As more and more of us are venturing further into the backcountry, the volume of rescues and dangerous situations has undoubtedly increased. Thankfully, technology is evolving more and more each day with the introduction of several life-saving handheld devices that can communicate with satellites nearly anywhere in the world. ACR and SPOT are the two most common handheld satellite messaging systems that are capable of sending for help from nearly anywhere in the world.
Over the past few months, I’ve had the chance to tinker with the SPOT Satellite Messenger in the Utah backcountry and have become dependent upon the safety and peace of mind it provides.
About the SPOT Satellite Messenger
A little larger than a typical avalanche beacon, the SPOT Satellite Messenger is an all-in-one satellite communication device that could literally save your life. Carrying this along for the ride provides the ability to keep friends and family informed as to your whereabouts or in the case of an emergency, call for help.
Built out of sturdy and durable materials and sporting a removable belt clip or loop, the SPOT Messenger is built to withstand the abuse it will undoubtedly take in the backcountry. A simple interface with 4 buttons that work as follows:
- OK: Use this to send an email to a distribution list with a short, pre-built message (115 characters configured via Web interface) and a link to your location in Google Maps.
- Help: Sends an email to a distribution list with a pre-built help message (115 characters configured via Web interface) and a link to your location in Google Maps.
- 911: Sends a dispatch to local emergency personnel with your coordinates and any medical information you have on your online profile with SPOT.
Additional details on the SPOT Messenger:
- Waterproof casing floats in water
- Weight: 209 grams
- Maximum Operating Altitude: 21,300 ft.
- 2 AA lithium batteries (included)
- Device MSRP: $149
- Annual Service Contract (required): $99 with add-ons available
SPOT Satellite Messenger Review
Out of the box, the SPOT feels very ruggedly-built. The thick orange case with rubber grips is capable of withstanding repeated abuse (I dropped it a few times on accident and a couple of times on purpose… still ticking). It comes with a belt clip or a loop option to keep it secured to your waist, beltclip or elsewhere on your pack.
For starters, you need to configure your account online. It’s very easy to set up the quick messages that will be sent with every OK and HELP request. You’re limited to 115 characters, so you’ve got to be concise, but every email also includes a link to a map of your location via Google Maps. (see sample below)
To use the SPOT Messenger, simply hold down the “On” button for a few seconds until the green light blinks. It will automatically search for and acquire the necessary satellites. Within 2 seconds of being turned on (with a clear view of the sky), you can begin sending signals–pretty quick.
Because the SPOT Messenger lacks an LCD display, you’ve got to become a master at Morse Code, SPOT-style. Read the instructions to get an understanding of what all the blinking patterns mean. But, the most important is that you want both middle green lights to blink simultaneously. That tells you that the unit has a lock on the satellites for best message transmission. The OK button requires only a short press, but HELP and 911 require that you hold them down for several seconds to prevent accidental dispatch.
My wife has really appreciated the SPOT Messenger as it has let her keep tabs on my backcountry ski tours from the comfort of our home. She knows I’m having fun and am safe and can show our kids where daddy is at the click of a mouse. It’s become pretty fun around our house as everyone becomes involved in my adventures.
Luckily, I haven’t had to utilize the 911 button, but the HELP button works as well as the OK button.
Included with the service are two Web-based elements. I spoke about the management interface above, but you also get a share-able “SPOT Shared Page” that can be bookmarked and accessed online at any time. The only downside is that it only stores your last few days of adventures (unless you upgrade). With the standard service, you can search the past 30 days in your online account and export to Google Earth or other mapping services.
Just a couple of gripes about the device. The lack of LCD readout really leaves you out of the loop on whether or not messages have been submitted. I could never remember what the blink patterns meant and I did loose some OK calls during my various trips in the backcountry.
Other than that, the belt clip needs some serious work. Maybe it will work well with a super-thick leather belt, but with a nylon waistbelt or backpack strap, the device just fell off. I had to keep it in a pocket, so it made for a 2-man process to push a button since I never wanted to remove my pack just to push the “OK” button.
- Durable construction
- Simple design is fairly straightforward
- Easy online account management
- My wife loves the instant updates with one-click Google Map location
- Reasonably-priced peace of mind
- No LCD display keeps you wondering if it’s locked onto the satellites and if you’ve actually sent a message
- A bit bulky, but should scale down over time
- Belt clip needs improvement to prevent it from slipping off so easy
The Bottom Line on the SPOT Satellite Messenger
Without question, this little unit is worth every penny. The extra peace-of-mind for myself and my family is priceless. The device itself needs some refinement in the form of a small LCD readout and a sturdier belt clip, but still, it’s hard not to justify having a SPOT Messenger.
Buy Now: Search for SPOT Messenger