Wednesday, April 30, 2014

EZ Phone Home

Most all backpackers are concerned about pack weight.  For a lightweight hiker, the gear is repeatedly scrutinized to justify its space in a pack.  Several years ago I added a 4.1 ounce piece of gear and haven’t regretted its weight on a single trip.
That item is a Spot 2 Satellite Messenger.  No, I didn’t add it so much for safety concerns as much as I added for my family at home.  Spot’s original ads read “Get Out Alive!”.  I quickly realized that was only a side benefit of the product.  Its true value is allowing my wife (who unselfishly gives me time away from home to hike) to see on a map where I am each night and know everything is going according to plan.  Even my granddaughter enjoyed following me as I hiked the AT in 2010.

So how does Spot work?  Once your account is activated the user logs in and sets up messages in three categories.  In the “check-in” block I usually make mention of what trail(s) I’m hiking.  I can also bounce this message to Facebook and Twitter for friends that like to follow my adventures.  There is a custom message block that I usually reserve for the end of the trail.  It usually has something in it like “Great hike, on my way home”, but any message up to 110 characters will fit in these two blocks.  There is a “Help” category to send a message home that is not a true “call out every emergency organization in the area” situation and another that contains phone numbers of people to contact just in case that situation is a true emergency.  Spot is monitored by the GEOS Rescue Coordination Center and relays your position to local emergency personnel.
In the Check-in, Custom, and Help blocks, Spot allows you to send messages to as many as ten e-mail or SMS addresses.  That is probably adequate for most of their users.  I found it a little limiting when I’m out with my Scout Troop.  Moms like to know where their sons are.  I got around this by starting a Yahoo Group.  I entered the address for the group like any e-mail address and each member of the group is notified when we are in camp at night.  
There is also a way to have the device track your movements or track you.  I’ve used it to mark trails and later download the info from Spot’s site.  It can also be used with a digital camera to locate pictures on a map.  I found this feature interesting but I’m too impatient to load all of my pictures individually to a website.  
So how well does it work?  Out of the hundreds of times I’ve used the device only a handful of time has it not worked.  I discovered on those rare occasions I had cut off the unit too soon.  It had not had time to finish making three attempts to send my message.  The lithium batteries seem to last forever, and I easily get a year out of a set.  Yes, they have to be lithium, other batteries will not work. 
Spot has a growing product line.  Since I acquired mine, they have added Spot Connect, Spot Gen 3 and Spot Global Phone.  The Connect relays short messages from a smart phone.  The Spot Gen 3 features a motion detection tracking feature and other tracking improvements.  The global phone allows phone calls from pretty much anywhere.  Of course all of these features all come with a price tag.  I’m still happy with my Spot 2.
With my upcoming hike I’ll have the Spot on each night signaling that everything is going well and life is good on the trail.  If you want to check my location here is Spot’s map page address.