Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sending Out an SOS



images (3) InReach SE close

For a long time now I have thought it would be a good idea to have one of three devices for use in an emergency when there is no cell service available. We find ourselves in that situation frequently in our travels and hikes. I kept putting it off because, for me, it felt like spending money on yet more insurance that you hope you will never have to use.

The devices are a Personal Locator Beacon or PLB such as these.


Or a Spot Gen 3


They all work on satellite networks although different networks. Here is a very good review of your options.

For us the deciding factor was two way messaging and we chose the Delorme InReach SE. The Spot allows for one way pre-set messages for a total of three. They are pre-configured both in regards to message and recipient.  The Delorme InReach SE allows texts up to 160 characters which can be sent via satellite to any email address or text capable phone. In addition, if you do hit the SOS button you can send and receive texts from emergency responders.

The advantages to the PLB are a stronger transmit signal and no contracts or monthly fees. The Spot and InReach require activation and a fee to work. The spot fees can be as low at $99.99 per year and the InReach can be as low as $11.95 per month. InReach does have an option to go without a contract and thus go month to month which includes an annual fee of $24.95 plus the cost for whatever plan you use. The least expensive of the no contract Freedom Plans are $14.95 per month.

An additional plus for the InReach is that you can download an app for IOS or Android. You can sync your phone and the InReach via bluetooth and from within the app send your text messages. The benefit in this is a larger screen and better typing interface. There are additional features using this set up but I won’t go into them now as I haven’t fully utilized them. It includes downloading Delorme Topo maps to the phones app.

Both the Spot and the InReach allow your tracking to be viewed via website for friends or family if you choose.

In the end, though, the primary purpose for these devices is to get emergency help when you need it and have no cell service. I want the added benefit of being able to communicate both directions to know that help is on the way and to be able to provide information to responders that will assist them in understanding the severity and nature of the emergency. Even though Gayle and I are almost always hiking or biking together we wouldn’t want to have to leave the other one injured to walk or bike out miles for a cell signal to call for help.

If you have any interest in either the Spot or the InReach I encourage you to go to Amazon or REI, as examples and read reviews as well as the excellent review I linked to earlier.

Of course, here’s hoping that the only use we ever make of it is a text to Mark and Bobbie telling them I will be late as usual getting to the trailhead.


  1. Our friends, Pam and John, bought a PLB this year. What a great idea. Especially when you are waaaaay out and off the beaten path. Hope you never have to use it. I am sure it gives you peace of mind.

  2. Looks like a great device! I wish we could communicate with ours. This was a good choice especially of you don't have someone who can get you the help you need. Like Gayle said in her email, I hope we never need to use it:)

  3. That is one sophisticated sounding device. I sure hope you don't have to use it for anything more than a text to Mark and Bobbie. Also hope people don't abuse it's use unless truly an emergency.

  4. We've had a SPOT since early version 1 that has never been used to send an SOS, but is often used as an end-of-day campsite location announcement. If I were buying today, it would definitely be the InReach for the 2 way messaging capability.

  5. Thanks again for the advice on this. Still looking into and and will consider it as I do a lot of hiking on my own besides hiking with Steve.

  6. Good idea! Thanks for the great write up.

  7. Bobbie has a 1987 model flip phone that doesn't do "Text," so be sure to send your SOS to me… but I hope I never hear from you :). Now with this safety net in place you have no excuse to not venture further, higher, deeper into the wilds!!! Be sure to buy trail insurance so you don't have to pay for your rescue, tho. :)

  8. That's a great idea and I'm going to look into this. Our very first time boondocking (2 years ago), we had zero cell service. And someone in the campsite near us had a seizure and they came running to our RV for help. Of course we couldn't do much since we didn't have service either - eventually someone in their group drove until they found a cell signal and called for help. The man was fine, thank goodness, but it was a scary experience. So I guess it's kind of stupid that we've never bought something like this ourselves! Off to research now....

  9. Thanks for this great post. I have been back and forth about the need and the choices. We take our phones for granted right now and know that we won't have that luxury in many places "out there".

  10. Nice post and good ideas. Since I travel solo, I have been thinking about getting one.

  11. Those are good for solo travelers, wherever we are. I like the kind my parents had - it was a pendant they wore around their necks on a chain and they just pushed a button. Then Emergency responders came. Totally different gadget, but good for people who live in a house and can register with the nearest police/hospital. Thanks for the latest info on this type of emergency device.

  12. Thank you for the info. We've been thinking about getting a satelite phone, but this is a much more economical solution

  13. Interesting. I don't think we hike enough to be worth it, but it's a good idea. Ron even read it, gaget guy that he is. And now I have that song stuck in my head.

  14. Hi guys, I am trying to catch up on blogs on this foggy day in St. John, New Brunswick! I have have been thinking of getting one of these for a while. Even though I don't do as much off the beaten path trips like you guys, it still makes sense since most of my hiking is solo. Thanks for the reviews, it might make it easier to decide what I should do!