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Satellite Messengers
For Hikers

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 pivotal question: Will cell phone coverage be reliable where you're going? Will it be spot on at the instant you might need it?

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. 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 (forests, 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.
  • These messengers can be hard/clunky to use, and size along with weight of the devices will vary. This cuts down their effectiveness for less-than-dedicated users.

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...

...you 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 loved ones 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 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!
  • And realize that 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?

I read reviews all the time, and based on what I've read, I can recommend this device: DeLorme InReach SE Two-Way Satellite Communicator.

Update: Garmin acquired DeLorme in 2016; here's the comparable device:

renamed Garmin InReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator

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.
  • It uses the top satellite network available, Iridium.
  • You can text with the folks back home without relying upon sketchy cell phone coverage (satellites, right?).
  • With reasonably long lived batteries (50 hrs. of battery life in 10 min. tracking mode), it comes way in under one pound.

Decision time...

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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