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#36498 - 05/14/14 08:34 PM PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone
nyker Online


Registered: 07/26/12
Posts: 186
Loc: New York
I'm looking for the current thought on these units.

I'm thinking of picking one of these devices up primarily for use in an emergency (hoping I'd never need it) but being realistic and knowing where we all go is often far from quick help if you need it.

I've had some minor experience using a SPOT (someone else's) years ago, but it seemed pretty crude and haven't used any since.

Assuming all have similar coverage via satellite, I'd like to hear suggestions based on experience from those using these devices, particularly from any SAR personnel.

The new Delorme inReach looks interesting and has a GPS/map
A sat phone would be great but they are pricy, large and still rely on batteries which seem pretty thirsty requiring a solar charger, ie more weight.

factors to consider: features, weight, coverage, durability, capabilities, etc..

Thanks in advance

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#36503 - 05/14/14 10:29 PM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: nyker]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7131
Loc: Fresno, CA
I still favor SPOT. My reasons: Family and friends can see where you are (if you use it as it is meant to be). If used for tracking, people can see that you are moving, which usually indicates you are doing ok.

PLB: I wouldn't use it, because it can ONLY be used in an emergency. Nobody knows where you are until you press the SOS button. They're good for groups hiking in avalanche zones, but not for hikers.

SPOT has several down sides:
1. People misuse them: turn them on and press the button, shut it down in 5 minutes. Signals usually don't get out that way. Should be left on 30 minutes, or hours where there are obstructions.

2. They don't work in deep canyons such as: last mile or two of the Main Mt Whitney trail; Bubbs Creek (Kings Canyon); Vernal/Nevada Falls trail in Yosemite -- all these have high cliff walls preventing line-of-site to receiving satellites.

3. They don't work in a forest -- trees block the signal.
They don't work hanging on your belt. I pin mine on my backpack shoulder strap top.


I believe Fishmonger here has said his never worked right -- signals did not get out. I don't know what would cause that, since mine has worked except in the situations described abvoe.


Spot has a "Poor man's tracking": use the Help (not SOS) button. It sends a signal every 4 minutes for 1 hour, but works with a basic subscription. A subscription that supports tracking costs more. If you use the "Help" button like that, tell people receiving it that it does NOT mean call any authorities. I might in use the "help" signal to leave bread-crumb signals when traveling in an off-trail situation.

My buddy has a satellite phone. I may borrow it this summer, if I can stand the extra weight. I'll still carry my SPOT, though.

It is my opinion that every solo hiker should carry a SPOT. The story of Larry Conn illustrates. If he had been using a SPOT, he would have been found within days. Probably not alive, but family would not have been left wondering for months, and the huge expense of time and aircraft used in the futile search -- that alone would justify giving every hiker one to carry.

An odd side story, though: I listened to a SEKI ranger present at a wilderness planning meeting. He expressed to me after the talk that he felt people could not truly experience the wilderness if they carried a SPOT or other communicator unit. IMO, that's a silly attitude, but it was real, nevertheless.

On the other side of that coin, an Inyo staff member related that they were considering giving a SPOT to their backcountry rangers to carry. Randy Morgensen's disappearance may have precipitated that.

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#36509 - 05/15/14 07:12 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Steve C]
Sloper Offline


Registered: 09/20/12
Posts: 5
Loc: California
There is a very in-depth 3 part discussion and review of devices on Backpacking light including some discussion of one way devices like SPOT:
SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking

I am thinking about renting the Yellowbrick to give it a try.

I don't think you need a subscription to get this article.

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/...ml#.U3TG-F6yhFw

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#36510 - 05/15/14 09:15 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Sloper]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Hmmm...Some food for thought.

The National Asscociation for Search and Rescue has this advice...

Be smart about using a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), other Satellite Emergency Notification Device (e.g. SPOT) or cell phone


1.If you answer NO! to "Would I go there without my PLB, SPOT or cell phone?", then don't go.

2.Would you normally do something that might fracture your pelvis, freeze your hands and feet, kill you by heat stroke, suffocate you under snow, drown you or get you lost by days? If your answer is NO!-then don't do it relying on your signaling device.

3. Don't think "It won't happen to me-that happens to someone else." Backcountry and wilderness travelers must know how to: Prepare for, recognize and prevent an emergency.

4. Always use these devices for the unforeseen - not as last resort tool to handle what should be foreseen. It is dangerous and irresponsible to think they "allow" going somewhere or doing shoething your are not prepared or experienced to do.

5. Carrying an electronic signaling device does not make you safe. No distress beacon or cell phone offers you warmth, shelter or first aid. They only make it easier to summon emergency help - after you are injured, lost or worst. And once rescuers have been notified, weather and terrain conditions may prevent or delay from reaching or finding you.

6. When you activate any emergency signaling device, a full-scale emergency response will begin using local, state and/or national emergency agencies. It is appropriate that a true emergency exists.

7. PLB and SPOT are useful devices that save lives. You should think a head about when to use one responsibly.

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#36513 - 05/15/14 09:28 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: nyker]
John Sims Offline


Registered: 04/20/12
Posts: 514
Loc: Sunnyvale, California
HI Rob,

I have a DeLorme InReach (original "brick"), which I purchased in the summer of 2012. I only use if when I'm going "off trail", or to a destination that I feel presents some risk. I first used it when I did the Mountaineer's Route in Sept., 2012.

As you can see it did not correctly place my first message. This is the only message/bread crumb/etc.... that has not been accurately placed.



Another time I used it was to go up Old Army Pass (June, 2013). As you can see, all positions accurately placed.



I picked DeLorme/InReach because of:
- Iridium Satellite system
- Two way text. I can both send and receive text messages (composed "on the spot")
- I can also send predefined text messages. Depending on your plan these can be free.
- "Safety Plan" is ~$11.00/month and does include some free text messages, and low cost for overage. See their web site for more details about different plans offered. They now offer a plan that you can start and stop as you like. Previously they required a minimum of 1 year.
- With SOS you can also send and receive text info to/from SAR.
- Your friends/family can follow your progress on their computers/Phones/Pads/etc... They can also initiate a text message to you (if you allow it). I discourage it. I do not need to hear how great I'm doing smile
- Specify how often bread crumbs are dropped
- Select from road/satellite/topo maps.
- Download maps to your phone for use when out of range of wifi or cell tower.
- etc.....

Let me know if you have any questions.

John

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#36515 - 05/15/14 09:43 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Steve C]
Bob R Offline


Registered: 10/27/09
Posts: 129
Loc: Ridgecrest, California
Originally Posted By: Steve C
An odd side story, though: I listened to a SEKI ranger present at a wilderness planning meeting. He expressed to me after the talk that he felt people could not truly experience the wilderness if they carried a SPOT or other communicator unit. IMO, that's a silly attitude, but it was real, nevertheless.

Years back, on Denali, my party of three declined to take a radio--although the park rangers encouraged it. Now a radio is not a SPOT, but that's all there was at the time. And Denali is not SEKI, but I'll wager that Denali has more objective danger--especially in late April/early May when we were there. However, we're talking about attitude: the tradeoff between risk and wilderness experience.

High on the mountain one of my friends contracted HAPE and frostbite, necessitating the need for rescue (which was successful). In my trip writeup I wrote:

"The decision to not carry a radio turned out OK. We had made this decision with our eyes wide open, acknowledging the risk for the following reasons: (1) weight and cost, of course; (2) inability to make radio contact until we got over to the West Buttress side (although there was the possibility of contacting aircraft flying overhead); (3) and the possibility of using other means of signaling aircraft, such as stamping out a message in the snow. But primarily it was the "intrusion" on the wilderness experience we and most other climbers look for: We felt the somewhat higher risk without a radio was worth the enhanced quality of the climb."

FYI, I do not own a SPOT, and have refused now-and-then offers of a loan. I also do not take a GPS unit or cell phone into the wilderness. But that's me.

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#36516 - 05/15/14 09:44 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: wbtravis]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7131
Loc: Fresno, CA
I agree with everything in the NASAR guidelines, except #1.

Would I go there without my SPOT?

The answer ties into my thinking that nobody should visit remote locations without a SPOT. I feel much more assured heading into places where people almost never go, because I know I can send out a signal in the highly unlikely chance that an emergency occurs. Without the SPOT, I would want to hike with at least one other person, because that person would be the backup messenger. Without the signaling device, chances of ever getting out are slim. With it, it's pretty well assured.

I am looking at a summer hike that it turns out covers an almost never-used trail. If I go alone, the SPOT will be my backup messenger. Without a SPOT, if I did not show up at the exit, finding my remains would be a huge problem.


Edit: John Sims' post above shows the inaccuracies of any gps unit around Whitney Portal, and other canyon with high walls. They can get inaccurate signals or fail to send a message.
John, the DeLorme looks like it might be better than the SPOT.


Edited by Steve C (05/15/14 09:51 AM)

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#36518 - 05/15/14 10:09 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Steve C]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
Steve,

I have my own guidelines for hiking solo. I go to places I know and I do not vary from my prescribe itinerary...even when a neat ridge is calling my name.

As for electronics...I take my phone when I remember to take it. It is put in Airplane mode. I turn it on from time to time...not for a bread crumb trail but to see is there is a signal...most times there is not one.

I take a dedicated GPS on all hikes. It is usually turned off. Not to save battery life but most times I don't see the point of having it on, I've been there and done that. I carry it primarily for others. If I see someone in distress I want to be able to correspond with SAR in a languages they understand...LONG/LAT and UTM. I have been involved in an incident involving SAR. I know how long it takes to get air and ground assets to those in need.

I've researched SPOT and I do not have not found a good reason to have one. Based on what I have seen in social media, they are mostly used as toys. If I can come up with a good reason to buy one, I will. I am more inclined to buy a PLB than a SPOT-like device.

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#36521 - 05/15/14 07:37 PM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: nyker]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 742
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
I still use Spot - the more recent model, which has a better antenna. In some environments, such as deep forest with tall trees, it doesn't always work. Leaving it on, after pressing the send button, for at least 10 minutes, seems to ensure that it has sent the email.

I have no need for a Sat Phone or the new Delorme phone or texting device.

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#36522 - 05/15/14 10:39 PM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Bob West]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
I always like this topic, because it reveals a lot about the persons commenting about it.

My own story? I received a SPOT as a present, but because I usually hiked in heavily wooded areas, the thing kept giving off bad readins, thus, scaring the people who were trying to 'monitor" me. In a fit of frustration, I threw the thing across the room and it landed -- by luck -- in the garbage. I totally forgot about doing this, thus, I did not take the battery out....several months later, a bunch of distress signals were sent out to my designated 'watchers', and I got a bunch of calls from alarmed friends.

Uh, I guess that was the day the spot was being crushed at the landfill. ooops.

My own take on the issue is that I have had extensive 'survival' training thanks to military commandos in my life, so needless to say "ultralight" is a bad word in the household (always be prepared for the worst, and you will usually be pleasantly surprised, otherwise)
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#36525 - 05/16/14 07:18 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Bee]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 742
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
Obviously, the Spot is not a "fail-safe" device. As you say, preparedness is essential to wilderness survival. I hiked for 40 years without one.

I usually send my wife a Spot message at my turn-around point on a day hike or when I reach my campsite for the night...then she doesn't think I've run off to Las Vegas...LOL.

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#36526 - 05/16/14 07:54 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Bob West]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1063
Loc: NorCal
I chose the lightest PLB I could find for my family's peace of mind as well as my own when I hike solo. The additional gadetry of tracking and texting is interesting, but not compelling to me. But I may upgrade when my PLB battery expires.

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#36533 - 05/16/14 06:16 PM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Steve C]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
Originally Posted By: Steve C
The story of Larry Conn illustrates. If he had been using a SPOT, he would have been found within days. Probably not alive, but family would not have been left wondering for months, and the huge expense of time and aircraft used in the futile search -- that alone would justify giving every hiker one to carry.
may have precipitated that.



Not

The reason that Larry was not found is that they did know precisely where to look for him in the first place. The same with the teacher lost in the Mammoth area,the guy who had to cut off his arm, etc,etc. The component missing here is not the constant contact that one gets from SPOT, rather it is in poor planning. Period. I fill out an exact 'Pre-flight' plan before I hike/backpack, along with two exit times (to expect contact) and an emergency overdue time limit. I would even go out on a limb and say that the rangers did not know exactly where to look for Randy Morgenson, either.

I do not judge anyone who wishes to carry a SPOT for numerous good reasons, but I DO object to judgement placed on those who do not carry the device (using faulty logic)
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#36534 - 05/16/14 06:18 PM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: SierraNevada]
NYHiker Offline


Registered: 04/30/11
Posts: 11
Loc: NY
I hike solo a great deal and I own a PLB in case of emergencies. Have never had to use it but provides piece of mind to me and my family. No desire for the added bells and whistles associated with SPOT. My opinion only.

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#36535 - 05/16/14 08:03 PM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: NYHiker]
nyker Online


Registered: 07/26/12
Posts: 186
Loc: New York
Thanks for the thoughtful responses everyone. Seems there is no perfect solution at this point.

Bill, good points you have there. The idea of a false comfort in what appears to be sort of a quasi-moral hazard of sorts it is interesting and probably true to some extent.

I can totally understand the point of "true wilderness" - one reason I don't carry a GPS, but just a map/compass.

John, interesting mapping points - is that the proprietary software that comes with the unit or a web based application that links to it? Did you figure out why it didn't place you correctly that time?

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#36536 - 05/16/14 09:07 PM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: nyker]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7131
Loc: Fresno, CA
Bee, I'm sticking with my opinion here, that if Larry Conn had used a SPOT or similar on his last day hiking, even two tracking points would have shown that he was coming out heading to the trail head. A tracking point in his last 12 hours of hiking would have been a huge clue. He posted regularly on the HST forum, and talked about never following a planned itinerary. So a signal would have helped. You give specific itineraries and exit times. Others always hike with one or more friends. Everyone has their methods. It is the lone hiker with a variable itinerary who is really difficult to track down.

nyker, as I pointed out above, signals can be way off when you're down in a canyon area like Whitney Portal. SPOTs do the same thing there -- that is if they can even transmit a signal.

As for that "true wilderness" experience, THAT is a personal judgement call. I kind of adopt whatever high-tech device I can get my hands on to help me get where I want. One could be a purist like John Muir: No map, no bedding, only a bag of biscuits. Though he probably wore boots, while the Indians might have worn moccasins ...or even traveled barefoot.

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#36539 - 05/16/14 09:34 PM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Steve C]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
Originally Posted By: Steve C
So a signal would have helped. You give specific itineraries and exit times. Others always hike with one or more friends. Everyone has their methods. It is the lone hiker with a variable itinerary who is really difficult to track down.


A signal would have helped. An itinerary would have helped. Stopping sooner would have helped.

He chose not to pin a Spot to his pack, knowingly. Perhaps if he would have been inclined to a lot of choices, the outcome would have been different. I just contend that even something simpler than a SPOT would have changed things.

You can keep your opinion, pin on your SPOT, but do not be misled into thinking that everyone will be saved by the button.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#36562 - 05/18/14 08:20 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Bee]
wbtravis Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1239
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
I'm a big hike your hike guy. If you want a true wilderness experience...whatever that is, go for it. I have "true wilderness" experiences all the time on trail that have hundreds of people on them during a weekend day, just by leaving early or late and returns via ridges and drainages. Wilderness is what you make it.

I'm a big don't count on technology to make up for a lack of skill guy. A SPOT is not going to save your ass, if you are in John Muir Wilderness and that device says you are in the Alabama Hills...this did happen a few years ago. However, knowing how to read a map will and use a compass with that map will.

Have a good map...not something masquerading as a map like many short cutter use to save a few pennies, compass, altimeter and most importantly skills. Before you go out to a place you have not been study the map so you know what to expect. The first time I did Mt. Whitney there were no surprises because I knew what to expect and when...just by studying the map.


Edited by wbtravis (05/18/14 08:20 AM)

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#36563 - 05/18/14 08:33 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: Bee]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1063
Loc: NorCal
Originally Posted By: Bee
...but do not be misled into thinking that everyone will be saved by the button.

In the case of Larry Conn, GPS tracking of any kind mostly likely would've saved a lot of searching effort by others, if not himself. To your point Bee, there's now a pre-hike form in his name to encourage better planning.

It might seem low-tech, but there's a lot of technology that goes into making and printing a modern shaded contour trail map. Is that too much tech for wilderness purists? Should we rely on moss and shadows entirely? Is an altimeter okay? I don't see the point in trying to escape useful technology. How it's used is what really matters, IMHO. Satellite tracking is not the same as playing a video game on your phone while hiking over a breathtaking pass.

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#36565 - 05/18/14 11:06 AM Re: PLB / SPOT / Delorme / Sat Phone [Re: SierraNevada]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
It is a very nice format, the new hiking planner. I need to download a copy and make a copy supply.

Do we have the itinerary somewhere on the board?

Interesting survey: I started asking some of my friends who "wander" (those who do not like to make a pre-flight hike plan) about how far do they wander off of a set entrance and exit. Almost all of the answers were "we see a peak,gully,formation in the near vacinity and want to explore". I asked about how far away from 'the intended path' most of these variations were, and by and large, most of them were no further than a mile or two at the very most.

I still concluded that an intended entrance/exit plan would still put searchers within a mile of where most 'wanderers' would be found.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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