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by Diane Spicer
The Bivy Stick for hikers solves some communication problems you might face on a trail.
But it doesn't solve all of them.
Let's take a look at this technology to see if it's right for your hiking plans.
It looks like this:
Yup, it's a stick.
And it's designed to work with your cell phone to eliminate the problem of uncertainty, or lack, of network coverage when you're hiking.
It does so by communicating with an overhead network of satellites, meaning if you can get lined up to see the open sky, you can send or receive messages using your cell phone as an interface.
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Notice the sync cable, to connect to Android or iOS mobile devices.
Bluetooth connection is also an option.
Also note that you can attach the Bivy to the inside of your backpack for storage so it's always handy, or clip it to the outside when you want to communicate.
But the Stick does more than send and receive messages. It can recharge your phone if needed, and it can help you navigate.
But before we get into features, it's time for a close look at the specs.
The Bivy Stick's specifications for size and weight won't horrify you unless you're an ultralighter:
If size and weight are absolute sticking points for you, there are smaller, lighter devices on the market:
However, before you make a binding choice, the interface and satellite coverage reliability should also be compared in addition to the initial cost of the device and its ongoing operational costs.
If you always have your cell phone along on a hike (photos, GPS app, downloaded maps, music), the additional 7 ounces for the Stick shouldn't be a deal breaker unless you are a ruthless ounce counter (and you know who you are, so stop reading).
Do your weight research before you commit to any satellite communication device!
You want reliable battery life.
The price might give you pause: hundreds of dollars.
It's an investment piece of hiking gear, that's for sure.
Do you really need one?
Let's find out!
You're thinking "Communication, duh!"
Indeed, the Bivy Stick allows you to communicate with other human beings, or your very talented dog at home on the couch, via cell phones.
Let's look a little harder at the ways hikers might need to communicate using this technology.
One of the prime directives of a hiker is to stay found and safe, no matter what.
But sometimes life on the trail takes a darker turn, and you need to set into motion a Search And Rescue operation for yourself or a trail buddy.
The Bivy Stick saves time because you initiate a search directly with local authorities, rather than waiting for someone back home (your dog?) to notice that you've missed your return window.
This saves critical chunks of time when you're dealing with an injury, or you happen to find yourself in a perilous situation that is getting worse.
Here's another reason for carrying the Bivy Stick for hikers.
You might have nervous loved ones wondering where you are on the trail, and whether you've reached your intended destination.
And if you've been on the trail any length of time, you know that plans change.
Satellite communication is a wonderful way to keep your friends, and hang onto amicable relationships with your family.
What I'm getting at:
Can you put a price on peace of mind & peaceful relations?
Here's the list:
Now let's tackle each of them.
If communication is the aim of a device, you want it to cover all of your bases, everywhere, all the time, and in a red hot hurry.
With the Stick, not only can you send a text message on your phone, you can also receive a text wherever you are on the planet as long as you have an unobstructed view of the sky.
Folks back home can receive your text, or find your location, via text message or social media channels.
And if you get into trouble and need assistance, an SOS message can be sent to establish a dialog with first responders directly, without going through a third party.
As already mentioned, this device allows you to coordinate with other hikers for rendezvous times and locations on the trail, or to arrange for help or get advice from them.
On a hike, you'll need the free app loaded onto your phone, of course, along with Bluetooth capability.
So will everyone else in your hiking group.
You're already familiar with your own device's screen and keyboard, so there's no learning curve except for navigation of the app.
Instead, use the Bivy app and a large screen interface you're already familiar with, and bingo! you're in the business of communicating.
Your contacts are always accessible.
This sounds obvious, but take the Bivy Stick out of the barrier of your backpack when you intend to use it.
In order to do your bidding, it needs to seek those satellites!
Now we get to the heart of the matter.
Satellite communication costs money!
So what will it cost you to use the Bivy Stick for hikers?
You are charged to send and receive messages, but you don't have an annual contract.
Instead, you're on a monthly credit system, which you set up according to your hiking itinerary or trip schedule.
When you activate your device (that's free, by the way), you purchase 10 credits for $17.99.
This buys access to the satellite network for 30 days.
Think of credits in terms of actions: one message sent or received, 1 location share, 1 weather report, 1 tracking hour.
Let's say you have a big hiking trip coming up soon but won't be doing much trail time until then.
Just remember to buy enough credits before you leave!
What if, after all of your careful estimating, you run out of credits mid-hike, maybe in an emergency when a flurry of texts are required?
You can still send and receive texts, 50 cents per message.
Yes, buying credit packs ahead of time is cheaper.
But until you're in a real emergency and know the value of time, you won't believe me when I say that 50 cents is trivial when you need to communicate your status.
You're paying for personal access to the Iridium LEO satellite network, which covers most of the globe. (LEO is Low Earth Orbit)
This is mind blowing when you sit down and think about it: you're trackable anywhere on the planet.
Benefits for you?
Bonus: You can use credits to download weather reports.
Only you can decide if this is an affordable option to provide communication capability on your hikes.
Remember, if you don't hike on a regular basis, the Stick won't ding you for fees while you are off the trail.
The Bivy app offers a map database with access to 40K+ trails, waterways and climbing routes. This could potentially eliminate carrying a GPS device, if you are thorough in your pre-hike research.
As you might expect, you can put in waypoints as jumping off points for future explorations.
You can also:
Because safe navigation is dependent upon weather conditions, having access to weather forecasts in the field is also a plus.
If you're using your cell phone for navigation (GPS app or preloaded maps) or photography, you can recharge it with your stick. Remember to bring the cable!
When I'm relying on an electronic piece of gear to get me out of a jam, I always encase it in its own waterproof case (okay, sometimes just a plastic bag) and give it a place of honor in a dry bag within my backpack until I need it.
Sounds like overkill?
It might be, if you haven't hiked in the soggy Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, B.C. - all of my favorite hiking spots. (Read more here.)
In the case of using a Bivy Stick for communication, make that two electronic devices which need to be kept viable in dirty, wet, or extreme temperature conditions.
My cell phone already has its own waterproof case which is touch screen compatible.
My Bivy Stick for hikers review will go into the case details (coming soon) and tell you if I double bag it.
When you purchase a Bivy Stick, it's not over. You need to keep interacting with the company to purchase credits.
A few things to know:
Your account can be canceled without penalty at any time.
The device carries a 1 year warranty.
You may return it within 90 days for any reason.
Every piece of technology a hiker carries has drawbacks.
A Bivy stick for hikers is no exception.
Here are a few things that might give you pause.
If you're going to carry a satellite communication device of any kind, ask yourself:
Not only do you need an open view of the sky, you also have to carry the Bivy Stick, plus your cell phone with the app, in order to get or send messages.
You also must know how to use the app, and how to quickly send an SOS message (there is no panic button in bright red letters on your phone).
Is that too much for you?
That's another question to ask yourself before you leave for the trail.
When you first receive your Bivy Stick, you'll have to activate it and purchase credits.
Both your cell phone, and the Bivy Stick, need to be fully charged if you plan to rely on them for communication.
Bivy Stick does not require a long term commitment via a contract.
You skip an activation fee, but need to maintain an active monthly account at the price of $17.99. In return, you get 10 more credits which will roll over as long as your account is active.
So the initial non-trivial cost of the device, plus your credit fees, need to be added into your hiking budget.
Don't forget to factor in intangibles like peace of mind, peaceful relationships with loved ones who don't hike, and safety.
The near instant sending of a message when you're sitting at home isn't realistic when you're on a hike and using this device.
It can take tens of minutes for your message to be delivered, depending on what the satellites are doing.
So don't panic if you don't instantly get a reply. This bears repeating: you're not in your local coffee shop, so take a deep breath.
The cell phone app you need is free and easy to install on your phone, whether Android or iOS.
If you're going to rely on this technology, you owe it to yourself to be conversant with the app.
If you're a hiker who loves established trails through well traveled areas, do you need to carry a Bivy Stick?
Ask yourself: are you willing to rely upon the kindness of strangers?
If you're a back country, off trail hiker, only you can decide if you're headed into territory that increases your risks while decreasing the odds of a Good Samaritan rescue.
If you're a hiker who prides herself on self sufficiency, a Bivy Stick puts you firmly in control of your communication options, giving you a back door to bail if things get out of control.
Do you like to remain in constant contact with your kids, friends, older family members via text?
Solo hikers, here's some tough love: always have a way to get help if you need it.
Older hikers, could it be time to add a satellite communication option to your gear list to increase your safety margin?
Maybe the Bivy Stick is your solution.
Maybe it's not: other solutions here and here.
It's designed to make communication on a hike reliable and easy.
Now you have the information you need to make a final decision about this type of satellite communication device, thumbs up or down.
Safety as a hiker is important, so don't neglect your ability to quickly communicate your location and status.
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