SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test

Results of 80 days (750 hours) of field testing of the new SPOT2 in Alaska, the Andes, the Pyrenees, and the Lower 48, including the Sierras and a southwest canyon system.

Hightly Recommended

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended

A satellite tracking device is not essential to the comfort and safety of lightweight backpacking. It falls into that category of "things that give me more enjoyment in backcountry travel" - much like a GPS unit, a digital camera, trekking poles, or pocketknives. Consequently, these sorts of things are subject to more critical review by our editors, peer reviewers, and editorial board. As a further result, to award a device like this Backpacking Light's Highly Recommended Rating is a pretty special thing. The SPOT2 is significantly lighter and smaller than its predecessor. It is also easier to operate and delivers greater message reliability. During 80 days of testing on three continents and in a variety of geographic environments, it delivered 100% of its OK messages. Particularly impressive is its Tracking Mode performance in deep canyons, where it delivered around 90% of Tracking Points each day. This is significant, as the original SPOT1 delivered Tracking Point messages with poor reliability, even with a view of clear sky. In “typical” mountain conditions under open skies, the SPOT2 had a daily Tracking Point message reliability approaching 100%. In summary, the SPOT2 addresses most of the limitations of the original SPOT1 and reflects a mature technology. For features, weight, and price there is currently no device on the market that's comparable - and certainly not as reliable.

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by Alan Dixon and Amy Lauterbach |

Version Two of SPOT Delivers the Potential of their Technology

SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test - 1
The new SPOT2 (right) is almost half the size and weight of its predecessor. It is easier to operate and delivers far greater message reliability, especially in Tracking Mode.

As we reported at the Press Release of SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (SPOT2) at the 2009 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, the folks at SPOT addressed many of our suggested improvements to the original SPOT1 in the Generation Two: SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger.

Now, after 80 days (750 hours) of field-testing of the new SPOT2 on three continents, we report improvement in three significant areas:

  • Lighter and Smaller: 43% lighter (4.16 oz vs. 7.33 oz) and 45% smaller.
  • Improved Reliability: 100% delivery of all OK messages for 80 days. Near 100% delivery of Tracking Point messages in “typical” mountain conditions, e.g. the Sierras and Andes. And daily delivery of ~90% (or better) of Tracking Point messages in deep canyons or when bushwhacking (vegetation cover).
  • Improved Operation: Dedicated button and status light for each function and safety covers for Help and SOS buttons make for intuitive operation and easily understood operational status.

In the field, the SPOT2 is easier to use and delivers a much higher proportion of Tracking Point messages than its predecessor. In addition, the Web-based software that supports SPOT is also better and now has a separate social networking site, SPOT Adventures, to share your adventures/data with others. In summary, the combination of the physical SPOT2 unit and supporting software is beginning to look more like a mature technology.

What impressed us most about the SPOT2 was its performance in a difficult transmission situation, a “typical” southern Utah canyon system. On a five-day slickrock canyon backpacking trip, the SPOT2 successfully delivered a daily average of ~90% of Tracking Point messages. Every OK message made it out. We saw similar message delivery performance on bushwhacking days in Alaska.

Basic Specifications - SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (SPOT2)

Weight 4.17 oz, 118 g with batteries - BPL measured (4.8 oz, 137 g with carry case and biner clip)
Size 3.7 x 2.6 x 1.0 inches - 93 x 65 x 25 mm - BPL measured
Batteries 3 AAA - lithium only
MSRP $170 ($150 retail)
Basic Service $100 for one year (does not include Tracking Mode)
Tracking Service $50 in addition to yearly service
Includes Armband, case, and carabiner clip

SPOT2 Improvements Summary

SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test - 2
SPOT2 weight.

  • 43% lighter - 4.17 oz vs. 7.33 oz, BPL measured with batteries.
  • 45% smaller 93 x 65 x 25 mm (3.7 x 2.6 x 1.0 inches) vs. 110 x 70 x 36 mm (4.3 x 2.8 x 1.4 in) 3 AAA batteries decrease size & weight, but operating time is less. BPL field measured Tracking mode 5.0 to 5.8 days (120 to 140 hours). Manufacturer reported Tracking mode, 3.5 to 7 days depending on percentage of sky view.
  • Improved GPS performance.
    • GPS upgrade to uBlox AMY-5M chipset. Similar to SiRF and other high performance GPS chips.
    • Advanced GPS capabilities - Time-to-First-Fix (TTFF) usually seconds instead of minutes.
    • New antenna improves performance in foliage and canopied environments. (BPL note: also deep canyons)
    • New Rogers material antenna (Gen 1 was ceramic material).
    • Gen 2 increases performance at the horizon. Power same as Gen 1 (.16 Watt) using a proprietary Global Star tuning pattern and spread spectrum.
  • Improved user interface.
    • Message-sending LED indicator.
    • GPS acquisition LED indicator.
    • New separate Tracking button.
    • New extra "Custom Message" button that works the same as OK but with different message content and its own email notification list. The addition of the new message improves your ability to communicate your status and intentions to people monitoring your trip.
    • New backlit message function buttons blink when the specific function is engaged.
    • Safety covers over the SOS and Help buttons.
    • Universal communications symbols on buttons.
    • Short SOS instruction placard on the back of the SPOT.
    • Comes with more detailed instructions (Quick Reference Guide) printed on a 2 x 3.5 inch fanfold plasticized card stock.

SPOT Concept of Operation - General Overview

For those unfamiliar with how SPOT operates, please see our review of the original SPOT1, SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker - Full Review.

Field Test of SPOT2

Message Delivery Reliability

As we reported at the press release on SPOT 2:

Of all Gen 2's improvements... the GPS chipset and improved antenna/transmission matter the most. Only these have the potential to improve the reliability of SPOT's message delivery, especially in areas with tree cover or in deep canyons... It will take some time and field-testing to determine if Gen 2 has significantly improved message delivery reliability over Gen 1.

We are happy to report that the SPOT2 has made significant improvements.

In our field testing, the SPOT2 has improved the reliability of Tracking Point message delivery - probably our single greatest gripe with the original SPOT1. While not tested as extensively, the increased reliability in Tracking Points we measured should also translate into a higher reliability in transmitting the OK, Custom, Help, and SOS messages. We had 100% success of transmitting OK messages in our 80 days of testing.

The increased message reliably for SPOT2 is probably due to (listed in order of greatest contribution):

  1. A better antenna and antenna tuning pattern,
  2. Queuing of the last three Tracking Point locations (even if two Tracking Points are unsent, if the SPOT2 successfully transmits a third Tracking Point, the previous two will also be sent), and
  3. An improved GPS chip set.

In “typical” mountain conditions (the Sierras, Andes, and Pyrenees, and the Talkeetnas in Alaska), the SPOT2 had a Tracking Point message reliability approaching 100%.

But what really impressed us about the SPOT2 was its performance in a difficult transmission situation, a “typical” southern Utah canyon system. On a five-day backpacking trip, even in a deep canyon with significant vegetation at times, the SPOT2 successfully delivered 88% of expected Tracking Points (best day was 98%). Every OK message made it out. Even on its worst day, it delivered 83% of Tracking Points. This is more than adequate for your emergency contacts to accurately track your trip.

SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test - 3
A plot of our Tracking Points in a southern Utah canyon system. The SPOT2 is surprisingly reliable at transmitting Tracking Points in a deep canyon as indicated by the tightly grouped points with no obvious gaps.

Prior to using the SPOT2 in the Utah, I had warned my emergency contacts to not expect much in the way of Tracking Points due to the depth of the canyons we’d be traveling in. To all our surprise, it was easy to track our progress via the SPOT2 Tracking Points, even in the deep and narrow sections. After this experience, I have confidence that with a little intelligence on selecting a location, that the SPOT2 would successfully get HELP and SOS messages out of many popular southwest canyon backpacking destinations (but probably not very deep slots like Buckskin Gulch).

In Alaska, we averaged more than 90% of the Tracking Points on our bushwhacking days - also not the easiest transmission conditions due to frequently dense vegetation cover.

This canyon and bushwhacking data is a bit more impressive because in our field testing we didn’t bother to be particularly careful about SPOT2 use:

  • We used a lazy person’s mounting method: just hanging the SPOT2 vertically off the back of a backpack. (With a fully upward facing mounting method, the SPOT might have delivered a greater percentage of Tracking Points.)
  • We weren’t particularly fastidious about using the SPOT2, e.g. at rest stops we sometimes put our packs down in a way that partially blocked the SPOT2’s sky view for transmission.
  • Sometimes we turned the SPOT2 off for a few minutes at a rest stop but didn’t record doing this. Thus, at the end of the day, there are a few “missed” Tracking Points that aren’t really missed.

The combination of a very deep canyon WITH heavy tree cover was the only time we had significant gaps in Tracking Point transmission. On a three-day trip in coastal California, the SPOT2 had two Tracking Point gaps of approximately an hour. Both were from the bottom of a ~2000 feet deep, narrow canyon with trees. Even so, we had similar daily tracking percentages as on the southern Utah canyon trip, around 90%. Daily tracking percentages on the worst day (the day with the two gaps) was 82% and still more than sufficient to track the trip. Other days it was 90% or better.

Operation

SPOT2 is a significant improvement in the ease of operation over its predecessor and addresses the majority of our operational gripes with the original SPOT1. Most operations are fairly intuitive and the operational status of the unit easily understood. Each function has its own button, as well as its own status LED. There are also status LEDs for “GPS Fix” and “Message Sending.” There is a short SOS/basic instruction placard on the back of the SPOT2, and it ships with more detailed instructions (Quick Reference Guide) printed on a 2 x 3.5 inch fanfold plasticized card stock that is easily carried on the trail. With a new and much faster GPS chipset (acquisition in seconds rather than minutes), the SPOT2 gains a fix much faster and therefore operates much faster than its predecessor. In summary, both Amy and I are satisfied with the basic operation of the SPOT2.

SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test - 6
Rear view of the SPOT2 showing SOS/basic instruction placard and the Quick Reference Guide printed on a 2x3.5-inch fanfold plasticized card stock that is easily carried on the trail.

A few functional observations:

  • A nice feature of SPOT2 is that if you initiate an OK message when in Tracking Mode, the unit automatically reverts back to Tracking Mode once the OK message is done. (Tip: When you start hiking, first initiate Tracking Mode. Right after that, put the unit in OK mode. When the SPOT2 is done with the OK (20 minutes), it will automatically go into Tracking Mode for the rest of the day.)
  • The SPOT2 function buttons need to be depressed fully and for a long time. I usually dug a thumb tip deep into the button cavity and counted to five. This helps prevent accidentally engaging a button (a good thing), at the expense of being incompatible with thick gloves (not good for certain conditions); in cold weather in the Andes, we took our gloves off to press SPOT2 buttons.
  • The SPOT2 status LEDs are not easy to read in bright daylight. Sometimes you need to cup your hand over the button lights to create enough shade to see what mode the SPOT2 is in.

Battery Life

Battery Life Lithium Claimed by SPOT

Utilizing fully charged Energizer Ultimate 8x AAA Lithium batteries under the specified usage environments, the following guidelines apply to the anticipated battery life of the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger:
Mode 100% clear view of sky 50% clear view of sky
SOS (or Help if reactivated) ~ 6 days ~3 days
Track Progress ~ 7 days ~ 3.5 days
Check-in (OK) or Custom Msg ~ 700 messages ~ 350 messages

Testing of SPOT under common usage environments has shown that battery performance can be degraded in operating environments where SPOT's GPS must take a longer time to acquire your GPS location, such as trying to send a message indoors or under extreme canopies. For optimal performance, please try and utilize SPOT in locations with a clear view of the sky with the logo side up. SPOT also recommends that you carry extra Energizer Ultimate 8x AAA Lithium batteries.

Battery Life - BPL Field Testing

Mode Mixed field conditions/Mixed sky view
Track Progress (lithium batteries) 5.0 to 5.8 days (120 to 140 hours)
Track Progress (alkaline batteries)* ~1.7 days (40 hours) near 100% success
+ ~1.7 days (40 hours) degrading success
Total of 3.4 days (80 hours)
*Not a manufacturer approved use. Batteries of unknown expiry date. 

Battery Life Lithium - BPL Field Testing

In warm to hot weather in the Pyrenees, one new set of lithium batteries lasted twelve days for a total of 120 hours in Tracking mode, plus twelve OK messages, in total approximately five days of operation. This is right between the minimum and maximum operation time claimed by SPOT. Almost perfect delivery of six data points per hour was consistent until the unit shut down completely. The red low-battery warning came on after about nine days (90 hours), however, the unit continued to transmit data successfully until the batteries were completely dead.

In a combination of field testing in Peru finished up with testing outside Alan’s home (fairly benign transmission conditions) the SPOT2 lasted approximately 140 hours in Tracking mode until exhausted (including two OK messages per hiking day). In combined use in Alaska and a southern Utah canyon system, with a new set of lithium batteries, the red low-battery warning came on after about 100 hours of operation.

Battery Life Alkaline - BPL Field Testing (not a Manufacturer approved use!)

SPOT clearly specifies to only use lithium batteries. However, on a long walk where battery resupply is from small shops (for example on the Haute Route Pyrenee), lithium batteries are not available. As such, Amy used four sets of alkaline batteries over 31 days.

On average, the alkaline batteries gave approximately 40 hours of reliable delivery (at or near six data points per hour) followed by approximately 40 hours of degraded delivery, degrading to as low as 50% success. The red low-battery warning light came on after about 40 hours of use, roughly concurrent with the start of the degraded delivery. When delivery rates were low, the delivery pattern was often to show a couple of hours of data points at ten minute intervals, followed by a couple of hours with no data points. We cannot substantiate this speculation, but the pattern in the data suggests that when the alkaline batteries were low, delivery would fail if any conditions were not optimal (for example if the device had slipped into a vertical orientation, had less than perfect sky view, or less than optimal satellite configuration), but if the conditions were optimal, then delivery would still be consistently successful. Note: The battery expiry date/freshness was unknown as they were bought from tiny shops in fairly remote locations.

Mounting SPOT2 on a Backpack

The manufacturer recommends a horizontal position for the most reliable message delivery. But the SPOT2 does not come with an effective “out of the box” method to mount the unit horizontally on a backpack. Most attempts to mount the SPOT2 with the manufacturer supplied mounting hardware (armband strap, or biner-clip), or just stuffing the SPOT2 in a pack pocket, result in the unit hanging vertically. While this is not the optimal transmission orientation, it turns out to be less of a problem for SPOT2 than the original SPOT1. Even with a “lazy person’s” vertical mounting, we had a high percentage of successful deliveries from SPOT2 even in difficult situations.

SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test - 4
Lazy person’s vertical mounting of the SPOT2 used when field testing in a southern Utah canyon system (biner clipped to top pocket closure strap). While not horizontal, we still had a high percentage of successful deliveries from SPOT2, even in difficult conditions.

SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test - 5
Horizontal mounting: Amy's SPOT2 in a roughly horizontal position inside the pack. It rests on top of all the gear but under pack’s roll top closure (pack is shown from above with closure open). This method works well with roll top closures, common on many lightweight backpacks. Notes: 1) The SPOT2 is tied to a loop inside her pack. It never gets untied, so the only way it could get lost is if the whole pack is lost. 2) She has taped over three of the buttons in order to make absolutely certain they don't get dispatched by mistake.

Amy’s under the roll top is only one solution for horizontal mounting on a backpack. We are certain that user ingenuity will devise many more methods for horizontal mounting.

Protocols for Our Use - Use and Meaning of SPOT2 Messages

Note: The following use of SPOT2 messages and their meaning is only used as an example. Readers are obviously free to use and interpret SPOT2 messages as they see fit. Alan carries a satellite phone and Amy does not. Therefore, there are some differences in our protocols.

Amy and I have been emergency contacts for each other’s trips since well before the advent of the original SPOT1. We both use the SPOT2 and have agreed upon the following interpretations for the four types of SPOT2 messages. Note that we use the Custom Message, Help Message, and SOS Message to indicate increasing severity of problems.

Meaning of SPOT2 messages

OK = We are OK and just checking in. Will generally do this starting hiking for the day at the end of the day when we make camp. We may occasionally send an OK at lunch, a summit, or significant point of interest. Also used to indicate that a significant deviation from route or schedules is “OK,” and to not worry.

Alan’s Custom Message = There is something up but it does not require rescue at this point. Start to closely monitor your phones (including mobile), email, trip blog, etc. Somebody is feeling ill, we have an orthopedic issue, terrible weather has set in, or we have significantly changed route or itinerary under duress, etc.

Amy’s Custom Message = There is something up, but it does not require rescue at this point. Monitor our SPOT locations and messages closely. Illness, injury, bad weather, unexpected ground conditions, etc.

Help = We have a problem we cannot solve and require rescue in 24-72 hours. Possible reasons include being lost or non-life-threatening illness/injury that is serious enough that the ailing person should not be left alone while the other goes for help. We are safe and this is not urgent, but we need assistance.

911 = We have a major problem that requires immediate rescue. Although you won’t receive this message, you are on the list to be contacted if it is sent out. (See below). We will not send this message unless we believe there is a serious threat to life or limb.

SPOT2 goes dead (no more messages)

Alan carries a sat phone, and his protocol is this: Start to closely monitor your phones (including mobile), email, trip blog, etc. for messages, calls, and voice mails from our sat phone. Absence of messages from both SPOT2 and sat phone for 24 hours indicates a significant problem, since it is unlikely that both the SPOT2 and the sat phone will fail and that we haven’t managed to move into a good transmission area to send out some sort of message.

Amy does not carry a satellite phone, and her protocol is this: If there are no tracks or SPOT2 messages, it does NOT mean that we have a problem. It could be one of many reasons, but you should NOT worry about it. (dead battery, device lost or damaged, etc). In this case revert to protocols used before we started carrying SPOT2: assume all is well until 24 hours after our expected trip completion time, at which point Responsible Party should notify the appropriate agency to initiate SAR.

If the track shows regular progress and/or there are daily OK messages, assume that all is well, even if hikers are off course or out past their planned trip completion time. This would be a normal scenario if a trip is delayed or rerouted due to weather, unexpected on-the-ground conditions, or minor injury/illness.

In the SPOT2 account, the text for the 911 (SOS) message includes the following information:

  • Names (and optional – Passport Numbers).
  • Ages, medical conditions, allergies, medications.
  • “Will initiate 911 (SOS) message only when there is a perceived threat to life or limb for ourselves or somebody we encounter on the trail. (Note: we will NOT initiate 911 for non-urgent request for help.)”
  • Planned itinerary and dates.
  • Local emergency phone numbers or the area were hiking: Forest Service, Park Service, BLM, local Search and Rescue Organization, local sheriff, etc.
  • Full contact information for the Responsible Parties/Emergency Contacts (names, addresses, cell/work/home phone numbers, email addresses).

The SPOT2 user leaves their login/password information with the Responsible Party/Emergency Contact, in case there are any problems with the account.

Pre-trip, the SPOT2 user sends tests for all four types of messages, OK, Tracking, Custom, and Help to all Responsible Parties/Emergency Contacts and makes sure they receive all email and text notifications, and that all messages show up on the Web tracking page.

Suggestions for Improvement

  • We’re still waiting for some sort of display on a SPOT2. We’d love to at least get our GPS coordinates from the unit. And while the new status LEDs are an improvement, even a one line alpha-numeric LCD display would give greater understating of the unit’s operational status.
  • Increase the queue of Tracking Points to six - a full hours worth. This would be useful for SPOT2 units operated in canyons and/or heavy tree cover.
  • Smart management of Tracking Points when going from OK back to Tracking mode: Usually the first OK message attempt is successful, but the SPOT2 continues in OK mode for another 20 minutes before returning to tracking mode. This usually leaves a 20 minute or so gap between OK and the next Tracking Point. The Web interface could convert subsequent OK points, sent in the 20 minutes after the first OK delivery, into Tracking Points.
  • Devise a simple and reliable way to mount the SPOT2 horizontally on a backpack.
  • To be a bit greener, we’d like to see the SPOT2 have the option to be compatible with NiMH rechargeable batteries, even if the operational life with NiMH batteries was a bit shorter than lithium batteries.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and the author/BPL has/will return this product to the manufacturer upon completion of the review period of one year. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test," by Alan Dixon and Amy Lauterbach. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/spot2_personal_locator_review.html, 2010-11-30 00:10:00-07.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test on 11/30/2010 13:52:55 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Sky view on 11/30/2010 14:50:11 MST Print View

Great review of the new Spot 2. I own and never use the Spot 1 which will live in infamy. I wish I could sell the darn thing but who would want to buy it? Your review would seem to indicate that this new model has addressed the many concerns expressed in the various BPL Forum threads that trashed the original Spot.
Maybe I should reconsider this device.
Two questions: On the Utah canyon trip, what was the typical arc of sky that you had available for transmission? For the trips with heavy vegetation overhead, how much sky was really visible?
Thanks for the comprehensive and thoughtful review. I especially liked your inclusion of the protocols you use.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Sky View on 11/30/2010 15:16:53 MST Print View

> Two questions: On the Utah canyon trip, what was the typical arc of sky that you had available for transmission? For the trips with heavy vegetation overhead, how much sky was really visible?

Good questions.

Percentage of sky view are hard numbers to come up with after the trip. This was field testing and we weren’t directly “measuring” things like sky arc or percentage of tree cover.

For the canyons, one might be able to use TOPO maps to make an approximation of % of sky view using canyon depth and width. But this would vary along the length of each canyon. It would also depend on which side of the canyon you were on and whether you were under and overhang, slope of the canyon wall, etc. In the field, an eyeball estimation would be highly subjective, variable and likely not reproducible from person to person. I’ve done a bunch of canyoneering in S Utah. The canyon system we tested in was neither the worst or the best for percentage of sky view for canyons I’ve visited. Thus the “typical” designation. And yes, there were a couple of narrow areas that challenged the SPOT2 to transmit Tracking Points. They also challenged my GPS that gave some errant positions as well.

The % of sky view from foliage coverage would also be difficult to estimate in situ, let alone after the trip. Height of the trees/shrubs, amount of leaves, density of leaves, density of branches, etc. all play a role. Again, at best this would be highly subjective, variable and likely not reproducible from person to person.

As noted in the review the most challenging area for Tracking Points seems to be in a deep canyon WITH significant foliage. That is an area you would want to be aware of.

But SPOT2’s long term record of a high percentage of Tracking Points from a variety of canyons and foliage situations in many locations over many days leads us to believe that the SPOT2 does a good job of Transmitting Tracking points.

-alan

Edited by alandixon on 11/30/2010 15:18:44 MST.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Sky View again on 11/30/2010 15:33:01 MST Print View

Thanks for the honest answer. I realize that after the fact it is difficult to remember the amount of sky visible to you. I suppose I was more interested in a general answer along the lines of "most of the time we could see 30% of the sky in the canyons" or "the sky was pretty patchy under vegetation" -- that sort of thing. As I am sure you do know, the original rarely worked even if you had an almost 180degree sky to work with. I guess that your varied experience with the Spot 2 over a lot of terain seems to indicate a pretty impressive performance profile, but I am a once burned buyer, so...

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Sky View again on 11/30/2010 15:39:33 MST Print View

I don't think BPL reviewers are rubber-stamping products. So when they say, within the first four lines of the article "Overall Rating: Highly Recommended" I believe they confirmed the product works as advertised.

(SPOT1 did Not get a very good review.)

Edited by greg23 on 11/30/2010 15:40:43 MST.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Sky View on 11/30/2010 15:46:17 MST Print View

> Two questions: On the Utah canyon trip, what was the typical arc of sky that you had available for transmission? For the trips with heavy vegetation overhead, how much sky was really visible?

The data gaps due to the combination of trees and steep canyon were mine, so I'll add to Alan's response. We had two gaps of about an hour each along the Terrace Creek and Pine Ridge Trails in the Ventana Wilderness. During the gaps on our Ventana hike, the tree coverage was 80-100% -- tall conifers (Redwoods and Doug firs) with understory of maples. Tanoak and Coast Live Oak, both very dense-canopied species, fill the gaps caused by fallen conifers. Very dense shade on the floor of mature redwood forests, as anybody who has been in one knows.

The gaps occurred when we were 1000-1500 feet below the adjacent ridges on a north-facing slope of 30-45%. On the rest of our Ventana hike the transmission was fine. On the south and east and west facing slopes, the drier growing conditions means the redwoods don't dominate, and it looks like as long as we weren't in the deep redwood forest we were OK.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Sky View on 11/30/2010 16:02:52 MST Print View

Thanks Amy. That's the answer I was looking for.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
why I carry the SPOT Tracker on 11/30/2010 16:33:52 MST Print View

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

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test on 11/30/2010 16:35:22 MST Print View

Quite a change between Spot 2 and the old Spot! From "Unrated" (i.e. "We cannot rate this product") to Highly Recommended is a big jump!
And wasn't the first review originally "unsatisfactory" or some such thing and then changed? It's great to see a company who pays attention to reviews and has been able to overcome the problems in such a short time!

If the improvements are due to your first review, then all power to BPL!

For now I'm sticking with my McMurdo FastFind, as I'm only interested in help in case of dire emergency, not in letting everyone know where I am at all times (I'd really rather not!). I can see that a lot of people do want this info sent to their families, though. It's great to know that nearly all the SPOT transmissions will get through!

Maybe SPOT 3 will have text messaging (it would be great to be able to tell SAR the exact nature of the problem so they can be prepared) and soothing music to play to you while waiting for rescue. Seriously, though, I suspect that if SPOT adds a few more bells and whistles to what they have now, I will be sorely tempted!

What Amy says in her post above is most telling; I urge everyone to read it!

Edited by hikinggranny on 11/30/2010 16:38:17 MST.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Amy's Share on 11/30/2010 16:55:34 MST Print View

Thanks Amy for sharing your story.
I agree with the proprietor/SAR veteran. That is why I have carried a SAT phone on most of my trips. I rent it, but that has become more and more expensive since the first time I did at about $60 for a full week including several minutes a day talking with my wife to let her know I'm "OK". So, now I am looking again for the magic bullet and had not looked at SPOT because of my first experience with them. I just called a friend of mine who recently purchased a SPOT and was extremely satisfied with its performance on a trip along the John Muir Trail for a week through snow sleet and rain. He indicated that the SPOT did what it was supposed to do and he directed me to the map of his track on the internet. He bought the SPOT 2.
So, I guess I should rethink my aversion to the device and look into it again.
THanks again for the review. BPL keeps me from getting too hide bound in my thinking.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test on 11/30/2010 17:05:32 MST Print View

>"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."

I had never really thought about it in those terms before.

Russell Adams
(rradams@q.com) - F
my comparison on 11/30/2010 17:14:25 MST Print View

I've been using a Spot II since April of this year. It has been used in Utah and Colorado, from the tops of mountains to the bottoms of canyons.

THIS REVIEW IS ALMOST "SPOT" ON TO MY EXPERIENCE.

My reception/transmission rates are almost identical. I also inform those receiving the messages that this device does not have 100% reliability and to not worry if messages are not received on a regular basis.

I chose this locator over a PLB for one reason - the tracking feature. Some time ago I had a brother die on a mountain in New Mexico. As hard as his death was, the week it took to find him was almost unbearable. Like my brother, I enjoy solo trips. Having the tracking mode on my SPOT II gives my family and I a little more peace of mind, especially when I get off the beaten path, so to speak. Some times I think people automatically assume in an emergency they are going to be conscious or alive to active their PLB, and that is not always the case.

Edited by rradams@q.com on 11/30/2010 17:15:38 MST.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Sky View again on 11/30/2010 17:14:50 MST Print View

Let me state that I am coming from the GPS industry.

It is extremely difficult to place numbers on the view of the sky. It varies with your position on Earth, the surrounding terrain, and the type and quantities of satellites overhead. It is also extremely difficult to place numbers on overhead vegetation and how much sky it blocks. Phrases like "30% of the sky" are completely undefined, even if it might be possible to measure it with instruments.

It is possible to make statements about sky view when you are in a completely open field situation, like horizon to horizon. But there, you won't have much question about sky view since it won't be a problem.

--B.G.--

William Cefalu
(wcefalu)

Locale: Louisiana
Great review, but something I found out the hard way...... on 11/30/2010 17:30:50 MST Print View

during my trip to the Sierras last year. I sent three messages per night...once I received the "message sent" confirmation, I started the process of sending another. I had planned to send three "OKs" per night to make sure they went through..When I returned home, I found out that for 4 days, no messages were received by my wife NOR to my email address (I wanted to track the trip). I called the customer service line and they told me I should not have turned it off after the confirmation and to allow it to send for 5 minutes....

So, I am just glad I learned that lesson now....anybody else have such an experience?

So, the bottom line is once you send a message, to ensure it goes through they are telling me to let it transmit for 5 minutes.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Great review, but something I found out the hard way...... on 11/30/2010 17:40:17 MST Print View

Actually, for an OK or Custom message you should leave the unit on for 20 minutes (the unit's OK/Check-in light will go off when it is done). The SPOT sends three messages in a 20 minute period. This is why it is so successful at transmission of the OK message. Only the fist successful transmission of the three is kept and the others are discarded.

Help and SOS messages are transmitted continuously every 5 minutes. Again, the greater the number of attempts the higher the probability of getting the message through, even in limited sky view.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: my comparison on 11/30/2010 17:42:16 MST Print View

>Some times I think people automatically assume in an emergency they are going to be conscious or alive to active their PLB, and that is not always the case.

Excellent point!

Steve O
(HechoEnDetroit) - F

Locale: South Kak
bad reviews on 11/30/2010 17:44:17 MST Print View

Spot2 has a fair amount of negative reviews here: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=spot2&hl=en&cid=9524367885840671267&os=reviews&start=10

just one of them:
"By B.GP - Aug 28, 2010 - Full review provided by REI
Pros: Compact Design
Cons: Unreliable
I've been thru-hiking the PCT since April 2010. I have always made sure to find a clear opening to the sky's to send any messages and have followed all the directions that came with it. Unfortunately, SPOT messenger has failed me every other day. Every night I send an OK message to family and friends and they only receive it, at best, every other night; usually 1 out of 3 nights. I let the SPOT run through the entire cycle of sending and receiving, but it still makes no difference. I've never had to use the SOS button and I can tell you that I do not feel confidant that it would go through. There website has many, many flaws. The navigation of the website to entering emails and phone numbers of the people that should be receiving the messages have many errors and buttons that perform incorrectly. They did a recent upgrade to there site, and still, all the same flaws are there including a few more. [...]I would describe SPOT as an amateur company with a great idea. I think they will need a couple more years to fix their flaws [...] The technological aspect of SPOT is there, but it needs much improvement before it becomes a reliable service."

William Cefalu
(wcefalu)

Locale: Louisiana
Re: Great review, but something I found out the hard way...... on 11/30/2010 17:50:28 MST Print View

Yes, that is what I found out...as I stated, I found out the hard way :)

Russell Adams
(rradams@q.com) - F
SteveO on 11/30/2010 17:51:28 MST Print View

Is this your experience with the Spot II, or just a copy and paste off the internet?

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
clarifying SPOT transmission processes on 11/30/2010 19:17:32 MST Print View

Some folks reading this thread don't have the device, so let me clarify to put some of the comments and questions in context.

The SPOT picks up a GPS signal to find your location. It knows if it received the signal, so the GPS-fix status light is a reliable indication of GPS reception. If the GPS-fix status light is red, then you know it's not getting your location fixed, if it's green, it has your location.

SPOT broadcasts your messages to a different satellite system. It does not receive confirmation from that transmission. The green Message-Sent LED indicates that the message was sent, but not that it was received. For this reason, it's important that the folks at home know that an absence of an OK message or tracking points is NOT an indication that there is a problem. And it’s important for hikers to know that they will be unaware of whether a transmission was successful; the SPOT marketing material does not highlight this aspect of the device. If a hiker were in trouble they would need to factor that into their planning process.

As Alan mentioned, OK and Custom type messages are duplicated for three transmissions over 20 minutes in order to increase the odds that a satellite will be in position to receive the message. The Help message is sent every five minutes for one hour. The 911 message is sent every five minutes until cancelled or until the batteries fail.

In order to increase the odds for a message to successfully go through, one could leave the device on for the completion of the cycle (20 minutes or an hour), and then initiate it again. In the protocol that Alan and I use, an absence of an OK message is no reason for concern, and we consider even spotty indication of forward progress to be confirmation that the hiking party is OK; one or two data points per day is all it takes to know that there is forward progress, and we have been consistently getting 5 or 6 data points per hour.

Both Alan and Amy leave the device on for 20 minutes after initiating OK. In our field tests, the only OK messages that did not go through were those sent when I had Alkaline batteries with the red low battery warning displayed (a use clearly out of bounds of the device’s specification). All other OK messages have been successful. Our testing did not include long periods in heavy forest cover, and it will be interesting to see transmission success data from people using SPOT in the rainforests of the tropics or the Pacific Northwest.

The lack of the ability for a hiker to confirm that the message was received means this is not a fail-safe method. Compared to my prior method (i.e. nothing) it is a big improvement. But people seeking greater security might want to carry a sat phone instead. Alan carries both a sat phone and a SPOT, and found that the SPOT transmitted messages in places where he could not get sat phone reception, so the sat phone is not unambiguously more reliable. It does, however, have the advantage that if you are talking to somebody you know they have received your message.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: SteveO - bad review on 11/30/2010 19:57:32 MST Print View

In addition to Russel's comment...

The first release of the SPOT 2 had problems and was recalled. When reading a review (like the one copied by Steve O from another site), it's important to make sure you know if they are talking about SPOT 1, SPOT 2 pre-recall, or SPOT 2 post-recall version. Our field testing was with the SPOT 2 post-recall version.

More information about the recall is below:


Link to product recall information


"During continuous testing, we discovered that some of these SPOT 2 devices may not meet battery and messaging operating specifications..."

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: clarifying SPOT transmission processes on 11/30/2010 20:05:46 MST Print View

>Alan carries both a sat phone and a SPOT, and found that the SPOT transmitted messages in places where he could not get sat phone reception, so the sat phone is not unambiguously more reliable. It does, however, have the advantage that if you are talking to somebody you know they have received your message.

And the sat phone is heavier, larger, and more expensive both on initial cost and monthly service cost.

And as Amy noted, if you are going to have trouble getting SPOT messages through, you are likely to have problems initiating a sat phone call. Both systems use the same type of satellites.

Russell Adams
(rradams@q.com) - F
reviews on 11/30/2010 20:14:44 MST Print View

Before purchasing my Spot II I spent a great deal of time looking at reviews. It became evident that the device is not without problems, especially the early models, and I have no doubt that many are legitimate. As such, I purposely bought mine from REI (luv that return policy) so that it could be returned if it failed to work to my expectations.

That being said, I began to notice that more than a few of the negative reports were regurgitated stories many times removed from the original source. (I fully expect to see the tragic account of the 2 men on a Colorado peak mentioned in this thread before we are done)

Also, part of the reason you see so many comments on the performance of this locator compared to PLB is because you can actually use them prior to an emergency. They get used frequently and often. I send out messages on my Spot II on almost every trip. Had I purchased a PLB it would have remained in my pack untested and unused, thankfully.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
spot2 on 11/30/2010 20:33:09 MST Print View

thanks for the comprehensive review! :)

I do echo your suggestion of being able to get simple GPS coordinates- this would eliminate (for me anyways) carrying a GPS

I'd also echo Mary's suggestion on the capability to text a message- maybe not feasible, but certainly could be very advantageous

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
another data point on 11/30/2010 20:33:41 MST Print View

I've been using a Spot 2 for most of this year. It's a cool way to share your adventure with family and friends, though as with all electronics it can fail, and that ought to be planned for. Don't share the tracking page with especially histrionic, non-adventure literate relatives.

For those interested in how to kill a Spot, know that the immersion waterproof for 1 hours is quite accurate. On a packrafting trip I attached mine to a strap which came loose, and the Spot floated off into oblivion. Oddly, it sent "Help" messages every five minutes for an hour (as it floated downstream) before dying. No emergency calls or emails were sent, and Spot CS was unable to explain this oddity.

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
Position display on 11/30/2010 20:34:23 MST Print View

A year or more ago I asked the SPOT manufacturer if a coordinate display would be forthcoming. The answer was a terse no! I hope your industry clout brings a better result in this area. A unit that decodes GPS but doesn't display the result! What were they thinking!?

Edited by herman666 on 11/30/2010 20:35:07 MST.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Position display on 11/30/2010 21:47:50 MST Print View

FYI

SPOT has some valid reasons for not putting a LCD display on the unit because a) LCD displays do not work in low temperature environments and the SPOT is intended to work in Arctic and Antarctic environments and the cold of very high summits, b) the LCD is more delicate to being shattered in warm environments—the current SPOT is extremely rugged in terms of impact resistance in comparison to something like a GPS where the display is easily damaged on impact.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: another data point on 11/30/2010 21:57:45 MST Print View

An alternative possibility for the 1 hour:

"[Help] MESSAGE CYCLE
SPOT will send your message and current GPS location every 5 minutes for an hour for redundancy and overall reliability."

So, the SPOT may have still been operational if you could ever locate it. It just stopped sending after an hour as it was designed to do.

I carried a SPOT on a packrafting trip in AK for a week. It did fine on the water, although mine stayed attached to the boat...

Edited by alandixon on 11/30/2010 22:00:09 MST.

Robert Richey
(BobR) - M

Locale: San Luis Obispo
surveying others' experience on 11/30/2010 23:40:53 MST Print View

Thanks for the thorough review. I really appreciated follow-up comments from Amy quoting the experience of the SAR volunteer and your respective message protocols. I have been interested in this product since the first model came on the market. Enthused after reading the very positive BPL review, I went on to survey the reviews on the REI site. Of these reviews 14 rated the device as reliable while 19 found them unreliable. The accounts appeared to me to be first-person accounts and not recycled myths. The theme of all the reviews was the device is terrific unless it fails, and device failure seems to occur for about half the people writing reviews. Some of the negative reviews were written after the recall of 9/27/10, but obviously the purchases could have taken place earlier. All of the negative reviews emphasized that the Spot customer service was seriously substandard if a problem did arise. It sounds like Alan and Amy had the benefit of having a device that operated properly, but there may be quality control issues that have not been resolved. If all the problems have been taken care of and the bad reviews cease, a Highly Recommended rating may be justified. But with electronics like the Spot and the Steripen, one expert's extremely thorough review may not be a reliable guide to others' experience. For these kinds of devices a broad survey of users may be a more reliable indication of what one might expect.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
interesting on 12/01/2010 02:20:01 MST Print View

thanks for the review

now the question is who to believe
- BPL
- equipped.org
- REI reviews

hmmmmmm

Sabine Schroll
(sabi) - MLife
not perfect on 12/01/2010 03:20:16 MST Print View

I had a Spot 2 with me on my 5 weeks (hiking and packraft) in West Greenland this summer - short version: only about 60% of my messages arrived.

I had to exchange my new device immediately after it came to me because of these technical problems and after around 6 months (!) I received an exchange Spot2 - obviously not new, but a used one.


I sent a mix of OK and custom messages (set up camp, etc.) every evening, interesting points - I am not sure yet if there is a difference between the two, but could be.
Even in a perfect clear sky, sunny, no canyons, no trees, waiting for at least 20 minutes until the light is of - only 60% of the messages came through.
Worst were 4 or 5 days in a row without messages! I didn't use the tracking function - it is obviously more redundancy, sending only 1 or 2 messages per day seems not enough for reliabilty.

Maybe it is because Greenland is on the edge of the served area?

The label and colour on the two buttons for Help and SOS is already disappearing.

I still think it is a good thing and I would recommend it too, but knowing and accepting that it is not perfectly reliable should be part of the deal.

Shontelle Adams
(shonkygirl) - F

Locale: Central Coast, Aus.
Delorme GPS with SPOT anyone with experience. on 12/01/2010 04:14:15 MST Print View

Thanks for the great review of SPOT 2. I have been looking at Personal Locators for the last 6 months and am very tempted with SPOT 2. However I have found something that I think is even more tempting but waiting to see user reviews.

Delorme GPS Earthmate PN-60W with SPOT satellite Communicator


http://shop.delorme.com/OA_HTML/DELibeCCtdItemDetail.jsp?item=30785&section=10741&minisite=10020

The main advantage is the ability to send custom messages typed in the field.

If anyone has experience with this I would love to hear about it.

I am assuming the SPOT device is SPOT 2 technology so this review is relevant, but have not seen a Delorme Earthmate GPS and wonder how this compares to other GPS units.

Philip Werner
(earlylite) - F

Locale: New England
SPOT-TY Coverage on 12/01/2010 06:55:54 MST Print View

I don't use the tracking mode on my spot. However, I do send out an OK message each morning at breakfast and one at dinner. In my experience, both in Scotland and in New England, about 10-15% of these OK messages are never received. My wife and I have come to accept this limitation but I can't say we're happy with it.

Finally, the review seems to suggest that the SPOT web site is usable. NOT. It's the biggest piece of usability crap I've seen in a long time. Trust me. Set up your messages once and avoid trying to use that bloody site. It's awful.

Alex P Vertikoff
(vertikoff) - M
Spot 1 worked fine but will get Spot2 on 12/01/2010 07:26:22 MST Print View

I lead wilderness high adventure treks for a scout troop. We are out from between 5-14 days. I have used my Spot1 to send ok messages at the end of each day and to warn of problems. We get into some very deep and remote canyons in New Mexico and Arizona. It has worked fine, always. I have no need for it to track our movements throughout the day. I personally know of several lives which were saved with the spot 1 in the Superstition Wilderness though unfortunately I also know of some prank and just plain stupid distress calls (including one for a dog that had a cactus thorn in it's paw). While I will move on to a spot2, being a gadget person, I refute what seems to be a blanket hatred of the spot 1 by some folks.

Thanks and happy trails,

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: Re: Position display on 12/01/2010 07:59:09 MST Print View

"SPOT has some valid reasons for not putting a LCD display on the unit ..."

The temperature and fragility of an LCD position display excuses don't wash with me. It's not all that difficult to ruggedize a small display, and if I need to get a fix when it's -40, I'll warm it up under my jacket.

Edited by herman666 on 12/01/2010 08:02:24 MST.

Daryl Hawkins
(dlh62c)
SPOT on 12/01/2010 08:17:01 MST Print View

As a test to see if your 'OK' messages are being sent, you can set up your account to text message your own cell phone. My cell phone has rung as little as 20 seconds after the SPOT reports that it has sent out the OK message.

Of course your cell phone will only ring if your in a service area.

daryl

Edited by dlh62c on 12/01/2010 08:52:32 MST.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: SPOT - pre-trip message testing on 12/01/2010 08:41:15 MST Print View

>As a test to see if your messages are being sent,

Excellent point Daryl! It really makes sense to test all message types (but SOS) pre-trip. Even better done again in the town before you hit trail head if you have a cell phone. Not only does this test the unit, it also familiarizes you with its operation. And it also gets local ephemeris GPS data which will speed operation of the unit when you hit the trail. From the review:

"Pre-trip, the SPOT2 user sends tests for all four types of messages, OK, Tracking, Custom, and Help to all Responsible Parties/Emergency Contacts and makes sure they receive all email and text notifications, and that all messages show up on the Web tracking page."

Daryl Hawkins
(dlh62c)
PN-60w on 12/01/2010 08:57:22 MST Print View

Concerning Delorme's PN-60w with SPOT. I'm sure its the bomb. I have a PN-40. But if you think you'll ever need it for door to door routing outside the US of A. I'd get a Garmin.

daryl

Pat Comer
(WPComer) - MLife

Locale: Aborokas
new units on 12/01/2010 09:01:09 MST Print View

As an owner/user of an original unit, I have had one delayed message out in several years of using my unit. I always felt if I had the patience to wait on an esbit to boil water I had the patience to wait a bit on startup of my unit. I admit I have never used the track feature on my old unit but I do bread crumb at times through the day. I'm really happy to see the new units improvements and if lots of folks that were unhappy about the workings of the original units like the new units then I am sure I would be overwhelmed at how well the new unit works and the fact it is about half the weight and size of the old units. From an owner that lost a unit, take out the insurance for a lost unit. My replacement was headache free and fast. I'm very happy to see the new gen. units are making folks happy now.

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
PN60w spot on 12/01/2010 09:04:07 MST Print View

I have a black PN60W with Spot. Yes it is the bomb. Used it for a 3.5 day 70 mile trip just recently. My family recieved all my text messages everyday, evertime i sent them. The battery life is amazing. I was at 95% after the trip. I switched it on and off. the only downfall of the delorme units is the software, which you should give yourself AMPLE time to learn several weeks before you intend on using the unit for a trip. Once you learn the software, Its great. Never had to use spot for emergencies(just for texting), but nice to know its there.

Jon McConachie
(hyker) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Testing data types on 12/01/2010 09:17:17 MST Print View

Regarding playing with the buttons... please do not test the Help button either, it could also initiate a SAR response.

Using tape to help block the hot buttons from being bumped on points to further improvements that the manufacturer could make to the device.

Steven Clark
(sclark58) - MLife

Locale: Costa Rica
PLBs vs SPOT on 12/01/2010 10:18:53 MST Print View

>The disadvantage of a PLB is that the only thing you can do is request urgent assistance.

Now, there is www.406link.com which takes the PLB's self-test and sends an "OK" email to one whomever (Plus service - you get 5 whomevers).

I would like to hear more from adventurers using PLBs. As I understand it, SPOT uses the same (low orbit) comm sats used by sat phones (I've had limited success with sat phones). Whereas, PLBs use the 406 MHz capable of penetrating tree/cloud canopy to SAR sats directly (no 3rd parties).

The ACR 'SarLink View' has a GPS coordinate window too.

Right now, I'm a shopper, not a user (of any of these tech) - so I would appreciate learning more from you guys.

Thanks, Steve
Living the "Pura Vida" in Costa Rica - where tree and cloud canopies are the norm.

Steven Clark
(sclark58) - MLife

Locale: Costa Rica
Re: Re: Position display on 12/01/2010 10:27:58 MST Print View

LCD displays can freeze, but LED do not. SPOT III?

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
avalanche beasons on 12/01/2010 10:59:42 MST Print View

some reputable ones use displays ... if it was really a huge issue i dont think theyd be using them ,,,

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Delorme GPS with SPOT anyone with experience. on 12/01/2010 11:36:28 MST Print View

Hi Shontelle,

For anybody who wants to carry both a GPS and a SPOT (or other emergency device) they're a viable option. With Delorme I've only used the older PN20 in the field. It has very good sensitivity and a good feature set, offset by clunky controls and menus, and ponderous response on the go (i.e., slow screen refreshes while moving).

Playing with the newer Delorme models convinces me they've addressed the speed and processing issues, making the PN60 series technically a very good GPS that's the equal of other top handheld models. Of course whether one likes the display, menu system, controls and general shape is a very personal thing--some will prefer Garmin, Magellin, etc.The Delorme maps are pretty good and they offer satellite imaging, which adds a whole other dimension to backcountry navigation uploaded to a GPS (although it cries out for a larger display).

But pairing with SPOT sets the PN60w apart from everything else, significantly enhancing SPOT with the personalized texting. This SPOT unit is much smaller than even the SPOT2 and takes only two AAA cells. It can also be used as a standalone unit, but will only send an SOS by itself.

The pair retails at a high price but I've seen it for as little as $350, which seems attractive to anybody who happens to be in the market for both a GPS and a communicator.

Here's a PN60w review that includes a link to a review of the SPOT unit.

http://gpstracklog.com/2010/11/delorme-earthmate-pn-60w-review.html

Cheers,

Rick

Edited by halfturbo on 12/01/2010 14:21:35 MST.

dallas shewmaker
(dallasshewmaker)

Locale: Southwest
SPOT Reliabilty on 12/01/2010 12:07:34 MST Print View

Some good/bad comments from the perspective of someone who owns a lot of both SPOT 1 and 2 models - my company has rented them out since they first came out a few years ago.

These units are valued by those at home much more than those in the field - they are lot more worried about safety than the user is.

We've never had any problem with the web portal setup, although maybe we're just used to it since we apply it so much.

We rarely get complaints about reliability in the field, but when they go out, it's a 100% failure - working fine one minute; dead the next. SPOT 1 was as reliable as SPOT 2 in our experience, but SPOT 2 captures a signal a lot faster.

SPOT customer service has been pretty good and responsive, but there's only so much they can do.

The units are frequently lost by the user - be sure to use a lanyard. The belt clip isn't that secure. Despite worthlessness in the hands of another, they are also occasionally stolen.

Test contact emails and cell phones at home before leaving on a trip. Assume some percentage of OK messages are not received, so send at least 3 or 4 a day to better ensure daily receipt at home. There is no pattern to when they aren't received (open clear sky may not complete; a canyon transmission may complete in 2 minutes). Absolutely tell contacts that absence of a message does not mean anything is wrong.

Leave the SPOT unit on for at least 20 minutes for every message transmission effort.

The HELP button has limited practical value - most users are not in a location where a friend or family contact can actually help them out. We suggest using that button as an alternative message conveyance, with a interpretation protocol established with the contacts before the trip.

The SHARED PAGE function showing the cumulative tracks seems to be preferred by those at home over the periodic message postings.

The button text on the unit wears off quickly.

The contacts you list for the 911 setup should be levelheaded and knowledgeable about your trip - they are going to get a call from the monitoring station first when the 911 rescue button is pressed.

In those rare cases where a renter has placed a 911 request, they were in fact rescued in a reasonable time, so the system does work.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: SPOT Reliabilty on 12/01/2010 12:10:20 MST Print View

Wonderful feedback and suggestions Dallas, thanks so much for sharing!

Cheers,

Rick

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
SPOT2 Personal Locator Review on 12/01/2010 12:53:45 MST Print View

In three more years, I will retire and plan to move to either Oregon or Washington state. I live in Michigan and going from a flat state to a mountainous state will put me in very new terrain and conditions to learn about. I am also a solo hiker (none of my friends are into the outdoors), and given these two factors, I am very interested in the SPOT2. Thank you for such a good review and for the information on something that I think I should have for my new hiking life out west.

Daryl Hawkins
(dlh62c)
HELP Button and SAR Response on 12/01/2010 15:30:20 MST Print View

'Regarding playing with the buttons... please do not test the Help button either, it could also initiate a SAR response.'

It will if you have it configured to do so. I used the 'HELP' as a sort of poor mans tracker before I purchased the 'Track' option. It would drop a 'HELP' flag every 5 minutes along my route. But I always forgot to repress it after 1 hour.

I modified my contacts page so I didn't cause any undue distress for my loved ones.

daryl

Edited by dlh62c on 12/01/2010 15:45:11 MST.

Scott Bailey
(Smbailey) - F
Re: SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test on 12/01/2010 16:50:47 MST Print View

During a 2 week trip last July on the Sheenjek R. N of Double Mountain Sat Phone signal was spotty. Waited up to 4 min for lower strength signal acquisition-when there was one-on open tundra bench above the river. During a hike up Pk. 5040' N of camp we stopped at a small notch facing S @ the 3500' level. Signal was all bars with minimal wait time.
Not sure how above operation would impact battery life of the SPOT2 in any of the operating modes.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test on 12/01/2010 17:04:18 MST Print View

"During a 2 week trip last July on the Sheenjek R. N of Double Mountain..."

What state or country or locale or lattitude?

Edited by greg23 on 12/01/2010 17:51:37 MST.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
On the fence about SPOT 2 on 12/01/2010 17:13:53 MST Print View

I would echo the posts of Steve O and Bob R - I have seen a lot of online reviews (that appear to be firsthand accounts) warning of message failure, unit failure, and poor or rude customer service from the SPOT folks. The REI reviews are a great example of this.

Counter to that is the experience of a frequent hiking companion of mine who owns a SPOT 2. His is one of the recall replacement (refurbished) units. On the trips we have done together, it has performed flawlessly. He reports it always works that well.

Now adding to the positives is BPL's glowing praise for a pair of Post-Recall SPOT 2's, even giving them a Highly Recommended rating. Plus BPL now reports a better web interface, despite others here who still malign the SPOT website useability. I didn't see any commentary on customer service.

So I am left more conflicted then before. I would like a messenger like SPOT 2 for reasons Amy noted, and for the comfort it would bring my family and friends when I am in the middle of the wilderness for a week or two. But I am really not anxious to invest in or depend on a device for this manner of communications when it has so many critical reviews floating around.

For now I guess I will keep doing it the old way - leaving a detailed trip plan and renting a sat phone when I am on prolonged solo trips.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: On the fence about SPOT 2 on 12/01/2010 17:55:36 MST Print View

>I didn't see any commentary on customer service.

We had no cause to use customer service. The units operated as described and we had no problems.

Nor did we have difficulty using and web interface. We used the full gamut of message types, email address, SMS messages, shared web pages, exported trips to GPX, CSV, and KML fies, exporting them to SPOT Adventures, making adjustments on the fly to each others accounts mid-trip, etc., etc.

Amy has a very cool 3D Google Earth version of her Pyrenees trip that she created from the SPOT2 output.

Russell Adams
(rradams@q.com) - F
website on 12/01/2010 18:08:28 MST Print View

Not sure why people say the website is unusable. I get on from time to time and have had no difficulty doing what I need to do.

Also I do believe people have problems with their Spots. As mentioned it is an electrical device and can fail. In addition, after you factor in all the different locations and environments it is used in, it is understandable why people have different experiences.

I bought mine with an expectation of performance and was prepared to return it if not satisfied.

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Cost of Spot2 on 12/02/2010 09:17:51 MST Print View

I wanted to see if there were any discounts on SPOT2 and found it for $104.96 on Amazon with free shipping. That's a pretty good deal.

Still, it doesn't help the $100/year contract.

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: Re: Re: Position display on 12/02/2010 09:46:39 MST Print View

"LCD displays can freeze, but LED do not. SPOT III?"
I had the opportunity to test a low temperature LCD display for a product I designed. It didn't freeze per se, it just changed more slowly as it got colder. At minus 40, it was unusable for my application because the seconds display took more than a second to update which made for a jumble. A GPS readout that updated at a slow rate, say less than a minute would be legible at -40. I think that would cover most applications.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Position display on 12/02/2010 14:38:16 MST Print View

Yes, most LCD displays get increasingly sluggish as the temperature dips to the point where digit changes kind of blur together. That can be mitigated by placing a heater behind the display, but that requires battery power. If you leave the whole unit inside your coat for a while, it can operate, but it won't do a good job of transmitting or receiving signals inside your coat.

--B.G.--

Frank Deland
(rambler) - M

Locale: On the AT in VA
SPOT in use on 12/02/2010 22:06:57 MST Print View

I have used the SPOT in Yosemite and on the AT in the VA woods when cell phone reception was no available.

Here is what my wife saw at home in MA when I stopped by this area of Yosemite. Zoom in and the name of the lake appears. As I was hiking along the PCT just before I sent the message, I passed two Park Rangers hiking along with a hiker who had become ill on the trail. Even thought the Rangers carried a satellite phone, they had found it unreliable. Their connection had been dropped.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=37.99367,-119.41841&ll=37.99367,-119.41841&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

It had been raining when I sent the following SPOT Ok message from this campsite in the woods along Virginia Canyon in Yosemite:Virginia Canyon forest

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=38.03432,-119.33882&ll=38.03432,-119.33882&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

I sent a test message from my backyard. Zooming in, one can see the arrow on the exact spot where I was standing. My house driveway and garden are clearly visible, as is the spot on my lawn where I stood. I think the SPOT is a great device.
I a lost hiker had both a cell phone and a SPOT, the contact person could zoom in on the location of the lost hiker and tell him which way to travel to safety. A lost hiker in the woods could be very close to a trail, or a lake or road, etc. he cannot see.

Edited by rambler on 12/02/2010 22:32:51 MST.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Re: On the fence about SPOT 2 on 12/03/2010 13:21:33 MST Print View

I appreciate the reply Alan.

If I were to get the SPOT 2, I would hope not to need their customer service either, but their reputation is so bad that it's actually weighing into my decision on whether or not to get their device.

I am glad to hear of your positive experience with the web interface - that helps.

Ultimately my decision on when to buy one of these devices is affected by how fast the technology is moving. I suspect we are within just a year or two of a moderate-cost device that will allow custom text messages. The Delorme PN-60W with separate wireless SPOT pod is already there of course, but by my count that's actually two devices. I am looking for one.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
User error? on 12/05/2010 14:18:02 MST Print View

Wow. I have been using the SPOT2 since it came out (I never had a SPOT1, I waited for the improved unit) and have been impressed as hell with it. Having read this thread, I started looking up these scathing reviews.

I'm sure there are people who have had a bad time with their SPOT2- as was mentioned they are electronic devices and electronic devices sometimes fail- but at least a few of the more scathing reviews of the SPOT2 were written by people who really don't know how to use the device. I found a couple that seemed to indicate that the user was expecting instantaneous transmission, and they were saving battery life buy leaving the unit off, turning it on to send an OK, and then turning it off again long before the 20 minute transmit window. No wonder they didn't like the transmission reliability!

Heck, I can only recall half a dozen or so dropped messages from my unit in the past year- and they were all points on the Tracking feature, not "real" messages sent by pressing one of the buttons. (FYI- I've been hiking in Colorado, not "Kansas.") As I said, I was actually expecting it to work much less reliably than it actually does, having read a lot about SPOT 1.

Anyway, I suspect that a decent percentage of those bad reviews represent user error, not a failure of the device. You can fix a device, but you can't fix stupid. (Just kidding- I actually made the same mistake. I would send a final OK message when i got back to my car, but then turn the unit off soon afterward to pack it in the vehicle, and noticed that those final OKs never went through, so I read the manual more closely.)

Doubtless, some failures are real, too. As I said, electronic devices fail. But I've generally been very impressed.

What I cannot speak intelligently about is SPOT customer service. My only experience in that area was returning my original device for the recall. I returned it immediately when the recall was announced (actually, before I'd ever used it in the field) and as near as I can tell I did get a new unit in exchange. And it arrived much more promptly than others described- about six weeks- but perhaps that was because I was one of the first people to send it in for exchange.

All of the stories about rude customer service reps and problems canceling the service do sound distressing, though. Especially since I need to cancel my service, as I'm leaving the country for the next year and won't be able to use it.

Edited by acrosome on 12/05/2010 14:43:55 MST.

Robert Richey
(BobR) - M

Locale: San Luis Obispo
Re: user error on 12/05/2010 15:17:09 MST Print View

Nice point. I would be very tempted to purchase this unit if your theory about user error (+ recall issue) accounts for the vast majority of consumer complaints.

James Moughan
(jamougha)
user error and reviews on 12/05/2010 21:14:25 MST Print View

At least some of the REI reviews are not for the SPOT II:

"I've travelled with a spot on several trips, one of which was a hiking trip to Patagonia through the glaciers. I had spotty unreliable service while trying to "breadcrumb" my hikes and send messages to those on my contact list. With a 50% connection success rate I returned the device to REI after my 1yr contract with Spot was up. I considered buying the Spot II as it was smaller with promises of better service; however, after contemplating the purchase in the store I decided against it."

Many of them refer to the SPOT rather than SPOT II. Could the reviews for the old model have been folded into the new one? Amazon is terrible for this.

There are also many ways for the user to screw up, like using alkaline batteries, or not keeping the device outside their pack and facing the sky. I'm inclined to believe the positive reports of a few technically adept users.

Nevertheless, the manufacturers appear to have mediocre quality control and really lousy customer service.

Edited by jamougha on 12/05/2010 21:15:14 MST.

John Montgomery
(DrWho)
SPOT1 and SPOT2 comments on 12/07/2010 14:56:51 MST Print View

From your field tests of the SPOT2 it sure looks like the operational envelope may have been expanded quite significantly. However you should have also performed a side by side field comparison with a SPOT1 to prove that it really is all the SPOT2 internal improvements rather than some unknown changes made in the rest of the communication system or a combination of both that give you such good results.

I have had very good luck with my SPOT1 probably because I am very familiar with the technology involved as well as being a professional electrical engineer with many years experience in digital design, satellite communications systems, GPS, real time embedded software, etc. and I operate my SPOT1 within its limitations which were pointed out in the SPOT1 review and confirmed by my own field tests. I do not see any reason for me to upgrade to a SPOT2.

The problem with these systems is that the general user is just a “button pushing appliance operator” who does not really understand the underling technology hence he/she can easily make a very simple operational mistake rendering the device essentially useless. It behooves the user to read and follow the vendor’s instructions. My personal opinion is that the SPOT1 directions and theory of operation was lacking quite a few important details which led to quite a lot of obvious user confusion and poor user results; hence a lot of very shrill negative postings where made about the SPOT1.

I am curious to know in which Utah canyon complex you tested the SPOT2. I would guess the Grand Gulch/Bullet Canyon area. As you point out, I am quite sure someone is going to try and use a SPOT in a Buckskin like canyon and complain that it does not work. I would be surprise if any portable communication system would work reliably from the depths of Buckskin near the “Cesspool”.

William Mitchell
(FlyBy) - F
PLB for me on 12/08/2010 08:43:05 MST Print View

I chose a PLB because I wanted a rescue initiation device. While my PLB (SARLink) will do OK messages with the 406Link service, I am unmarried and don't really need to be in constant contact with anyone for peace of mind. I do understand that a lot of folks have good reasons for letting loved ones know where they are regularly, which the SPOT generally does well.

While fishing a narrow canyon, I slipped at the top of a large log jam and bounced my way down until I was flat on my back on a gravel bar. I was uninjured, but a look at my path down the trees showed that I was extremely lucky to have not been stabbed by one of the many branch stubs sticking from the logs. During that same trip, I had attempted to use my GPS, a Garmin 60CSx that is generally regarded as having excellent satellite reception, and had no luck. So, I used that as my benchmark when deciding between the SPOT and a PLB.

The PLB uses the GEOSAR sat system as well as the LEOSAR for doppler positioning, and has a homing signal. Most importantly, the PLB signal is 5 watts as opposed to the SPOT's 5 milliwatts, so it will cut through heavy tree cover. An OK message sent in the above mentioned canyon was successfully transmitted.

I let people know where I'm going and when I'll be back. In my case, they don't need to know where I am each day, but if I need to send an OK message I can. I pay $60 a year for that service, but if I choose not to pay for the service, I can still contact SAR, since that service isn't part of the subscription, unlike SPOT.

I wonder if it's fair to compare the 2 devices. A SPOT is more of a communications device that can be used to contact SAR, while a PLB is a rescue initiation and homing device that can also do some comunication. Each one has strengths that offset the other's weakness.

Eric Klocko
(eklocko) - F

Locale: SD
Positive vs Negative Reviews on 12/08/2010 10:12:55 MST Print View

I have no experience with the device in question. Concerning the reviews. I know that personally I live off online reviews. Yet, horribly, contribute very few. I think that often many people, myself included, don't write reviews when things operate as expected. My guess is that unless the spot burned down their house, and kicked their dog, most people just keep on using it without updating the world.

Dan Feldman
(podin04) - F
Fantastic device, track progress shortcut on 12/12/2010 09:59:26 MST Print View

I've found the SPOT 2 to be exceptionally reliable and accurate. I used it this summer while hiking the Montana section of the CDT. The device reliably broadcasted my location each time in temps down to the mid 20s F. Locations were dead-on accurate.

One feature I'd like to mention is the Track Progress function that was extensively reviewed in this article. It's important to note that the Track Progress function adds an extra $50 to the $99 subscription for the ability to broadcast your location every ten minutes.

If you don't need to record your location every ten minutes, but would still like to keep track of where you've been, you can track your progress for free by using the "check in/OK" message feature. This feature sends a pre-arranged email message to as many as ten addresses with your exact latitude and longitude coordinates. Someone at home can easily plug this info into a custom google map. If you only are interested in recording your position once or twice a day, I'd recommend this method. However, if you really need to know your position more frequently, I'd recommend buying the Track Progress feature as the check-in/OK feature takes roughly 20 minutes to deliver an accurate message.

On my CDT trip, I used the check-in/OK feature to make the following map: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=106761653233945770416.000488ad860855530b5b4&z=7

Bob Chilson
(bob.chilson) - MLife

Locale: eastern high sierra
Looks like it turned out ok on 12/22/2010 23:13:04 MST Print View

I ordered a Spot 3 months before they came out. Still have it and it works fine for what I wanted and for what it was advertised to do, with its known limitaions. At the time I wrote a short bit about it here in BPL forum as to what a great potentially life saving device it was despite its few faults.
After it came out and was reviewed on BPL, it seemed like it was doomed to failure. It had good points and bad points, nothing that couldn't be fixed.
Glad to see it survived and improved.

Ryley Breiddal
(ryleyb) - F - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Battery? on 12/22/2010 23:36:06 MST Print View

If I just want to use this for the SOS function, I assume I can leave it off indefinitely and then turn it on only if needed?

i.e. I'm doing a thruhike and I don't want/need the Track functionality, and I don't want to replace the batteries every 3-6 days. Workable?

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Battery? on 12/23/2010 06:26:51 MST Print View

You are exactly right. You can leave it off and just turn it on to send an SOS when needed. It should not use the batteries.

But most electronics equipment have a slight drain on batteries when not turned on. Given the nature of the SPOT, I would imagine that this drain would be designed to be quite low to nonexistent, but it is not something we tested. To be safe I would install fresh batteries at the beginning of my thru hike.

A few minor caveats:

1) The GPS in the SPOT will acquire a fix faster if it has been used recently.
2) There is a "safety" value in laying down some sort of breadcumb--even just an OK message once a day. In case you are injured and unable to activate the SPOT somebody would know where to start looking for you (i.e. after your last OK message).

In the one OK a day use scenario the batteries would last a very long time. Over 300 days.

Edited by alandixon on 12/23/2010 06:32:57 MST.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Battery? on 12/23/2010 10:16:57 MST Print View

"1) The GPS in the SPOT will acquire a fix faster if it has been used recently."

This is true for every GPS receiver.

--B.G.--

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Battery? on 12/23/2010 11:22:47 MST Print View

Also at around 120-140 hours of battery life with a decent sky view, you'll get a lot more than 3-6 days use out of a set of batteries. Operated at 10 hours a day you'll get more like 12-14 hiking days.

Gerry Brucia
(taedawood) - MLife

Locale: Louisiana, USA
Spot Message Issues on 11/22/2011 16:02:00 MST Print View

Twice in the last year I used my SPOT locator and had serious issues with it. Just this past weekend I used it during a hike on the Eagle Rock Loop in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, near the Albert Pike Recreation Area that experienced the deadly flood two years ago. And yes, there was another flash flood this weekend when the Little Missouri River rose over 8' in less than four hours. I got out safely and fortunately my wife was unaware of the severity of the situation.

But out of ten okay messages that I sent to my wife over a three day period, all with a green signal indicating success, only three were ever received by my wife. The other seven never got through. Every time I made sure to be in an area clear of trees with as good an open area as possible. I will note that I did not leave it on for twenty minutes each time to give it the opportunity to retry sending the okay message two more times. To do that, you have to remain stationary and during the day, I tend not to stay stationary that long. I falsely assumed that if the green light indicates that it was successfully sent, it is sent. But apparently the more I read the more I realize that a problem with the Globalstar satellite results in a message being sent but not necessarily transmitted from the satellite to the designated recipient(s).

With a 30% success rate, it is not reliable. Had my wife realized the severity of the flood, she probably would have contacted emergency assistance since my messages were not coming through. IMO, it is a piece of junk unless this problem is resolved. Are other people experiencing this same problem?

Ryley Breiddal
(ryleyb) - F - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Send problems on 11/22/2011 16:35:45 MST Print View

I've used mine ~100 times and had it fail to send maybe a half dozen, invariably when I was deep in a canyon or under dense forest. It does not give any indication of failure (in fact the opposite, it says it has sent successfully). My understanding is that the SOS feature sends a ton more messages than the Check-in/OK feature.

When I was using mine on the CDT, the deal with people at home was that missed Check-Ins should not be interpreted as "OMG HE IS DEAD". The Check-In is just a nice way to say hi to people at home. If the SOS was similarly flawed, that would make the device useless, but having never used it, I can't say whether that's the case.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Spot Message Issues on 11/22/2011 17:07:47 MST Print View

Hi Gerry,

Yes, you are right, it pays to follow the instructions. If you want the OK to work reliably you do need to let the unit stay on for a while. If you do, you will find that the SPOT has near 100% reliability sending OK messages. If you don’t, you risk a low percentage of OK messages going out.

Note that the green light DOES NOT mean that it has successfully sent a message. Only that it is sending a message. You need to leave it on to be sure it actually hits a satellite when it is sending. Thus the 20 minute period and multiple attempts, to increase the probability that a satellite is in position when your SPOT unit sends. This is not a defect of the SPOT but the nature of satellite coverage. (At times, I’ve had a devil of a time getting Sat Phones to reliability connect in the backcountry.)

If you are constantly on the move then the best times to send an OK message are when first you get up in the morning and before leaving camp, during your lunch break, or just when you get in camp at night. There should be ample opportunity then to leave it on for 20 minutes or so. This is what I normally do, as I move a lot during the day.

Also, you do not need to stay in one place to use the SPOT OK. You can press the OK button and walk down the trail for 20 minutes. Assuming decent open sky, and that the SPOT is something approximating horizontal, it should work with reasonable reliability while you walk. (User trick. If you happen to be using track progress mode, you can activate that first, then press OK for a check-in. After the required 20 minutes, the SPOT will automatically go back to tracking progress mode. This is a great way to leave camp in the morning, or do a midday check-in.)

Finally the Globalstar satellite “problem” is a Sat Phone only problem due to amplifier failure on the band that supports Sat Phone signals. This does not affect the SPOT which uses a different band and electronics on the satellite. In fact, the SPOT was created to better utilize the satellites by using good working circuitry on them.

So the SPOT is not junk. But like most equipment, it requires some user knowledge, and it needs to be used properly and within its limitations.

Best of luck using the SPOT on your next trip!

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
SPOT messenger question on 11/22/2011 17:11:26 MST Print View

Responding to Gerry Brucia's question about reliability of sending SPOT OK messages.

First, as Ryley said, your agreed upon protocol with your home-base should be that an absence of messages can not be interpreted as a problem. "...protocol is this: If there are no tracks or SPOT2 messages, it does NOT mean that we have a problem. It could be one of many reasons, but you should NOT worry about it. (dead battery, device lost or damaged, etc). In this case revert to protocols used before we started carrying SPOT2: assume all is well until 24 hours after our expected trip completion time, at which point Responsible Party should notify the appropriate agency to initiate SAR."

A PLB is undoubtedly a more reliable device, and if you require that level of service, you might consider carrying both. Unfortunately, a PLB doesn't allow you to proactively tell your wife that things are AOK, which is what you were trying to do. A Sat phone allows the person in the field to know that the recipient got the message, which SPOT does not. However a Sat phone is not necessarily more reliable than a SPOT - the difference is that you know if the recipient got your message.

Second, you don't need to stand in one place for 20 minutes after initiating the OK, you can just leave the device on and continue walking or cycling or whatever you're doing. The device doesn't need to be still to work. To increase the likelihood of a message going through, you really should plan to leave the device on so that it transmits multiple times.

Third, I have had >90% transmission success for both Tracking and OK messages when using Lithium batteries, even when they are mostly drained and the battery light is red. On the other hand, partially drained Alkaline batteries give me a success of something between 10% and 50%. In other words, do everything you can to use Lithium batteries.

Fourth, I have now had two SPOT-2 devices COMPLETELY FAIL while on hiking trips, one in May2011 and the other in Oct2011. The GPS chip stopped working, and the devices were dead-weight. In both cases SPOT replaced the unit. However, this level of reliability is a huge problem. This is one reason I think it's critical that the home-base knows that an absence of messages does not necessarily mean there is a problem. I'm still a fan of the SPOT concept and functional design. However, the reliability problems I've had make me eager to see some other company offer a competitive product.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Spot Message Issues on 11/22/2011 17:12:43 MST Print View

"This is not a defect of the SPOT but the nature of satellite coverage."

Actually, it is the nature of Globalstar satellite coverage, not satellites in general.

--B.G.--

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: SPOT messenger question on 11/23/2011 00:55:47 MST Print View

Fourth, I have now had two SPOT-2 devices COMPLETELY FAIL while on hiking trips, one in May2011 and the other in Oct2011. The GPS chip stopped working, and the devices were dead-weight. In both cases SPOT replaced the unit. However, this level of reliability is a huge problem. This is one reason I think it's critical that the home-base knows that an absence of messages does not necessarily mean there is a problem. I'm still a fan of the SPOT concept and functional design. However, the reliability problems I've had make me eager to see some other company offer a competitive product.

while im sure there are PLBs that are duds ... and that those dont get reported as much due to the "use only when shiet happens"

IMO this level of failure is not acceptable at all ... even if SPOT replaces the unit, if something happens on the trip, yr up the creek with no paddle ...