At a cost ranging from $150 to $500 each, personal locator beacons are becoming popular additions to hikers’ gear. In the past year, the number of registered personal locator devices has risen 78 percent in Alberta. Their main attraction is the sense of security they provide if problems arise while on the trail. When activated, the device sends a distress signal to a satellite system that positions a person’s location while alerting search and rescue operators. Increasingly popular are third-party systems that also allow text messaging and live tracking.

The benefits are obvious. Experts, though, warn that these devices can give the backcountry hiker or cross-country skier a false sense of invulnerability. The more daring may be tempted to push the limits of their abilities and end up in a situation more dire than if they had not relied on a personal locator device. The technology can be a life saver, but should not be seen as a replacement for good planning, training and experience.