Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT
Display Avatars Sort By:
Acronym Esq
( - F

Locale: TX
Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 11/15/2010 14:20:51 MST Print View

My troop is debating getting some back country communication gear for when the cell phones don't work (2-5 trips a year). We need to be able to send better messages than just "help" back to "base camp." Cost is also an issue. Anyone have any thoughts on a satellite phone v. spot?

acronym 11/15/2010 3:20 PM

Edited by on 11/15/2010 14:21:42 MST.

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 11/15/2010 15:23:01 MST Print View

If the budget allows, I think a sat phone for a large troop would be a reasonable investment. My dad carries a Spot and he'll update the recipients based on who is going with him on a trip. Often these are neighbors, work buddies, or friends from church and typically do not have as much backcountry experience. While their wife's like to get the "I'm OK" message a few times a day (or every half hour!), you really have to drive home the point that no message is also an "ok" message. Sometimes the Spot just cant get the signal to send out the okay's and that it's not a time to fret.

I would imagine that a lot of the scouters parents would get used to an OK message and then freak out calling the Sheriff when they didn't get one.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
phone on 11/15/2010 15:43:44 MST Print View

allows for 2 way communication ... if cost is an issue run a collection drive ... time to sell more cookies !!!

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
Communication during a Boy Scout outing on 11/15/2010 17:10:31 MST Print View

Thank you for volunteering your time to take scouts on back country trips. I appreciate your huge commitment and the responsibility that comes with it.

Let me first share with you what gear we use on our troop outings and then I will provide some more comments.

1) Garmin Rino

Our troop uses combinations of handheld radio and GPS for most outings. We have 5 of them (1 for each of our 3 patrols and 2 for adult leaders). We use them for the following things
a. Navigation (we purchased the 24k maps for the devices)
b. Geocaching along the way
c. Communication between the patrols and the adults about anything that goes on. The 5 W radios are good enough for our purposes because the patrols don't separate that much.
d. The location of each unit is visible on the GPS screen. So we adults know at all times where the patrols are.
e. Occasional - communication with pick-up at the other end. Some of our hikes are one-way and the pick-up party can talk to us on the radio and even see our progress on their GPS if they also have a Rino

2) Spot Messenger

We take a SPOT along on our trips. We have a subscription for Track Progress and send an update for our position every 10 minutes. It gives parents the opportunity to see how the hike is progressing and when to expect their scouts back home. We use the OK message to let everyone know that we are safely in camp and will turn of the SPOT for the night. We pre-programmed the Custom message to indicate a change of plans - letting everyone know that everything is alright, but we will be back at a fundamentally different time than originally planned, so everyone starts to watch our Track progress and knows when to expect us back. Help is pre-programmed to get pre-assigned people out there.

So here are my comments.

1) The Garmin Rinos have allowed us to give the Scouts more autonomy. We can have them on a "long leash" where we know at all times where they are and they can talk to us when they feel they need something. The battery packs are good for around 24 hours. So we can easily take them on a weekend trip without the need to re-charge them.
They are expensive and we are lucky that three parents who got them for their own purposes (for example father/son going hunting) loan them to our troop for outings.

2) The Spot has a place in keeping the parents informed about progress - even on day hikes, but certainly on multi-day outings. We have made the experience that not all messages really make it through, even when the device indicates with a green light that the message has been sent. That has never caused an issue for us. Parents just thought we turned the Spot off in camp without sending the OK message or there were several messages missing from the track progess. I had never to rely on it in a real emergency situation, where I press SOS and hope that the message was received and the helicopter comes flying.
The AAA batteries are good for a week long trip (including the second weekend). Like the Rinos this is not Troop gear but is loaned to the troop by a parent who takes his children on longer outings and got it from his wife for Christmas.

3) We don't have a satellite phone in our troop. Depending on the type and location of outings you are planning, your ability to self evacuate and the nearest available help it might be a good investment. I believe that two-way communication is the best in emergency situations.
I personally would not turn it on during a trip and I would not be reachable for others, but I would know that I can turn it on and communicate with emergency services if I absolutely have to. With the Spot my location is transmitted and the emergency services know someone is in trouble and where, but they don't know what the problem is and what to bring. I also have no feedback and don't know how long it will be until help arrives. So a satellite phone has obvious advantages in true emergency situations.

Enjoy your outings!

Justin McMinn
(akajut) - F

Locale: Central Oklahoma
Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 11/16/2010 09:48:28 MST Print View

The Delorme with Spot is worth considering.

Phil Barton
(flyfast) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma
Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 11/16/2010 10:38:45 MST Print View

acronym, another option for occasional use is to rent a sat phone. We did that for a Scout outing this year in Montana. The rates are not all that bad.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 11/16/2010 11:23:33 MST Print View

The AT&T Terrestar Genus is a cell/satellite hybrid smartphone. I don't know if it's still targeted at business/orgination use, rather than individual use...

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 11/16/2010 11:51:05 MST Print View

We have had both a Satellite phone and SPOT. Our experience has been that the SPOT is more reliable than the Satellite phone. I'd say something about duplex here, but I know that I won't get it exactly right and that will lead to a complex posting about the differences between the two, so let's not go there.

SPOT doesn't work 100% of the time, but is what I consider to be reliable enough for it to be worth the expense and the weight. SPOT doesn't work well in canyons or, here in southeast Alaska, from north facing coves and inlets. It will work in those places if you gain some elevation.

I gave my satellite phone to Ground Truth Trekking's Erin and Hig earlier this year because they were doing wilderness treks with their 18 month old son and wanted a way to communicate two-way with air taxi services. Their experience on a month-long walk along Alaska's northwest coast was positive with the satellite phone; they even tweeted along the way.

I would recommend the SPOT if your purpose is to inform people of your location and connect if you need help. It is important to have protocols established with the people you have on your help list. Our core group of hikers/paddlers know what it means if we were to send a help message (though we have never had to send one)once and twice in a 12 hour period. We know how they will respond, they know what we will do until that response is in place.

Edited by Umnak on 11/16/2010 11:52:42 MST.

Acronym Esq
( - F

Locale: TX
Re: Re: Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 11/16/2010 23:11:05 MST Print View

> It is important to have protocols established with the people you have on your help list.

Would you be willing to share your protocol? PM me if the public forum isn't appropriate.

My understanding of the new SPOT is that it can send a couple pre-programmed text messages. Is this correct? How do you program the messages? Does the message include GPS coordinates? Any other comments on this functionality would be appreciated.

Are there any negatives I need to investigate relating to a sat. phone? Weight? Battery life? Reliability? Water resistance?

Thanks for all the comments so far.
acronym 11/17/2010 12:08 AM

Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
SPOT on 12/05/2010 19:25:53 MST Print View

Look under recent Articles here. There is a review of SPOT and a thread.

Edited by rambler on 12/05/2010 19:27:17 MST.

Steven Scates MD
(scatesmd) - MLife
Phone on 04/18/2011 18:19:40 MDT Print View

I recently went hiking with our scout troop in a national park. We split into two groups, one for the new, young scouts and one for the senior scouts.

The senior group decided to change plans midstream and bushwhack, during which time they got completely lost to the point they unknowingly left the park. They did not arrive at all at camp where we were meeting for the night.

We found rangers who were at the point of starting a search. Cell Phones did not work in the park at all. A SPOT would have allowed a signal to the outside world, but not to the other scouts.

I will carry a sat phone on the next trip in case there is another lapse in judgment!

As it turned out, there were no major injuries, but we had no way to know until they finally came in.

Thanks, steve

Carl Zimmerman
(CarlZ993) - MLife
Spot or Sat phone? on 04/21/2011 20:48:12 MDT Print View

Couple of years ago, our troop/crew did a canoe trip at Northern Tier (Atikoken). The guide had a sat phone in case of dire emergencies. I carried a SPOT to mark our locations (mainly camp locations) and as a back-up in case something happened to the phone. One of our adult leaders had a prior heart attack several years prior. Having the 'OK' messages every night help calm his wife back home. I carried the 1st generation SPOT. You could accidentally send off help or 911 signals. As a result of an incident where this happened on another canoe trip, I had to carry the SPOT with the batteries out of the device. I doubt that would apply to the newer version of the SPOT as the help and SOS (not every country uses 911, some use 111) has a protective covering to prevent accidental activations.

Note: I used the new version SPOT in NZ where I had to activate the SOS signal (came upon a bad motorcycle collision in a remote section of highway). Worked great, got help there in about 45 minutes, but it scared some folks back home for a while. The SPOT operator questioned the two people on our emergency list about our descriptions, medical conditions, etc. They were impressed with their professionalism. The daughter of the couple we were traveling with told her parents that they needed to get a SPOT, too. When the emergency responders confirmed that we had activated the SPOT for the wreck and that we were okay, they called back our emergency contact people and let them know that we were okay.

Wesley Witt

Locale: Northwest
Re: Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 06/10/2011 10:46:21 MDT Print View

The downside to the new SPOT Connect device is that it has NO buttons to facilitate its use. It requires another "smart device" to control it like an iPhone, iTouch or Delorme GPS device. If the "smart device" battery dies your SPOT is worthless. On the flip side the SPOT Messenger is self contained and the batteries last for a very long time. I am a Crew Advisor for a Venturing Crew and we use a SPOT Messenger. I wrote some software for our crew's website that displays the active tracklog inside our website so parents and friends don't have to use the SPOT website at all. I also find that the SPOT device cannot sent a track message every time, but does so most of the time and certainly good enough to show people back home where we are located. We live in the Pacific Northwest where we have heavy tree canopies and often steep canyons, but the device performs well. I seriously considered the SPOT Communicator, but I feel that it's reliance on a second device makes it unattractive to me. I would bet money that SPOT is developing a new device that is a GPS and SPOT combined into a single device. When they have this I'll buy one for sure.

Levon Jensen
(LevonJensen) - MLife

Locale: Canadian Rockies
spot connect on 06/10/2011 15:41:26 MDT Print View

Wesley Witt, are you 100% that you cannot send a sos from the spot connect? have you used one? as i am looking into one, thanks!

from the manual

• From the Connect device
If your smartphone or mobile device is inoperable, the SOS button on the
SPOT Connect device can be used to send the basic SOS message with
your GPS location. Press and hold the SOS button on the device until the
SOS LED blinks green. If you return to the app on your smartphone you
will see the status updated with the current function mode.
Once your GPS location is obtained, SPOT sends your message and GPS
location. The GPS LED and Message Sending LED will both blink green
for approximately 15 seconds. The Message Sending LED continues to
blink green until the next scheduled message to notify you that your most
recent message was transmitted.
If no GPS signal is found, the GPS LED will blink red. You should move to
a location with a clearer view of the sky. For all subsequent messages,
SPOT will keep looking for your GPS location for up to 4 minutes. If no GPS
signal is found within 4 minutes, SPOT sends your message without GPS
location, indicated by the GPS LED blinking red and the Message Sending
LED blinking green for approximately 15 seconds.

States that there is a button on the device that you can press to send a sos if your cellphone is out of batterys.

Wesley Witt

Locale: Northwest
Re: spot connect on 06/10/2011 15:47:21 MDT Print View

No, that sounds right. But you cannot perform all the other functions that you can on the SPOT Messenger. Like start tracking mode, send an OK message, etc. So if I get to camp at night and my iPhone battery is dead I cannot start tracking mode the next day. Correct?

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 06/10/2011 15:50:54 MDT Print View

Every time I read these threads, I wonder how Boy Scouts got to be 100 years old without electronics.

If I was going somewhere dangerous enough, I'd probably take a Spot 2, but I think that most of the time, it probably does the boys (and parents) more good to have a brief time where the cord is cut, and the chase helicopter is grounded.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 06/10/2011 16:45:29 MDT Print View

Every time I read these threads, I wonder how Boy Scouts got to be 100 years old without electronics.

I always felt the same way ... a wristwatch is more tech than I prefer to carry unless the tech is a tool that facilitates the reason for the outing (example, a GPS is useful when doing trail maintenance, allowing me to report the location of problems beyond our ability to repair).

But there's something about the fact that I'm borrowing other people's kids that had me carrying a sat phone on a couple "wilderness" outings. Part of that was the nature of a couple of the scouts we had on those trips ... the kind of kids that listen about a well as your average cat.

When I first suggested that to our committee I got a bunch of odd looks followed by "OK, who are you and what did you do with our friend Jim" he-he

Roger Heward
(green1) - F

Locale: Alberta, Canada
Sat phones on 10/28/2011 22:34:49 MDT Print View

I don't have any first hand experience with SPOT, and I never carry any similar device backcounty.

I have however played with satellite phones while providing communications during emergency situations at events in areas without cell phone coverage.

There are 2 major networks of satellite phones available around here, if you do decide to use a satellite phone my experience is that the 2 networks are NOT created equal. In the mountains, even with a clear view of the sky, the Globalstar phone had a lot of trouble keeping a good signal throughout the day, luckily when we needed it we had a moment of coverage, but we had long periods with none as well. The Iridium phone on the other hand was rock solid, kept full coverage all day.

Of note is that this is not a one time occurrence, we've used both on many events and the results are consistent. It appears that Globalstar has a few too many gaps in their satellite coverage.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Sat phones on 10/29/2011 00:50:08 MDT Print View

"There are 2 major networks of satellite phones available around here, if you do decide to use a satellite phone my experience is that the 2 networks are NOT created equal."

Start with the satellites. Between the two companies, there are differences in the altitude of the satellites, and this leads to "time overhead" differences. There are differences in the orbital angle of the two, and this leads to differences in coverage area. The ground networks are radically different, and the network-to-satellite signals are different as well. In a nutshell, I am surprised that the average sat phone user would conceive of them as being equivalent. I guess the average non-technical user just doesn't know any better.


Roger Heward
(green1) - F

Locale: Alberta, Canada
Re: Re: Sat phones on 10/29/2011 15:46:35 MDT Print View

Both of these satellite phone networks are actually very similar, they are both constellations of moving satellites, and not the geostationary satellites of old, they are both of roughly the same altitude, and neither one suffers horribly from the time lag of those old geostationary systems (or the need to aim at the bird)

However Globalstar has fewer satellites in orbit than iridium, and the difference shows, badly, as holes in their coverage that vary with time depending on which satellites are overhead at a specific time.