Gear Scout: Fast Find Ranger PLB

McMurdo has been producing marine safety products since the 1940’s and first entered the locater beacon market with a Cospas-Sarsat approved device in 1989. Two decades later, their Fast Find family of beacons set new standards for size and capability opening the door for the now highly regarded Ranger. Released in May of 2012, the Ranger is one of the most rugged and compact PLBs on the market today. While the Ranger is small, genuinely pocket-sized, it does not skimp on power or features.

Central to the identity of the Ranger is its dedicated distress signal broadcast on the 406 MHz frequency. With coverage over the entire surface of the earth, this is an ideal device for the international overland traveler. With its sensitive 50 channel GPS receiver, the Ranger is able to locate its position within a tight range of just 62 feet and can then transmit that position in a matter of seconds. Like the ACR unit, that distress frequency carries with it the unique user information on file with the International Beacon Registration Database. That information is used to help ground resources verify the nature of the emergency and better organize a timely response. The Ranger’s lithium manganese battery has enough power to maintain a steady transmission at a maximum of 5 watts for up to 35 hours. To ensure the Ranger is always at the ready, the internal battery has a 6 year shelf life. Similar to the ACR PLB, the Ranger is equipped with a homing transmission broadcast on the same 121.5 MHz frequency allowing first responders the best chance to find you as quickly as possible. Once activated, a bright LED strobes in the universal SOS morse code sequence to direct rescuers to your exact position.

For it’s diminutive size, the Ranger is a stout and solid. Waterproof to 30 feet, the rubberized exterior of the Ranger is secure in hand and constructed of durable materials ready for the hard knocks that accompany most remote adventures. Simplicity is a key feature with rescue beacons and the Ranger has but one external button, the self test button.


One of the worries with some devices is the possibility of false alerts. It sounds incredulous that anyone would be so careless as to press a help button unintentionally, but it does happen. During this very review, a visitor at my office turned to me with a blinking PLB in hand and casually asked, “How do you turn this off?” That person is now required to keep their hands in their pockets when they visit. It’s not as if such mistakes ring a bell that cannot be un-rung. Should you inadvertently activate a PLB you can proactively call off the alarm––if you act quickly. Hesitate and there could be serious consequences. With the Ranger, there is virtually no way to accidentally initiate the distress signal. To activate the device, the user must first lift the red lever at the top of the unit. With a purposeful yank on that lever, the top of the Ranger must be pulled clear of the device releasing the Safe-Stow antenna and exposing the on button. A series of blinks from the LED on the face of the Ranger confirms the message is being sent. It’s a very simple, yet well thought out design. With no subscription required and a low retail price of just $299, this is a great PLB for any traveler. 

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.