Helicopter with Recco detector next to it

These backpacks can help search and rescue find lost hikers

“When I first heard about Recco’s new helicopter-mounted detector in Europe, I got excited about its possibilities,” says Mark Knight, part of the MEC Label design team. “Our local search and rescue team had over 130 calls that year, and this new technology seemed to offer huge potential for helping volunteer SAR teams find missing or lost people in the backcountry.

“If we could champion this cause, we could help get a detector here to support local search and rescue teams.”

Fast-forward a few years to today, and helicopter-mounted Recco technology is finally in Canada – along with Recco-equipped backpacks that make you searchable. These backpacks range from compact day hiking bags to fully loaded backpacking options.

See the story behind it all, and how this new technology can be used:

Where is Recco being used?

Search and rescue teams in a few Canadian regions – Vancouver’s Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, southeast BC and Alberta – are currently able to request access to use the helicopter-mounted Recco detector system (it’s also in some parts of Europe and the United States). The helicopter-mounted detector allows searchers to cover a square kilometre in about six minutes by air, even over thick trees or mountainous terrain.

If Recco sounds familiar, it’s because this technology also shows up in winter backcountry ski gear to help organized rescue and ski patrol in avalanche burial situations. Avalanche rescue detectors are smaller handheld devices (note: they are not a substitute for avalanche safety gear and training).

The evolution to a larger helicopter-mounted detector means you can search much farther and faster, and also opens it up to all-season wilderness searches.

How does Recco work?

Recco is a two-part system: detector and reflector. The detector emits a radar signal that bounces back when it hits a reflector (kind of like shining a flashlight onto a mirror). Reflectors are small, lightweight, don’t need batteries to work or be activated, and they can be embedded into gear. When a person wears clothes or a backpack with a Recco reflector, they become searchable by the detector.

How to stay safe when you’re hiking

Search and rescue is a last resort. Before you hit the trail, it’s incredibly important to:

  • Prepare before you go: Start with these day hiking tips for beginners. Research your route and choose a trail that works with your fitness and outdoor skill level.
  • Gain outdoor skills: Check out free or low-cost hiking clinics at MEC. We cover lots of topics, from how to use a GPS to packing for an overnight hiking trip. Local hiking groups are also a good way to learn from more experienced hikers.
  • Bring proper gear: The 10 essentials are a must, even if it’s just a short hike. Good hiking footwear and layers. First-aid kit.
  • Leave a trip plan with a trusted friend: AdventureSmart has a trip plan template and app to get you started. Make a note on your trip plan if you’re bringing Recco-equipped gear.
Group of people on a snowy mountain
MEC Label designers

Sustainability, quality and value are behind all we create. When we’re not obsessing over details, we’re outside on trails, rock and snow.