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.