On the Importance of Comms when Solo Ski Touring

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 23, 2018      

I had the privilege this past weekend of witnessing our local SAR groups cooperate in “mutual aid” to help a solo skier, Greg Berry, who went missing in our local mountains. After a day and many man-hours, just as the search groups were debriefing and discussing search plans for the next day, much joy was expressed when the radio call came in: “subject is ok, repeat ok, is hitch hiking from the west, got lost and spent night out…” Within volunteer rescue groups that all too often witness tragedy firsthand, a “live one” is to be celebrated.

Good reporting In the news here.
And Greg wrote his own account here, which sets a good example of sharing so others might learn from one’s mistakes.

Apparently Greg became disoriented and did the ol’ “went west, should have gone east” routine. Doing so bought him an epic trek out of the mountains that many of us who know the routes were amazed he accomplished — especially considering he spent the night out with no overnight gear. Tough guy, for sure. Though “lost” he did the smart thing in getting himself out as a “self rescue.” Hugging a tree and waiting for help would probably have resulted in death by exposure.

I don’t know Greg personally, but am nonetheless delighted that he’s OK.

As to blog fodder in this, speaking to all of us who end up solo in the backcountry now and then (including myself), please consider carrying a two-way communication device such as an inReach or full blown satphone. The volunteer rescue teams are a beautiful thing, they’re joyfully willing to help. But the number of person-hours expended on ground searches is astounding, and easily mitigated by the use of communications devices.

It’s not a bad idea for any group to have at least one emergency comms device. But in the case of going solo I’d consider it as mandatory as your ski boots, both in the sense of general social responsibility but also care for your friends and loved ones, not to mention self.

Addendum: I’m writing this from Colorado, where backcountry rescue is usually done free of charge by volunteers. That’s a beautiful tradition I’ve come to appreciate — having been on both sides of the equation. Despite the volunteer hours, rescues cost money. Colorado has a solution for that as well. If you purchase a hunting, fishing or ATV license you pay a small fee that signs you and your immediate family up for what we call CORSAR, a fund the state maintains to reimburse rescue providers for costs incurred. This is not insurance, but functions in a similar way. If you or your family members are rescued, you’ll usually be asked at some point if you do have something that incurs CORSAR, or if not, perhaps you purchased the CORSAR card, which also enables the reimbursement system? If you use the Colorado backcountry, and do not have default CORSAR due to hunting, fishing, or ATV licensing, you can purchase a CORSAR card here. Please, if you backcountry recreate in Colorado, do so with CORSAR.

Your thoughts, dear readers? Am I too preachy here? Is inReach what most of you are using? Or do you solo without any comms?


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113 Responses to “On the Importance of Comms when Solo Ski Touring”

  1. slabbyd January 23rd, 2018 8:11 am

    I have an old friend who, along with his partner, went SSE from a socked in summit rather than SE and spent 3 days thrashing through wet brush in the central cascades before popping out near Sultan. Not sure that soloists require a disproportionate share of mountain rescue services or not. That said, considering the relatively low cost and weight of a PLB compared to all the other gear we schlep around there’s really no reason not to carry one.

  2. Kristian January 23rd, 2018 9:24 am

    Ages ago, I would carry a hateful heavy brick sat phone.

    Now I carry a Fastfind 220 PLB. The size and weight of a small avalanche beacon.

    PLBs are subscription-free devices

  3. Ryan Curry January 23rd, 2018 9:45 am

    I talked with the person in question on Saturday…he was from Boulder and not very familiar with the area…his truck was in the same spot on Sunday, covered in snow..If he did in fact hike out the wrong way to Kebler, god help his soul…that’s a brutal hike in a snowstorm, lost, and unprepared..he is lucky to be alive. Proper gear must be used if traveling solo

  4. Ryan January 23rd, 2018 9:49 am

    After moving to Idaho from Salt lake this past year, I realized the ability to communicate in the Wasatch is very very diffrent than central Idaho. I travel alone a-lot, on skis, mtn bike, dirt bike & sled so I recently purchased an inReach. While its expensive initially, I have been very impressed with its consistent connection, fast messaging, free messages, and the fairly low cost on a monthly basis. I have the lowest possible monthly plan; I do not use the tracking feature, and I typically pay for a few extra messages at the end of a month, but for $13 a month it is well worth the ability to communicate with my wife or to call in the cavalry if something went really wrong.
    I chose the inReach over the Spot strictly for the two way communication. If I’m stuck due to a mechanical issue, or just moving really slow getting out due to a non life threatening injury, that extra bit of two way communication goes a long way.
    One huge bonus is the integration with a smart phone, I did not get a chance to play with this before my purchase but have been impressed, I keep the inReach in the top of my pack ( seems to hold the signal just fine) and use my phone for maps and communication. The only option I wish the Garmin maps had, is the slope angle shading tool that Gaia has.

  5. Andrei January 23rd, 2018 9:50 am

    Went for a tour with a couple of friends this past Sunday and there was a rescue crew going up due to a fellow backcountry skier messing up something in his leg. The day was stormy and we were in the clouds off and on. I watched the SAR team wondering back and forth on the mountain looking for him. Maybe a small multi-directional strobe could have been of use… Or a PLB.

    Also, last year I lost a ski in 3 feet of fresh. My partner and I tried walking out tandem on her skis (I was trying to stand on her tails and kinda shimmy out) Everything would have worked great except my boots kept sliding off her skis. I ended up turning 20 minute ski out into a 2 hour post-holing session… Some sort of small traction device (removable) to keep from sliding in an emergency could be pretty cool. Doesn’t have to be big or heavy. Some sort of plastic puck with traction ridges/edges could have saved the day… (or a blue tooth location device on the ski but I imagine those are prone to cold soaking the battery and not working too great during a tour of a decent duration, or a powder leash of course)

  6. Scott Allen January 23rd, 2018 10:27 am

    Due largely to your blogging wisdom, I started carrying an InReach over a year ago.
    It has been along on many solo ski, bikepacking and even European trekking…all without a flaw, adding great comfort to my family.

    The only glitch with my older InReach was a truly bizzare accidental SOS signal sent unintentionally from my device (turned off) in my pack. Sitting on the pack at lunch somehow powered the device on and sent an SOS…not ideal.
    I discovered this 30 minutes into its signal and cancelled.
    I am now updating to the newer, Garmin, more expensive, Explorer+ which has a more protected SOS button.

  7. Travis January 23rd, 2018 10:32 am

    Lou, I think a self-rescue blog series would be fantastic.

  8. Scott Allen January 23rd, 2018 10:35 am

    The two way communication and world wide Iridium satellite network are, IMHO,worth the $13 per month (in addition to the the initial device cost of $449)

  9. ShailCaesar! January 23rd, 2018 11:47 am

    Some more beta on the McMurdo FastFind Ranger would be appreciated! Don’t want a subscription plan but would really like the ability to push the button incase of. There is nothing but SPOT and InReach info on the web though…

  10. Jason January 23rd, 2018 12:22 pm

    I was hoping you were referring to the currently lost person at Baker, I’m hoping he turns up alive.

    My wife and I share an InReach and have put it to good use tracking each other on climbs and carrying for the SOS feature. In our different circles of friends we have people carrying Spots, PLBs, and sat phones. The only one that has been used in an emergency has been the sat phone last winter when we witnessed someone break there back. We started the process of arranging for a heli evac when the victim decided on his own (against medical advice!) to self evac so we told our contact to stand down. It was very nice to have immediate two way communication with a possible rescuer.

    In addition to the “help button” more of us are carrying 2-way radios which have helped a lot (when my partners remember them), especially when skiing trees or riding snowmobiles where it’s really easy to get out of sight even if we’re close together.

  11. Kristian January 23rd, 2018 12:27 pm

    And let’s not forget the low tech whistle. Carries surprisingly far. A brief use can locate separated partners.

  12. Lou Dawson 2 January 23rd, 2018 12:45 pm

    Hi guys, I’m delighted this post is getting discussion, my little effort at public service. I’d agree we could perhaps revisit self rescue ideas. I’ll talk to our guest bloggers about it. How to splint your own broken femur? Could be interesting. Lou

  13. MarkL January 23rd, 2018 1:10 pm

    I have been thinking for a while about getting an InReach.

    And, Kristian, thanks for mentioning the whistle. Many backpacks now have a whistle integrated in the sternum strap buckle, and yes they can make a huge difference.

    I seem to recall a rescue on the Olympic Peninsula many years ago that the searchers came close to the subject, but he was so weak at that point he couldn’t yell. IIRC he survived, but would have been found a day or 2 sooner if he’s had a whistle to alert the searchers they were close.

    The one piece of Morse code I know is SOS: 3 short, 3 long, 3 short.

  14. Larry January 23rd, 2018 1:48 pm

    I replaced my increasingly unreliable SPOT (8 Satellites) with an Inreach (Iridium 80+ satellites) and have been very impressed over the last year of Backpacking, day hiking, Mountain Biking and Ski touring. It has worked flawlessly and my wife loves the peace of mind it gives her. The killer feature is integration with your cell phone. Downside? Crude maps (at least with the older Inreach SE) Battery life is outstanding. A typical day touring of with a few messages and location tracking uses about 5% battery! Also nice to be able to suspend payment for $3 per month when it isn’t being used.

  15. Eric Rentschler January 23rd, 2018 2:48 pm

    I have an inreach. There’s nothing like it for connectivity and cost that I am aware of currently. With it, I believe that I have a significantly lower chance of dying in the event I become immobilized while out alone.

    I think inreach is WAY more valuable in an emergency than the other options (other than a sat phone for way more $$). Here are some bullet items to share:

    -inreach has the same “save me” button that goes into the same worldwide emergency help network as PLBs and Spot.
    -inreach allows for 2 way texting, so you can communicate more than just “help”.
    -You can do things like clarify number of patients, nature of injury, etc. A sat phone covers that, but the inreach level I’ve got is less than $300/year subscription and a sat phone is way more expensive.
    -The PLB just gives you a “save me” and you don’t get any feedback as to if someone’s coming or when they’ll get there.
    -I can send waypoints continuously every 10 minutes to a website that anyone I want can access. You can also pay more and be able to send a point every 1 minute.
    -I can randomly text anyone world-wide. Different plans allow for different # of no-charge texts per month.
    -I have heard some people comment that the PLBs might be more rugged than inreach. Not sure on that.

    I hope this helps. There are probably a lot of other pros/cons that others might be aware of too…

  16. aaron January 23rd, 2018 4:03 pm

    I carry a SPOT and vhf but will be switching to inreach at some point when I can afford the capital upgrade. My SOS spot message includes the repeater frequency that I would be able to establish initial 2-way with SAR and a short range frequency that could be used when in line of sight (ground or air) for 2 way with rescuers. My SOS message also highlights that if I’m sending an SOS it means I really need help with an evacuation (injury) and helicopter asap preferred.

    For more involved trips (I mostly do ~ 4-5 day basecamps with day trips) I provide a trip plan with imbedded Google Earth KMZ of access/egress plans, camp location and likely day trips. I put this on a public accessible Google Site and include the tiny URL in my SOS message so that SAR has as much to work with as possible.

    Same message and tools whether solo or with group.

  17. Mitch R. January 23rd, 2018 6:59 pm

    Extreme endurance guy here who has done all kinds of wilderness solo trips throughout the year.

    I always carried a Spot and now carry an InReach. No brainer here.

    In fall-winter-spring, I always carry a 2-person ultralight Bothy Bag that provides instant shetler from all the elements.

    If I am in timber, I bring a Silky Gumboy 300 folding saw (about 320 grams) for the mental confidence of knowing I can harvest 40 ft tall standing dead pines in about an hour.

    Mental confidence is worth an extra two pounds in my pack.

    One good thing about skiing solo is that you don’t have to haul a rescue sled!

    One BIG downside about doing lots of solo trips is that you become too cautious to be around.

    Going throught the night by yourself is no big deal, even in winter. Going two nights straight without sleep in winter is also doable.

    This a a trait that we all have inherited from our ancestors, whether we know it or not

  18. BriCri January 23rd, 2018 8:50 pm

    I too ski tour solo and carry an InReach, but …

    What’s with all the getting lost? I bet most of them had a GPS-capable smartphone in their pocket. Install a cheap (or free) app, click the record button, and follow your track out. You don’t even need a downloaded map to know if you are going the wrong way. Sheesh.

  19. Brandon Berg January 23rd, 2018 10:51 pm

    I personally carry a PLB when solo or with a group. Just another tool to have to help mitigate risk. But what about shovel probe and beacon while solo ski tour. I typically carry one. There are usually other people around depending on where your at. But if you don’t have those tools then you don’t have the options to help or be helped.


  20. MarkL January 23rd, 2018 10:59 pm

    BriCri – I have had phone apps just stop in the middle of a tour. Not a big deal in an average front-country situation, especially in familiar territory, but I would opt for a more reliable dedicated GPS for more adventurous tours or tours in unfamiliar areas. Also, a lot of people just don’t know how to use them, especially downloading maps so they can be accessed without a signal. As someone who instructs GPS use I find a lot of people who carry a GPS have no idea how to really use them. “What’s a datum?”

    Brandon – those tools are useful for other things. Probes can be used to find a good place to dig a shelter, check snow depth on snow pits, etc., shovel for pits, caves, stove platform, wind breaks, seating, etc. A beacon might make finding my body easier (or helping others as you suggest.)

  21. Jim Milstein January 23rd, 2018 11:13 pm

    Got the inReach SE when it first came out. I’ve used it ever since. Very reliable and affordable and, as mentioned, excellent battery life (~100 hours). PLBs may be more reliable in very adverse conditions due to a stronger radio signal; however, lack of two-way communication is a serious drawback. And, speaking of adverse conditions, texts are much more likely to get through than voice.

    When skiing solo, I really like the three unlimited preset messages that go with the cheapest inReach subscription. One for leaving the trailhead or going farther; one for returning; and one for alerting my minders to worry if they don’t hear from me soon.

  22. Jim Milstein January 23rd, 2018 11:27 pm

    Forgot to check the notification box.

  23. Scott Nelson January 24th, 2018 1:06 am

    Not preachy at all Lou. And glad to see this guy’s humbleness in sharing what happened and that he was able to keep his wits about him.

    When I’m solo I tend to stick to terrain that I know so as to be “safer.” But anything could happen at anytime, so maybe I’ll start carrying an InReach for all the reasons mentioned in the comments here. Good discussion.

  24. Lou Dawson 2 January 24th, 2018 7:16 am

    Indeed, good to see the details from Aspen Times:


    And the subject of the search, Greg, published a truly nice account on FB:


  25. atfred January 24th, 2018 7:25 am


    having also lost a ski a few years ago and having to post hole out, I now use ResQski on my powder skis (http://www.resqski.com/). Only $100, batteries last a long time (all season?), and, though I haven’t lost a ski since, it works quite well in my back yard and gives me some peace of mind.

    Regarding, PLB’s, since I really hate subscriptions, I carry the simple ACR – one time charge, one way communication. Also, since cell phone service may not be available even when close to civilization (e.g., Berthoud Pass area), I’ve often carried one of my small radios when solo, the thinking being that someone else may be on the channel; e.g., skiers at Winter Park discussing lunch plans!

  26. Coop January 24th, 2018 7:26 am


    Thanks for the update and the continued conversation starter. I couldn’t agree more. Our access to comms these days makes it inexcusable to be out in the backcountry without some form of communication. A SPOT is okay, but an InReach is superior. During all of my WFR courses that is one of my main messages; have some ability to reach out otherwise your chances of survival/help are drastically reduced. I was just assisting with a search for a missing person at the Mt Baker Ski Area this weekend, no luck at this point. Tragic. Cell phone service is widely available, but with only one tower present, location and GPS coordinates are very inaccurate. I was also astounded at the amount of man power needed and the subtle, yet very real, additional risk that dozens of other people are exposed to for one person. I carry an InReach anytime I head out.

    Be safe!

  27. Mitch R. January 24th, 2018 8:16 am

    Like Brandon, I still carry a beacon, probe, and shovel when I ski solo.

    Not for me, but maybe for someone in need.

    I also have the Gaia App on my iPhone and place the iPhone in a cover with an extra battery.

  28. MarkL January 24th, 2018 8:24 am

    I have a SealLine waterproof phone case on a lanyard. I can keep it warm in my coat and pull it out easily. I can also use it sea kayaking. 🙂

  29. See January 24th, 2018 9:03 am

    To expand a bit on MarkL’s earlier comment: recording a track can also deplete a lower capacity phone battery in less time than it takes to complete a day tour. Better to carry a second gps for track back than to use phone in record mode, in my opinion. If you don’t want to or are unable to carry a second gps, maybe just record critical waypoints instead of track. And carry backup batteries. Especially if you don’t have a PLB, you may want that phone to have a good charge as the sun is setting. (Also, I don’t understand what you mean by “Cell phone service is widely available, but with only one tower present, location and GPS coordinates are very inaccurate,” Coop. It’s my understanding that gps does not require wifi or cell towers to determine location accurately.)

  30. Lou Dawson 2 January 24th, 2018 9:41 am

    (Most?) Phones have actual GPS chips that function using the global coverage United States GPS satellite system that we provide the world free of charge, even though we are pesky greedy ‘mericans for whom doing that is against our nature. In any case, yeah, battery is required but no cell towers are necessary if the chip is switched on in the phone settings, and software is utilizing it. Battery is indeed key. Best bat solution seems to be that of carrying a separate battery pack and a connector cable. In my case, I just buy a mega-huge add-on battery for my Samsung Galaxy, looks dumb but it works smart. I also still like my Garmin stand-alone GPS.



  31. MarkL January 24th, 2018 9:55 am

    See – I think I can help you out. I think what Coop was referring to is that in remote area, like Mount Baker Ski Area which is literally at the end of the road at the edge of the North Cascades, there may be decent cell service from a tower, but there may not be other towers in the area. In order to get a good fix on a phone you need more towers to triangulate from. The more towers and the stronger the signal the more accurate the fix. That’s one way location services work even if you have wifi and GPS turned off on your phone. It’s the same with GPS: the more satellites and the clearer the atmosphere, the more accurate it is.

    As far as battery, no matter what else you do, the screen will always be the biggest power hog on the phone. I have good battery life and if I turn off all other apps, wifi, mobile data, bluetooth, etc. I can easily get a couple days even while tracking (I bought the phone partly for its battery life). If you are frequently turning the screen on to look at your map, take a lot of photos, etc. you will drain it faster in a few hours than just tracking and occasional checking over a couple days. Of course, your mileage may vary, and you can’t take your phone meeting from the summit if your mobile is off. 🙂

  32. See January 24th, 2018 9:59 am

    Upon reflection, following a track back might be better in the dark, in a storm, in complex terrain, when cold, hungry, exhausted, than relying on waypoints recorded when the thought crossed your mind earlier in a tour. (And not only did we Americans develop gps, but it was the American military. And just so you know, I don’t hate America (although I do have issues with certain characters in Washington). Gotta watch those demographic generalizations.)

  33. MarkL January 24th, 2018 10:03 am

    One other thing about phone apps. Apparently while I was sitting eatg my lunch on the side of a mountain in a busy area last week, my phone GPS crawled out of my pocket and walked in a perfectly straight line into the woods about 300 yards west of where I was sitting, then wandered back past me in a perfectly straight line the other way down a steep slope into the trees before coming back. Not sure how it did this without my noticing. 🙂

  34. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 10:04 am

    Recent phones, especially the larger ones, have good battery life. My iPhone 7+ gets down to about 90% after a day of skiing in the cold. I use Gaia GPS for offline nav, way better than a dedicated GPS unit. I also carry a couple of high-capacity 18650 cells and a light weight charger for whatever needs more electrons. I’ve only used the charging rig when I start out with a dead device due to user error, like forgetting to turn off the inReach.

  35. See January 24th, 2018 10:07 am

    Yeah, I’ve got an old phone on it’s second battery. But are you recording your track?

    ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc7HmhrgTuQ )

  36. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 10:07 am

    It’s not the app, MarkL, it’s the gps chip in the phone that has temporarily lost signals. Same thing can happen with any gps device.

  37. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 10:08 am

    Yes, See, always recording my track.

  38. MarkL January 24th, 2018 10:19 am

    JIm – I’ve never had it happen with a dedicated GPS (except for other identifiable reasons). I’ve also had 2 tracking apps running and they end up with different stats (distance, elevation, etc.). I was doing laps on Nordic trails a couple weeks ago and had one app (a fitness app) say my first lap was 5.3 mi and my second short loop was 2.87. My navigation app said they were 4.8 and 2.7. That’s a big difference over a such a short distance. Obviously the fitness data is how I recorded my activity 😀

    One thing that not all apps are up front about is the recording interval. On a fast section of trail that can make a big difference. It can also make some difference in battery life. minimizing the screen use is another good reason to have a paper version, too.

  39. Brandon Berg January 24th, 2018 12:24 pm

    GPS watches are also useful. Battery usually lasts all day and can be recharged if you take a brick out with you. Have used it to record tracks in addition to using Gaia for a full map. I personally use the Fenix 3 HR, but theres plenty of other ones out there. So many toys (hrm tools) to choose from these days.

  40. NT January 24th, 2018 1:03 pm

    GPS still works in airplane mode in the more recent IOS versions. Turn airplane mode on and battery life with GAIA is excellent. I recently upgraded from a spot to an inreach. Love the two way capability.

  41. See January 24th, 2018 1:52 pm

    Thanks for the information, MarkL. I’m still not sure I understand the role cell towers play in getting a fix. Does your phone triangulate your position based on cell tower signals (as well as gps and wifi), or is it only others (like law enforcement) that can use information from cell towers to track your location? And thanks, Jim. That may just be the excuse I need to finally get the new phone I’ve been wanting.

  42. Kristian January 24th, 2018 2:04 pm

    ” Does your phone triangulate your position based on cell tower signals?”

    Yes. I actually programmed up extensive software to do that now used by PSAPS – Public Safety Answering Points (Emergency Response and Dispatch). Of course the software tries to use your mobile’s gps position and a bunch of other heuristic algorithms and data as well…

  43. MarkL January 24th, 2018 2:24 pm

    See – Emergency services in a search situation can request location data from the mobile companies. By “pinging” the phone (what phones do all the time to stay in contact with the network) an approximate location can be determined to variable degrees of accuracy.

    Reading back, I think Coop meant to say with one tower coordinates are *not* very accurate.

  44. MarkL January 24th, 2018 2:29 pm

    And the internet being what it is, this article crossed my radar earlier today: http://www.adventurealan.com/iphone-gps-map-backpacking/

    The article is from 2015, but I do follow this guy on FB.

  45. Bruno Schull January 24th, 2018 2:32 pm

    Lou, others, thank you very much for this conversation. I’ve been thinking about these issues for a while.

    I live in Europe and mostly ski/climb/mountain bike in the Alps. I also do some fairly remote trail runs in Spain in the summer. Does anybody have any experience using an Inreach, SPOT, or PLB in Europe? Part of my hesitancy to take the plunge and buy a device is the difficulty of finding information about how they will or will not work in Europe. How well does an Inreach work in the Alps? If I press the button of a PLB in France, Italy, or Spain, will anybody get the signal? What about the subscription options. I have tried without success to find answers to these questions.

    One line of thought is that the best device to carry in the Alps is simply a mobile phone with a good charge and coverage. However, I don’t own or use a smart phone (I must be one of the last people left). What I do carry when climbing is a simple, small, flip phone with a prepaid card. It’s programmed only with the appropriate rescue and family phone numbers. It has a small black and white non-touch screen, and no camera. I carry it close to my chest, and the battery life is excellent. I have never found a place where it did not have coverage. I only carry it in case I need to call for a rescue, and to call to my wife when I am out of the mountains. The calls are expensive: I usually just put 20 or 30 dollars on it once a year, and that covers me.

    When partners from the US visit me in the Alps, if they don’t have a phone that works, or for whatever reason they don’t want to carry their smart phones, I encourage them to buy a simple prepaid phone. These phones are available at bookstores and kiosks in Chamonix for about 20-30 Euros. That seems like a small price to pay for the ability to call for a rescue.


  46. MarkL January 24th, 2018 2:41 pm

    Bruno – According to Garmin’s InReach site…

    “It provides global, interactive SOS capabilities — and that means you’re able to trigger a distress signal, receive delivery confirmation that help is on the way and maintain a 2-way text conversation with the GEOS emergency monitoring center. GEOS is standing by 24/7 to assist with your emergency, track your location and notify the most appropriate emergency response for your unique situation.”

  47. MarkL January 24th, 2018 2:48 pm

    Kristian, correct me if I am wrong, but if I recall correctly as long as the phone is on, even if it is in airplane mode, it still pings the network? Is that accurate?

    That is one reason to leave it turned on while you are moving, even if you are not using it.

    One thing about tracking with an app, the backcountry ski patrol i am on is starting to try to collect heat maps for popular backcountry routes to establish a library of the safest, best approach routes to popular bc ski destinations. These could then be shared with SAR organizations to aid planning and directing winter rescues and minimize risk to rescuers.

  48. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 6:23 pm

    I expect that, when a phone is put in airplane mode, by default all radios are turned off; otherwise, what is the use? Of course you can turn them individually back on. With iPhones anyhow. GPS uses radio for reception only, so it may not be affected by airplane mode.

    In the backcountry I leave the cell radio on, since there is usually good reception around here unless the phone (and the skier) is down in a ravine, which happens. I use Gaia GPS with the phone’s GPS service, tracking from trailhead to trailhead. Mostly I know where I am and where I’m going, so the display is little used. A quick photo now and then doesn’t seem to use many electrons. Today, for instance, the battery declined about one percent per hour.

    This is so much better than my earlier set up where I used an iPod Touch for Gaia GPS navigation. No GPS in the iTouch! But it could suck the GPS data stream from the inReach via BlueTooth. On a cold day of skiing the battery would be drained. Also, the display on the iTouch is not nearly as big and bright as on the new larger iPhones. Same problem with older phones as with the iTouch. Displays and battery life are not so good, but their displays are still much more detailed than any of the handheld GPS gizmos.

    Now, about touch screens. Not so great in the cold or wet, but useable. I can work the inReach’s buttons with ski gloves on. The phone –– not at all.

    About inReach worldwide: Yes. From pole to shining pole anywhere the sky is visible. Even in a slot canyon with just a little patch of sky, eventually an Iridium satellite will cross that patch. It takes only a few seconds for the handshaking and data transfer. You can send messages to any valid email address or any phone that can receive text messages, anywhere in the world they say. All messages are equal in terms of cost. Doesn’t matter where they go to or or come from. They are either free or cost one message unit, whatever that is for your plan. I am happy with the cheapest plan, US$12/mo + tax. So far all my messages have been free, covered by the base charge. This is my longest comment ever. Read it and sleep.

  49. See January 24th, 2018 6:30 pm

    Sounds very cool, Kristian. But just to make sure I finally understand this cell tower thing: my plain vanilla iphone without your software (or some other specialized app) cannot tell me my location by triangulating off of cell towers, right? This all reminds me of a situation I was in some years ago when I needed to tell first responders the location of an injured person. This was in a rural area and, I was just getting to know how to use Gaia at the time. In the stress of the moment, I couldn’t figure out how to give them the coordinates for the location. Lesson being, even if your gps is working fine and you have a cell connection to rescuers, you should know how to give them the latitude/longitude of the location. I was able to give them directions the old fashioned way— 6 miles north of the intersection of X road and Y road— but it was a wake up call.

  50. MarkL January 24th, 2018 6:43 pm

    See – The phone company can triangulate your position based on towers. The accuracy is not as good as GPS. It will also locate without GPS (maybe depending on the phone or OS). My phone (Android) has location choices of GPS only, “Battery Saving” (Wifi, bluetooth, and/or cell networks, no GPS) or “High Accuracy” (all of the above).

  51. MarkL January 24th, 2018 6:45 pm

    Forgot to add: whether you app (Gaia, Google maps, Ski tracks, whatever) functions without access to GPS would depend on the app. I’ll have to check that out next time I take the dog for a walk. 🙂

  52. See January 24th, 2018 6:49 pm

    So, to be clear: the phone company can triangulate my position based on towers, but (assuming I don’t have Kristian’s app) my phone cannot tell me my position based on towers alone?

  53. See January 24th, 2018 7:07 pm

    MarkL, my guess is: in a remote area with no wifi the answer is no (unless you have Kristian’s app).

  54. Kristian January 24th, 2018 7:08 pm

    What MarkL said. The software runs on servers at emergency call centers and not on a phone. Most phones now transmit their exact location embedded as part of their signals. But surprisingly, many do not for a variety of reasons including the typical reasons why GPS does not work well when in steep terrain, etc. So the position can be automatically approximated/triangulated based on all of the local towers that are picking up the phones signals. Finally, supposedly phones in airplane mode do not transmit and only receive GPS to the best of my knowledge. (I am not a phone expert.) And… the software may use public databases about any relatives, associates, etc. to help pinpoint your likely location.

    My Google 6P phone used to have awesome battery life. But after 2 years, I find that I have to immediately turn it to airplane mode when I leave for the backcountry. I contacted Google, who could not help me, who handed me off to the phone’s manufacturer, who ultimately sent me a link to a store in Berlin, Germany for a phone cover. I am in Colorado, USA :-/

  55. Kristian January 24th, 2018 7:16 pm

    A Personal Location Beacon (PLB) is a personal safety device designed to alert search and rescue services and allow them to quickly locate you in the event of an emergency, on land or sea. When activated it transmits a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency which is monitored by the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system. The alert is then relayed via an earth station to the nearest Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC). As the satellites are in a polar orbit they offer true global coverage – with a PLB you can summon help wherever you are on the planet, no matter how remote.

    A PLB uses an internal GPS receiver to pinpoint your location to within 62m. Once in the area, rescue services are then able to pinpoint your precise location using the inbuilt 121.5Mhz homing transmitter.

    These are one time use only and have a built in battery with a 6 year life. You should then replace the battery. There is no subscription costs. This is the same technology that aircraft and ships use.

  56. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 7:17 pm

    Kristian, are you saying that a Google 6P phone’s battery can’t be replaced?

    To those who can’t abide subscriptions and get a PLB instead of a Spot or inReach or sat phone, every so many years you have to return the PLB to a service center for battery replacement. That’s a lot like a subscription.

  57. Kristian January 24th, 2018 7:55 pm

    Apparently no one will actually say “no” on the battery replacement, just lots and lots of waiting on hold, finally you are told the call is over and a helpful link will be emailed later. The link is not helpful.

    I use Lou’s tactic of an extra battery and cable. I use the phone mostly as a camera and also for possible emergency communication. Thinking about going back to carrying a dedicated camera.

  58. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 8:12 pm

    You should look into replacing the battery yourself, Kristian. It’s probably not a big deal. Ask Mr Google.

  59. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 8:20 pm

    I just asked Mr Google about replacing his battery on the Nexus 6P, a phone plagued by battery problems, apparently. Battery costs about $25. Lots of info on how to do it.

    You will need asbestos gloves and body armor including a helmet with full face shield.

    Just kidding.

  60. See January 24th, 2018 8:22 pm

    So, if the software runs on servers at emergency call centers and not on my phone, then I can’t use that software to tell me my position if I can’t communicate with those servers.

  61. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 8:27 pm

    Give it up, See. The GPS unit in your phone (assuming it has one) is far better than any cell tower triangulation. If your phone doesn’t have a GPS chip, it is hopelessly out of date for that and everything else.

  62. MarkL January 24th, 2018 9:12 pm

    See et. al. – This was a really interesting question. I’ve been teaching navigation for years and never really thought about it. I think what you are asking is in fact possible. At least on my phone in the big city I can. Here is what I did, and you can test this with your own phone:
    1: I went to my location settings and turned the mode to “Battery Saver”. According to the description this does not use gps, just the mobile network, wifi, & bluetooth.
    2: I turned off bluetooth and wifi, so in theory the only location mode running is the mobile network.
    3: I started Google Maps and hit the “centering” button (looks like a target crosshair). It asked me to turn on my location which I refused.
    4: I took a walk around the block. The little blue on the map followed me quite well.
    5: I dropped a pin location at a random spot in my neighborhood and the Lat/Long appeared in the search box. So if I can see my location on the map I can drop a pin there and I can see the coordinate.
    6: I turned on GaiaGPS. It took a little bit (20-30 seconds), but it found me also and successfully followed me around.

    The major caveat here is that we don’t really know what the phone is doing.

    Of course the real test would be in the backcountry. What I am really fascinated by now is if you don’t have a downloaded map and have bad enough signal that you can’t, if it can still ping a tower will it still work? That would actually be a really great rescue tip.

  63. MarkL January 24th, 2018 9:17 pm

    BTW my phone is a Motorola Turbo; about 2.5 years old I think, and it was not the latest when I got it. It is running Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow).

  64. Jim Milstein January 24th, 2018 10:19 pm

    Okay, Mark, try your experiment in a small town where there’s only one cell tower within range. If your wandering location is any good, it’s due to the GPS in your phone. Or, use a “feature phone”, i.e., a not-smartphone, without a confounding GPS chip. Third test: take your Turbo phone into a “no service” zone and see whether it can tell you where it is.

  65. MarkL January 24th, 2018 10:55 pm

    Jim. Yeah. That’s what I was saying. Those are exactly the tests I would like to try. The thing about a “no service zone” is that sometimes there is not enough signal to use the phone, but it can still be pinged by a tower. Just like texts will go through when voice won’t and voice will go through when video doesn’t. It all depends on bandwidth and signal strength. I went back out in full airplane mode and got nothing. However, it also says the E911 location cannot be turned off on the phone (on any phone), so any time it is on it is trying to ping a tower.

    According to the settings it isn’t locating me with the gps chip, because in theory the gps was turned off. I was frankly surprised enough that I rechecked the settings. It’s a proof-of-concept test. I was also pointing out that this phone is probably about a 3.5 year old model, which is at least middle age (like me) in phone terms. A feature phone does not have the capability to give the user location anyway, so that’s moot.

  66. Bruno Schull January 25th, 2018 12:02 am

    Hi Folks–thanks for the information. I really appreciate it.

    Please entertain my very basic and ignorant question about the Inreach (and please remember, this is from somebody with no smart phone. I’ve never had one, and have sent perhaps five texts in my life).

    How does the text function work on the Inreach? Could I perhaps compose some preset texts on my computer, and load them onto the Inreach? Would I actually have to compose texts with buttons on the Inreach screen? That prospect fills me with dread, especially if i was in an emergency situation. In short, how does the text function work?

    If I did buy one (and I think I want to) it would be great to use my computer to set it with some basic texts that I could easily send as needed:

    One to my wife–All OK, on schedule.
    Another to my wife–All OK, but running late
    One to rescue–Need immediate rescue

    Now that I wrote that down, I wonder, are there other preset texts that would make sense in this context?

    Would something like, “In a difficult situation, standby for more information” be of any use for SAR, or would that just be a nuisance?

    OK, thanks again,


  67. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 8:51 am

    Okay, Bruno, here goes.

    Preset messages (from your computer) are pre-written and pre-addressed to however many recipients you want. They are free and cannot be edited. Only three of them. Pre-written text, also from your computer, can be selected and edited and combined if needed on the inReach or its app. Lots of those. Don’t know whether there is a limit.

    The inReach app on your new smartphone is much easier to use than the inReach for writing and editing messages but in a pinch you can use the buttons on the inReach. The inReach tries to predict what word you are entering, which helps a lot. It learns what words you use and predicts those. The three Preset messages can only be sent from the inReach itself. You select which of the three and send it by pressing a few buttons. Not hard at all, but you must have the inReach in your hand, not in your pack. For sending and receiving all other messages, it is convenient to use the smartphone, and the inReach can be anywhere within BlueTooth range.

    Since I mostly use the three Preset messages, the inReach is mounted on a pack shoulder strap. Typically, messages get to the Iridium satellite well within one minute. You get confirmation, both sound and sight. Same for incoming messages. In deep forest or other adverse conditions, it may take longer. I’ve never had a problem anywhere in Colorado. Our forests are dying. Global warming.

  68. See January 25th, 2018 8:53 am

    Thanks, MarkL. That is interesting, and not trivial. It can be very helpful to know how things work when you’re in a situation where you need them. That’s kind of why I was trying to get this nailed down (that, and basic curiosity). And Jim, you don’t need to convince me that gps is a good thing. I usually have 3 different units with me in the bc— phone, dedicated gps, and gps watch.

  69. See January 25th, 2018 9:28 am

    Also, (although I have been getting a bit lax about this since I got the hang of Gaia), I try to have a paper map and needle compass too. No batteries required.

  70. Ryan Curry January 25th, 2018 9:35 am

    sorry for misleading info..apparently he has skied marble many times..

  71. atfred January 25th, 2018 10:09 am

    Hi Kristian,

    I was not aware that a PLB is a “one time use only” – why is that?

  72. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 10:10 am

    A PLB’s battery is not rechargeable, atfred.

  73. MarkL January 25th, 2018 10:21 am

    Bruno – You don’t send a text to emergency responders to tell them you are in trouble. There is a dedicated SOS button that is used to contact the emergency service center, who directs the alert to the authorities in the area the alert comes from. I don’t believe that has any text, it is a general emergency alert with accompanying location data, just like a PLB. From the site:
    “It provides global, interactive SOS capabilities — and that means you’re able to trigger a distress signal, receive delivery confirmation that help is on the way and maintain a 2-way text conversation with the GEOS emergency monitoring center. GEOS is standing by 24/7 to assist with your emergency, track your location and notify the most appropriate emergency response for your unique situation.”

    Here is a good FAQ. https://andrewskurka.com/2017/garmin-inreach-se-explorer-faqs/ Scroll down to General Product Questions and there is an explanation of the text functions. There are other articles on the site about them as well.

    Personally I would not include “In a difficult situation, standby for more information” as that is non-actionable. How long should they wait? What should they do with this information? It would just add stress and uncertainty. I would probably have a preloaded message that includes emergency contact info so that person can be contacted by the authorities. You could have a message that says, “I am in trouble. I have sent SOS.” That allows your receiver to be more proactive (arrange support like child care, start packing a bag, make travel arrangements, etc.) If you have a significant medical condition (diabetes, for example, or anaphylaxis) it might be useful to have a message with that information pre-loaded. That may change the urgency of the response (e.g., airlift vs carry-out.)

  74. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 10:27 am

    Paper maps or charts, if you will, See, are not trouble free. They can be gone on the wind, get wet and disintegrate. They are of limited use in a whiteout. But, on the belt and suspenders principle, map and compass are good to have along with the modern whiz-bang stuff.

    Personally, I find an aneroid altimeter more useful in the backcountry than a compass. I consult it (and adjust it) frequently, the compass seldom. I use a Suunto wrist version. The purely mechanical (and much heavier) Thommen is left at home in the Cabinet of Curiosities. The two agree closely.

  75. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 10:35 am

    Good info, MarkL. I think, also, one’s inReach account has a place to specify contacts for an emergency. One hopes that those are supplied to the emergency response organization during an SOS event.

    Though I’ve never laid hands on an inReach Explorer, it seems to me to provide no extra value beyond an SE with smartphone. Yes, standalone it is a little more capable.

  76. MarkL January 25th, 2018 10:48 am

    BTW: A couple other tidbits:
    You can cancel an SOS request
    You can have your coordinate included in the text of every message you send.
    You can navigate to a coordinate received in a text from another user with the push of a button
    You can receive weather forecasts
    The Explorer model has a barometric altimeter, electronic compass, and accelerometer
    You can message your FB or Twitter (e.g, real-time conditions reporting)

  77. MarkL January 25th, 2018 10:57 am

    Jim – to me the main advantage would be the the altimiter, compass, and accelerometer. But there are other differences.
    From the site:
    “While inReach SE+ uses GPS to provide basic grid navigation and allow you to drop waypoints, mark key locations, track your progress, and follow a breadcrumb trail back to base – the inReach Explorer+ goes a step beyond, providing full-fledged GPS on-map guidance with preloaded TOPO mapping and waypoint routings viewable directly on the unit. Plus, a built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer are included with Explorer+ to help you get and maintain accurate bearings anywhere on or off the beaten path.”

    That being said, the screen and maps aren’t great, but they are probably as good or better than the GPS I use now with no maps (Foretrex 401)

  78. MarkL January 25th, 2018 10:58 am

    For an extra $50 seems worth it.

    (I wish there was an edit window) 🙂

  79. Kristian January 25th, 2018 11:28 am

    +1 on map, compass, barometer, (and wrist watch time).

    Most maps are waterproof and tear resistant and easily folded up to show just the area you are in. There are some really nice published series these day. I like to carry and use the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Series. Something primeval and satisfying about looking over a map.

  80. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 11:34 am

    Just checked current prices on inReach models. Wow! $400 and $450. Might as well get the Explorer+. $50 gets you an aneroid altimeter and a compass, plus almost usable mapping. Still much better to use a smartphone for that.

    As a devil-may-care early adopter I snagged a pre-release SE for $240. Still as good as new. I use it a lot for skiing (turned on) and keep it with me for road trips, hiking, biking, and camping (not turned on). Given that biking is far more dangerous than skiing, I should probably change the protocol.

  81. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 11:44 am

    Indeed, Kristian, our primeval hominin ancestors would totally get the Trails Illustrated maps. Too bad for them they got here too soon. How much brain do you really need to groove on a map?

  82. Bruno Schull January 25th, 2018 12:00 pm

    Jim and Mark–thanks for all the great info.

    But…wait a minute.

    Do you mean that I need a smart phone to access some of the features of the Inreach? My understanding of what you wrote is that I can send and receive texts just on the Inreach, only that it’s cumbersome, and much easier with a smartphone.

    I will not buy a smart phone (I am not smart).

    Maybe the best thing for a true ludite like myself is a plob.


  83. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 12:00 pm

    Comparing the number of display pixels between the iPhone 7+ and the inReach Explorer+, the ratio is thirty-nine to one. Much the same for other current large smartphones. That’s enough to make a difference.

  84. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 12:10 pm

    No, Bruno, all inReach features are available standalone. Don’t get a smartphone just for that. Save your money and your mind. You do need to use a computer to set up an inReach account, but it seems you’ve already got one.

    As for plobs, they are just as high-tech as inReaches. To be a good luddite you need to smash stuff that automates you out of your livelihood. Since I retired, I stopped smashing stuff. I miss that.

  85. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 12:17 pm

    Addendum for Bruno:

    The original version of the inReach did require a smartphone for full functioning, but none of the following models (ever since the SE) do.

  86. Bruno Schull January 25th, 2018 12:26 pm

    Thanks Jim!

    If i bought a smart phone I know I would quickly become addicted (like I am addicted to my computer). Hence my resistance.


  87. MarkL January 25th, 2018 12:27 pm

    Bruno – smartphone is for ease of use and quality maps. Units are fully functional on their own.

  88. Kristian January 25th, 2018 2:24 pm

    Garmin Etrex 30 GPS with lithium batteries is my go-to.

  89. See January 25th, 2018 6:28 pm

    The fact that map and compass aren’t trouble free is one of the reasons I still carry them, Jim. I don’t want my pre-gps navigation skills to atrophy. I won’t go into the details of my idiosyncratic system, but waterproof paper works great and I often print maps showing waypoints. I like this better than dealing with a tiny screen sometimes. You can get both detail and big picture. And touch screens can be a real pain if there’s precipitation.

  90. Jim Milstein January 25th, 2018 6:57 pm

    I hear you, See. On the same principle I keep up my long division skills in Roman numerals. You never know when the fad for place notation will end.

    Navigation with a quadrant can be fun. I carry my titanium quadrant in case I lose track of the latitude. With my timepiece and the quadrant I can get the longitude. GPS, phooey!

    (As Lou would say: (smile))

  91. MarkL January 25th, 2018 9:18 pm

    See – that’s very smart. A compass is useless if you don’t know how to use it. When I teach navigation for the ski patrol plenty of students can use an app, but few know how to use a compass, what a datum is, or UTM coordinates, or how to use the grid markings on the map.

  92. VtVolk January 26th, 2018 7:55 am

    I’ve carried a McMurdo FastFind PLB for the last several years since a local hiker died of exposure a few miles from the trailhead in late fall, after a minor injury and an unfortunate series of events. I’ve never had to use it, but it is always in my first aid kit, whether solo or in a group. The cost is very cheap insurance to know that I can summon help in a major life-threatening situation even when cell phone reception is generally unavailable most places I roam. It also makes my family feel a greater sense of security when I’m out alone.

    That said, the specific incident that led to this discussion raises some important questions. Had Mr. Berry been carrying a PLB, he could have quickly summoned a search and rescue and provided the search teams his precise location. If I put myself in his shoes, however, would I have pushed the button on my PLB? He was unhurt, and though recognized he was in a potentially dire situation, had the confidence and skills to “self evacuate.” Would summoning rescue have been a false alarm?

    The fact that rescue teams still mobilized, and friends and family were seriously concerned seems to be what he is most regretful of. As the hours passed, he likely knew that rescue would be underway at some point. With a PLB only, would it be better to provide SAR your precise location (saving them hours of searching), then meet them and walk out with them when they arrive, or not push the button (since there is no actual emergency), walk out under your own power, and have to apologize later?

    Clearly this is exactly the kind of situation that the InReach is designed for, with the “I’m OK but will be late” option. But for the PLB users out there, where is the line drawn for you?

  93. See January 26th, 2018 8:22 am

    Jim, how about if I call it a 15 inch, hi res, advanced polymer, backup display, instead of a map? This amazing technology weighs .5 ounces, is extremely durable, fits in a pants pocket with room for a bag of trail mix, loads instantaneously, has infinite battery life, is readable in bright sun and costs a few cents.

  94. Jim Milstein January 26th, 2018 8:37 am

    It’s a deal, See! And I hope you’ll give the quadrant a try too. They require no batteries, in Ti are light weight, connect you to a noble history, are accurate to within sixty miles, and are just plain fun.

  95. Kristian January 26th, 2018 8:44 am

    “I stopped smashing stuff. I miss that.”

    So you switched to blogs?

  96. Jim Milstein January 26th, 2018 9:26 am

    Skiing, Kristian, more time for skiing and such.

  97. See January 26th, 2018 6:49 pm

    Re. quadrant, you’re a better man than I, Jim. When it comes to celestial navigation, the extent of my experience is mostly “steer toward that star and try not to fall asleep.” But, who knows?

  98. Jim Milstein January 26th, 2018 9:44 pm

    VTVolk’s questions are thought-provoking. Should you carry a PLB (Help!) or a device capable of finer distinctions? In the recent event, two-way communication would not be needed if the skier could have just signaled his delay. Other situations would profit greatly from two-way communication. Why not carry two different devices? Or more? Arguments can be made for that. (I carry an iPhone for nav and an inReach for comm) But, minimally, for the most bang for the buck, covering more likely scenarios, an inReach or the like with the cheapest subscription answers pretty well.

  99. Bruno Schull January 27th, 2018 1:07 am

    OK, I’m curious. I think the comments so far have demonstrated a pretty convincing case for the practicality of two-way communication. Considering that, what’s the status of modern sat phones? When I worked for NOLS, some 15 years ago, we carried sat phones, and once or twice on courses we used them, mainly to check in about the developing medical conditions of students (altitude sickness, infection, and so forth). They were beast–big heavy things, that we carried in plastic tubes to protect them. But, when needed, they were worth their weight. So how do modern sat phones compare in terms of coverage in the back country, rapid communication with SAR, practicality and ease of use, weight, and cost, in rough order of importance, for me personally? (I put cost last not because I am rich, but because, when weighted against the other factors, cost becomes negligible).

  100. Bruno Schull January 27th, 2018 1:10 am

    I just googled this. Here’s the first hit I came up with.


    The price is far lower than I thought, but, of course, that’s with no coverage, calls and so on. But it seems to have GPS, tracking, text capability, and so on.

    Why would I not want one of those?

    Not trying to be provocative, just curious as to what people who know about these things think.

  101. Kristian January 27th, 2018 6:21 am

    Iridium, because of the way the constellation works, can have coverage problems, depending upon your location and that of the closest satellite. The advantage of Iridium is that it works when you are in canyons or blocked by mountain ranges because the satellites fly overhead at different intervals. It is also the only network that will work at the North and South Poles.

    Inmarsat is a constellation of geostationary orbit satellites designed originally for use at sea. If calls connect, they are stable and reliable.

    Globalstar is not considered very reliable.

    Least expensive plan I could find is Inmarsat 10 minutes / month $35. (Can buy additional minutes $0.85) Prepaid plans typically expire after 1 year and cost $400+.

  102. MarkL January 27th, 2018 9:27 am

    Keep in mind that if you don’t need it often (mostly tour in places with decent phone coverage), or if you are looking for a device for a particular trip, rental is an option. A school I work with rents sat phones for their backcountry backpacking trips, but not their frontcountry day trips. I have seen InReach rentals as well.

    One aspect of a sat phone is that you have to turn it on, make a call, and speak to a human, whereas plbs and InReach is already on, push button activated, and is automatically sent as a distress signal. To the 911 dispatcher the sat phone is just another call.

  103. afox January 29th, 2018 11:36 am

    Gee, reading about this incident and thinking of many others there is no doubt that inexpensive GPS navigation would have easily enabled this person to self rescue without issue. Lots of bits of pieces and erroneous information about GPS and cell phone navigation in the comments here. Perhaps Lou or someone at WS could write a blog post clarifying some of this information and providing succinct info for the BC skier. IMO, GPS navigation is an absoluteness critical piece of safety gear & knowledge. I think that navigation is as important as avalanche awareness and because of its crossover to our non skiing sports and ability to allow you to self rescue when hiking, mountain biking, etc it could be said that GPS navigation has more usefulness as a piece of safety gear/knowledge than avalanche awareness.

  104. MarkL January 29th, 2018 3:52 pm

    afox – True about navigation being a critical part of avy awareness, starting with reading and interpreting maps in advance, preferably on a large screen or paper rather than trying to route-plan on the fly on a small screen.

    Can you specify the “erroneous information?” There has been a lot of 2-way dialogue trying to clarify information for those asking questions. I recognize some is variable depending on situation, and folks have been making an effort to acknowledge that uncertainty.

  105. Jim Milstein January 29th, 2018 5:12 pm

    Agree with afox. GPS nav is very effective for staying or gettin out of trouble, likely much more than beacons and air bags. And for emergency help, some kind of sat comm is very good. There are other choices, some of which require less money or more skill or both.

    I also note that some things like airbags and under-snow breathing devices benefit only the possessor. Beacons, shovels, probes, nav (map, compass, altimeter, GPS) & comm (handheld radios, sat communicators, whistles) devices can help others too.

  106. Jim Milstein January 29th, 2018 5:38 pm

    Unusual glitch occurred with the inReach today. My “Back from the Wild” message sent from the trailhead was delayed for two hours. After one hour I sent another from home. It was delayed an hour. The second message arrived shortly before the first.

    This almost never happens (only once before out of hundreds); messages typically are received seconds after sending. Don’t know what happened. The inReach signaled successful transfer of both messages to the Iridium system within a few seconds of pressing the “Send” button.

  107. Kristian January 30th, 2018 7:43 am

    Did some more internet searching. InReach and other related devices are not considered replacements for PLBs.

    PLBs are part of a much more powerful dedicated complete infrastructure solely designed for sinking ships, crashing aircraft, and remote life threatening emergencies like heart attacks.

  108. Lou 2 January 30th, 2018 7:56 am

    Kristian, that’s my take as well. We do not recommend PLBs as the lack of 2-way comm is archaic compared to sporting an Inreach. But I do understand the issues with budgets… Lou

  109. afox January 30th, 2018 9:56 am

    MarkL, here are some of the issues that seem to confuse the readers and that could be explained and clarified in a blog post on navigation:
    -difference between cell phone triangulation (using cell towers) and standalone GPS. The term GPS is often erroneously applied to cell tower triangulation and even geolocation using hotspot id which adds to the confusion.
    -phones that need cell service to use GPS do not have standalone GPS. They have AGPS (Assisted GPS) Older Iphones had this limitation. Most newer phones have standalone GPS radio (GPS works in airplane mode). Assisted GPS can result in a faster fix since GPS almanac data is downloaded via cell network and speeds in satellite search but is not critical for a GPS location fix.
    -“offline” or “downloaded” maps to a device. Different methods for different devices, readers have mentioned GAIA GPS. I use backcountry navigator (“TOPO” for iphones). Garmin GPS devices have a completely different set of maps available and methods for getting them onto devices. I am using the forest service topo maps. You can view them in caltopo: https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=39.07221,-107.18894&z=14&b=mbt
    for pre-planning and download them to use offline to your phone. if you have a few favorite places to tour easy to download all the maps you need once to your device.
    -batteries and cell phone navigation is a major issue. I refuse to use a phone with non-removeable battery since I rely on the phone for GPS, camera, emergency comm via 911, etc. I have a cheap out of phone charger and head into the BC with a few cell batteries. I could go a couple days with a few batteries. Those with non-removable batteries can carry a battery pack and cable, this options much more cumbersome and heavier that user/field replaceable batteries.
    -how to use the device software is an issue. Do users understand what is meant by creating a track log? Know how to start a track log using their device/software?
    -how to read a topo map: amazingly Id estimate that 75% of people cannot tell a ridge from a valley using contours alone.
    -pretrip route planning and research: caltopo.com

  110. MarkL January 30th, 2018 10:31 am

    afox: Good points. I might take issue with the comment that the info provided here is “erroneous”, but I understand where you are coming from. There are clearly points of confusion, and I agree with you on most of your points.
    Note: All-caps below are for emphasis, not indicating yelling. 😉

    I teach navigation for a backcountry ski patrol, and topo maps is where I ALWAYS start. In my specific population 75% may be an exaggeration, but there is a big difference between READING a map and USING a map, and even some experienced users often learn something. Many don’t realize that the magnetic pole drifts over time, for example. I am totally on board with you on that! 🙂

    The battery thing is a lot of personal preference. I think there is value in the durability and capacity of power bricks. Here in the PNW it rains a lot, and even when it snows it can be VERY wet, so keeping batteries dry, changing them in the field, etc. can expose them (or the phone) to moisture. They can also be used to charge cameras, GPS, and other electronic paraphernalia. Battery management is key. I’ve been backpacking for 3 days on a charge with my phone (which I also use as a camera), and only charged it the last day when it was down to about 20%, so this is extremely variable and difficult to make blanket statements about.

    As far as device usage, so many people don’t understand how to actually use a GPS, whether it is on their phone or a dedicated device. I had to write a letter to the editors of an outdoor-oriented magazine who published an article that referred to the datum, but was completely wrong! I use Gaia and Backcountry Navigator on my phone. They both do different things well and both have their quirks/frustrations. I am starting to mess around with Mountain Hub as well. I also have a Garmin GPS. I am practically evangelical about caltopo.:)

  111. atfred April 4th, 2018 7:23 pm

    Does anyone know if the yellow ACR personal locator beacon will work in Europe?

    Thanks much


  112. Witold April 4th, 2018 11:14 pm

    Hi Alfred,
    PLBs are global devices and will cover Europe. Possibly yours one is registered in country of your residence but it will work all over the world.
    I am taking my PLB registered in New Zealand everywhere!

  113. atfred April 5th, 2018 8:57 am

    That’s good to know, Witold; thanks!

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