SPOT Satellite Messenger Review for Backcountry Sking and Ski Mountaineering

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Shop for SPOT satellite emergency messenger

December 12 Update — Reliability Test
I set the unit out in the yard this morning and invoked the “Help” button, which sends a message every 5 minutes unless canceled. If the satellites were unreliable, I figured we’d see glitches in this, instead it appears excellent. I also did this test in the afternoon and it worked fine as well. Check out the screen shot from my email client:

Spot Satellite Messenger system
Screenshot of Spot Messenger emails

****************************************************************
Original post/review

Perhaps some blog readers out there are getting tired of gear reviews. Indeed, I’m looking out my window and it’s dumping snow — so I’m thinking I should be out there letting it fall on my shoulders. Instead…

Please know we’re hitting it heavy with the gear writing because I do hear from many folks who say if we’re going to cover gear, we might as well do it at the start of winter and up through the Christmas shopping season. After which we’ll blend in more trip reports, opinion and stuff like that. (As always, we generally only review gear we like and use, hence our reviews tend to be on the positive side, with a sprinkling of crit because nothing is perfect.)

Christmas tree harvesting.
This past weekend, harvesting a Christmas tree. What if the chainsaw went the wrong direction? Having a Spot Messenger could help with the outcome.

To that end, we were out Christmas tree logging this past weekend, in a remote area with zilch for cell phone. I used to revel in being totally isolated in the wild, knowing that if anything bad happened it could be hours or even days before possible help could be notified. Now with a family, I like more communication capability and have carried everything from a sat phone to a handheld radio programmed to contact nearby amateur radio operators.

Nonetheless I still feel it’s appropriate to make choices about the level of contact during an adventure. Some might like a sat phone, others figure their cell phone might work if they get up high enough. others leave it all behind for extra spice. In the latter case you indeed have ethical issues of how much effort and money a search might entail — but that’s fodder for another blog.

Today, we’re covering a comm device that’s somewhere between a sat phone and amateur radio in terms of flexibility — but does give you communication from nearly anywhere.

Said item is the Spot Satellite Messenger. If this thing doesn’t represent tech 2.0 — or even 4.0 — I don’t know what does. Here we have the convergence of technologies such as GPS, Google Maps, satellites, lithium batteries, the web and more. Indeed, offhand I can’t think of something that brings more to the table in terms of tech blending, in this small a package.

Basically a personal locator beacon on steroids, Spot is a hand sized, 7 once (202 gr) one-way sat phone and GPS wrapped in a waterproof case. The unit easily survives a 7-foot drop on concrete ( I verified with three 8-foot drops and it’s still working).

Spot does just a few things, and in our testing it did them adequately.

Christmas tree harvesting.
Spot Messenger.

- If you have a true emergency you hit the 911 button and the unit sends a message to what Spot calls their “Emergency Response Center.” There is a bit of mystery to this, as one has to wonder how responsive the “Emergency Response Center” actually is. I’m not clear on how all the big communications corporations relate, but Spot is a Globalstar subsidiary and the Response Center is run by the GEOS company. If anyone can clarify all that be my guest — but know that the “911″ button does not actually dial 911 for you — a person at the “Response Center” ostensibly does it.

This is what they claim:

“… if you’re ever in a situation that threatens your life or safety and you have to press the “911″ button, one of our Duty Officers at the GEOS Emergency Response Center in Houston, Texas will be dealing with your emergency, liaising with Police, Coastguard or any other relevant authority as well as coordinating any additional private Search & Rescue resources that may be required to rescue you or save your life…”

I did find out that the first thing the “Emergency Response Team” will do is try to contact the same person the “OK” and “Help” buttons contact, so it’s perhaps somewhat redundant and perhaps more of a marketing feature than anything else. Whatever the case, the fact that Spot also provides a “Help” call to anyone you choose somewhat obviates any issues with the 911 option, as your designated message recipient can also instigate a rescue (provided they’re in the same country and speak the language — and if rescue service is available.)

- Don’t need 911 yet but want your buddies to hike in and help you because you sprained an ankle or your snowmobile died? Just press the “Help” button, which sends a custom (written by you, on the Spot website) cell/text or email message to a destination you preconfigured. This is where the unit shines, as not only does the Help message include your GPS cords, but it also has a link to a Google map with your location marked.

- And third, a deal maker feature in my opinion: The “Okay” button sends another preconfigured email or phone/text message with GPS cords and Google map link. Main difference between this and the “Help” button is that once you press the “Help” button, it sends the help message every 5 minutes for an hour (easily canceled by a few button presses), while the “Okay” button sends just one message. Since use of all Spot features in unlimited, the “Okay” button can thus be used to record waypoints (they use Datum WGS84 in our area) so you’ll have an email record of your route as a series of emails, or to simply report the progress of a trip to an email or phone recipient. Following is what an email message looks like:

This is Louie Dawson, I am okay, just checking in.
Unit Number: 0-7351518
Latitude: 39.3441
Longitude: -106.6145
Nearest Town from unit Location: Unknown
Distance to the nearest town: Unknown
Time in GMT the message was sent: 12/08/2007 23:40:25
http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=39.3441,-106.6145&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

(A fourth, optional feature tracks your route whenever the unit is on and has satellite contact. This could be useful and is $50/year extra.)

Spot Satellite Messenger system
How the system works.

What’s the catch? Not much. Spot could be considered pricey, but if you use all the features regularly I’d consider the cost to be reasonable. You’ll pay an initial $169.00 — and a $100/year subscription feet to be able to use it. Perhaps more importantly, if the satellites don’t line up it can take up to 20 minutes to get a message out, including use of the “Ok” button to log a GPS coordinate. In our experience times were more along the line of several minutes, except for one message that took quite a while (under dense clouds in a narrow valley). A sat phone suffers exactly the same issues, so I’d say that if you keep your expectations in line the delay factor is workable. Perhaps our biggest gripe is that the tech convergence doesn’t go far enough, i.e., this device could easily be made in a version with an LCD and full GPS, thus getting past the “another thing to lug around” syndrome. I guess our lighter weight skis and boots will have to make up for that not happening. So, considering all, we feel Spot is an excellent solution to an age-old dilemma — it tests well and is highly recommended.

Shop for a Spot Messenger here.

(2011 Update) Check out SPOT Messenger’s website for the latest version and some really cool new developments, can you say apps…

Comments

63 Responses to “SPOT Satellite Messenger Review for Backcountry Sking and Ski Mountaineering”

  1. EZE December 11th, 2007 9:48 am

    Lou-

    Great review! Hey, have you seen the new Magellan Triton line of GPS units? Looks like the first units that allow direct downloading from NG TOPO maps all the way down to 1:24,000 level. Plus allows you to include all 5 levels of maps provided on the TOPO software. Takes an SD card so you can throw 2GB in there and load it up. I’ve got the model 500 on order for Christmas, they say mid-Dec shipping.

    Thanks, Eric

  2. Lou December 11th, 2007 9:58 am

    EZE, I’ve not seen the new Triton but am testing the Delorme version of a topo map GPS — their Earthmate. Delorme’s uses vector maps (computer drawn contour lines) so it’s quite different than having raster maps such as those public domain USGS government sourced topos that National Geographic uses. I like the raster maps better, but the vector maps load faster and take up less space. All super interesting. WildSnow will be reviewing the Delorme unit in a few weeks (if we like it).

  3. Tony December 11th, 2007 11:38 am

    Lou, have you used one of the ACR PLB’s? How does the SPOT compare to them? Especially in terms of reliability/dependablity to get a emergency response? Also, what sort of batteries does the SPOT use and how long do they last?

  4. Lou December 11th, 2007 12:24 pm

    Spot uses 2 AA lithiums and they’re said to last about a year with light use.

    BIG difference is that Spot allows you to send two types of messages to whomever you choose — as well as a PLB type signal to an “Emergency Response Center.” This is huge. Much much different then just sending a signal that’ll result in a full call-out.

    For example, say you get caught out overnight but have bivvy gear and fire. You just send an “I’m okay” message via the Spot, spend the night, and ski out the next morning. With a PLB you only have one choice, send a message that starts a rescue, or expect your friends call 911 when you don’t show up for beers that evening. You don’t want either because you’re sitting next to a fire enjoying the solitude of an unplanned night out…so you grab your Spot, press the “OK” button, and continue to enjoy your time in the wild.

    This capability lends itself to all sorts of creative applications. For example, one could have a prearranged code using the OK button, e.g., three OK messages in immediate succession means you’ve decided to spend the night out and will be back in the morning, while four in succession means you’ll be home late. One could even send Morris code by using the OK button as a dot and the help button as a dash (though doing so would take forever for even a simple message), stuff like that.

  5. Mitch December 11th, 2007 12:59 pm

    Morning Lou,

    I’m very interested in your input on how the field tracking feature works in real life. I volunteer on my local SAR team and we were pretty excited when this first came out (great way to keep track of field teams when comms are an issue). When we saw that it was supported by Globalstar satellite service our enthusiasm plummeted like Skylab (always looking for excuses to inject 80′s pop culture references).

    We carry Globalstar sat phones on searches and over the last couple of years have seen the coverage drop to nearly nil. Sat phones went from one of our most valuable tools to being the bulky thing that no one wants to carry. The joke on the team is the the best use for a Globalstar device is to a) set it on the ground, b) stand on top of it to get your radio antenna/cell phone that much higher in the air.

    I understand they are trying to fix some of these issues and in addition I suspect the SPOT needs a much shorter interval to transmit useful data. Any device that lets us search less and rescue more is good in my book. Very interested in seeing how this works for you in the field.

  6. Lou December 11th, 2007 1:48 pm

    Hi Mitch,
    According to the PR guy, who heard it from a guy, who heard it from whomever…. Globalstar has indeed had a problem because a bunch of their sats wore out at the same time and they got behind on their replacement schedule. He said the new sats are being placed as we speak. I’ve used the unit quite a bit over the past 4 days and have had no problems. Thing to know is that once one invokes a Spot message send, the unit keeps trying to send the message till it does hook up with a sat, which will inevitably happen unless the sky is blocked. Thus, I’d say this is a bit different than using a sat phone, though the delay in messaging could be annoying if you’re wanting to get moving in something like dense timber, and had to go to an open area to get the required view of the sky.

  7. david December 11th, 2007 4:26 pm

    Mitch and Lou, I am very familiar with the Globalstar satellite network and the easiest way to explain the problems they are experiencing is that the Spot works on the L band, Simplex (one way) network and the voice calls work on both the L and S band. The S band is the return route (transmit) of the voice call and that is where the problem is. The amplifiers are degrading faster than they had anticipated due to the cosmic raditaion. They have launched 8 spares to date to try and clear up the problem but there will still be issues with other satellites getting worse.
    That being said, the Spot is completely independent of the S band and the L band has been able to complete millions of data messages per second.

  8. Dexter Turnbuckle December 11th, 2007 5:47 pm

    Lou,

    Off topic, but when you travel across the pond to visit the folks at Dynafit could you relay a popular grumble to them?

    Please ask them why on earth they have not made a wider ski crampon model, ie…100mm?

    Thanks, Dexter Turnbuckle.

  9. Lou December 11th, 2007 6:20 pm

    Dex, go with B&D and be done with the hassle:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/?p=860

  10. John C. Lamb December 12th, 2007 12:15 am

    Lou, Mitch and David – I have been a Globalstar customer for several years. For at least the past 18 months, the call-out/in ability has dwindled to the point that Globalstar now publishes an advisory message that says:
    Until the transition to the second-generation constellation, Globalstar two-way voice and duplex data satellite services will not be operating at optimal or peak efficiency. Customers may experience difficulty connecting or sustaining longer calls at certain times in certain specific locations.

    In order to most effectively manage two-way voice and duplex data access, Globalstar offers an optimum satellite availability tool, which predicts when a satellite will be overhead at any specific geographic area.
    The aforementioned satellite availability tool indicates that my phone will rarely work in NW and Central Colorado (or anywhere else, for that matter). Please reference the following web address:
    http://www.globalstarusa.com/en/news/update.php
    I have paid Globalstar many thousands of dollars over the last 4 years and, have literally never placed a call that has not been interrupted (read disconnected) – frustrating, but when no cell phone service is available, the satellite phone is invaluable, in spite of the commonly felt desire to throw the phone out of my pickup truck’s window. That said, I’ll take it on my upcoming hut trip in February and have it to use when the infrequent signal is available. In short and taking into consideration and, in deference to David’s comments – Globalstar products are suspect at best. PS – they are now offering a $49 per month plan for unlimited calling, but they fail to mention that the phone only works when the satellite is overhead and in view of the phone – so, buyer beware of any Globalstar duplex satellite phone phone product!
    If anyone wants to borrow my phone, they are welcome to it, at anytime and at no cost.. (No kidding, it’s yours to use, if you can get it to work)…

  11. ctrinky December 12th, 2007 6:30 am

    Lou and others:

    Great review…I got the complete story and it was given to me by a company called gmpcs. I listed their website above, http://www.gmpcs-us.com. They explained the G* situation and told me about SPOT. They have a good deal on the SPOT unit. Oh, they also carry pelican cases. Ask for sales, I think his name was Chris, or Clint, or Cliff.

  12. Lou December 12th, 2007 6:37 am

    My, in testing the Spot so far is seems quite reliable here in Colorado, but we’ll continue to test and see what the lag time is for messages. Buy it with a credit card over the phone or online, like anything else bought that way you’ve got a month to return if it doesn’t work.

    All that said, to sell an emergency message device based on a sat phone system that works poorly seems like a major marketing mistake…even if the device works. Public perception is important with this sort of thing…

    Testing continues.

  13. Lou December 12th, 2007 6:40 am

    David, does not the Spot have to work on the L and S bands, as it does to 2-way comm when it receives a user signal then sends the notification back out? Or does it use the L band to both send and receive?

  14. Rick December 12th, 2007 5:54 pm

    Lou-
    I love your gear reviews especially when you take stuff apart and do little homemade alterations. Since reading your blog I have mounted all my own bindings w/epoxy of course, customized my backpack, I pull my skins with the skis on and I converted to Dynafit (torsionally better than an Atomic DH race binding- best review)

    So the reviews ROCK!! but I would love to read some of your Ski Mountaineering stories, ahem, Landry’s route??
    ??

  15. Lou December 12th, 2007 9:34 pm

    The stories are coming! Thanks for the encouragement!

  16. Jonathan S. Shefftz December 17th, 2007 7:16 pm

    Nice review, many thanks.

    But regarding the sat phone reliability issue, see this review:
    http://www.equipped.com/SPOT_ORSummer2007.htm
    … for a clarification.

  17. Jonathan S. Shefftz December 18th, 2007 10:57 am

    Available for only $123 delivered by clicking through on the 15% off link available here:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/23795j

  18. Jack December 21st, 2007 5:20 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Thanks for the review. I’m still looking for information about reliability in conditions without a clear view of the sky. Do messages quickly and reliably go out in a snow storm? in a forest? in a slot canyon??

    Thanks!

  19. Lou December 21st, 2007 7:14 pm

    Recent testing: If the unit isn’t turned on and locked in to GPS, it can take up to 20 minutes to send a message. We’ve not had problems with cloudy sky, but did notice a delay in a heavy snowstorm. Have not been in any slot canyons, but I’d imagine that could be a limit. All our messages have gone out.

  20. aleyska December 28th, 2007 8:43 pm

    I have tested SPOT exetensively for 21 days and get a 70% message reliability rate. I have done the tests from Northern California to Northern Washington, as instructed — in the open for twenty minutes. 70% is not as advertised! Another annoyance is that SPOT will automatically charge my credit card, without my express permission, to renew their contract (at their current rate, which could be higher). If SPOT performs as advertisied, then I’ll renew… however, I will never agree to an automatic charge to my credit card.

  21. Alex December 29th, 2007 12:03 pm

    I’ve had one for a couple weeks now, and have had great luck with the satellite performance. 100% of my OK messages have gotten out, and 90%+ of my tracking messages have gotten out.

    Pressing the OK button puts the unit in “OK Mode” for 20 minutes, and it sends 3 messages over the next 20 minutes with the same information. As soon as 1 gets through, the backend system sends out the message, and will discard any duplicates. The tracking messages are only sent out once, so the reliability of each individual message getting through is understandably less.

  22. david December 31st, 2007 12:11 pm

    Lou, yes Spot uses only the L band and the message is sent and received on only the L band.

  23. Mysti January 6th, 2008 12:19 pm

    Great review, thanks! I’ve really been reading up on the SPOT and am definatly considering purchasing one. I do have one thought about it though: How does it do in heavily wooded areas where there is obviously A LOT of tree cover?? Rumor has it that only about 20% of the messages you send will actually go through when you’re under trees. I do most of my hiking in the Appalachians where I’m thinking this may be a problem….

  24. david January 24th, 2008 5:21 pm

    Mysti, the signal will still get through but it would be at a lower percentage. Same issue would be if you were in a deep canyon. I would say that in the tree cover situation it would go down to about 30-50%. So in an hour 3-6 transmissions would go out. But you only need one to get out if you are in trouble.

  25. Terry Parker February 10th, 2008 10:51 am

    Thanks for the review. Read the magazine reviews and they wanted too much functionality that would add cost and deplete battery life. Would like to see a LED feature that confirmed message succesful. However, you convinced me with your review that it will eventually send a message. Good enough and better than anything out there. Gives me piece of mind when wife goes on long trips. Like your web site ever since a friend showed it to me and now have it marked in the favorites

  26. dave March 7th, 2008 3:28 pm

    Frequent AT Hiker-Have used SPOT since Nov..used on one Search and Rescue..quicker Chec I’m OK ..I use my hand held GPS toverify Sat Lock..it’ not always easy to see SPOT solid green to know signal went…also us my personal CP as secondary contact..so when I return to Trailhead and can acceass first Cell area..text message on CP verifies trial signal sent..I know it’s redudant but at least I can verify message sent..I do like the Google Earth Maps especially the terrain maps,and now have pretty good archival file of previous hikes…my contacts have access to this file..so if I followed the Hiker’s Gospel and left word where I was going with my contacts..they could access the SPOT file in Outlook and short circuit some of the search if I didn’t check in or SPOT didn’t activate..I like the accuracy of SPOT GPS location maping.

  27. Scott Barbee April 25th, 2008 10:38 am

    Hello all,
    Came across this site looking for review of SPOT. Good review but still looking for answers (aren’t we all?). My main reason for looking for one is for when I’m flying my ultralight. If I have a major malfunction I won’t have time or be able to call or maybe even hit a button (could be hard if I have a major malfunction and am spinning down). I had thought that it could be turned on, and one of the buttons hit, and it would send my position every few minutes, and my wife could keep watching the Google map and if I wasn’t moving, then she’d know I was in trouble and could send in the troops. I don’t think signal strength would be a problem since I’d be up in the air, and can’t fly in rain or snow storms. My other though was for my daughter to have it in her car, and at night, I’d always know where she was, and if I was too worried, I could quickly hunt her down. I live in the middle of the woods in northern WI and cell phone coverage is spotty. Any ideas on if the unit would work the way I’m figuring?

    thanks! Great site

    Scott

  28. Lou April 25th, 2008 10:55 am

    Scott, it can take up to 10 minutes after being turned on to send a message. But you could leave it turned on while flying, and yes, if your position was stationary your wife could infer you’d crashed. Problem is, the unit is good for a fairly severe drop test but it’s not set up to survive abuse like a flight recorder is…

    I’d just buy one and try it out, then sell on Ebay if it’s not right.

  29. Michael April 26th, 2008 12:58 pm

    Great Review, thank you! I have had my SPOT Satellite Messenger for about 3 months purchased at TheWayToGPS they were very helpful, very informative. I got mine for 149. though I read they are having a special in June giving 50% off the tracking feature which would be reallll nice. I also read there is triple redundancy when you use the OK or Help buttons it will send the signal 3 times within a 20 minute period to make sure the message has best chance to get where it needs to go.
    We’ve used our SPOT all over the west coast and have had no service issues we love it. Especially for it’s off-shore applications in our boat. Lou thanks again for the great review!

  30. Rich May 13th, 2008 12:30 pm

    The SPOT is only a one way device. It does not receive any transmissions, it only sends out messages.

  31. Mark June 23rd, 2008 12:51 pm

    I have been looking into SPOT myself and have been trying to find some decent reviews. I am so glad I have found your site!!! I really like the idea of the check in button so when I go camping for the weekend I can let my wife know everything is okay. I also plan on using it on my boat for when I encounter a emergency and vhf is limited to who ever might be listening or in range.

  32. Mike Peterson July 1st, 2008 7:58 pm

    I am outdoors often and I read the review and discussion here before purchasing. There is a long list of FAQs that addresses many details at the web site below.

    This has been a great addition just in case something goes wrong. Originally I bought it for personal safety and to trace my own tracks, but it has also provided an unintended benefit for family and friends who can track my progress.

    I ordered one from http://www.MyLiveTracks.com/ – got a prompt response to my inquiries, a 50% off coupon for the tracking service. The price of $135 included shipping as well. Highly recommend the unit as well as the vendor!

  33. Dan Johnson November 7th, 2008 2:36 pm

    I use the SPOT Messenger on my motorcycle, and it works well while in a plastic enclosure (saddle bag) at highway speeds. At times it may miss a transmission while on a twisty road in a deep canyon, or a **heavily** treed 2-lane road. I’ve also used it hiking without issues, as long as the logo of the unit faces the sky (horizontally). Bought it on a recommendation from http://www.MyLiveTracks.com – now running a holiday promotion for $80.

  34. John January 21st, 2009 6:01 pm

    Do not under any circumstances buy a SPOT unit! It is unreliable in a 911 situation, and customer service is the worst I have ever experience.

    Here is my story. I bought the unit for $200, and paid the $200 annual fee. I figured that if I ever needed it, the 911 feature could get me out of deep trouble, so it was worth the cost.

    I went car camping with my 4 little kids, ages 10, 8, 6 and 4. While I was on the trip, the unit sent out a 911 message due to a malfunction. The good news was that I really wasn’t in danger.

    Here is the bad news: When the SPOT unit sends a 911 message, it does not actually go to 911. It goes to some call center in Houston. There, some dude gets the message and has to figure out what to do with it. From there, it is all down hill.

    In this case, the dude called my wife and told her my unit had sent an urgent 911 message, and were we OK? and did she know where we were? Of course, she freaked out, thinking the kids and I were dead somewhere. She had no idea where we were and whether or not we were OK, and SPOT completely fumbled. The SPOT guy was completely clueless about what to do next. He acted like he had never gotten a 911 message before.

    The SPOT guy then called my business partner and asked him were we OK? and did he know where we were? Now, the SPOT unit is supposed to tell SPOT where you are, right? The SPOT guy’s computer wasn’t working properly that day, or he couldn’t figure out how to zoom in and out, so he could not tell on his screen even what state we were in. Totally pathetic.

    The SPOT guy then called information (411!) and got the number for the fire station in the little 10-person town near where we were. No one answered there. He left a voicemail at the fire station. Then he called my wife again. Then he called my business partner again. Tick tock tick tock tick tock. Both of them are freaking out, and the SPOT guy has no idea what to do. This fumbling around by SPOT took years off of my wife’s life.

    Eventually, the SPOT guy called the right emergency service location, and they immediately dispatched an emergency crew to the scene.

    From the receipt of the SPOT 911 call, to the dispatch of emergency services, it took SPOT 45 MINUTES! During the 45 minutes that SPOT wasted, we could have been DEAD.

    I have spent countless hours on the phone with the top officials people at SPOT. I probably had 20 calls with them and a similar number of emails. I got nothing but stonewalling for months. First, they told me that “this could never have happened”…they “always” dispatch within 2-3 minutes. Then, after FIVE MONTHS of asking them for their logs, they finally admitted to me that in fact it did take 45 minutes, and then they claimed that 45 minutes was an acceptable timeframe to reach emergency services.

    After they finally admitted what had happened, they promised to send me by Fed Ex a new SPOT unit and give a year’s service credit. Five weeks later, I have received no unit, gotten no service credit, and SPOT now won’t return my phone calls. SPOT sets an absolute new LOW for customer service.

    SPOT is a bunch of Keystone Cops. Don’t buy this unit under any circumstances. And if you already bought it, do not rely upon it. If you ever need 911, you are better off trying to drag yourself up from the bottom of the canyon by your fingernails than hitting the 911 button and thinking that help is coming. It may not.

  35. Replica Watches February 14th, 2009 12:55 am

    I use the SPOT Messenger on my mountain bike its work well.

  36. John February 14th, 2009 11:09 pm

    Do not rely on SPOT for 911 lifesaving emergency. It does work fairly reliably for notifying friend/spouse/basecamp in ‘Help’ mode. This is the feature you’re paying for. In my area, sailplane pilots use it to track flights and signal if they’ve ‘landed out’ as is somewhat common in our sport.
    You do get what you pay for. In aviation, use a 406mHz ELT.

  37. Lou February 15th, 2009 5:05 pm

    Spot needs to provide some examples of the unit working for emergencies. I’ll see if they have anything like that. If not, I’m starting to wonder.

  38. Summit February 17th, 2009 11:42 pm

    There have been three SPOT activations in the last year that have resulted in a SAR response. One of them I am aware that there was about a 45ish minute delay from button to dispatch.

    45min is way better than having someone walk out. I still bring a cellphone or a radio if it will work in some parts of the area.

    I wonder what the average delay for PLB activation to dispatch is.

  39. Lou February 18th, 2009 6:42 am

    Summit, any idea where to find details?

  40. Summit February 20th, 2009 11:37 am

    Well I can confirm the 45 minute delay on one. You’d have to ask SPOT or the parties on the other rescues when they pressed the button.

    You might be able to ask on 14ers right now on the Torreys thread since that SAR mission for the “let’s solo Dead Dog on a considerable day” avalanche was triggered by a spot activation. They should know the times.

  41. Lou February 20th, 2009 12:24 pm

    45 minute delay is nothing when you’re eliminating literally hours of time from a rescue response by using a communication device instead of hiking out to notify authorities. A cell phone is no doubt better, when it works. Sat phone is best.

  42. Tyler April 17th, 2009 11:58 am

    Now this is a legit review of the SPOT. I’m glad to see you guys are still commenting/talking about it a few years after the original post. Excellent screen-grabs and diagrams showing exactly how the SPOT can save your life. There’s so much debate behind the reliability of the SPOT…I think it’s great to keep the discussion going.

  43. richie August 20th, 2009 6:07 am

    I’m headed to north east oregon (eagle cap), does anyone know if spot works well there? I am from south louisiana and was interested in using it out in the gulf while fishing, i would like to know if anyone has any experience with the spot out there also?

  44. Lou August 20th, 2009 6:29 am

    Richie, no reason why it shouldn’t work, the sat network in the sky above is supposed to easily cover all of North America. Only glitch is when you’re in a canyon or heavy tree cover, in those cases the sat contact is sometimes delayed or difficult in my experience.

  45. rod georgiu November 18th, 2009 2:23 pm

    after some research, i bought a mcmurdo 210 plb with gps. it was the lightest (5.5 ozs) and smaller available, also at 285 the cheapest.
    got it yesterday, looks to be well made.
    I have a sat phone which I used to carry, but now i will just carry the 210. A friend commente on the sat phone: if you are hurt and have limited awareness, do you think you could make the right call? true, and also, with iridium, often hard to get a signal.

  46. Rob November 27th, 2009 11:55 am

    From my research, the McMurdo Fast Find 210 is the best choice for very bombproof link to search and rescue. It transmits on the 406 MHz SAR frequency to send info about who and where you are and also on 121.5 MHz homing frequency so a SAR team can zero in on your location once they’re within a mile or so. It costs twice as much as SPOT ($300) but there’s no pesky $100/year fee (a big deal over time). But SPOT has the “I’m Okay” feature, which I would value, it uses AAA batteries while the McMurdo battery costs $175, and it floats while McMurdo sinks. Ideally, carry both if you’re not on a budget like me. My big question is: Who has done a comprehensive review of SPOT 2? It’s supposedly a lot more reliable with LED confirmation of messages sent, and it’s smaller and lighter, for the same price. Anyone?

  47. jerimy December 15th, 2009 9:03 am
  48. Donna Gibson December 22nd, 2009 7:49 pm

    I am looking for something that offers a way to give someone travelling in areas where cell phone access is spotty a way to reach help if needed. My son will travel about 600 miles twice a week in the west where his cell phone works sporadicaly at best. In the case of an emergency we want some access to help. Will this “Spot” device provide that emergency contact to help?

  49. sunflower December 26th, 2009 12:12 am

    After reading numerous reviews from various sites on the Internet, I have hopefully determined that the OK message button works best if you leave the device ON, instead of shutting it off 10 minutes after pressing the OK button. In other words, shutting off the device could delay or disable the OK message from reaching its destination. Also, have your OK messages sent to your contact person’s cell phone AND e-mail.

    It will be interesting if and when I need to use the 911/SOS feature, and/or the emergency roadside service. I added both GEOS (companion to the 911/SOS feature) and SPOT Assist for Roadside to the basic service plan. As I was registering my new device and got to the part where it requested additional emergency information for the 911/SOS service, I added the following message which will be received at SPOT’s call center in Houston, TX: “This IS an actual emergency!!!” I don’t want them spending 45 minutes calling my friends and family asking if I’m OK and where I am.

  50. JimC December 28th, 2009 7:12 pm

    sunflower,
    The SPOT call center and the NOAA SARSAT Rescue Coordination Centers (the folks that coordinate PLB response) are both going to spend some time confirming that your situation is a true emergency before rolling out the search and rescue teams.

    Most rescues require SAR personnel to put in a great deal of effort (and often put themselves in danger). It’s unreasonable to think that they won’t do a little homework to confirm that there is actually an emergency before they get to work.

    Accidental requests for emergency assistance can and do happen, even to folks who are savvy in the outdoors and savvy with gear like this. As an example, check this article about the accidental signal sent by a Backpacker magazine editor when he was climbing Denali: http://www.backpacker.com/blogs/234

    Even so, stories like the one described by John, above, are (at least to me) unacceptable.
    Cheers,
    Jim

  51. sunflower December 28th, 2009 11:02 pm

    Hi Jim,

    I fully support ALL professional and volunteer SAR personnel and their procedures. The impression I was left with, regarding that one particular story, was that the SPOT employee in Houston was confused. I saw no need to question the actions of 911 dispatchers, first responders, NOAA SARSAT Rescue Coordination Centers, or any other rescue team.

    Thanks for the feedback and stay safe!

    –Sunflower

  52. Bill January 7th, 2010 11:10 pm

    I’ve had my Spot for over a year and have sent out over 100 OK messages with 100% success from the sierras, nv, ut, id. Terrain has varied from mountains, to desert to deep river canyons to wide spots in slot canyons. Two key things to remember:

    1. if you’ve moved very far from your last spot usage you need to give the unit time to acquire its position before you send out a message so turn it on, orient the top to open sky and let it sit for 5 minutes,

    2. after you hit the message button let it go for at least 20 minutes, it will transmit the message 3 times, if you turn it off after you see it transmit once the message may not go through, the unit is only a transmitter and does not know if the message it sends has been received, let it send 3 and there’s a 99% chance it will get through. Like I said I’ve had 100% success.

    Stay safe.

  53. Bill January 7th, 2010 11:17 pm

    Donna G

    Get your son a spot, he can let you know he’s OK and summon help if he needs it. I travel for work in remote areas of NV and can’t get a cell signal much of the time, getting an OK from me daily gives my wife great peace of mind.

  54. Jeff N January 6th, 2011 1:00 pm

    Updated Spot product – Spot Connect – that pairs with the newer smart phones.

    http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=116

    It will be intersting to see how it handles real world tests.

  55. william slusher July 4th, 2011 10:35 am

    I cannot recommend SPOT. It is over hyped, overly complicated, unreliable and service help from SPOT is limited to a useless, days-waiting email response. No 800# operator is available for an ‘emergency’ help device. Go figure.

    I’ve just tried to ‘log on’ and it’s now telling me that my “activation code is invalid” even though I’m entering it verbatim from the inside of the battaery compartment, as instructed. Rechecked and rechecked. Now we propose a wilderness trip on 4th of july, and the device won’t work, and SPOT offers no useful service or help.

    Don’t buy SPOT. It’s a rip-off.

  56. Scott July 4th, 2011 10:59 am

    Although I’ve never personally used a SPOT, I’ve backcountry skied quite a few days (in the west central Colorado area)with those who have, and it seems to always work, at least for sending an “I’m okay” message. I always thought the SPOT was designed with ease of use in mind, but maybe there is some kind of fiddle factor learning curve with it, kind of like Dynafits? I don’t know.

    Personally, I think relying on all these electronic gadgets can be dangerous, and better is to be prepared to be out in the wilderness, have good backcountry skills, and use common sense. That being said, it does seem from a lot of testimonials that things like SPOT do work, but would I be willing to stake my life on it…probably not. Yet, still seems like it could be just one more thing to add to the layers of safety you might carry around in your pack. And I’d be comfortable having it for that purpose.

    Maybe some others with first hand, real world experience with the SPOT will share some stories here.

  57. Lou July 4th, 2011 11:46 am

    We’ve got quite a bit of real world experience with SPOT in our group of friends and acquaintances. Biggest problem was the old ones getting triggered accidentally and calling in an emergency. New ones have better buttons. Have foiund that in some situations (dense trees, canyons) it can take a while for it to catch a satellite. Have had no problems registering, though once you do it’s easy to forget what email you used and end up having your OK messages going into byte heaven.

    William’s experience sounds frustrating, but yeah, any of this stuff is best to get going with some lead time to work out bugs, test, etc. No electronic comm device works perfectly in the backcountry. Satphones, ham radios, they all have their limits and require practice and knowledge of just how to use, not to mention preparation such as making sure one has the correct phone numbers, radio freqs, that sort of thing.

    My biggest problem with SPOT is that it’s so limited as to 2-way communication, and in a real rescue situation being able to talk to the SAR folks is gold.

    Lou

  58. Mike November 11th, 2011 10:43 pm

    Glad you got it to work. I bought it at West Marine but couldn’t get their web site to work to set up my account. Phoned in and no one there. If I can’t get the setup to work properly how can I trust the thing?

    I took it back to West Marine.

  59. Disappointed January 10th, 2012 9:05 pm

    Horrible customer service. I’ve spent months trying to get my 50 f……..dollar rebate. I am on a mission now to get REI to quit selling The Spot. Unreliable piece of s****.

  60. Jenny April 28th, 2012 11:23 am

    I’m here because my husband and son-in-law and a friend are crossing the Gulf Stream from Nassau to Beaufort or Charleston, and he’s supposed to be sending me spot messages. I got two, one from the Abacos and one just as they were probably entering the gulf stream, but it’s been 36 hours now since I’ve gotten a spot message, and it was supposed to be every 12 hours, so I am pretty sure the unit just isn’t sending, but anyway, it’s giving me a stomacheache.

  61. Lou April 28th, 2012 12:11 pm

    That’s the problem with these things, no real 2-way comm. One way comm easily results in confusion and frustration…

  62. Gareth July 16th, 2012 5:41 am

    Great discussion!

    Re two way communication…any chance of testing/reviewing the DeLorme inReach?

  63. Lou Dawson July 16th, 2012 6:55 am

    Gareth, funny you should ask, inReach review is in final stage and scheduled for publication this week. Watch for it. Lou

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