One of the most valuable tools we can bring with us to ensure our safety when heading outdoors is nearly invisible—a RECCO reflector that’s sewn into our outdoor gear. These small and lightweight passive transponders increase any adventurer’s chances of survival by directing rescue professionals to the wearer’s location in case of an emergency, whether on the mountain, atop a glacier or deep in the valley. As the wearer, you don't have to do anything—RECCO reflectors don't require batteries or activation.
While visually captivating content of the outdoors on TikTok is inspiring more people to try new things like hiking and camping, Gordon Burns, Canadian instructor for RECCO, notes that many overlook the importance of planning and preparing for a day outside, whether it’s a short walk or a full day adventure, which has resulted in a higher number of calls to Search and Rescue (SAR). “The severity of the impact of being missing is dependent on preparation and knowledge of the participant.”
Taking the time to pack the 10 essentials, understanding how quickly a well-marked trail can transform into challenging terrain and how rapidly the weather can change from summer to winter conditions in the mountains are just a few of the things that can help adventurers recreate more safely.
RECCO reflectors were first sewn into the hoods, arms and legs of ski jackets and pants in 1983, which helped rescuers using handheld RECCO detectors locate buried skiers and snowboarders in an avalanche. Lightweight, flat and unnoticed by the wearer, these tiny reflectors emit a signal that’s received by the RECCO detector, which helps rescuers identify the location of an injured or missing person. Currently, over 150 outdoor brands like Helly Hansen, Black Diamond and Patagonia incorporate RECCO reflectors in their products. Though reflectors were traditionally used in ski wear, they can now be found in lightweight shells, boots, backpacks and harnesses so users can be searchable year-round, whether they’re hiking, camping or climbing.
The introduction of RECCO’s first SAR Helicopter Detector in 2015 made it possible to search for missing people in environments other than beneath packed snow, like in dense forests and on open water. The RECCO detector hangs on a cable from the helicopter and can search 30 football fields per minute while moving at 100 kilometres per hour. Over 900 ski resorts and mountain rescue organizations across 32 countries employ RECCO detectors for emergency responses, including North Shore Rescue.
To leverage the benefits of a RECCO reflector, wear multiple. “With one RECCO reflector, there will always be a signal reflected back to the RECCO detector, the strength being determined by the position of the RECCO reflector on the subject,” explains Burns. “The RECCO signal is influenced by water. If the subject is laying on top of the RECCO reflector, the signal strength will be reduced somewhat due to the water content of the human body.” While wearing multiple reflectors doesn’t increase the strength of the signal, having reflectors placed on various sides of the body assures you’ll be searchable in the quickest manner, especially if you’ve fallen on the trail.
“Make sure you fill out a trip plan with the details and timeline of your trip, including that you have RECCO,” adds Burns, noting ways to optimize the usage of RECCO reflectors. This will alert SAR to deploy the RECCO detector right away, saving valuable time.
Whether you’re new to the outdoors or are a seasoned adventurer, RECCO reflectors are an invaluable survival tool. “No matter how much experience you have, there are some situations that experience cannot prevent. For example, injury, wildlife encounter, freak weather event, or just plain miscalculation of the trip’s requirements. Should SAR need to come to your assistance, RECCO will allow them to locate you quickly,” says Burns.
Despite its capabilities, RECCO is used as a last resort, and proper planning and preparation remain essential for any outdoor venture. Make sure to check weather forecasts and trail conditions before departing, as well as research your route and understand the terrain you’ll be tackling.
Consider our picks of RECCO-equipped gear for your adventures this summer:
Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds 3.0 Shell Jacket
Having partnered with RECCO for over 15 years, Helly Hansen offers a reliable lineup of RECCO-equipped shells, pants and backpacks. This 3-layer hardshell jacket is waterproof, windproof and fully seam-sealed while remaining breathable. The exterior fabric of this eco-conscious pick is also made from 68 per cent Ocean Bound recycled materials.
Helly Hansen Transistor Backpack
Whether hiking, biking or backpacking, this lightweight 30-litre Transistor Backpack will keep your essentials neatly organized. It’s hydration compatible and the mesh side pockets effortlessly stretch to provide more room for water bottles. The main compartment can be easily accessed through its large U-shaped opening, and the zippered mesh pockets on the hip belt provide extra storage for quick-access items like lip balm and energy bars.
Black Diamond Technician RECCO Harness
With four gear loops, a rear loop and four ice clipper slots, this Technician RECCO Harness is suitable for ice, trad and sport climbing, making it a top contender for those who want a versatile harness. The waist belt is generously padded for comfort and its leg loops are adjustable to accommodate additional layers, making this the perfect option for year-round use.