Satellite Messengers
For Hikers:
Stay Found

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

Satellite messengers for hikers at first glance seem like a no brainer.

Who wouldn't want to carry a communication device that can help you out of a jam?

Oh wait, isn't that your cell phone?

Here's the short list of pivotal question to ask yourself if you trust in your phone:

  • Will cell phone coverage be reliable where you're going?
  • Will it be spot on (a bit of foreshadowing) at the instant you might need it?
  • Does your cell phone hold its charge reliably in cold, wet conditions?
  • Do you always leave for a hike with 100% charge?

Enter satellite messengers, which are way more than just portable hand held devices for sending an SOS for rescue from nasty circumstances.

Satellite messengers:
the details

Satellite Emergency Notification Devices (SEND) are much different from a panic button device like a Personal Locator Beacon

The benefits of emergency satellite messenger devices for hikers include:

  • One-way message sending (as in "Hey, I'm fine").
  • Two-way messaging, meaning you can communicate not only your where abouts with loved ones at home, but also update them and answer questions.
  • The device can track you, making you visible to folks interested in your hiking progress.
  • It can also send an SOS message.
  • The battery life is reasonably long, although cold conditions will cut into battery performance.

Drawbacks of satellite messengers

  • These devices are not cheap. Only you can decide if the investment makes sense for your style of hiking.
  • You have to pay to play with a SPOT Service Plan. In other words, add a subscription fee to your hiking budget. If you're a frequent hiker, a yearly fee makes sense. If you're not, look for a monthly fee or reasonable data plan.
  • An unobstructed view of the sky is necessary before trying to send or receive a message. If you hike in areas where this isn't possible (deep forests or rocky canyons), the device will be useless to you.
  • Time lags between "send" and "receive" may occur, cutting down the effectiveness of the messages.
  • Messages may not send, depending on your ability to access the satellites and the strength of the signal. This creates stress in the people expecting an "all okay" message - the exact opposite of your intent. It may also give you a false sense of security.

You're going to have to do some careful research before purchasing one of these gizmos, because not every one of them does every thing listed above.

Decide what's most important to you, and then buy the device that excels in those things:

  • messages
  • tracking
  • rescue

Or all three.

Satellite messengers
make sense when... are doing a hike or backpacking trip that folks back home are not completely on board with. 

One example: a solo female hiker who is navigating unfamiliar trails or going into the backcountry, with anxious nail biters back home.

Another example:

Being part of a group trip through remote areas where bear encounters, fierce weather, and challenging terrain up the risk factors of the trip.

  • If helicopter rescue is the only way out, you need a reliable device that can communicate with the proper authorities.

Personal note: When I consider signing up for a hiking trip being guided through remote areas, I always ask about the type of satellite messenger (or satellite phone, an expensive option that I don't recommend to individual hikers) they will be providing.

You should, too!

  • Tip: Joining a guided group makes you eligible for trip insurance, meaning that the cost of helicopter evacuation may be covered. Look into it!

Which device?

SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger | REI Co-op

Here's a lightweight, easy to use device which can be motion activated or set on continuous usage as you hike:

Benefits to using this satellite messenger device:

  • It's easy to use. That's worth its weight in gold, because if you are befuddled by the buttons, or have to remember a lot of technical details each time you turn it on, you're not going to use it (correctly).
  • Reliability is high, given the field testing done with it. You don't want to be hiking along, thinking that your messages have been sent, when they have not been.
  • At the time of this writing, there is no annual activation fee, meaning you can customize your usage to your hiking schedule.
  • It uses the top satellite network available, Iridium.
  • You can blast off an SOS message.
  • You can text with the folks back home without relying upon sketchy cell phone coverage (satellites, right?).
  • Sharing your GPS coordinates allows them to follow your progress, and share your location with search & rescue personnel if necessary.
  • With reasonably long operating life (17 days of battery life in 10 minute interval tracking mode), it's a mere 4 ounces - until you add the fully charged 4 AAA batteries. Even then, under a pound!

Decision time...

Ask yourself:

Do you want to be able to send and receive messages while hiking?

Do you want to make yourself "trackable"?

Are you going into areas where an SOS rescue is more than a faint possibility?

How much is the "luxury" of communication worth to you?

  • Not only in terms of money, but in terms of weight, ease of use, reliability and peace of mind?

These are questions only you can answer!

If all you want is a panic button for an emergency rescue, consider carrying a personal locator beacon.

But if you want communication, tracking, AND rescue messaging, satellite messengers are here for you.

Read this thorough review for more information.

Stay safe, hike smart, enjoy your backcountry adventures, and use technology wisely!

And may the satellites always align quickly for you.

Green mountain meadow with snow covered mountains in backgroundPerfect! No cover so the satellites can quickly do their thing

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Satellite Messengers

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