The main reason for owning a SPOT, in my opinion, is for when the feces hits the oscillator and you need help ASAP. The SPOT GEN 3 also has a whole plethora of other features that make it an even more useful tool in the backcountry. Weighing in at under 125 grams and about half the size of an iPhone, you can throw it in your pack just in case, and not think twice about it.
Most adventurers these days carry a cell phone with them, which is a great first line of communication. The obvious problems are that they a) inevitably run out of juice and b) get spotty service. I usually carry a backup iPhone charger, like a Mophie, and have had to hike out of canyons and up peaks just to get cell service so that I can check in and not have folks worrying about me. The new SPOT pretty much eliminates all that.
People have been using Satellite phones for decades but they are costly and bulkier than a SPOT. Globalstar, the satellite phone company that owns spot, saw a need for a more economical rescue device and launched the first SPOT in 2007. At $150 Spot Gen3 service plans are under $10 a month, its an affordable piece of mind.
Globalstar CEO Jay Monroe, notes that 75% of the planet’s land surface is out of cellular service. He says, “The capability of the unit is such that it really takes the search out of search and rescue. You know exactly where the person is and all you have to do is go get ‘em.”
There are all sorts of success stories of hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, hunters- you name it, who have been rescued with response times under 30 minutes to even the most remote locations. Since its winter, I thought id put some links to a couple of recent ones from Alaskan snowmobile accidents and avalanches.
How it works
There are five buttons on the SPOT Gen3 with symbols to depict their functions: SOS, SPOT Assist, Tracking, Check-in, and Custom Message. The SOS and SPOT Assist are for emergencies, while the rest are for checking in with friends and family and tracking your trip via GPS/Google Earth.
The SOS button sends a signal to GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (http://www.geosalliance.com/) who then will contact local search and rescue services. The button has to be held down for a couple of seconds until the LED blinks green. It has a rubber flap that keeps it from accidentally being pushed in your pack. If for any reason you do press it and decide you don’t need it, you can hold it down for two seconds until the LED light blinks red and the rescue is canceled.
In non-life-threatening emergencies where you still need help, you can press the SPOT Assist button and a message with your GPS coordinates will be sent to your contacts. This is a nice feature because you might not always need search and rescue and a helicopter. It saves a lot of money and resources, especially if you just have a sprained ankle and need someone to help carry your camping gear out of the backcountry, or your truck is out of gas on a forest service road somewhere in the mountains.
You can hit the Check In button and your coordinates will be sent to your contacts, along with a preprogrammed message saying that your are okay and just checking in. The Custom Message button sends a message of your choice to the contacts of your choice. So on each trip you go you can set up your SPOT to have a custom message that will be useful for you. For example, if you are trying to do a ski traverse of the Teton Crest Trail and need someone to pick you up but aren’t sure how long it will take, you can have the message say ‘We are an hour away from North Leigh Creek Trailhead, thanks in advance for the ride!’. And you would hit the Custom Message button when you know you are an hour away from the trailhead. Or maybe you’re on a summer camping trip and decide you want to spend another night out, you could have your custom message say, “Everything’s good, we’re spending another night out!” It gives a little more info than just the Check In button.
SPOT In Use
I tested out the SPOT on some longer splitboard tours in Grand Teton National Park. Because we would be moving relatively fast, I set the tracking setting to the most rapid possible- every 2.5 minutes. I sometimes like to play around with GPS tracking apps on my iphone in the backcountry, just to have something to look at later for a reference. The problem with that is those apps really drain your phone battery. The SPOT tracking essentially does the exact same thing and overlays your route on Google Earth.
The new SPOT GEN 3 also has a motion sensor so you if you are taking a break in one spot it won’t keep tracking you, saving batteries. Once you are moving again it starts up the tracking. I had the Spot on and tracking for 5 long days in cold winter temperatures and the batteries are still good. Also, there is an app! It’s cool because you can see your trips on google earth on your phone, and look at the times that you were at each location. (put in app screenshots) There is also a Share option you can set up, where your Check-ins and Tracks can be viewed on Facebook and/or Twitter. This could be useful for longer trips where you want people to be able to follow your journey and won’t have the time or internet access to upload things yourself.
SPOT GEN 3 is no substitute for proper planning, good judgment, and decision making. It is, however, a very useful, potentially lifesaving tool that is too affordable, and lightweight not to toss in your pack. The only slight downside to using the new Spot is it is a bit time consuming to set everything up out of the box. I had to actually read the manual, and proceed to write custom messages and provide contacts that I wanted these messages to go to. Once you do that, however, you don’t need to mess with it again unless you want to add more contacts or change the message. My Grandma got one for my Grandpa to have while hunting, and they needed help setting it up. That said, the learning curve is relatively painless and well worth the hour or so it might take. I highly recommend the SPOT GEN 3 ($149.95) for anyone getting out there this winter.