Print View

The CAIC website seems to be one of the best around:

https://avalanche.state.co.us/index.php

Raquel Rascal
(flutingaround)

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
thank you.. on 12/02/2012 18:07:08 MST Print View

I would NEVER venture into the backcountry skiing without an avalanche course/certification. My analytical personality wouldn't allow it. I've also read Skurka's chapter on careful planning and a backcountry skiing book.

I haven't even done Loveland pass yet (but have been tempted by a friend). I'll likely venture into this new sport over the next few years. I'm building up my backpacking gear first, so I thought I would try to plan ahead a bit. I've had some snow and weather education through courses with the Colorado Mtn Club. Thanks for the course recommendation and I will come back to this in time.


I'm interested in buying backpacking gear that may eventually double as backcounty skiing gear...

Edited by flutingaround on 12/02/2012 18:09:11 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
PLB advice needed on 12/02/2012 22:45:49 MST Print View

Raquel, in that case, I'd look at a PLB. Before you buy, though, first research the Delorme Inreach, especially if you already have either a Delorme GPS or a smart phone with GPS app (you have to buy the specific Inreach model to go with the specific phone or GPS). I'm impressed with the ability to do two-way communication. Using the example on the Delorme website, you can text SAR that you have a broken leg, which lets them know what to expect, and they can, in return, text you when they expect to reach you. I have been joking for a couple of years now that the next generation of PLBs will allow two-way communication and also sing and dance to entertain you while you wait for rescue. It appears that the first part has already come true! So far I've only looked at reviews on Doug Ritter's "Equipped to Survive" site,
http://www.equipped.com/
I'm excited, but not enough to invest (I already have a McMurdo Fastfind with three years left on the battery warranty). Should I take one of my grandkids on a long backpack, though, I'll see if I can persuade their parents to get me one!

Avalanche transceivers can be rented for occasional winter trips, which is probably more economical than buying one until you start going out a lot. I know that some clubs have a loan program; I don't know about the Colorado Mountain club.

Another possibility for the gift card might be using it towards a really warm winter sleeping bag, if you don't already have one. While out here in western Oregon, with our mild winters, I can supplement my 20* WM Ultralight enough to get by, there's no way you can do that in the Rockies!

Don Abernathey
(OldGuysRule) - F

Locale: PNW
Re: PLB advice needed on 12/03/2012 16:18:31 MST Print View

How do you intend to deploy your PLB when trapped in an avalanche?

Remember: with a PLB, nobody knows where you are until you deploy it.

Raquel Rascal
(flutingaround)

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
@ Mary on 12/03/2012 16:36:54 MST Print View

I had no idea about the Inreach! Thanks so much for turning me on to that.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
ACR ResQLink Holiday Promotion on 12/03/2012 21:11:48 MST Print View

FWIW, the ACR ResQLink has a Holiday Promotion running now.

http://www.acrartex.com/landing/holiday-promotion/




No, it's not an avalanche rescue device.

Raquel Rascal
(flutingaround)

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
thanks. on 12/04/2012 07:43:03 MST Print View

I'm checking it out.

But I'm confused about all these subscription services. Does anyone know if there is a PLB that doesn't require subscription services?

I'm thinking maybe the McMurdo Fast Find, but they don't have those on the REI website. :(

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
re: PLB advice needed on 12/04/2012 08:05:19 MST Print View

The ARC does not require subscription service for initiating rescue - the subscription services are only for testing the function with a email report (limited subscription), or sending "I'm okay" messages (full subscription. The device initiates the rescue services entirely on its own, as I understand it. Subscription services are entirely optional.

Raquel Rascal
(flutingaround)

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
.. on 12/05/2012 11:27:53 MST Print View

great, thank you Stephen. You are indeed wise. :)

Raquel Rascal
(flutingaround)

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
McMurdo Fast Find on 12/07/2012 12:13:37 MST Print View

I went with the McMurdo Fast Find! REI put it up on their website today, at a higher cost than they were selling it before-- $270. But, I used a $200 gift card and I'll get a $27 dividend and a $20 REI gift card that I can use to buy more stuff.

Thanks for the help everyone!