Top 5 Ultralight Hiking Satellite Messengers & PLBs (2023)

Stay connected and safe with hiking satellite messengers: Hiker in the mountains next to his tent using a hiking satellite messenger

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Imagine you’re out hiking in a remote area, and something goes wrong – you get lost, injured, or face a scary situation. This is where ultralight hiking satellite messengers and PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) can be a lifesaver.

But how do you know which one to trust and which option is the lightest? Don’t worry, our guide is here to give you a more detailed look at the top choices and help you pick the best ultralight solution for your needs.

Top Ultralight Hiking Satellite Messenger & PLB Picks

  1. Most Ultralight: ACR Bivy Stick (3.53oz/100g)
  2. Best Overall: Garmin inReach Mini 2 (3.53oz/100g)
  3. Best Value: Zoleo Satellite Communicator (5.29oz/150g)
  4. No Subscription Option: ACR ResQLink 400 (5.08oz/144g)
  5. Budget Option: SPOT Gen4 (5oz/142g)

1. Most Ultralight
ACR Bivy Stick

Ultralight Hiking Satellite Messengers & PLBs: ACR Bivy Stick

Key Specs


Weight: 3.53 ounces (100 grams)
Two-way Messaging Feature: Via phone app
Battery Life: 120 hours
Subscription Required: Yes
Price: $$

PROS


✅ Ultralight

✅ Solid Hardware

CONS


❌ Troublesome app

❌ Learning curve

The ACR Bivy Stick offers global satellite communication for outdoor adventures, serving as a reliable hardware device to keep you connected off the grid.

However, it heavily relies on the Bivy Stick app, which has some drawbacks. Both the Android and iPhone apps can drain phone batteries quickly and may freeze in areas with no cell service. To mitigate this, only allow the app to use GPS when necessary. Additionally, it requires a clear view of the open sky for the best signal strength.

On the positive side, it offers two-way messaging, emergency SOS, group tracking, and offline maps. During our testing, we found that some initial messages ended up in the recipient’s spam folder, but this can be easily resolved on your computer.

If your primary purpose is to have a device for emergencies and simple check-ins, the ACR Bivy Stick is a decent ultralight choice. However, it’s important to rely on the device for check-ins rather than the app, as the app’s location accuracy can be inconsistent. In conclusion, practice using the device to make the most of it.


2. Best Overall
Garmin inReach Mini 2

Ultralight Hiking Satellite Messengers & PLBs: Garmin inReach Mini 2

Key Specs


Weight: 3.53 ounces (100 grams)
Two-way Messaging Feature: Yes (No phone required)
Battery Life: 336 hours
Subscription Required: Yes
Price: $$$

PROS


✅ Solid hardware

✅ Great battery life

✅ No need for a phone to send messages

CONS


❌ Expensive

The Garmin inReach Mini 2 offers a mix of benefits and considerations for outdoor enthusiasts. It shines with its impressive hardware, featuring a compact and lightweight design that makes it user-friendly. The global messaging and location-sharing capabilities are especially appealing for solo adventurers in remote areas.

However, there are a few points to keep in mind. The Garmin ecosystem can be a bit on the pricey side, and the device requires a somewhat lengthy setup process involving various Garmin software, which might not be the most user-friendly. Users have reported issues with changing initial contacts added to the software, so be selective with your choices.

Additionally, the battery life may not live up to the advertised claims, especially with heavy usage, so having a backup power plan is advisable.

Monthly subscription costs can add up, and some plans might involve hidden fees. While the setup process and message transmission can sometimes experience delays, the inReach’s robust hardware and self-sufficiency offer significant advantages.

It remains the best overall option picked by us, as Garmin actively continues to improve its support and offerings for this device.


3. Best Value
Zoleo Satellite Communicator

Ultralight Hiking Satellite Messengers & PLBs: Zoleo Satellite Communicator

Key Specs


Weight: 5.29 ounces (150 grams)
Two-way Messaging Feature: Via phone app
Battery Life: 200 hours
Subscription Required: Yes
Price: $$

PROS


✅ Solid hardware

✅ Great battery life

CONS


❌ Troublesome app

The ZOLEO Satellite Communicator offers a mix of advantages and considerations for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s a cost-effective choice with dependable performance and a long-lasting battery, making it valuable, especially in remote places. The option to pause service during the offseason is a handy feature, and automatic location sharing enhances safety.

However, there are some challenges to be aware of, like issues with the app’s user-friendliness and setup process, which may require tech support assistance, a common scenario with such devices. Placing the device in an open area is vital for optimal performance, and device availability can sometimes be an issue, so buying from a ZOLEO reseller is recommended.

Despite these challenges, the ZOLEO Communicator serves as a useful tool for solo adventurers who need a reliable way to stay connected in areas lacking cell coverage.


4. No Subscription Option
ACR ResQLink 400

Ultralight Hiking Satellite Messengers & PLBs: ACR ResQLink 400

Key Specs


Weight: 5.08 ounces (144 grams)
Two-way Messaging Feature: No (SOS only)
Battery Life: 24 hours (5-year shelf life)
Subscription Required: No
Price: $$$

PROS


✅ No subscription required

✅ Solid hardware

CONS


❌ Accidental activation is a possibility

❌ Not the best GPS signal lock

The ACR Ultralight PLB can be a reliable tool for outdoor safety, but you need to use it correctly. It uses multiple signal technologies to communicate your position to rescue networks worldwide, ensuring you can get help when needed.

However, some users have found that holding it in your hand can interfere with the signal, so it’s better to place the device on the ground.

The registration process is straightforward, and the instructions are easy to follow, making it user-friendly. Its compact and lightweight design is convenient for hikers, and the self-test function with 12 tests provides peace of mind.

While there is room for improvement, such as offering more mounting and carrying options and better GPS signal protection, our overall assessment is positive. The ACR PLB is a valuable investment because it provides reassurance without the need for a subscription.


5. Budget Option
SPOT Gen4

Ultralight Hiking Satellite Messengers & PLBs: SPOT Gen4

Key Specs


Weight: 5 ounces (142 grams)
Two-way Messaging Feature: No (pre-programmed one-way messages only)
Battery Life: 168 hours
Subscription Required: Yes
Price: $

PROS


✅ Great battery life

✅ Extremely affordable

CONS


❌ Not for heavily wooded areas

❌ No bluetooth support

The Spot Gen4 is a simple and cost-effective GPS communication device. It’s a budget-friendly option with clear and transparent pricing, so you won’t face hidden fees.

This device keeps you connected with loved ones or emergency responders through custom messages (up to 1,250) and an SOS button. It can also be set to regularly share your location on a map so that your friends and family can see where you are from their homes.

However, one limitation is its lack of Bluetooth support, meaning you can’t connect it to your phone, which sets it apart from some other devices in this category.

To ensure successful message transmission, it’s essential to carefully read the manual and follow the instructions. Keep in mind that the Spot Gen4 might not be the best choice for hikers in heavily wooded areas. Nevertheless, given its affordable price point, it’s worth considering.

The Spot Gen4 is a useful tool to stay connected, even though it might have some difficulties at times. It’s important to remember that this device only allows one-way communication, so you won’t know if help is coming your way.

If you’re interested in Spot devices, you can also explore the Spot X, which offers a better user interface and Bluetooth support.

How to Choose a Satellite Messenger or PLB

When choosing between hiking satellite messengers and PLBs, you have two primary options: Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and satellite messengers.

PLBs function as emergency beacons, allowing you to send SOS signals with a long-lasting battery, providing a reliable safety net for multiple trips, but they have limited functionality beyond SOS.

For more versatile communication, consider one– or two-way satellite communicators. One-way communicators, like the Spot Gen4, enable specific messaging without a smartphone, while two-way communicators offer both sending and receiving capabilities, often connecting with your smartphone, although managing two devices is required. There are also completely standalone two-way satellite messengers like the Garmin inReach Mini 2.

To learn more about how these devices, explore our in-depth post here.

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