The one major fear I have when traveling to the backcountry of the mountains in the western part of the country is getting injured and not being able to get help. Having a family at home wondering if I am safe when out of cell phone service is always of concern. With today’s technology, fortunately there are ways to let your loved ones know where you are as well as letting authorities know that you need help.
Recently I was sent a SPOT Gen3 satellite messenger device to try out for a few months. The SPOT Gen3 is a one way messaging unit that will allow you to send messages to home, track movement in the field, and call for help. The unit itself is fairly small and lightweight which is a benefit for those weight conscience people traveling into the backcountry.
The SPOT Gen3 retails for $149.99 but currently has a promotion running until July 31st, 2016 for 50% off of your purchase via mail-in rebate. In order to be eligible, you must subscribe to the Basic Service which is another $149.99 per year. The Basic Service includes S.O.S notification, Check-in/OK service, Request for Help, and Basic Tracking. There are a few other service plan upgrades available for purchase. Some might think the cost of the unit and service is expensive. However, this is a small price to pay for security for both you and your family while away. After all, this unit will provide nearly worldwide coverage with the basic service.
The SPOT Gen3 unit itself is 3.5”x 2.5” and weighs 4.0 oz. with 4 AAA lithium batteries. There are 6 buttons on the device which include the power button as well as various buttons to either call for help or send messages to loved ones back home. Included with the unit is a Velcro loop with a carbineer attached so that you can hang it on a pack for easy access. On the back of the unit is a USB connection for updating the firmware as well as powering the unit while in a vehicle.
Here is a rundown on the other buttons and features of the SPOT Gen3 GPS Tracking device:
S.O.S.: Pushing the button the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center and provides your current GPS location. It is equivalent to dialing 9-1-1
Check In: Let your family and friends know you are safe. You can send a preprogrammed message along with GPS coordinates as well as a link to Google Maps. This allows you to send to up to 10 pre-determined contacts.
Help/SPOT Assist: This allows you to alert your contacts that you need help for a non-life-threatening situation.
Custom Message: Send a predetermined custom message to your contacts back home.
Tracking: Allow friends and family to track your movements and progress online or on the SPOT App.
The tracking feature will share your current location with people that you share the information with. The basic tracking function will send waypoints every 10 minutes for up to 24 hours. After the 24 hours, you will have to turn the tracking function back on. With the optional unlimited and extreme tracking, you can set it and forget it. With the unlimited tracking feature, you can set the tracking to submit points every 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes and there is no need to reset after 24 hours. Extreme tracking allows you to send points every 2 ½ minutes. Once you are home, you can save your tracks with SPOT Adventures.
I recently took my SPOT Gen3 device on a trip to South Dakota where I knew I wouldn’t have much cell phone service. Along the way, I had the tracking feature on and set to record my progress every 5 minutes. With the mobile app I was able to watch in real time as I traveled to my destination. Once in South Dakota, I was then able to send a message back home letting my family know that I made it safe and sound.
I have found that sending messages from the device can take anywhere from just a few minutes to up to about twenty minutes. The lights on the unit are able to tell you if a message was sent successfully or if you don’t have sufficient satellite signal. I haven’t been able to test this unit in a dense tree canopy or any type of canyon in the mountains. However, the unit seems to be able to pick up a GPS signal fairly quickly.
With 4 AAA Energizer Lithium Ultimate batteries you can expect great battery life. With brand new batteries you can get 13 day of SOS signal when you have a 100% clear view of the sky. When tracking every 10 minutes based on a 24-hour day, a user can expect 17 days of use. Tracking every 60 minutes will increase run time to about 52 days.
While some people might question the cost and the likelihood of actually needing a device like this, I will tell you that I think it is worth its weight in gold. I regularly take backpacking trips out west and am generally worried about getting help if an emergency happens while in the backcountry. Going forward, I will be taking this unit on every hunt and backpacking trip I take.
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