Is there really a way to feel safe when out of cell phone range on a hiking or backpacking trip? What about women who hike alone – can a little device provide peace of mind? Check out this Hiking Lady SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger Review to find out if it will suit your needs!
On my recent trip to Yosemite National Park, I took along a sample SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger. These pocket sized gadgets are designed for outdoor adventurers who want a method of sending pre-determined messages and GPS coordinates to loved ones back home and emergency rescue personnel.
What is the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger?
Simply put, the SPOT Gen3 is a personal locator beacon that provides one-way messaging. Note the “one-way” aspect; I’ll provide my thoughts on that later. The SPOT operates on its own private satellite network, which means that you can send pre-determined messages to your loved ones as well as an emergency message to first responders. Public networks that some other devices operate on don’t allow the custom message feature.
Using the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger:
Prior to your adventure, you need to set up your tracking message at the findmespot.com website. You won’t be able to change your messages from the device itself. This is a sample of what the message to your loved ones will look like. The “Message” line is what is customizable.
The basic functions:
- S.O.S.: Flip up the rubber cover to expose the S.O.S. button, which sends out your GPS coordinates to GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center and lets your emergency contacts on file know that you have sent out a distress signal. Once this button is pushed, it will send your location every 5 minutes. If the SPOT Gen3 Messenger is unable to send your GPS coordinates, it will still send a distress signal.
- Help/SPOT Assist: Alerts your contacts that you need help, but that your situation is not life-threatening. This button, just like the S.O.S. button, is protected by a rubber flap to help prevent you from accidentally pushing it.
- Check-In: Provides your contacts at home with your GPS coordinates via email or text.
Additional functions (for additional service fees):
- Custom Message: Just like the “Check-In” feature, except that you can send a custom (pre-determined) message. Plus, when you’re back at home you can see your waypoints plotted on a map in your SPOT account.
- Tracking: Allows your contacts at home to see your waypoints plotted on a map in your SPOT account. You can pre-set your device to send out your tracks every 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes. The “Extreme Tracking” extra feature enables you to track down to 2.5 minute intervals.
How well does the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger work?
Thankfully, there was no need for me to press the SOS button on my trip! Therefore, I’ll just be commenting on the Check-In, Custom Message, and Tracking features.
The device provides lighted feedback (green or red) to let you know that it is on, has a GPS signal, and when you send a message. However, since Yosemite is a valley and there are many areas with dense trees, there were spots where I had difficulty obtaining a GPS signal. Ideally, the SPOT needs a clear view of the sky, the logo should be pointed upwards, and it must be kept at least 12 inches away from other GPS devices.
Here’s an example when I was a bit disappointed that the tracking signals did not complete. I hiked to Taft Point, starting from the trailhead on Glacier Point Road in Yosemite. The SPOT Gen3 did an excellent job tracking my route from the car (parked about 1/4 mile up on Glacier Point Road since the small parking lot was full) to the trailhead. I stopped at the trailhead (#10), used the rest room, then started out. I paused for a backpack adjustment (#11, #12), then continued on to The Fissures and ultimately Taft Point. The device stopped recording when the tree cover became quite dense (#13 was last recorded spot), and for whatever reason didn’t record that I made it to Taft Point nor the journey back to the car. If I needed S.O.S. Emergency help, even these waypoints would be extremely helpful to rescue personnel, however, don’t expect the SPOT to track a 100% accurate picture of your journey.
Limitations of the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger
- One-way communication. As noted earlier, the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger can only communicate in one direction. You can press a button and the device will flash green that it is working, but there is absolutely no way to know for sure if your loved one at home got your message or the rescue personnel received your SOS transmission. I found that even in popular hiking spots in Yosemite not all of my signals were transported back to my contacts at home. Only when I was in a very clear area and stopped hiking for at least 10 minutes did it reliably send signals that actually were received by my contacts.
- Difficult to use in valleys and dense forests. While it is great that the device lets you know when it cannot obtain a GPS signal (the GPS light blinks red), it is frustrating when it takes awhile to obtain a GPS signal.
The SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger should be considered a low cost insurance policy to connect you (potentially) to emergency rescue teams in a dire circumstance. It is “average” at sending reliable signals home to loved ones. When it works, it works great. But since it doesn’t always establish a solid satellite connection, you may think your message was sent but you won’t know for sure. There’s no way of knowing that unless you have a two-way satellite device (such as a very expensive satellite phone) or are back in cell phone range.
For the price, it is an affordable security option. For those of you with deep pockets who want two-way communication, a SPOT Global Phone is a much pricier and less battery friendly option, but could give you the peace of mind of two-way communication.
- Price: $149.95 plus monthly or annual subscription plan, depending on what tracking you’d like
- Batteries: 4 AAA Lithium batteries. Stated battery life of 1,000 check-in or custom messages
- Size: 3.4 x 2.5 x 1 inches
- Weight: 4 ounces
- Water Resistance: 1 meter
Thank you to SPOT for providing a temporary subscription and loaner SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger for this Hiking Lady review!