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SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker - Full Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker - Full Review on 05/27/2008 23:52:18 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker - Full Review

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
Globalstar on 05/28/2008 01:38:18 MDT Print View

I (and many others at my University and some I know in other organisations) have had considerable issues with reception all around the state of South Australia, with Globalstar satellite phones. This occurs in all sorts of conditions and regions-including in dead flat open desert country with stationary vehicle car kits (which have improved aerials and thus reception).

I wouldn't be surprised if its mostly the Globalstar network that is the issue with the SPOT.

I was thinking of getting one, despite the previously reported reception difficulties....I thought it would just be an "open air" GPS issue, which normally doesn't matter for me at all...but if the system is dependent on Globalstar I won't.

Of course, SPOT uses the data channel of globalstar, which may be more reliable.

However, I think I'll save up and get a new PLB. I usually carry a satellite phone and UHF radios in remote locations anyway (work requirement)...they can send the OK and Help messages alot better and with actual useful information (as suggested is handy for SAR by Ron Johnson-totally agree).

John Haley
(Quoddy) - F

Locale: New York/Vermont Border
Re: SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker on 05/28/2008 06:16:31 MDT Print View

Having begun the very first thread on this topic, and having been very dissapointed in the SPOT system as a whole, I'm glad to see confirmation in most of my areas of concern. Having paid the activation money for full use, I've continued to use the unit on occasions... mainly as a testing platform.

I have continued to get very sporadic results in tracking based upon my ability to keep it in a virtually clear sky situation and having it positioned on top of my pack as perfectly as possible. I would carry it all of the time if it worked perfectly, but having a half pound brick along which doesn't always work has deterred me.

Because of the SPOT's reliability issued I am concerned about it's ability to deliver the goods if I ever have a real emergency.

Kristen Greenaway

Locale: North Carolina
SPOT and kayaking on 05/28/2008 08:06:37 MDT Print View

An excellent review of SPOT.

I've had my unit since they were first released and have enjoyed using it, but that's only been for kayaking, where, as noted, you do usually have an unrestricted view of the sky. Thus any comments here reflect that usage.

One good test was during this year's Everglades Challenge, a 300+ mile kayak race from Tampa Bay to Key Largo ( This was an overnighted replacement unit as my original one malfunctioned. One trick I learned is that you can't have tracking on and try and send an OK message - tracking must first be turned off. So for that, and having to let my base know where I was every 24 hours, the OK function was excellent. The unit even let my partner know I was coming in a day earlier than expected (no possible cell phone coverage).

All this being said, I also carry a PLB. For safety purposes, I do believe SPOT can be a useful addition to one's repertoire - and there are stories to back this up (eg. Canadian sea kayaker off Tasmania earlier this year), but for the fun aspect of being able to have friends and family know where you are, that you're "OK" and that they can track you, SPOT is a heap of fun.

Charles Ruefenacht
(cwruefenacht) - F
SPOT on 05/28/2008 09:53:42 MDT Print View

I enjoyed the review of the SPOT and real world use reports. To the reviewers, after all is said and done, if you're going out into the boonies, would you take it (SPOT). Granted, you wish that it didn't have the bugs that it does, but does it work well enough for the added peace of mind?


Barry Foster
(bazzer) - F

Locale: Redding
Spot not ready yet! on 05/28/2008 10:45:13 MDT Print View

I have had a Spot since last November and my results agree with the review. I have tried the tracking twice whilst skiing at the Mount Shasta Ski park and in two perfectly clear days I did not get a single track point on Google. Other times I have only had limited success with it.
Would I purchase again? No I would fork out the extra for a PLB.


George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker - Full Review on 05/28/2008 10:57:03 MDT Print View

Well done! Thanks for the comprehensive review. You helped make my personal decision about getting the tracker: not at this time. Paying $150 for the device and $150 per year for the activation with tracking for only maybe-it-will-work performance is inadequate in my opinion. (Not to mention - not light enough.)

The concept as described in the review is fantastic, but the integration of the technologies appears stuck on the bleeding edge. Wondering if the 2nd generation constellation deployment in 2009 will possibly improve its reliability?

Mike Seibert
(Biscuit) - F

Locale: Stuck in L.A.
SPOT Coverage on 05/28/2008 11:04:20 MDT Print View

Unless Globalstar has set their spacecraft to only support spot when over land masses (which I highly doubt), SPOT units should be able to have a spacecraft in view anywhere between ~57deg North or South. (The Globalstar constellation is in an ~52deg inclination orbit at 1350km altitude.) I think the coverage maps are just there because the SPOT emergency center cannot dispatch SAR resources to the middle of the ocean or southern Afica.

James Loy
(jimbluz) - M

Locale: Pacific NW
SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker Review on 05/28/2008 11:35:07 MDT Print View

BPL, thanks for the excellent review. This kind of reporting is what really makes my membership worth the cost. I'd considered purchasing one of these units as I usually travel solo, but thanks to the review and the cumulative 5-year cost, I think a PLB might be a better choice, at least until technology improves.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
THANK YOU on 05/28/2008 12:03:25 MDT Print View

An excellent, in depth and very technical review. This review is likely the best review to date on the SPOT beacon.

Particularly important are the recommendations for improvement. I hope the company takes these recommendations to heart. Who knows, maybe even Globalstar can remotely upgrade its satellite firmware for better data linkage/reception.

Being an early purchaser and thus "test monkey" for the Garmin Colorado 300 GPS I'll wait a year or two until the SPOT beacon is improved so I don't carry yet another partially functioning device.

Wouldn't it be great if Garmin could merge the SPOT beacon with the Colorado GPS - IF both had the bugs worked out?
Seems a distinct technical possibility, if not
"politically" possible.


Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Here Spot! on 05/28/2008 12:30:04 MDT Print View

I too have chimed in about the SPOT in the past several months, especially since I received one from my wife for Christmas 2007. To say that my wife is less than pleased with her purchase would be a HUGE understatement. I solo and she knows I am not a risk taker when I hike, but she still worries about my safety, as one should when in the boonies.

SPOT appeared to be the answer, but in practice one does not ever have the required "perfect view of the entire sky". If one did I am sure it would be the most boring hike one might ever take. No, real world conditions, as commented on in the review, make every hike a unique experience with shade, canyon walls, tree cover, rock outcropppings, etc. And as such SPOT really does not deliver the one thing that it must to be a piece of safety equipement - reliability and consistency. I have used it on several hikes, mostly in the San Gabriel Mountains that ring LA. My success rate has been on the order of the 17% that the testers indicate as the lowest performance rate for the SPOT. On my last hike, a simple overnight along side a creek that covered about 16 miles there and back, I attempted both simple OK messages and initiated the traking feature as well. Over the entire period of 20 hours that I was out, only the initial OK message sent from the trailhead open parking lot got through to my wife. Later, I attempted an OK from another open parking lot with a 110 degree open sky which did not get delivered. In all only one message got through out of a total of 5 OKs and none of the traking message were sent.

I can understand that BPL probably had to consider legal issues in doing this review and I respect that your had to couch your review in terms that would leave the decision to us potential buyers/users, but you still did a very respectable job of clearly and subtly indicating that in sum the SPOT is a poor, probably a very poor, piece of safety equipement with next to zero reliability due to the many components in train to deliver both OK, HELP and 911 messages. That it uses old technology which cannot be upgraded is a further indictment of its utility in emergency situations.

Maybe someday SPOT will be what it proports to be -- a piece of utterly reliable safety equipement that a backpacker would not dream of leaving home without. Until then it is about as useful as my AMEX card in the back of beyond.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Here Spot! on 05/28/2008 13:09:46 MDT Print View

Hi Mitchell,

I don't have anything to add, either to your SPOT comments or the review, only to echo the notion that the concept is a worthy one that hopefully either they or somebody else eventually executes to perfection.

I do, however, want to respond to your AMEX comment. Many moons ago a buddy and I left Tuolumne Meadows for eight days in the Yosemite backcountry. Half a day in I discovered that I had--brilliantly--left the maps on my kitchen table. Well, our route took us past Vogelsang High Sierra Camp where my buddy, armed only with his AMEX card and to my amazement, bought us a map and a couple of Hershey bars.

Trip saved. We coulda shot a commercial right then and there.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: SPOT Coverage on 05/28/2008 13:11:21 MDT Print View

You are correct. The Globalstar Satellite needs to have a Ground Station (gateway) in view in order to re-transmit the message received from the SPOT, thus the lack of over water coverage.

mark o'keefe
(montana666666) - F

Locale: Montana
Well done reviewers... on 05/28/2008 13:19:53 MDT Print View

... but too late to save me the cost of a unit and activation.
I'm delighted with the quality of your research and reporting on the SPOT. I too have had experience with the unit, most recently on an 8 day Grand Canyon crosscountry route, and like others had a roughly 60% success rate on all OK messages. Better than nothing I guess but not what I believed would be delivered by the unit.
I'd also like to comment on the web site, activation process and customer service. Unlike the reviewers I found the problems in these areas to be ridiculous. From start to finish it took me 68 hours, 7 phone calls, 4 emails and an overall blood pressure increase of 30 points (on both readings) to activate my unit. Not only that but my original order of the unit via google was with what turned out to be an unauthorized dealer who took my money and didn't bother to ship the unit. Told all of my problems would be looked into and the appropriate changes made by top sales personnel in the Canadian office well over a month ago and I'm still waiting for the promised follow up.
My advice, save your money. Me, I'm thinking of emailing "Survivor Man" about the dangers of delving into the dangerous world of start up high tech companies.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: SPOT on 05/28/2008 13:27:20 MDT Print View

Good question Charles!

As Mitchell wrote:

>"I can understand that BPL probably had to consider legal issues in doing this review and I respect that you had to couch your review in terms that would leave the decision to us potential buyers/users..."

This pretty much sums it up. If you read posts below your own you’ll see some additional reader assessments/experience with the SPOT in the field.

A previous post had a positive assessment of its use for sea kayaking. But note that she carries a PLB as well.

I also would probably take the SPOT on an expedition sea kayaking trip. But knowing its performance, I would adjust my use of it and my expectations accordingly.


Christopher Plesko
(Pivvay) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
SPOT in real life on 05/28/2008 13:39:42 MDT Print View

I have a SPOT and so far continue to use it and carry it along. Perhaps my expectations are lower than most but I'm happy with it. I feel that it has been better than a cell phone (which rarely works where I go) and even if only 50% of the messages get through, that's enough for me. Mostly I know a couple messages sent will keep my family assured that I'm okay but they also know that no messages does not indicate a problem. I also know that in an true real life emergency, the 7oz SPOT might help me out if I've exhausted every option to help myself out. That's about all I can expect from it right now but it seems worthwhile anyway. I will be taking it along for 2700+ solo miles in a couple weeks (on my mountain bike) and that will be an interesting exercise. At the very least, one "okay" message getting through per day makes my wife feel better.


Kristen Greenaway

Locale: North Carolina
SPOT and 2009 Yukon 1000 on 05/28/2008 14:15:10 MDT Print View

Just for interest, I plan to enter next year's inaugural Yukon 1000 Canoe & Kayak Race ( Carrying a SPOT is mandatory and the only way race organizers believe they'll be able to monitor progress and rule adherence - eg. you're only allowed to paddle for 18 hours a day - so you have to send off an OK message at the end of the day, and another the next morning to prove that you've stopped for the mandatory six night hours.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Re: Re: Here Spot! on 05/28/2008 17:15:05 MDT Print View

Well I stand corrected -- but only about the AMEX card! It indeed may have greater utility than the SPOT -- and it is much lighter!

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Here Spot! on 05/28/2008 18:54:15 MDT Print View

Spot was a mainstream backpacking magazine's

Editors' Choice 2008


John Haley
(Quoddy) - F

Locale: New York/Vermont Border
Re: Re: Re: Re: Here Spot! on 05/28/2008 20:44:38 MDT Print View

What would you expect from Backpacking Magazine? They're so far off the mark on almost all aspects of gear and hiking it's almost laughable.