Review: The SPOT Satellite Messenger – Is it something you should carry into the backcountry?
Is a SPOT messenger something you should carry in the backcountry? Is it really just for those who go deep into the wilderness?
by Blake Miller
SPOT is satellite messenger. It’s a device that has the capability to receive and process Global Positioning System (GPS) data and link that
information to a preloaded text or email message. Messages sent from remote locations can provide updates to family and friends or activate an emergency SOS alert (911) response.
The manufacturer’s web site states: “The SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger provides a vital line of communication with
friends and family when you want it, and emergency assistance when you need it. Using 100% satellite technology, SPOT works virtually anywhere in the world, even where cell phones don’t – all with the push of a button.”
SOS: “Use this function In the event of a life threatening or other critical emergency to notify emergency services of your GPS location and that you need assistance. The GEOS International Emergency Response Center alerts the appropriate agencies worldwide – for example contacting 9-1-1 responders in North America and 1-1-2 responders in Europe.”
I bought my first SPOT about four years ago and then bought a second (and newer) model last summer. The newer model is smaller, has a bit more capability and was about two-thirds the cost ($99 at Cabelas). There are many variants of locator beacons/messengers on the market today but I stayed with SPOT because of its reliability and simplicity.
Here are a few suggestions for using your SPOT:
• Pick those who you would place on the contact/notification list carefully. Ask permission to place someone on list. Update the list before each trip. This is especially true for those assigned to respond in an emergency; be picky.
• If someone wants you to be on their list think that over. Do you really want to respond to a request for help? Will you be available?
• Keep your emergency contact information current.
• Provide SPOT web site user ID and password information to a family member. Put this information on your trip plan too. (Click here for a sample trip plan.)
In every message option I list:
o My cell phone number
o My activity and general area description (e.g., hunting in the Metolius unit west of Camp Sherman)
o Who is with me
• In the field, activate the device in an open area away from trees and cliffs. A clear view of the sky is the hiker’s best bet.
• If you have a notification schedule – stick to it (e.g., “I will call every night at 6:00”).
• If you send OK/Check in messages check to ensure the designated contacts received SPOT messages. Do this when you return home.
• SPOT is not limited to backcountry use only. Take it on trips, to the shopping center and overseas. Like a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, frequent
use develops confidence and understanding.
• The unit’s buttons are somewhat difficult to push in and activate. That is a designed capability. My local SAR organization was activated last spring due to an inadvertent SOS/911 alert.
• Keep the unit close at hand where it can be turned on quickly.
• Lithium batteries must be used in the SPOT messenger.
I have been a satisfied user, and take my SPOT everywhere. Do check the company’s web site occasionally at www.findmespot.com.
Blake Miller has made a career out of staying found and knowing where he is at all times. His formal navigation training began when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1973. He served as an officer aboard several Navy ships over his
20-year career; many of those tours included the duty of Navigator. Blake began working with satellite navigation systems at sea in 1976, culminating with the then-new satellite positioning systems aboard the Battleship WISCONSIN in early 1990.
In 1998 Blake started Outdoor Quest, a business dedicated to backcountry navigation and wilderness survival. Blake has taught classes to wild land firefighters, state agency staffs, Search and Rescue team members, hunters, hikers, skiers, fishermen and equestrians. He regularly teaches classes through the Community Education programs at Central Oregon (Bend) and Chemeketa (Salem, OR) Community Colleges.
As a volunteer, Blake teaches navigation and survival classes to students in the local school districts, and conservation groups. He is a member of a Search and Rescue team.
If you have any questions about land navigation or wilderness survival, you can contact Blake through SurvivalCommonSense.firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can go to his website.
To hear the Blake Miller interview about choosing a magnetic compass and GPS on SurvivalCommonSense.com Radio, click here.
For more navigation information, click here