I didn’t include this in the review because it’s really a personal story and not a product review, but I’ll share my rationale for starting to carry the SPOT device.
In 2009 I spent five days at a B&B in Wales nursing a torn knee ligament, while Jim continued our hike on the Cambrian Way without me. The proprietor of my B&B was retired from the North Wales Search and Rescue team, and had once served as the head of that organization. We had many hours to talk about SAR, Snowdonia, the fierce storm conditions Jim was hiking through, and so on. Jim and I were not carrying, and had not ever carried any electronic devices while backpacking (no GPS, phone, PLB, SPOT).
I explained to the proprietor why Jim and I do not carry a GPS or cell phone: old-school, started hiking in the 1960s, proud to be self-reliant, will persevere to rescue myself, prefer the way it was back in the good old days, too much weight, blah, blah, blah.
Finally, the proprietor politely told me “given today’s technology it is a selfish act to be out in these mountains without a means of communicating, because the SAR team members risk their lives conducting searches. Jim may not want to be rescued, but if he doesn’t show up eventually there will be a SAR, and people will risk their lives searching for him.” Oh, you mean it’s not all about me! That’s a different story, and to me it was a compelling story.
Subsequent to that hike in Wales and England, we have carried the SPOT tracker when we go backpacking. I think of it primarily as a way to avoid extensive SAR. The odds that I will have a life-threatening injury that requires a 911 call is small. It is more likely that at some point I will have a delayed exit; I’ve come precariously close to a delayed exit twice in perhaps a hundred backpacking trips, not a large number, but a sober reminder of how suddenly something can go very wrong. With the SPOT device, I can prevent a SAR by communicating that I am OK even though I’m late due to weather or injury. And, if I have situation that prevents self-extraction, I can request non-urgent assistance, which is better for all parties than waiting until a day after my planned exit and then starting a full-blown search effort.
A GPS device combined with a functioning cell or satellite phone provides the best means for seeking assistance in case help is needed. Those devices allow two-way communication so that the party seeking help can get instructions and advice, and the agency providing help can get more information about the nature of the request. In most of the areas we hike, cell phone reception is not viable. And I’m not prepared to spend the money to carry a satellite phone. In the absence of a phone, the SPOT provides a combination of useful functions.
The 911 function of the SPOT is matched by a PLB device. The disadvantage of a PLB is that the only thing you can do is request urgent assistance. There are numerous scenarios where an extensive search and/or an urgent rescue effort can be avoided by using the other functions of the SPOT device.
In addition to requesting urgent help when there is a threat to life or limb, to requesting non-urgent assistance, to indicating that a delayed exit is not cause for concern, to providing comfort to families who might otherwise worry, we have found that the SPOT Tracker provides an enormous amount of vicarious pleasure to friends and family. Alan and Amy (and others) have watched each other’s trips with great joy. We consider it a gift to each other and to our friends and family to carry the extra few ounces of gear in order to allow our friends and families the pleasure of vicarious hiking trips.
Amy L, Palo Alto