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SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice
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Steve Meier
(smeier) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 16:02:32 MDT Print View

I have begun taking more solo hikes and my wife wants to make sure I can get help if needed. She would love to be able to track my progress as well but getting help is her main concern. The previous discussions that I could find on BPL on SPOT vs ACR or another company are all from 2010 or earlier. Any advice on which unit I should consider? All of the technology talk makes my head spin. I just want something I can open up and use as needed.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 16:16:48 MDT Print View

It depends on your wife's concern- does she want you to check in with her specifically? Or merely have a way to call for help?

Usually less expensive to purchase but has annual subscription costs for full feature
Allows you to check in with "Ok" messages whenever you like
Allows you to have a non-emergency "I need help" message as well as call for a rescue.
Can track your progress, which people can follow online.
Operates on AA (original SPOT) or AAA (SPOT2) batteries, changeable by the user
Uses the Globalstar sat system which isn't reliable at high latitudes
Has had some recent bad press for having unreliable service

Usually slightly more expensive to buy but no annual subscription costs
Has one function- to call for a rescue
Uses the SARSAT system, and activation is tracked by gov't rather than private entity
Requires registration with SARSAT, renewable every 2 years (no fee)
Battery must be changed by the mfr
Unit must be reset by mfr after deployment

I opted for PLB because the only feature I wanted was to be able to call for rescue if necessary, but I've heard from my guy friends that their wives love to be able to see where they are and also the check-in messages.

You might also consider the Delorme InReach system, if you use a GPS.

Edited by EagleRiverDee on 09/10/2012 16:35:45 MDT.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: SPOT vs ACR? ACR. on 09/10/2012 16:20:59 MDT Print View


I had a SPOT (so that expense was done) but switched to ACR 6 months ago.

- No fees. No fees this year. No fees next year. Etc.

- Better reception in the north due to the use of multiple satelite networks (SPOT doesn't use any polar-orbit satelites).

- An EPBIRB or PLB is pretty good at doing what it promises. SPOT is not. Messages don't get out, or go to the wrong person. Telling your wife she'll be updated and then that NOT happening is worse (for her, for you, for your marital happiness, and permission to go on future hikes) than not offering those updates at all. Some spouses can understand that "no news" = "no news" and DOES NOT = "bad news". But a spouse who wants you to carry a PLB is probably less likely to get that, emotionally, however much she'll say she does.

So focus on the "getting help if needed" aspect and explain that the ACR does that better in extreme lattitudes or terrain. Then you're off the hook for the updates and you avoid SPOT's technical limitations causing problems in your house. Plus the financial aspect greatly favors ACR.

If you want a SPOT (or if anyone else does), I've got an older unit in great shape, off contract. Whatever's fair - I think they are about $30 on ebay - or free if money's tight and this lets you hit the trail more often. But you'd have to pay the annual fee.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
It's Unanimous. on 09/10/2012 16:24:16 MDT Print View

2 out of 2 Alaskans surveyed recommened ACR for their friends who carry a transmitter.

Dena: Do you chew sugarless gum? I don't. Or maybe that advertising reference predates you?

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 16:34:15 MDT Print View

We're not twins yet, David. :) I actually bought the McMurdo Fast Find, rather than an ACR. At the time it was the most compact unit (2 years ago). I think ACR might have the most compact unit now though.

I forgot one feature of the PLB's for the OP- you have to register them with SARSAT, and you you have to renew the registration every two years. It costs nothing. The batteries are also internal, and have to be changed every 5 years (at least on my unit) by the mfr. However, I see that as a non-issue as in 5 years the technology is likely to have changed so drastically that I'll be using something different then. If not, all I'm out is the postage to mail it back for a new battery.

I'm going to update my original post to include that info.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Batteries on 09/10/2012 16:48:34 MDT Print View

Dena: Good point on the battery change. That's also true for 10-year-old Garmin recievers. Without an internal battery, you lose your waypoints which makes it only good for short trips.

I always put lithiums in my SPOT because I didn't want to have it on a winter trip having left the aklalines in from summer. I wonder in 5 years, if there will be a aftermarket for battery replacement like there is for iPhones (expensive from the manufacturer, cheap in the aftermarket).

The next place my ACR PLB is going is Adak next month. Which is set a new personal best for westernmost location for me and for it.

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife

Re: SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 17:26:23 MDT Print View

The SPOT and the Delorme have NOTHING on the ACR 406 devices!!

It is like comparing rotten fish meat to filet mignon.

The ACR ResQLink 406 is absolutely one of those devices that every hiker should have - along with a RoadID.

Even if you have a family member that feels you should have a Spot/DeLorme inReach with you to give an 'all is ok' message every so often... by all means carry it for their sake! But than make sure to have the actual 130 grams of the ACR 406 that can save your life if you really need it too.

The 406 devices are the only devices out there that are viable for hikers and that utilize the three primary and international services that nearly all SAR organizations in the world utilize.

One is for making the wife or mommie feel good - the other is there to save your life.


Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Spot tracking on 09/10/2012 17:39:38 MDT Print View

The tracking feature of the Spot can be useful. It was recently used to determine what happened to a sailboat in an off shore race (the track showed the ran into an island). For hikers it helps keep family notified of your progress. Useful as feel good information and for arranging a pickup at the trail head. Unfortunately, the yearly subscription is pricey ($150 with tracking) and the reliability isn't what it should be.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Spot tracking on 09/10/2012 17:57:44 MDT Print View

I know pilots who use the tracking feature, in part for THEIR OWN peace of mind that a record of bread crumbs is being recorded. But pilots are out of the canyons and above the trees (until the very end) so they have better luck leaving those bread crumbs.

Editted to add: I've also seen a charter service with multiple planes use it to track pilot/plane locations not for emergency use, but for dispatch, rerouting, and weather tracking reasons. In that context, $150/year is cheap, cheap, cheap.

Edited by DavidinKenai on 09/10/2012 17:59:42 MDT.

Michelle A
(mauhler31) - F
ACR "I'm OK" on 09/10/2012 18:34:44 MDT Print View

I just wanted to point out that most of the ACR devices are also capable of sending "I'm OK" messages, with a subscription. Check out for the details and prices. They are much cheaper than the other subscriptions. The cheapest one is $40/year. But since they are primarily designed for emergancy use, the number of "I'm OK" messages is limited, especially GPS messages.

Steve Meier
(smeier) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Excellent advice! Suggestions for a specific model? on 09/10/2012 19:35:47 MDT Print View

John, thanks for the advice on a specific ACR model. Anyone else have a specific model they would recommend?

Dena & David, thanks for the quick education!

Edited by smeier on 09/10/2012 19:36:45 MDT.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
The SPOT Usage Model is Superior to a PLB on 09/10/2012 21:22:25 MDT Print View

Here's a writeup that explains SPOT really well -

The key is that SPOT's usage model is far superior to a PLB.

A PLB is the better choice if you don't have loved ones that care where you are, how you are doing, and won't get in a rush to find your body.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
re SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 22:05:20 MDT Print View

"A PLB is the better choice if you don't have loved ones that care where you are, how you are doing, and won't get in a rush to find your body."

That's quite a statement, there.

PLB's, EPIRB's, etc. have been in use for aircraft, boat and now personal use for many years and have saved many lives. Search and Rescue responded to them long before SPOT existed. I don't knock SPOT, I think it's got its place for folks who like the multipurpose design, but there's no need to knock PLB's either. Both items have their strengths, and weaknesses, and both save lives every single year.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
- on 09/11/2012 09:36:30 MDT Print View

98% of my hiking is solo. I do some off-trail stuff too. I carried a SPOT2 for a couple years. Switched last year to an ACR resqlink for all the reasons listed in earlier posts.

My first priority is a reliable rescue response. A PLB absolutely rules that. My next priority is sending an "I'm OK" message to prevent unnecessary rescue callouts. The 406Link subscription service does that well for me.

I am quite satisfied with the ACR unit. They are so much smaller, lighter, and cheaper now that it was a clear choice for me.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: The SPOT Usage Model is Superior to a PLB on 09/11/2012 10:20:59 MDT Print View

"A PLB is the better choice if you don't have loved ones that care where you are, how you are doing, and won't get in a rush to find your body."

If I wanted to be as inflammatory, I'd say, "A SPOT is a better choice if your loved ones (1) want you on a short leash or (2) your loved ones are better at performing SAR then the Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Sheriff's Rescue Squad and the National Guard. But absolutely, for some, SPOT is a better fit and worth the added costs.

For me, at my lattitude, and in rough terrain, the better reception of some PLBs trumps SPOT's other capabilities.

The SPOT "Help" button is, in my mind, more useful than the "okay" button. (although, each, obviously, only means what you tell your phone/email list it means). The thing is, it is hard to compose those one or two help messages in advance. I do know pilots who have good contingency plans in place (and often are utilizing the tracking function), but mostly I think of the "help" button as the "send beer" button.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
SPOT and PLB on 09/11/2012 10:33:07 MDT Print View

To me the short hand description is that a SPOT is better for the family back home. Sending out "I'M OK" and being able to be tracked real time really gives people a piece of mind back home. Just emphasize that the SPOT is not perfect and that sometimes the device is not 100% be it due to the SPOT itself or user error. Don't panic and call the SAR folks right off the bat. :) (Has happened!)

A PLB is better for emergencies due to the reasons listed in the above posts.

Both have their uses and pros/cons.

Edited by PaulMags on 09/11/2012 10:34:16 MDT.

Craig Rowland
(craigr) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
SPOT on 09/11/2012 16:27:09 MDT Print View

I had an ACR and sold it. I found I preferred having the tracking feature of the SPOT.

I volunteered with a search and rescue group in the past and a device like the SPOT that leaves "bread crumbs" in the area where you last were is a huge help to get rescuers to you if there is a problem. The PLBs are fine as well, but you need to activate them specifically. If you are incapacitated then nobody knows your last known position.

So just something to consider.

I posted an extensive review of my SPOT device in this video. The crux of it is that it works reliably in northern and southern hemispheres:

If ultimate reliability under all weather is desired, the ACR PLB is probably best. If you want the tracking feature more with pretty good chance of emergency signals also making it out the SPOT device seems fine as well.

IMO. The people watching you on SPOT need to be educated about it. For instance if the device stops working on you, they shouldn't panic and send out the calvalry. I would still use fixed dates of return, etc. and advise them that not seeing any tracking progress could mean a malfunction and not that you're in trouble. They should only get concerned if you are not back at your scheduled date and use the information to contact the authorities of last known coordinates on the map.

Edited by craigr on 09/11/2012 16:35:10 MDT.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
SPOT vs ACR on 09/11/2012 17:32:53 MDT Print View


Edited by skopeo on 09/08/2015 15:32:46 MDT.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Well, I tried on 09/11/2012 22:46:57 MDT Print View

David Thomas: I posted a nice writeup that thoroughly explains the SPOT usage model. If you don't understand the usage model, ask and I will be glad to explain it to you. The writeup also provides links to the Coast Guard showing that they take SPOT notifications just as seriously as a PLB - no difference to them.

There are good reasons to choose a PLB over SPOT, but emergency response is not one of them.

By the way, most people carrying a PLB have no idea if it will work or not, whereas SPOT users can easily test their unit and the notification system before heading out.

Most of us are "tethered" to loved ones and that is usually taken seriously by responsible adults. If nothing else please be nice to SAR who will have to do the search and make the recovery. Life is full of harsh realities.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
PLB's do indeed have a self-test feature. on 09/12/2012 10:41:05 MDT Print View

"By the way, most people carrying a PLB have no idea if it will work or not, whereas SPOT users can easily test their unit and the notification system before heading out."


I know your response was to David, but feel compelled to respond because your info above is incorrect. PLB's do indeed have a self-test feature, a simple button that runs a quick self-diagnostic that will let us know if the unit is functioning correctly or not. And SPOT's themselves are not immune to failure, as recent news stories have demonstrated. Both units are electronic, both work most of the time, both save lives, and both can fail.

Which brings us to the most important thing and that is to continue to leave a trip plan with a loved one so that they know when you will be overdue, what area you planned to travel in, etc. Electronics are all fine and good, but I still leave a detailed trip plan with my husband (or someone else, if he's going to be with me) so that if I am overdue they know where to look. Just as David pointed out that no news isn't necessarily bad news, no news can also be bad news with either device. Neither device will work well (or at all, depending) in ravines or canyons, due to not having a good view of the sky, just as one example. Having a trip plan in place remains a necessity that no electronic device can replace.

I'm not trying to talk you out of SPOT because I think they are a good device with a mostly good track record, but I think you are grossly misinformed about the functionality of PLB's and their efficacy and that doesn't help the OP when he's trying to make a decision.