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SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking: Part 3: Satellite Texting
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking: Part 3: Satellite Texting on 04/02/2013 21:27:45 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking: Part 3: Satellite Texting

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Update for DeLorme inReach SE on 04/02/2013 23:23:59 MDT Print View

The DeLorme inReach SE was officially announced two days ago, shipping in mid-to-late April 2013. Here are updates to key parts of the article.

DeLorme inReach SE

DeLorme Inreach SE from
Device TypeDual-mode
SMS text messagesYes
Position trackingYes
SOS functionEnhanced
Standalone messagesCustom menu
Standalone message entryCursor keys
Pairs withAndroid, Apple iOS
App nameEarthmate
Web tracking & messagesYes
Twitter & Facebook updatesYes
GPS waypointsNo
Battery typeLithium polymer
Replaceable batteryNo
Rechargeable batteryYes
Manufacturer battery life100 hrs
Estimated battery life8 days
Dust and water protectionIP67
Weight200 g
HxWxD149x62x26 mm

The SOS button sends your position and a message to the GEOS IERCC rescue coordination service. Other useful features include: virtual keyboard using cursor keys with predictive texting, audible message notifications, and LED for satellite availability.

The free Earthmate app supports Android (version 2.1 or newer) and Apple iOS devices (iOS 5 or newer, iPad version available.) Both apps can activate SOS service, send and receive SMS text messages, activate tracking, and post updates on Twitter and Facebook. Both apps provide GPS positions to your device, and include unlimited downloads of DeLorme maps, cached on your device. Map downloads must be through Wi-Fi or cell networks.

Online review summaryNot shipping, no reviews available

Operating Costs

DeLorme inReach SE has several plans from $9.95 per month to $64.95 per month, including two seasonal plans. You can downgrade plans for $24.95. Message prices range from $0.25 to $1.50; tracking messages are unlimited free to $0.25 each.

Important Physical Specifications

See text for battery life explanation. Your experience will vary.

DeviceWeightHxWxDEstimated Battery LifeBatteriesDust and water protection
Briartek CerberLink186 g120x67x32 mm10 daysRechargeableIP67
DeLorme inReach SE200 g149x62x26 mm8 daysRechargeableIP67
DeLorme inReach SmartPhone227 g121x72x44 mm10 days2x AA LithiumIP68
DeLorme inReach PN-60w227 g121x72x44 mm10 days2x AA LithiumIP68
GeoPro Messenger380 g135x63x37 mm5 daysReplaceable, rechargeableIP66
NAL SHOUT Nano184 g102x56x20 mm10 daysRechargeableNot stated
NAL SHOUT ts204 g104x58x23 mm10 daysRechargeableNot stated
PIEPS Globalfinder Iridium200 g132x75x26 mm16 daysRechargeableNot stated
Yellowbrick 3 Standard305 g174x76x36 mm90 daysRechargeableIP67

Important Features

DeviceTypeEmailOther Features
Briartek CerberLinkDual-modeNoStandalone sends check-in messages only
DeLorme inReach SEDual-modeNoStandalone send & receive SMS text
DeLorme inReach SmartPhoneDual-modeNoStandalone sends 3 pre-set messages, floats
DeLorme inReach PN-60wDual-modeNoStandalone sends 3 pre-set messages, floats
GeoPro MessengerStandaloneYesScheduled check-ins, basic GPS functions
NAL SHOUT NanoStandaloneYesScheduled check-ins, basic GPS functions
NAL SHOUT tsStandaloneYesScheduled check-ins, basic GPS functions
PIEPS Globalfinder IridiumStandaloneYesCompass, barometer/altimeter, basic GPS functions
Yellowbrick 3 StandardDual-modeYesStandalone send & receive SMS text

Sample Pricing

You might find better deals. Many plans are available.

DeviceBuyMonthlyOne Week ScenarioRentableComments
Briartek CerberLink$499$33$63YesSome plans annual fee + pay for months used only
DeLorme inReach SE$300$25$63NoSeasonal plans available
DeLorme inReach SmartPhone$250$25$63NoSeasonal plans available
DeLorme inReach PN-60w$250$25$63NoSeasonal plans available
GeoPro Messenger$199$17$23No 
NAL SHOUT Nano$799$17$23No 
NAL SHOUT ts$895$35$25No 
PIEPS Globalfinder Iridium$850$25$46No 
Yellowbrick 3 Standard$707$13$36YesPay for months used only

Narrowing the field: Lightest Standalone

These TSTDs can send and receive arbitrary text messages without another device.

184 gNAL SHOUT Nano
200 gDeLorme inReach SE
200 gPIEPS Globalfinder Iridium
204 gNAL SHOUT ts
305 gYellowbrick 3 Standard
380 gGeoPro Messenger

Narrowing the field: Lightest Dual-mode

These TSTDs should be paired with a smart device for full functionality. If you are carrying a smart phone or DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w GPS anyway, look into these.

186 gBriartek CerberLink
200 gDeLorme inReach SE
227 gDeLorme inReach SmartPhone
227 gDeLorme inReach PN-60w
305 gYellowbrick 3 Standard

Edited by Rex on 04/02/2013 23:52:14 MDT.

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 04/02/2013 23:44:49 MDT Print View


Edited by on 06/23/2013 10:34:38 MDT.

Derrick White
(miku) - MLife

Locale: Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada
Thanks on 04/03/2013 08:06:06 MDT Print View

Thanks Rex. Great set of articles.

I rue the fact that DeLorme have moved to a rechargable battery in the new InReach SE. It was the ability to use lithium AA, which are multipurpose, that attracted me to the original InReach. With only 8 days of battery life, the device is useless for longer back country trips.


sean neves
(Seanneves) - M

Locale: City of Salt
Great article, adding some personal experience... on 04/03/2013 11:33:43 MDT Print View

Sorry this is so long, but I'm copying my review of some of these devices from another BPL thread. To this info I will add that Globalstar is quickly coming online with their improved constellation. Also, their GSP-1700 weighs 199g (7.05 oz.) and supports simple 911 emergency calling. Thankfully I have not tried that functionality. It is my device of choice right now. I basically came to conclusion that renting is the best option for me right until competition heats up, devices get better and weights and prices come down:

I have rented the following devices in the last year:

Globalstar GSP-1700. Not extensive wilderness use but was able to maintain a 7 minute call from the Green River underneath Flaming Gorge before losing it. Fix time was a surprising two minutes. Weighs 7 oz (the lightest satphone available in America I believe).

Iridium 9555. I was able to get a fix in three minutes at the confluence of Bullet and Kane Gulch in Grand Gulch, 1400 feet deep in the canyon. A five minute call with no interruption. Further down the canyon towards Collins Gulch, it took 5 minutes to get a fix. Clear as a bell with about a 4 minute call window then a disconnect. Pretty sure that was a function of the geography. I had very low expectations of reception down in a canyon that deep. Iridium has 66 satellites in low orbit at about 465 miles. Weighs 9.5 oz.

Inmarsat Isatphone Pro: A little funky as you have to gameplan the location of one of their satellites, which you can do with an on-screen satellite location guide that helps you point your antenna. Once I got a fix, in the same canyon as above, I had a great 10 minute, clear conversation without interruption. I think it was because one of the satellites that they have was almost directly above me. They have only three satellites and they are geostationary, as in they "stand still", but they are at over 22,000 miles up! This should also theoretically help signal penetration in deep topography. Useless at the poles (sorry Alaska!).Interesting tech and one to watch. About 10 oz.

I have also tried two of the newer generation 2-way text beacon/tracking devices: the Delorme Inreach and Briartek/Cerberus Cerberlink. In my opinion, these devices main attraction is the SOS functionality as I don't use the real-time tracking functionality at all. They both use bluetooth to connect to your smart phone and you use an app to construct messages and stuff. Of the two, I like the Briartek unit as it seemed to be less buggy once set up, the bluetooth connection was rock-solid and the unit itself is really bomb-proof. Customer service was EXCELLENT with them as well, which I cannot say about Delorme. As in: within three minutes I was talking directly to the president, who also heads up product development, about some of my concerns and questions. Awesome.

I brought the Cerberlink on a 125-mile 12 day walk through the Wind Rivers in August of last year. One of the main attractions is that they have an in-house rental program of $65 for two weeks including 20 160-character messages. Additional messages are 75 cents but be careful. People can send you messages via email and if you don't inform your chosen contacts to abridge their signatures, you can dispose of your included messages fast (I am in the real estate business and everybody has lengthy non-disclosure tags in their signatures). I ran a test transmission and chewed up 7 of my included messages when one of my contacts responded with a massive email signature. This was when I called customer support and was patched directly to the president (see above). They also let you include RSS feeds in the field (weather, politics, sports, ack!) which you have to be careful with too. One severe weather alert I received was almost 1800 characters. It would be nice if they allowed you to limit the amount of characters receivable via RSS on your profile page. You can create any custom RSS feed you want.

My main complaint with these new-generation text devices is that they weigh as much as a sat phone (both around 8 oz.) and it takes forever to compose, send/receive and verify transmission. You can send canned messages if you like, and they do have some stand-alone functionality, but in the time it takes to pull it out, pair it and send and verify a 160-character message, you could have had 2000-character equivalent conversation in real-time on a phone for roughly the same cost.

The Iridium Extreme is the first device (to my knowledge) that combines the functionality of the Delorme/Spot/Ceberlink devices with a ruggedized phone, but it is really expensive, so I'll stick to renting until form factor, functionality and pricing parity come into play in the next few years.

If you are looking for a good rental company that carries most of this stuff, Skycall Satellite here in Salt Lake is excellent. Russ, the owner, comped me a week-long use of the Inmarsat unit because he had no in-field feedback on it yet. Very flexible and knowledgeable and fairly priced.

Edited by Seanneves on 01/20/2013 22:29:21 MST.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Great article, adding some personal experience... on 04/03/2013 13:17:45 MDT Print View

I have both the Isat phone pro and a Acr 406 link, on all trips I bring the just the beacon and some trips I bring both.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking: Part 3: Satellite Texting on 04/03/2013 14:09:30 MDT Print View

Rex -

I notice that your grid of features indicates that the inReach doesn't support email. One of the features I like about the inReach that I think is worth mentioning (over the Spot) is that it "can" send a message to any email address that the user enters from the keyboard. Unlike some devices (Spot for example) you don't have to predefine an email list on a web page and sync the device to be able to use an email address. You can key in whatever email address you like. While the user at the other end can't respond "directly" (via reply) to your inReach email, they are provided a link to a page that allows them to respond (so in that sense I agree that the inReach doesn't do two way email) but to the inReach user, the send email function feels like email and allows you to send to any email address you key in.

There is an advantage to predefining your email list and syncing the inReach to the list but it's not mandatory. The downside of using free-form email address entry (as opposed to a sync'd email address) is that the email address characters that are entered free-form are subtracted from the 160 characters that are available for a message. A sync'd email doesn't use any of the available 160 characters.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking: Part 3: Satellite Texting on 04/03/2013 16:01:44 MDT Print View

Rex,thanks for putting this together I have need to look at this for some time and you did the research for me.
Sean, thank you also for your input.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Inmarast on 04/03/2013 16:16:53 MDT Print View

Hi Sean,

Have you used the Isat phone much?

sean neves
(Seanneves) - M

Locale: City of Salt
Re: Inmarast on 04/03/2013 16:41:00 MDT Print View

Yes, but not extensively. I had the opportunity to use it on a backpacking trip to Grand Gulch last spring. The bottom of the canyon is 1500 feet lower than the rim. Pretty impressive. It gave me excellent call quality off of the southeastern (from SE Utah) satellite. Remember they don't "move" from our perspective, so it helps to familiarize yourself with the positions. The four satellites are geostationary so calls shouldn't get interrupted much once you have a fix but it helps to know which direction they lay before you go. There is an on-screen satellite finder that helps you point your antenna too. They are at a very high altitude, something like 22,000 miles, so they should have good deep canyon coverage.

Here is a link to a coverage map showing the satellites:

Same spot yielded a series of shorter calls on Iridium (Cut off after a few minutes). Interesting tech for sure. Didn't have the Globalstar on that trip, but I've come to like it.

Edited by Seanneves on 04/03/2013 16:41:51 MDT.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Re: Inmarast on 04/03/2013 17:38:49 MDT Print View

Cheers Sean,

I have only used mine half a dozen times in the last six years and have always got good coverage. I only take it on trips where I know there will be no phone coverage.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking: Part 3: Satellite Texting on 04/03/2013 20:55:42 MDT Print View


One of the limitations of this kind of review (not actually spending time with each device), is that if the vendor web site doesn't state something clearly, I have no way to know. Like emailing from inReach, although as you pointed out, it's a not-quite-the-same-as-email experience.

Thanks for clarifying that point!

-- Rex

Edited by Rex on 04/03/2013 20:56:21 MDT.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking: Part 3: Satellite Texting on 04/03/2013 20:59:00 MDT Print View

"is that if the vendor web site doesn't state something clearly, I have no way to find out."


The marketing people may have just accidentally left out some information that is really important to us users. On the other hand, maybe they just left it out accidentally on purpose. If a product as a weakness, it is best for them if they just skip over that part.


Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Re: Inmarast on 04/03/2013 22:36:48 MDT Print View


One of the interesting trade-offs between satellite phones using GEO satellites (Inmarsat, Terrestar, Thuraya) versus LEO satellites (Globalstar, Iridium), is making calls in deep canyons, or on the wrong side of a mountain.

Using a GEO satellite, you must be able to see one particular point in the sky. If you can see that spot, you can talk as long as your credit is good. If you can't, you must move

Using LEO satellites, you need to see a reasonable sized patch of sky. You can make a short call eventually, with an unpredictable cutoff, without moving.

If I'm injured and immobile, a phone using LEO satellites might be a better choice. All texting devices use LEO satellites, so your SOS message will get through sooner or later.

BTW, the Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro uses the latest generation I-4 satellites: only three of those, at longitudes 25 (EMEA), 143.5 (Asia-Pacific) and -98 (Americas). The information is for the older satellites.

Choosing any satellite device is about making a lot of tradeoffs.

-- Rex

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife

Re: Re: SOTMR: Two-way Satellite Communications for Backpacking: Part 3: Satellite Texting on 04/03/2013 22:45:14 MDT Print View

Seriously Rex... amazingly set of articles and an insane amount of research. These are the type of articles I expect to see here at BPL. Hope you got/get a nice check in the mail from Ryan for these three articles.

I plan to rent an Iridium 9505A or 9575 Extreme phone for long backcountry trips

That statement pretty much says it all for me.

I carry the following three devices when I am out in the Shasta-Trinity, Klamath, Russian, Marbles, Siskiyou, Jedediah... and the rest of the Redwood regions of Northern California:

Garmin GPSMAP 62S
Iridium Extreme 9575
ACR ResQLink 406 PLB

Again, great set of articles and great research!


sean neves
(Seanneves) - M

Locale: City of Salt
Re: Re: Re: Inmarast on 04/04/2013 09:53:44 MDT Print View

Great points all, Rex. Incredible work. One the best articles I've seen on this site in a while. One of the reasons I like Iridium and Globalstar is that, generally, I'm not in need of a clear 10-minute call if I'm out and about.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Thoughts on satellite device battery life on 04/05/2013 00:05:57 MDT Print View

It's hard to estimate battery life for satellite phones or texting devices. Manufacturers usually present the best possible numbers, but in real life backpackers might not reach those numbers for many reasons.

Considering your risk of a dead battery surprise for different use cases might help.

Satellite phones

Most backpackers will keep a sat phone turned off, unless you are calling or talking.

If a sat phone has an estimated three hour battery life, you might get close to three hours of "phone turned on, antenna deployed, calling or trying to call", especially if you make calls in areas with few obstructions like trees. If you check battery life each time you use the sat phone, you can shorten those long chats with your sweetie when the battery gets low.

With a little discipline, you have a low risk of a dead battery surprise.

Satellite texting devices

Most backpackers will use satellite texting devices in one of three ways:

1 - On all day and sending tracking messages, with occasional text messages.

2 - Mostly off, except to send and receive messages once or twice per day.

3 - Always off, unless you have an emergency.

For case #1, your battery life is hard to predict. You can forget to turn off tracking at night. If you are in thick woods or deep canyons or your device is buried in your pack or twisted sideways or ..., you can use up the battery faster as the device repeatedly attempts to deliver tracking messages. You could have a dead battery surprise. Your sweetie will stop getting tracking messages and start worrying, and you can't send an SOS message if needed.

You might need a backup power source, to reduce the risk of a dead battery surprise.

Case #2 (no tracking) is similar to satellite phones: You turn the device on to send and receive messages, and turn it off when you are done. Now a device with an "8 day" battery life while tracking, could last several times longer. If you check battery life each time you use the device, you can scale back on message frequency when battery life gets low. You could send a message like "reducing message frequency to conserve battery life" so your sweetie won't worry so much.

With a little discipline, you have a low risk of a dead battery surprise.

Case #3 (emergencies only) could increase your battery life to several weeks or months. The main risk is forgetting to check the battery occasionally, because batteries don't hold a charge forever. All current satellite texting devices use or recommend lithium batteries with pretty long stored lifetimes.

With some discipline, you have a low risk of a dead battery surprise.

You could start with #1, and switch to #2 and #3 as your battery dies. Be sure to let your sweetie know!

Only experience will help you feel comfortable with the battery life of a device, for your usage and discipline.

If your risk tolerance is low, you will want a separate backup power source – which adds weight and complexity.

The good news is you have lots of choices in devices, usage, and risk levels.

The bad news is the choices come with risks and costs that are hard to evaluate.

Choose wisely.

-- Rex

Edited by Rex on 04/05/2013 00:10:09 MDT.

Richard Russell
Just got a Yellowbrick on 04/22/2013 22:56:28 MDT Print View

Rex - many thanks for doing such great research on this. Based on your findings, I decided to order a Yellowbrick and test it out. I just received it this evening, it only took four days to get from the UK to California. My first impressions after setting it up and playing with it for a few hours is that it is a very impressive and professional piece of equipment. The photos don't do it justice, you have to have it in your hand to appreciate just how well made it is. The display is much better than you would think from the marketing materials. The iphone app and the blog interface are simple and effective. I'm really impressed. I plan to do some testing over the next few weeks to see just how good the battery life is. I'm planning on doing the JMT in September, and I know that my Iridium phone will not have the battery life for that length of trip, but I'm optimistic this Yellowbrick will be up to the job. Thanks again for drawing attention to this excellent device.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Just got a Yellowbrick on 04/22/2013 23:28:13 MDT Print View


Please keep us posted with your experiences. I found very few Yellowbrick reviews.

I spent some backpacking time with a rented Briartek Cerberlink. Will post my impressions soon.

-- Rex

Michael Gillenwater
(mwgillenwater) - M

Locale: Seattle area
Re: Re: Just got a Yellowbrick on 04/22/2013 23:50:43 MDT Print View


very curious to hear about your Cerberlink impressions, as I plan on renting one this summer.