The Case for PLBs

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AlmostThere
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by AlmostThere » Tue Oct 14, 2014 3:46 pm

If someone does not want to learn they don't take the class. I hike most of the time with a hiking group - many of them are ignorant but don't think so. I've heard much "expert" advice dished out on day hikes. One person in particular has been on a trip with me in the past - never again - and he continually talks up how he is going to do backpacking trips for the group. Those of us running it have already said NO. He has been told and he refuses to accept the reality, that he is just unsafe and a very bad example to other newbies.

The great majority of people in the group make a lot of assumptions, some of them crazy wrong, and while I do speak up I really don't push the issue much. You get a threat of physical violence once and it alters your perspective.

And no, it is not a supposition. If you want to learn something you look for ways to do it. No one has signed up and said "I paid to come here to meet babes." They all say I want to learn about - gear, safety, backpacking, places to go - but always to learn. And I don't give them my gear list and my favorite places. I teach them how to shop deals on backpacking gear, provide lists of resources for more reading on things specific to their goals, and not to believe every salesman - how to stay warm is not just about a sleeping bag - how SAR really works, not that pushing a button magically makes a helicopter appear - how to get out there without suffering. No one has come on the class trip with a 50 lb pack and no one has been cold at night. No one goes away with unrealistic expectations. No one gets a guided trip - they select their gear, pack their food and make their mistakes. The trip last weekend was a classic lesson for the new folks - they sure had an experience different from a day hike! Some of us went to address a group camped illegally, and some of us got a real lesson in fire starting. Everyone got experience. Not every class gets that. Definitely not every class you're familiar with, given your incorrect assumptions.








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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Oct 14, 2014 4:19 pm

I think somewhere else at one time on this forum, there was a discussion of starting backpacking with instruction (either in town classes or field classes) and just doing it on your own.

I remember not having the money for ski lessons - so I learned watching others. I picked up all their mistakes and poor techniques. Once ingrained, it was really hard to break these habits once I had the money to really take a ski class. So yes, I think getting a beginner on the right track with a class is worthwhile. As with any sport, you can learn on your own, but instruction speeds up the process.

I learned backpacking via mountaineering and from classes (Spokane Mountaineers- using the Seattle Mountaineers Freedom of the Hills as a text plus weekend field trips). I do not think I would have climbed Mt. Rainier my first year if I were simply trial and error learning on my own. And I was 16 years old - not exactly the age of wisdom or good judgment. I am glad I learned from experienced people. Others were introduced to backpacking by the Scouts or mentoring from a family member or friend.

Technology today is so available that many think they can just watch a you-tube clip, buy a GPS, PLB and head out into the woods. Add to that all the crazy "reality survival shows" and you end up with a very ill-informed beginning backpacker. I doubt 90% of those would go out on their own without these technological crutches. On the positive side, there is a lot of good information on backpacking on the internet (I hope our forum is one). However, I think it is hard for the beginner to evaluate what is good and what is not. Hence, classes are helpful.

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by Jimr » Tue Oct 14, 2014 4:46 pm

I don't believe anyone suggested that classwork or books or videos or whatever, is a substitute for experience. Just like no one has suggested a GPS or PLB or SPOT or whatever is a substitute for proper planning and navigational skills.

These skills are learned. They are learned in various ways depending on the student and their particular mode of learning. Some are more linear and some can piecemeal it together. Some learn by going with others who can demonstrate the skills, all fieldwork. Some can sit at a computer, bookstore, whatever and digest information in a piecemeal type fashion then practice in the field. Others take classes, then practice in the field. Done diligently, each may lead to proficiency.

Regardless of whether or not a person pays for a class, you will still get a hodgepodge of personalities, some with too much ego to learn, some with too little between the ears to learn, some who rely on memory only and remember roughly half of what was taught and some who are diligent learners.

The key is to learn, then practice, then learn, then practice. No matter what.

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by rlown » Tue Oct 14, 2014 6:33 pm

this thread is getting a little strange. Use a PLB or spot or don't. The choice is yours.

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by Herm » Tue Oct 14, 2014 9:25 pm

I don't own or use either device (PLB or SPOT). I own, but very rarely use a Garmin GPS. My latest solo trip involved mostly traveling on well-trodden trails, with some exploration on unmaintained trails - I carried a 7.5 minute quad of the area in which I traveled, the "Tom Harrison Mammoth High Country" map, and a compass. My itinerary was adhered to - my wife had a copy of my itinerary, and a copy was left in my car at the trailhead (I used the ReConn 2.0 Form). I am well aware of my own limitations, and am not one to "push the envelope" (as boring as that may be). My trip was excellent, as have been all the others that I have taken.

I got a bachelor of science degree in geology from CSU Fullerton, and one of the first lessons in the program was learning how to read a topographic map. Later came the use of compass, along with the topographic map. Those lessons were first learned in the college parking lot, then later taken to the botanical garden on campus, then later taken to relatively easy to learn destinations in the Mojave Desert, then expanded upon from there. Another class taken through the Geography Department further emphasized the study and use of topographic maps. Despite my education, I hardly consider myself an expert - but I can read and use a topographic map, and use a compass. This is the thrust of this whole topic. Learn to use these rudimentary tools, know your limitations, and don't get a false sense of security from mechanical devices. Doing this just might keep you out of trouble.

As always, your mileage may vary.

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by AlmostThere » Wed Oct 15, 2014 7:09 am

One of the sure to be asked questions in my class each year is about the GPS. No one knows what a Personal Locator Beacon is, and they all know about SPOT.

I do explain the differences and have added the Reconn form to my list of resources. It's being used. :nod:

This last class I spent time showing how to use a compass. I'm not delusional enough to think anyone will remember it. The subject needs a dedicated class just to get them understanding the relationship between the direction of travel mark, the needle, and true north/magnetic north. But hopefully I made the case that a basic understanding is useful even if you never leave the trail. Being in the middle of NF territory at an intersection with no sign (burned? eaten?) with a junction in front of you with one more trail than you think there should be, being able to find north and sort out what trail they want? Might save them a day of wandering. If I hadn't studied the map prior to some of the trips I've been on I'd have been doing just that.

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by rlown » Wed Oct 15, 2014 8:37 pm

k. why are we talking about a compass course on a PLB thread? If you know where you came in from and it's not a white out, why are we talking about compass? N is N and your students are trail bound mostly i would think if they don't know this and it should be obvious. Sun pretty much tells you that stuff if you can see it.

reconn add was a good call. any documentation at all is a good call.

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by AlmostThere » Wed Oct 15, 2014 9:28 pm

rlown wrote:k. why are we talking about a compass course on a PLB thread? If you know where you came in from and it's not a white out, why are we talking about compass? N is N and your students are trail bound mostly i would think if they don't know this and it should be obvious. Sun pretty much tells you that stuff if you can see it.

reconn add was a good call. any documentation at all is a good call.
You're expecting people to pay attention? I don't. Used to.

I appear to have a very good sense of place, so much so that I was able to backtrack my own route and find a GPS I lost in a thick manzanita grove. It took me a while to figure out that not everyone is possessed of this ability, and in fact, some can't even identify which way to go at a *clearly marked* trailhead. In much the same fashion that every article and most books are written to a 6th grade level, one must make allowances for those who are neither going backpacking as often as I do, nor are they going to "work that hard" to remember what direction they were walking on the trail - I have to ask them to have a buddy wait for them when they go take a leak. People disappear off the ends of water bars into the forest. Maybe a compass isn't going to help much but eh, at least I tried. Hikers come in all sizes, shapes, and intellectual abilities. I've had to recommend a lady to treatment for anxiety - panic attacks aren't a good feature in a trail partner. You get 'em all, and you don't get to just leave them out there...

The PLB is a nice thing - one button to test, one button to activate, no ambiguities. Clear instructions given to my companions - it's in this pocket. It has a cheat sheet under the velcro strap. If at any point I or someone else in the party is incapacitated and you can't hike me/him/her out, activate. In the event of a major cardiac or heat crisis, activate. If I'm hypothermic but somewhat clearheaded, try warming me up first.

Of course, the ideal is to have first aid training as a precursor to deciding what to do with a PLB. How do you know someone is in major trouble? Easier to understand with a little first aid background. I love hiking with a doctor friend who's also SAR - a few minutes of confab about the elevation symptoms at hand gets a quick consensus.

I pray that I never have to push the button, but I keep spinning the roulette....

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by Jimr » Thu Oct 16, 2014 10:05 am

rlown wrote:k. why are we talking about a compass course on a PLB thread?
Because a major part of this "conversation" regards the erroneous assumption that technological gadgets can replace basic skills. Compass work is a basic skill.

WD brought up an important point. Those who try to teach themselves often are hindered because they don't quite know what is important or that aspects of the subject even exist. Rather than trying to shut down conversation that has been had before and merely pointing to the search feature, I think it is a healthy thing to have these conversations crop up from time to time with fresh input and lacking a half dozen pages that date the thread (new threads, not old threads with more added). Opening an 8 page thread, just to find out the first post is 5 years old may elicit a "close thread and move on" response rather than a "read on" response.

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by EpicSteve » Tue Nov 11, 2014 4:25 am

AlmostThere wrote:The PLB is a nice thing - one button to test, one button to activate, no ambiguities. Clear instructions given to my companions - it's in this pocket. It has a cheat sheet under the velcro strap. If at any point I or someone else in the party is incapacitated and you can't hike me/him/her out, activate. In the event of a major cardiac or heat crisis, activate. If I'm hypothermic but somewhat clearheaded, try warming me up first.

Of course, the ideal is to have first aid training as a precursor to deciding what to do with a PLB. How do you know someone is in major trouble? Easier to understand with a little first aid background.
THANK YOU! That's exactly what I've been trying to say (and in fact, DID say) since my original post. Earlier in this thread you accused me of "scolding" and made the erroneous assumption that I was addressing my frustration to "everyone." Just one of those "eye of the beholder" things, I guess. My viewpoint is that I am "defending" myself against a "prevalent attitude" (that does NOT mean "everyone") that I've been encountering on more than one backpacking forums website in recent years. And that attitude is simply this: That if I choose to carry a PLB, I must either be a newbie, a techie geek, a person with poor judgment, or all of the above. And that's simply not true.

No, technology is ABSOLUTELY NOT a substitute for knowledge, skills, and judgment! (I'm ex-SAR myself, remember?) Yes, much like our 9-1-1 system, many people will stupidly misuse signaling devices. BUT, just like our 9-1-1 system, the potential benefits of having a PLB in one's possession in the event of total calamity should be obvious. So I'm suggesting that people stop automatically assuming that EVERYONE who carries a PLB is an idiot. That's all I was ever saying.

I don't plan on ever using mine and I hope I'll never have to. It does not induce me to take any greater risks than I'd take if I weren't carrying it. But if I (or anyone else I encounter in the wilderness) ever need it, it'll be there. And it just MIGHT result in rescue when only a rescue will suffice, IF I'm ever unfortunate enough to encounter that situation. And that's good enough for me. I'll go on carrying a PLB, no matter what some of you call me for doing it, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy being called those things, nor does it mean I'm going to take it lying down. You hike your way and I'll hike mine. And I'll try not to insult you for the way you choose to do it. Fair enough?

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