It may be hard for some to imagine that even in todays wonderful world of technology, there are still areas where you cannot get cell phone reception. However, they do very much exist and the fact that we would be walking through such areas for a long period of time seemed to trouble our families. In order to settle their nerves, as well as ours, we purchased a SPOT Gen3, the latest Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) model from SPOT; which uses a private satellite network, Globalstar, instead of the international one used by other PLBs.
Weight: 4 ounces/113.398 grams
Thickness: ca. 1 inch/ 2.54 cm
Height: 3.4 inches/ 8.63 cm
Width: 2.56 inches/ 6.5 cm
Operating temperature: -22°F to 140°F/-30°C to 60°C
Operating altitude: -328ft to 21,320ft/ -100m to 6,500m
Power: 4 AAA Energizer Lithium 8X batteries (L92) or 4 AAA Energizer NiMH rechargeable batteries (NH12)
SPOT functions and weather resistance
We had never used a PLB before and our knowledge around it all was rather slim, nonetheless, after a little fiddling around combined with some reading in the manual and their website we felt confident in our usage of the device. In fact, it’s a pretty straight forward idea – push the emergency button in order to start transmitting via the Globalstar satellite system to the GEOS Emergency Response Coordination Center to start a Search And Rescue (SAR). The Globalstar satellite signals will pinpoint your exact location, leading to a faster rescue almost anywhere in the world with some exceptions (see the full coverage map HERE)
The S.O.S button which activates the emergency feature of the SPOT is probably its biggest selling point, but in addition it has quite some cool features.
Help/SPOT Assist: lets you alert your personal contacts back home that you require their assistant in a non – life – threatening manner.
Custom Message: this feature lets you send a custom pre – made message to 10 contacts telling them how you’re doing, in addition it sends your GPS locations so that they can see where you are at the time the message was sent.
Check – In: you might want to let your family/friends know that all is well; then you can send a pre – programmed message with your GPS coordinates as a text message, email or via social media. The message will be sent to 10 pre – determined contacts. A waypoint will be created and stored in your SPOT account for up to 1 month for later reference.
Tracking: there are 3 options to choose from, Basic, Unlimited or Extreme (we used Basic). A vibration sensor activates the SPOT to send track updates when you are moving and to stop when you do, a neat battery – saving feature. You can choose the SPOT to plot waypoints every 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes (down to every 2.5 minutes with the Extreme subscription).
It must be noted that it is not possible to change the pre – determined messages without the use of a computer and internet access.
In addition to the emergency feature it was the Tracking and Check – In feature that really appealed to us, as well as our families. Both of these were frequently used, pretty much every day, luckiky we were never in need of the emergency feature.
The Tracking feature is great as it plots waypoionts as you are moving, letting friends and family (or blog followers) follow you along the way. The waypoints are stored in your SPOT account, however, after about 1 month they disapper as SPOT is unable to store them permanently. What we did to resolve this issue was to use the site FollowMySPOT which saves your waypoints, thus making it easier to keep track of your route.
Toughness: during the past 6 months we have put the SPOT Gen3 through the ringer, but no matter the physical challenge the SPOT withstood it all. It has been hanging on the outside of PJ’s backpack the entire way exposed to the terrain, wind and rain. While canoeing down the Whanganui river we had it strapped to one of the barrels, even though we capsized once and the SPOT went for a proper swim the device still functions perfectly fine.
Problems with message reliability and GPS signal
Message reliability: one of the key reasons for purchasing the SPOT Gen3 in favor of other PLBs out on the market was its ability to send pre – made messages to friends and family, giving the parties at home the peace of mind knowing we’re O.K. This is a great feature which is made possible by by – passing the international satelite signals through their own satelite system, Globalstar. However, there were numerous occasions were the morning Check – Ins had not been delivered in spite of the device showing that it was successfully sent, regardless whether or not it was sent from inside or outside of the tent.
We also experienced problems with the Tracking function. This was due to constant loss of a GPS signal even though the Globalstar satellites orbits much lower (800 miles) in space than the international ones (22.000 miles). The biggest weakness of the SPOT Tracking is found when the device is in an area of dense bush, or even while walking in a forest, it will simply not locate you. It appears to be struggling on cloudy days as well, even though PJ would stand in the middle of an open field for a long period of time it would not locate any GPS signals. Another problem area is while hiking in the mountains, appearantly the face of the mountains reflect the satelite signal sent from the device causing the signal to go off in all different directions. The way to counter this is making sure the device is facing directly upwards according to SPOT, nonetheless, even in perfectly sunny conditions the Gen3 had issues establishing a proper connection. PJ would constantly have to stop in order to hold the device directly upwards for the signal to be re – established. Exactly where the problem lies is unknown to us, nevertheless, it makes us question the reliabilty of the SPOT Gen3 and whether or not it would successfully transmit the emergency signal or if it would fail leaving the person in distress unaware of this, leading to a possible fatal consequence.
Batteries: you can choose to use either 4 AAA Energizer Lithium 8X (L92) or 4 AAA Energizer NiMH rechargeable (NH12) batteries. We found that with sending a Check – In message every morning and having the Tracking function running all day the Lithium (L92) batteries would last on average around 6 – 7 weeks while with the NiMH (NH12) rechargeable ones you would have to change batteries every 2 – 3 weeks.
It is clear that there is an issue with the reliability of the SPOT Gen3’s messaging system. However, it has proven to be a PLB which is easy to use and it does its job rather well for the most part. The fact that it can take a beating and is waterproof is very much appreciated while being out in the bush. Even with its flaws we will never venture out into the outback without our SPOT Gen3 due to the peace of mind it brings to us and our families.