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Technology is not a substitute for common sense and good planning. It is your responsibility to be properly prepared and educated before you get in a distress situation.

You should never depend on cell phones for help in a hiking emergency in the mountains or wilderness areas as there is often no service. Technology is NEVER a substitute for knowledge, experience, common sense and proper planning.

Instead of cellphones, many hikers carry a Global Positioning System (GPS) with them. A GPS can help you stay on course as you hike to your destination. It can also track where you've been, how far you've gone, and tally altitude gained and lost. Before starting a hike on a new trail, it is recommended that you download key waypoints on the GPS, and use them to plan your route. During the hike you can use the route to estimate distance and travel time. Technology, however, is unpredictable in the wilderness. You should always have a compass and map as a backup.

Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are one-way personal safety communication beacons available in the United States. These pocket-sized devices alert rescue personnel about an emergency and provide a location of the emergency. The PLB transmits a continuous distress signal to orbiting satellites, which then relays the information to the necessary authorities.

Essentials you must know about PLBs:

  • Some can have a GPS attached to them, which increases their accuracy. A GPS system can increase accuracy from 3 miles to 200 feet.
  • You should register your PLB with The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at They will check to make sure it was not accidently activated before launching a search.
  • Never lend your PLB to someone else, since you will be the one contacted if it’s activated.
  • A PLB should only be used as a last option, after a phone call and self rescue are evaluated or attempted. Their purpose is solely to signal grave and immediate danger, and will be treated as such by Search and Rescue (SAR) teams.
  • A PLB is not an excuse for reckless behavior.
  • Make sure to test your PLB, learn how to use it, and check its batteries before you hike with it.

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