Backcountry Safety: Satellite Messaging Devices

If you’re traveling alone in the backcountry, you might want to consider bringing along a GPS-enabled satellite messaging device. Such devices can let authorities know if you are in trouble and can provide them with GPS coordinates of your location. Even if you’re out of cell reception, you should be able to communicate via satellite.

Garmin and SPOT are the two major brands of satellite messaging devices. Both companies have devices that allow for two-way communication, so you can text back and forth with a cell phone user. Additionally, SPOT offers a simpler device that doesn’t do two-way communication but does have remote tracking, a distress signal, and a standard “OK” message. These devices typically run from $100 to $500. In addition to the upfront cost of purchasing the device, they also require a monthly subscription fee, which can be $10 or more per month.

Satellite messaging devices can be a helpful safety tool. But they can also create complacency among their users and encourage people to take bigger risks. When they are triggered needlessly, they create unnecessary headache for local emergency services. Nothing can replace good outdoor sense. Always remember to file your trip plan with a trusted individual, stay within your limits, and make good decisions when you are in the backcountry—otherwise, you may find yourself contemplating a cold night shivering in a latrine. 

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