I can't believe it took as long as it did, but SPOT came to the rescue, a couple years ago in fact. Now becoming hugely popular, the rugged SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker is a must-have for anyone and everyone who ventures into remote places or participates in high-risk activities. Whether you're a hunter, angler, backpacker, paddler, snowmobiler, or even a globetrotter - this little unit is a keeper. In short, SPOT uses a GPS satellite system to identify the user's location and communications satellites to transmit that information to chosen recipients. Great for basic ongoing correspondence, it can quite literally be a lifesaver in an emergency situation.
Weighing just 5.2 oz. (147.4 g), and measuring 3.7 in. (9.4 cm) x 2.6 in. (6.6 cm) x 1 in. (2.5 cm), the new SPOT units are compact indeed. Although my own use has been in warmer conditions, SPOT is said to function in temperature ranging from -22 F (-30 C) to 140 F (60 C) and at altitudes of -327 ft (-100 m) to +21,320 ft (6,500 m). It's even got a belt clip for easy attachment to backpacks, belts or other gear.
The SPOT Satellite GPS Personal Tracker
In my younger years I used to hike into the backcountry, often alone, to hunt sheep and elk in the Rockies. Sometimes I'd go backpacking with friends, other times I'd scramble up into remote alpine lakes to do some fly-fishing, and occasionally I'd mount my ATV and head far into the boreal forest for some recreational riding ... often without a second thought. Erroneously feeling invincible at first, without fail each time I'd reach my destination the inevitable would cross my mind - "What if?"
What if I broke my leg? What if I became so ill that I was completely immobilized unable to help myself? What if bad weather trapped me in some remote location? What if my four-wheeler broke down? Worse yet, what if I, or my partner(s), fell victim to a life-threatening injury or illness while in the backcountry? How would I get help?
Before the advent of cellular phones, satellite phones were really the only solution. Still today, particularly in mountainous or extreme northern areas, cellular technology is useless. But I've now had a chance to experiment with what many are considering to be the greatest safety net available - the SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker. The price is right (retailing for around $170) and the concept is simple; it's small, it's easy to use, durable, and most importantly it works!
My own unit has the original four functions, but the newest SPOT units have five primary functions, each of which is activated by pressing the corresponding button. These include a Help button, a Check In button, Custom Message button, a Track Progress button, and a 911/SOS button.
SPOT allows the user to keep their contacts informed of their status, location, and progress. The Check In button allows the user to do just that - check in. By pressing this button, the user is able to inform their predetermined registered contacts where they are and that they are okay. When the user registers online, they provide SMS text numbers and/or e-mail addresses of key contacts. By "checking in", they automatically send a pre-set text message or e-mail message along with a link showing their exact location. Basically, this function allows the user to check in on a regular basis thereby keeping contacts informed that they are free and clear of danger and that all is well. This function is slick, easy to use, and is arguably the function most often used.
Likewise, the Track Progress button provides even more information. This function allows the user to send and save their location by way of GPS locations. These location markers are recorded in real time through the satellite link and friends and family can track the user's progress complete with virtual views using Google Maps. All waypoints are stored during the course of the user's trip so that they can review their route at a later time. On a recent sheep hunt, I had recorded my wife's e-mail as one of my contacts on the findmespot.com website. Track Progress reports came in as promised and the route was easily followed on Google Maps by a simple keyboard stroke on our home computer.
This function is a nice advancement added to the newest evolution of SPOT. It allows the user to send registered contacts a custom pre-programmed message along with their GPS location at the push of a button.
While these initial two functions are certainly valuable and provide an interesting option for friends and family to keep track of the user, the functions I find absolutely imperative are the those that can be activated in case of an emergency. SPOT instills peace of mind, that no matter what, help will come if the user gets into trouble. By pressing the Help button, the user is in essence, asking for assistance. This function is designed to beckon assistance in the event of a minor mishap. SPOT sends a pre-programmed message along with the user's GPS location to request non-emergency help from their contacts. But if the user is in dire trouble, the last remaining function is a godsend.
This function is designed for use, only in a life-threatening emergency. By pressing the 911 or SOS button, using dual satellite technology SPOT immediately sends the user's precise GPS location and a distress signal to the GEOS 9-1-1 Emergency Call Center. This is done independent of cell phone or other land-based radio coverage, entirely by satellite transmission. The call center in turn notifies the relevant authorities, in most instances Search and Rescue (SAR) to immediately come to the user's assistance.
Avoiding Accidental Messages
The SPOT unit is designed in a manner to help the user avoid sending messages by accident. It has a separate power (ON/OFF) button; this serves two purposes. First it helps to preserve battery life, and second, it helps to avoid sending messages accidentally. I haven't used the unit on any trips long enough to require new batteries so I can't speak from personal experience about battery life, however my older unit runs on two AA lithium batteries; the newer units run on three AAA Lithium Ultmate 8X batteries. SPOT claims that battery life is up to three months with the power on under ideal conditions, i.e. clear skies.
Activation & Warranty
The problem with some of today's electronics is that they can be challenging to use. Not so with SPOT. Simple to use, the first step is activation. This is done by logging on to www.findmespot.com , clicking on your global location, then pressing the "Activate Your Spot Unit" button, and following the basic steps to register your unit - the process is very straightforward; in fact, it only took me a few minutes to do on my home computer. You simply select a desired service plan and away you go. An amazing feature offered through SPOT at the time of activation/registration is the option to purchase GEOS insurance. For a nominal fee of just a few dollars, GEOS insurance covers the use of emergency services should they be beckoned. Users can upgrade the GEOS Member Benefit for reimbursement up to $100K in search and rescue (SAR) expenses. According to SPOT, this can even be transferred to coordinating a private SAR contractor if necessary.
In my view, SPOT has covered the bases. They provide the fundamentals; they've kept their SPOT unit small; its easy to use; and its compact, not to mention the available insurance coverage. In my opinion SPOT is a must-have for any outdoor adventurer.
Want to Learn More?
For more information, inquire at your local outdoor store or visit www.findmespot.com .
Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl
guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails
and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either
bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing,
waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known
outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his
outfitting services, visit www.venturenorthoutfitting.com .
Member of OWAA & OWC.