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SPOT personal tracker
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Ryan Faulkner
(ryanf) - F

Locale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
SPOT personal tracker on 12/15/2007 10:24:25 MST Print View

how does the SPOT satelite personal tracker compare to teh more expensive/heavier PLBs from Mcmurdo, and ACR?

Edited by ryanf on 12/15/2007 10:25:00 MST.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: SPOT personal tracker on 12/15/2007 12:21:28 MST Print View

Hi Ryan,

We're testing the SPOT right now (a two-hemisphere effort) and will be reporting on it in depth after passing them around among several testers. Among the questions yet to be answered is how well they communicate from challenging locations.

The main unique SPOT feature--the ability to check in and give your location w/o an emergency--certainly sets it apart from PLBs, as does the subscription fee.

I imagine we'll be seeing reports from forum members in the meantime.

Joe Kuster
(slacklinejoe) - MLife

Locale: Flatirons
SPOT on 12/15/2007 19:50:07 MST Print View

I just recieved mine and will be testing it out this week.

Thus far I can only comment on the formfactor, their internet activation process/online features and customer service. The SPOT itself is a little heavy compared to my gecko 301 but really it's just average weight compared to most other backpacking GPS units. Their activation process is smooth, just don't spend more than 20 minutes on a page or it will reset the process. The system to control the messages sent and the recipients (both email or text messages) for OK and HELP is slick and easy to use. The turn around time for orders are super fast.

It will of course have the same limitations of any electronic device used in the back country. From experience using GPS and UV water filters experience dictates to keep your batteries warm in the winter or it may not work long even with lithiums. Before trips check your batteries (get a battery tester or multimeter). Lithiums may last longer on the shelf and many adverse conditions but they aren't magic.

I've seen massive raves (positive and negative) about this device without any real experience behind it. Many of these were filed as "reviews" and they seem to only be critiquing the concept, company's sat phones (totally seperate function of their sats) and the lack of use in areas that lack clear sky view.

I'm sure it'll play out to what you need it for. It isn't for everyone and I doubt it will ever replace the PLB market.

The big "however" is if you are like me and the "OK" button means more peace of mind for your family and friends (which directly translates into more trips / year) the 7oz may be the best investment you can get to spend more time outdoors. I know that my wife and parents certainly like the idea of the check ins for any of my solo trips, to me their support of my trips is important so I see it as a burden I'll carry for them and hopefully never actually need for myself.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: SPOT on 12/16/2007 02:11:24 MST Print View

Hi Joseph

> The big "however" is if you are like me and the "OK" button means more peace of mind for your family and friends
However, if the thing does not work very well, it may cause even worse panic when expected transmissions don't get through.
Don't raise false hopes over this unit.


John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: SPOT on 12/16/2007 03:57:42 MST Print View

Im with Roger. If daily OK transmissions don't get through for whatever reasons, will the cavalry be called out more by loved ones? Time will tell on reliability.

Richard Peters
re Spot on 12/16/2007 10:30:19 MST Print View

Take a look at this site regarding the reliability of the transmissions.

Joe Kuster
(slacklinejoe) - MLife

Locale: Flatirons
Spot Reliability on 12/16/2007 12:56:58 MST Print View

Well, I tried the same test as the review mentioned above. Everything seemed to work in order even up in the trees and canyons. I'd say the OK feature and help feature pretty much work as advertised for my particular needs. Help fired off every 5 minutes just as it should have with no dropped messages. I'd need spot tracking (an extra $50) to really test it out the OKs for hard tracking and overall reliability.

I do have one suggestion though, for someone who is checking in periodically or knows they will be signalling back soon, you might as well turn on the device and leave it on to prevent waiting to lock a signal, assuming you can keep the buttons from being pushed. It doesn't take much to prevent it though as it seems it takes just the right amount of umph to hold in the buttons to make it unlikely unless it is carelessly in your pack.

I still don't think I'll ever trust it's belt clip in the field. I've lost too many knives that way and they are far less likely to catch. Thankfully though the belt clip easily unscrews saving you the tiny bit of extra weight and bulk.

I think I'm going to build a plastic hard "flip" cover (cutting up a bleach jug and some using some duct tape) to cover the buttons just in case. I really don't want to trouble a SAR group with an accidental send.

One other thing I think is worth discuessing is the worldwide rescue insurance SPOT offers. In the US you are pretty much promissed a quality degree of effort to find you and haul you out without incurring all of the search costs (usually none).

In other parts of the world that may not be the case and SPOT offers insurance up to $100,000 to go to searchers, rescue and extraction (including helicopter) wherever you are. It's only a few bucks more when you register the spot but supposably the same coverage is 150 / yr otherwise. Being as this was a gift from my family they went ahead and purchased the insurance.

Here in the states I'm not sure it would be very necessary but when my wife is heading to Greece this summer it would offer additional help in a serious emergency. Thoughts?

Edited by slacklinejoe on 12/16/2007 13:06:52 MST.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
GEOS Search & Rescue Benefit for $7.95/yr on 12/17/2007 17:59:03 MST Print View

The terms are so open to interpretation that coverage could be denied for almost any incident:
PLEASE NOTE This benefit does not apply if:-
a) your situation is caused by circumstances such as a forecast change of weather conditions, which could reasonably have been anticipated at the date you started your trip
b) you have NOT made adequate provision of resources or training or competence needed to complete your planned trip.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: GEOS Search & Rescue Benefit for $7.95/yr on 12/17/2007 18:08:22 MST Print View

I read it as they don't pay for stupid or gross incompetence.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Interpretation on 12/18/2007 09:52:40 MST Print View

You may read it that way, but they could read it far differently.

For example, any incident caused by an avalanche could be excluded on account of lack of competence to perform snow stability assessment.
The widely publicized incident on Mt Hood last year could be excluded on account of the weather forecasts at the time.

So it is entirely unknown whether that clause is there to get them off the hook for incidents caused by gross incompetence, or just to deny any claims they feel like denying (which that clause would allow them to do).

Anyway, the Spot is available for only $123 delivered by clicking through here:
(Yeah, I know, nice url, huh?)

Edited by jshefftz1 on 12/18/2007 09:54:26 MST.

Barry Foster
(bazzer) - F

Locale: Redding
Spot is ok on 12/20/2007 10:17:27 MST Print View

I have had my spot for 24 hrs. First of all the Help and Ok functions work well. I have not tried the 911 function for obvious reasons. But the tracking function is a waste of time. It has not worked for three tries this morning and when I did get it to work yesterday evening I discovered that you can only track by logging on to your Spot account. Others cann't track your progress unless you give them your log on info. Obvously something that you probally don't want to do.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Let us HOPE... on 12/21/2007 11:56:50 MST Print View

Let us HOPE SPOT's lower pricing forces ARC into lowering the price for its PLRB and giving us the extra features the SPOT PLRB has.

Competition like this is great for the outdoor community.
One thing gadgets like this do is permit those of us who like to travel the backcountry solo to do it in "relative" safety, knowing much faster rescue would be possible. Plus it helps PLRB users to help others who are in trouble in the backcountry.

This summer while backpacking the Toulmne River in Yosemite I saw an older backpacker airlifted out because, LUCKILY, a backpacker coming down the trail had a satellite phone to call for help for the collapsed hiker. The SPOT PLRB would be useful for this as well.


Edited by Danepacker on 12/21/2007 12:01:30 MST.

Barry Foster
(bazzer) - F

Locale: Redding
Tracking working at last on 12/21/2007 12:37:59 MST Print View

After 48hrs I finally got the tracking mode to work, i suspect that the problem was with the Spot Software server. I did call customer service and they did tell me that they were upgrading the tracking software in the first quarter of 2008. But the major limitation is that in order to get to the tracking page on-line you need to have the users password and log-on name. There is no auto refresh either, so tracking has limited use at the moment.
Both the "ok" and the "help" function work well and make the unit well worth the cost. I has a satellite phone and it was not all that reliable and only had a very limited GPS function. The GPS on the Spot seems to be very accurate.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Spot impressions so far on 12/27/2007 09:39:19 MST Print View

My impressions so far:

Definitely have to read -- and remember -- the user manual carefully to understand exactly what the various status lights indicate. Basic operation though is pretty obvious: press the on button and then press whichever of the other three buttons you need.

The belt clip does not inspire great confidence, but it can be backed up using a lanyard (which is *not* included) to girth hitch the Spot (which *does* include a lanyard attachment point) to something/somewhere else. Alternatively, the belt clip can be removed entirely quite easily. (The same style of attachment/removal screws are used for the battery compartment -- quick & easy to remove, yet very secure when attached..)

I called customer service at a little past 8pm eastern time on Christmas Day and immediately received a very helpful & friendly agent. My inquiries and responses were:

-- "The online account seems to provide for setting up more than one messaging/notification profile (i.e., so instead of having to edit all the info, can just switch back & forth between different profiles), but how do I add profiles in addition to the default profile?" "This seems to be a placeholder for a feature to be added in the future."

-- "Are regular alkaline batteries ok to use for testing purposes (i.e., to save those pricey lithium batteries, one set of which are included)? (The manual and unit have warnings about how they can cause damage.)" "Yes, sure, okay for testing purposes, although won't last as long for real field use."

Some screen captures from initial experience follow below.

Online account setup screen for messages and recipients:

Gmail inbox (note that sender name and subject header can't be modified, and both have a somewhat spamish aura):

Message from Okay signal activation:

Screen capture of what happens when an email recipient clicks on the provided link (can be zoomed and moved around like usual in Google maps):[/IMG]

Messages from three separate Help activations -- the first two were sent outside, then the third was sent from inside a house with only relatively limited windows (GPS coordinates still went through, but no info on nearest town -- can't figure out if this is some weird coincidence?):

Messages from two separate Help cancellations -- note that these messages never seem to include coordinates (which I suppose serves to emphasize that the sender does *not* need anyone to come out to the sender's location):

Online account message history:

Online account map view (with all messages selected -- can include just some subset):

Edited by jshefftz1 on 12/27/2007 09:40:36 MST.

Christopher Plesko
(Pivvay) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Spot impressions so far on 12/27/2007 11:08:39 MST Print View

Thanks for the info. I got one for Xmas but it's not activated yet. It will be soon to test out though and I'll add here.

Joe Kuster
(slacklinejoe) - MLife

Locale: Flatirons
More spot testing on 01/03/2008 22:34:44 MST Print View

I got a decent chance to test the spot some more over the holidays while driving in very snow clogged backroads since some major highways were closed. Even inside the vehicle (usually on the dash but not always) it never failed to send an accurate signal with our position. Even though we had no cell signal and my GPS navigation system was having issues with the storm and trees the spot kept it's lock. I pulled over to check on at least 20 different cars stuck in the backroads. Some already had help on the way but for some I had to drive quite a ways to get a signal to call tow trucks for them.

Thankfully I had hot coco and hand warmers to hand out, but there wasn't much of a way of pulling most of them out even if I'd had chains. Given the near white out conditions and temps around 5F I can see how it could be a life saver. Suffice to say, so far I'm pleased with the signal recieved by the spot. Of course I'm eager to hear how things unfold when someone actually has to hit that 911 button.