SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger Failed Check-ins

SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger Failed Check-ins

There were three reasons why I recently decided to start carrying a SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger; to be able to check in remotely to let my family know that I am safe, to have a way to signal for help in the event of an emergency, and to track the progress of my hikes on a map. I’m disappointed to say that of the two features I’ve been able to use on a regular basis it has fallen far short of my expectations and I’m seriously lacking confidence in the third and probably most important feature. Let me take a look at them one at a time and explain why I’m less than impressed by this product.

Remote ‘Check-in/OK’ Messages

After having some issues last year with acute mountain sickness (AMS) during my hike of Mt. Whitney, my wife insisted that I take something with me that would allow me to check in remotely throughout the hike to let her and my kids know that I was okay. Personal location beacons, while a more professional solution, do not typically provide that type of messaging capability. The SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger was the most obvious and probably best know choice. I particularly liked that I could custom configure two different messages using the Check-in/OK and Custom Message buttons. One for an ad-hoc messaging (check-in/ok) along the trail and one for when I settled down for the night and set up camp (custom message).

So, that’s exactly how I configured the two buttons and throughout my hike I made sure to use the buttons at regular intervals to let my wife know that things we going okay and that I was fine. I also made sure that the indicator lights showed that the messages had been successfully sent.

I later discovered that the messages I had sent did not go out in real time or even close to real time despite the indicators lights on the device showing that they had been successfully sent. It turned out that two days worth of messages (at least six check-ins) didn’t arrive until the third of my hike and then all at the same time or within minutes of each other. If the SPOT service is batch processing the messages, which is how it would appear to be working based on my Mt. Whitney hike and several others, why on earth am I paying for this service? This is not how I want or how I expected the product to function based on the sales description and instructions.

SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger Failed Check-ins

Tracking Progress

Another feature of SPOT that I liked was the ability to turn on automatic tracking (Track Progress) via GPS at regularly spaced intervals for up to 24 hours. On some of my more adventurous hikes I’ve always wanted to have an accurate account of exactly where I went, how long it took me, and what my pace was. As many of your may already know I do this via old school pencil, map, and paper right now so it’s not as if I can’t go back and chart my progress accurately, but I thought this might be a good opportunity to let advancements in technology help me to do that more easily – after all I’m a technology guy by day.

The SPOT tracking progress feature, once activated (it’s a separate paid service), will send information about your position (way point) every 10 minutes along the trail until it is turned off or once 24 hours has passed, thereby creating an accurate trace of your hiking progress throughout the entire day. At key points along my route I send “check-in/ok” messages as mentioned above which temporarily suspends the tracking service until the messages has been sent. The interruption in tracking has never been an issue for me as my check-ins are typically at rest stops and the tracking is only suspended for one 10-minute cycle typically.

SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger Failed Check-ins

The problem I have with SPOT’s track progress function, and others had warned me about this, is that it is temperamental. Specifically, there are times when for no apparent reason there will be enormous gaps in the tracking data for hours on end, which completely defeats the purpose of having a tracking function. The first time I experienced this, and you have no way of knowing until you’re home and have finished your hike, was along a section of the Appalachia Trail. I had the SPOT device attached to my backpack’s shoulder straps and in hindsight think that the physical positioning of the device may have been too low on the straps causing interference with the satellite signal. There was also heavy tree coverage along the trail, so I attributed the “spotty service” (pun intended) to user error.

A subsequent section hike of the AT with fellow blogger Stick and his friend Joe resulted in equally poor tracking data despite adjusting the positioning of the SPOT device on my shoulder strap so that it was much higher up and (I hoped) able to send a good satellite signal. There were still a lot trees, so I assumed, although I was frustrated by this time, that the trees were the problem. Again, the disappointment wasn’t fully realized until I had gotten home and looked online.

SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger Failed Check-ins

During my most recent hike on Mt. Whitney I used my SPOT II again, but had gone one step further and modified my Gorilla backpack to accommodate the device on the top cover of my pack so that it had a clear view of the sky other than if there was tree cover, which on the Whitney portal trail is only at the beginning. However, the tracking data is filled with gaps and as I mentioned above the check-in/ok and custom messages weren’t delivered until days later. Could the problem be that SPOT uses a combination of their own satellite network and the GEOS International Emergency Response Center to route their traffic, whereas other more expensive devices use the more reliable Iridium satellite network?

And I’ve not even mentioned how basic and unintuitive the SPOT website is for viewing the map data. Selecting tracking points to display is clunky with poor/inconsistent check-box options and why is there no elevation data captured as part of the tracking function? My Garmin watch does a better job than the SPOT does, unfortunately the battery on my Garmin only lasts for 8 hours otherwise it would replace the tracking feature of SPOT in a heartbeat.

SOS | Signaling for Emergency Help

The last reason I wanted to start carrying a SPOT II GPS Messenger was so that in the event of a life threatening or other critical emergency I would have a way to notify emergency services of my exact location and signal that I needed assistance. Luckily I have never had to test this function (and yes I paid for the insurance), but based on my experience with the other SPOT services and their reliability I’m extremely concerned that this may not be the device that could save my life in an emergency situation. That’s a big problem.

Conclusion

I’ve wanted to try a SPOT II device for quite some time, hoping all along that the reports I had read of poor coverage or gaps in service were isolated incidents or user error that wouldn’t happen in my case. Wrong! I’m disappointed in the reliability of the SPOT services for sending check-in/ok messages to loved ones and reliably capturing tracking data. I’m frustrated that the SPOT website feels like using mapping technology from the late 90s. I don’t want to have to fight with a user interface that feels like MapQuest when I’m used to the ease of use of sites provided by Garmin and RunKeeper. Most importantly I’ve lost confidence in SPOTs ability to send that one critical message to summon emergency services when my life of that of someone else’s relies upon it.

I want to leave you with a link to a gear review posted recently on ITS Tactical for the CerberLink GPS tracker from BriarTek. From all accounts the CerberLink is what I had expected the SPOT II Messenger to be. Unfortunately it doesn’t come close.

Do you own a SPOT II GPS Messenger and, if so, what do you think of it? Have you had the same experience with it as I have, or does it work fine for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts about SPOT or recommendations on alternative devices for tracking my hikes and checking in along the trail – if there are any alternatives?

Disclosure: The author (Brian Green) was given the SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger as a Father’s Day gift by his wife and children.

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  • Here -here. I did not renew my SPOT Connect this year for similar issues. Sold the device this summer for penny’s on the dollar. Tech will never prevail in the backcountry.

    • Ugg, I’m bummed because I wanted something simple and reliable and the technology is not exactly rocket science. Maybe the answer is to just forget about a technology solution and go back to pen and paper like I’ve always used – of course that doesn’t help my wife feel better while I’m gone. I think I need Iridium satellite phones to sponsor me ;)

      • Tell your wife the Caveman had to use rock smashing to communicate with loved ones. Another benefit of not being locked in a contract ;+)

        • Advice: buy electronics at REI.

          • I do! However, I was in northern Michigan for Father’s Day this year and my wife and kids ran to the nearest outdoor store (Gander Mountain) and bought it there. That’s also why I was slightly concerned (and hoping) that it was NOS. No dice.

      • tensai

        Thank you for your review (and blog in general). Being a solo hiker in Japan, I have been looking at both the SPOT2 and the inReach for a while now. Being dependent on a smart phone is what put me off of the SPOT Connect and inReach at first.I tried to compare the two by checking specs and looking at reviews and comments. There is some info out there that seems inconsistent or based on faulty assumptions. I thought I’d share some info from what I have gathered so far (please feel free to correct where I’m wrong, I’m not arguing for or against either device, just trying to compare them):The inReach works as a standalone device too, not with 2-way texting of course, but you can at least still send SOS and three custom messages, for which you will get send confirmation back to your unit. So you can use the inReach as a standalone device.You can use the inReach as you would a SPOT, but in the event of either help to friends or full on SOS emergency, you could pair it up for additional communication to help your people help you. This to me seems like a great functionality to have. If you want tracking with the Spot and the inReach, the multiple (say 4~5 ) year service fee for inReach almost doubles.Not a big factor for me but there is a difference in battery life, with SPOT lasting longer (between ~5 or ~7 days respectively). For me it makes sense to look at other devices you already have. I have a Petzl light that takes AA’s, so bringing a spare set would cover light and inReach. (But if I would go with a SPOT I could simply consider switching to an AAA powered light). What I like about inReach is the possibility of 2-way communication, both for the message send confirmation (which comes after message is received by satellite) and less so for actual texting – which is great but for me emergency only.What I really like about the SPOT is the separate buttons for the different messages (inReach custom msgs cycle through one button). If you are dehydrated, hypothermic, tired, wet, stressed the brain can make mistakes easier. Do you send out the right message to your contacts? Separate buttons makes this easier. I also like the smaller device of the SPOT and the cheaper price. Device is one thing but service is the real cost if you look at 4 ~ 5 years of use. The inReach is almost double. If the SPOT does not perform properly though, than I think that is even more expensive. I am leaning to the SPOT for its simplicity and price, to the inReach for its added functionality, reliability. Not decided as of yet.

        • tensai

          (Sorry for the bad formatting. I thought I inserted spaces for paragraphs)

      • tensai

        Thank you for your review (and blog in general).

        Being a solo hiker in Japan, I have been looking at both the SPOT2 and the inReach for a while now. Being dependent on a smart phone is what put me off of the SPOT Connect and inReach at first.

        I tried to compare the two by checking specs and looking at reviews and comments. There is some info out there that seems inconsistent or based on faulty assumptions. I thought I’d share some info from what I have gathered so far (please feel free to correct where I’m wrong, I’m not arguing for or against either device, just trying to compare them):

        The inReach works as a standalone device too, not with 2-way texting of course, but you can at least still send SOS and three custom messages, for which you will get send confirmation back to your unit. So you can use the inReach as a standalone device.

        You can use the inReach as you would a SPOT, but in the event of either help to friends or full on SOS emergency, you could pair it up for additional communication to help your people help you. This to me seems like a great functionality to have. If you want tracking with the Spot and the inReach, the multiple (say 4~5 ) year service fee for inReach almost doubles.

        Not a big factor for me but there is a difference in battery life, with SPOT lasting longer (between ~5 or ~7 days respectively). For me it makes sense to look at other devices you already have. I have a Petzl light that takes AA’s, so bringing a spare set would cover light and inReach. (But if I would go with a SPOT I could simply consider switching to an AAA powered light).

        What I like about inReach is the possibility of 2-way communication, both for the message send confirmation (which comes after message is received by satellite) and less so for actual texting – which is great but for me emergency only.What I really like about the SPOT is the separate buttons for the different messages (inReach custom msgs cycle through one button). If you are dehydrated, hypothermic, tired, wet, stressed the brain can make mistakes easier. Do you send out the right message to your contacts? Separate buttons makes this easier.

        I also like the smaller, lighter device of the SPOT and the cheaper price. Device is one thing but service is the real cost if you look at 4 ~ 5 years of use. The inReach is almost double. If the SPOT does not perform properly though, than I think that is even more expensive.

        I am leaning to the SPOT for its simplicity and price, to the inReach for its added functionality, reliability. Not decided as of yet.

  • Here -here. I did not renew my SPOT Connect this year for similar issues. Sold the device this summer for penny’s on the dollar. Tech will never prevail in the backcountry.

  • Ugg, I’m bummed because I wanted something simple and reliable and the technology is not exactly rocket science. Maybe the answer is to just forget about a technology solution and go back to pen and paper like I’ve always used – of course that doesn’t help my wife feel better while I’m gone. I think I need Iridium satellite phones to sponsor me ;)

  • That is a bummer to hear Brian…I don’t think that I will be picking up one of these…and TBH, I was even thinking about that earlier today when I was thinking about the Wonderland Trail hike…

    OTOH, I wonder if there was such an inconsistency with the SPOT 1’s…I know I had read about them before, but that has been a while and I cannot remember…either way, I am not sure if they are for sell anymore either…

    And I was wondering about the way it may have looked from our hike…at least the beginning of it… :)

    Anyway, I will have to check out that link to the CyberLink GPS Tracker…

    Oh, and I like your disclosure… :)

  • That is a bummer to hear Brian…I don’t think that I will be picking up one of these…and TBH, I was even thinking about that earlier today when I was thinking about the Wonderland Trail hike…

    OTOH, I wonder if there was such an inconsistency with the SPOT 1’s…I know I had read about them before, but that has been a while and I cannot remember…either way, I am not sure if they are for sell anymore either…

    And I was wondering about the way it may have looked from our hike…at least the beginning of it… :)

    Anyway, I will have to check out that link to the CyberLink GPS Tracker…

    Oh, and I like your disclosure… :)

  • Phil out west

    I’ve thought about getting the SPOT, but I’m leaning towards the ACR PLB. http://www.acrartex.com/products/catalog/personal-locator-beacons/resqlink-406-gps/
    There is a “I’m ok” feature available, but these are more for activating an SAR. There is also a Delorme product that uses the Iridium system for essentially a satellite text messaging system.

  • Phil out west

    I’ve thought about getting the SPOT, but I’m leaning towards the ACR PLB. http://www.acrartex.com/products/catalog/personal-locator-beacons/resqlink-406-gps/
    There is a “I’m ok” feature available, but these are more for activating an SAR. There is also a Delorme product that uses the Iridium system for essentially a satellite text messaging system.

  • Thanks. A very useful review. I’ve been wondering about a SPOT. Always looked a bit clunky to me.

    • Well to be fair this is not a review of the product or functions – far from it. I almost started with the words “this is not a gear review”, however it is a review of my thoughts after using it and I’m bummed.

      There are so many thorough and detailed reviews of the device that I didn’t think it necessary to going into every feature. Also, to be fair, the device is well built and conceived – just in practice it is not providing the level of service or functionality that I have expected from the product descriptions.

      I’ll freely admit that this may be a defective unit, but boy wouldn’t that suck if you were in an SOS situation!

      • I meant it was useful as a review of how it functions in real life rather than the features :)

        I’ve never understood why it’s not combined with a GPS readout.

  • Thanks. A very useful review. I’ve been wondering about a SPOT. Always looked a bit clunky to me.

  • Sorry to hear about your bad experience Brian. I’ve been using a Spot 2 since late May this year and my experience has been largely positive. Check-in/custom messages are delivered almost instantly (based on conversations with family after a trip or checking on Twitter if I get a data signal) and tracking has been great for long backpacking trips (missed points in forests but that is no different to most other GPS devices). I have had two custom messages fail to deliver, but no failings with the ok message. This represents two failed messages out of say 40 or 50 that I have sent over the last few months. My review is at
    http://tms.nickbramhall.com/blog/2012/07/spot-messenger-2-review/ and I use http://www.shareyouradventure.com/ for mapping which is much better than the Spot interface.

    Anyway, it’s useful to hear from someone who has had problems. I’ll be keeping an eye on mine going forward but must say for what I use it for it has been mostly excellent. I guess the main issue is how much confidence you have in the system – you really want something like this to just work, otherwise it becomes more of a liability.

    • I wanted to know if mine was an isolated case, and it doesn’t sound as though it is. That said, it’s great to hear that you’re having a positive experience with yours and that it appears to be functioning properly.

      • Yes, it’s certainly interesting to read about some of the other experiences on this thread. It seems the level of service is nowhere near consistent though I imagine there are a lot of different factors involved.

  • Sorry to hear about your bad experience Brian. I’ve been using a Spot 2 since late May this year and my experience has been largely positive. Check-in/custom messages are delivered almost instantly (based on conversations with family after a trip or checking on Twitter if I get a data signal) and tracking has been great for long backpacking trips (missed points in forests but that is no different to most other GPS devices). On my most recent trip one of my custom messages failed to deliver but that is perhaps one failed message out of say 40 or 50 that I have sent over the last few months. My review is at
    http://tms.nickbramhall.com/blog/2012/07/spot-messenger-2-review/ and I use http://www.shareyouradventure.com/ for mapping which is much better than the Spot interface.

    Anyway, it’s useful to hear from someone who has had problems. I’ll be keeping an eye on mine going forward but must say for what I use it for it has been mostly excellent. I guess the main issue is how much confidence you have in the system – you really want something like this to just work, otherwise it becomes more of a liability.

  • rachelcotterill

    I’d take it back! That’s clearly not fit for purpose, or as advertised :(

    • Well, I’m not ready to just demand my money back (yet). I’d like to see if I can get to the bottom of this and determine if this is a consistent pattern among SPOT II users or whether I have a faulty unit or did something wrong. I’d like to give SPOT the benefit of the doubt – fingers crossed. Thanks ^BG

  • rachelcotterill

    I’d take it back! That’s clearly not fit for purpose, or as advertised :(

  • Adam

    We took a Spot while crossing the Bass Strait (2 weeks island-to-island) for charity. Supporters (including family) followed our progress on the spot live update (I believe that Spot did a good job of helping us set this capability up). Unfortunately it stopped updating before we got to land on one of the biggest days, causing panic among the more nervous relatives of one of our group. I had a laugh reading the anxious speculations later on facebook, but it was probably not fun for them.

    • That sums up my experience nicely. It’s all laughs after the fact but my wife was seriously concerned that I had not checked in – she probably would have been less concerned had I not carried a device that was supposed to enable me to do that. Nuts!

  • Adam

    We took a Spot while crossing the Bass Strait (2 weeks island-to-island) for charity. Supporters (including family) followed our progress on the spot live update (I believe that Spot did a good job of helping us set this capability up). Unfortunately it stopped updating before we got to land on one of the biggest days, causing panic among the more nervous relatives of one of our group. I had a laugh reading the anxious speculations later on facebook, but it was probably not fun for them.

  • Well to be fair this is not a review of the product or functions – far from it. I almost started with the words “this is not a gear review”, however it is a review of my thoughts after using it and I’m bummed.

    There are so many thorough and detailed reviews of the device that I didn’t think it necessary to going into every feature. Also, to be fair, the device is well built and conceived – just in practice it is not providing the level of service or functionality that I have expected from the product descriptions.

    I’ll freely admit that this may be a defective unit, but boy wouldn’t that suck if you were in an SOS situation!

  • That sums up my experience nicely. It’s all laughs after the fact but my wife was seriously concerned that I had not checked in – she probably would have been less concerned had I not carried a device that was supposed to enable me to do that. Nuts!

  • Well, I’m not ready to just demand my money back (yet). I’d like to see if I can get to the bottom of this and determine if this is a consistent pattern among SPOT II users or whether I have a faulty unit or did something wrong. I’d like to give SPOT the benefit of the doubt – fingers crossed. Thanks ^BG

  • Jim

    I had problems with my Spot 2 last year. So this year I switched to a Delorme Inreach and have been pleasantly surprised.

  • Jim

    I had problems with my Spot 2 last year. So this year I switched to a Delorme Inreach and have been pleasantly surprised.

  • Aaron

    Sorry to hear your experience was so poor! I purchased a SPOT II for my week long trek in Scotland. I used the message features and tracked my progress on the map afterward. I have to say that everything went great. My wife (back in the United states) got the updates and watch my little green dot move across the map. In fact, the only issue that I had was related to too many check ins crowding my map (the regular checkins all pool up in locations where you took a break, or if you forget to stop tracking… easy enough to clean-up, if you want to).

    • Aaron, great to hear that you had a good experience with your SPOT II. I wasn’t able to get the live map to update properly so all my wife would get was the “point in time” maps with my location according to the check-in/ok message coordinates, maybe I should play with that some more.

      I agree that the 10 minute tracking intervals can start to bunch up if you’re going slow or tacking a break, but you’re right that they’re easy to fix. However I found the web interface very frustrating to use when I wanted to select four+ days worth of tracking data to display on the map. With only options to show 100 tracking points at a time per page and no apparent memory to know what waypoints I had selected when I tabbed to page 2 it was a mess – the select by day range simply wouldn’t work for me either. I ended up exporting the data to another mapping tool entirely.

      I’m encouraged by your success with the SPOT II, thanks for taking the time to leave your feedback.

  • Aaron

    Sorry to hear your experience was so poor! I purchased a SPOT II for my week long trek in Scotland. I used the message features and tracked my progress on the map afterward. I have to say that everything went great. My wife (back in the United states) got the updates and watch my little green dot move across the map. In fact, the only issue that I had was related to too many check ins crowding my map (the regular checkins all pool up in locations where you took a break, or if you forget to stop tracking… easy enough to clean-up, if you want to).

  • I’ve had the same problems with the device – going on 3 years now. I get about 85% accuracy on check-ins (OK messages) in Europe and in the states. This used to freak my wife out, but now she’s used to it. If anything, it’s a good reason to 1) know your wilderness first aid, and 2) hike with people who know how to triage a serious injury without relying on the SPOT to signal for help. The reality is that you wouldn’t get help for 24 hours+ anyway in the states. As for the issue of private vs public networks. I don’t believe that it’s the network that’s at fault, but the interchange between the network and email services. Regular PLBs based on the public SARlink don’t generally offer email forwarding. Chances are the network got your message, but the email servers didn’t, or that the messages were delayed by all of the email servers in between the network center and your wife’s ISP. Everyone in the email industry knows how screwed up email delivery is in the southeastern US. Hope you bought this at REI. If you want more reliable communications, I suggest you just get a SAT phone. But that sort of defeats the purpose of a vacation, no?

    • I’d agree with you about the latency in email delivery between nodes and servers if we were talking minutes or hours, but days – no that’s not the case. My wife has experienced no other unusual email delivery problems other than these isolated SPOT messages.

      I’m 100% with you on the need to know how to triage injures and apply forst aid, in fact I was hesitant to carry the SPOT because of the bad press and reliance people seem to put on it – don’t want to get lazy. It was mostly for my wife’s peace of mind rather than the real (or perceived) need for medical help, which as you state wouldn’t arrive for many hours anyway.

      A PLB would be overkill for me IMHO and I’m definitely not at a stage where I need or want to have an Iridium SAT phone, although checking my twitter feed in the wilderness does sound fun – NOT!

      Thanks for the feedback Philip, right on the money as usual. Oh and no it wasn’t bought from REI :(

      • I used to run operations for a company that sent email on behalf of customers – think mailChimp or Constant Contact. Google, Yahoo, AOL, all of the major ISPs throttle or block email messages, especially from IP addresses with bad reputations. I believe that is what’s happening with SPOT. They could pay to certify their email and ensure it gets through these sites without interference, but that requires a certain sophistication in the issue.

  • I’ve had the same problems with the device – going on 3 years now. I get about 85% accuracy on check-ins (OK messages) in Europe and in the states. This used to freak my wife out, but now she’s used to it. If anything, it’s a good reason to 1) know your wilderness first aid, and 2) hike with people who know how to triage a serious injury without relying on the SPOT to signal for help. The reality is that you wouldn’t get help for 24 hours+ anyway in the states. As for the issue of private vs public networks. I don’t believe that it’s the network that’s at fault, but the interchange between the network and email services. Regular PLBs based on the public SARlink don’t generally offer email forwarding. Chances are the network got your message, but the email servers didn’t, or that the messages were delayed by all of the email servers in between the network center and your wife’s ISP. Everyone in the email industry knows how screwed up email delivery is in the southeastern US. Hope you bought this at REI. If you want more reliable communications, I suggest you just get a SAT phone. But that sort of defeats the purpose of a vacation, no?

  • Aaron, great to hear that you had a good experience with your SPOT II. I wasn’t able to get the live map to update properly so all my wife would get was the “point in time” maps with my location according to the check-in/ok message coordinates, maybe I should play with that some more.

    I agree that the 10 minute tracking intervals can start to bunch up if you’re going slow or tacking a break, but you’re right that they’re easy to fix. However I found the web interface very frustrating to use when I wanted to select four+ days worth of tracking data to display on the map. With only options to show 100 tracking points at a time per page and no apparent memory to know what waypoints I had selected when I tabbed to page 2 it was a mess – the select by day range simply wouldn’t work for me either. I ended up exporting the data to another mapping tool entirely.

    I’m encouraged by your success with the SPOT II, thanks for taking the time to leave your feedback.

  • Tell your wife the Caveman had to use rock smashing to communicate with loved ones. Another benefit of not being locked in a contract ;+)

  • tensai

    Thank you for your review (and blog in general). Being a solo hiker in Japan, I have been looking at both the SPOT2 and the inReach for a while now. Being dependent on a smart phone is what put me off of the SPOT Connect and inReach at first.I tried to compare the two by checking specs and looking at reviews and comments. There is some info out there that seems inconsistent or based on faulty assumptions. I thought I’d share some info from what I have gathered so far (please feel free to correct where I’m wrong, I’m not arguing for or against either device, just trying to compare them):The inReach works as a standalone device too, not with 2-way texting of course, but you can at least still send SOS and three custom messages, for which you will get send confirmation back to your unit. So you can use the inReach as a standalone device.You can use the inReach as you would a SPOT, but in the event of either help to friends or full on SOS emergency, you could pair it up for additional communication to help your people help you. This to me seems like a great functionality to have. If you want tracking with the Spot and the inReach, the multiple (say 4~5 ) year service fee for inReach almost doubles.Not a big factor for me but there is a difference in battery life, with SPOT lasting longer (between ~5 or ~7 days respectively). For me it makes sense to look at other devices you already have. I have a Petzl light that takes AA’s, so bringing a spare set would cover light and inReach. (But if I would go with a SPOT I could simply consider switching to an AAA powered light). What I like about inReach is the possibility of 2-way communication, both for the message send confirmation (which comes after message is received by satellite) and less so for actual texting – which is great but for me emergency only.What I really like about the SPOT is the separate buttons for the different messages (inReach custom msgs cycle through one button). If you are dehydrated, hypothermic, tired, wet, stressed the brain can make mistakes easier. Do you send out the right message to your contacts? Separate buttons makes this easier. I also like the smaller device of the SPOT and the cheaper price. Device is one thing but service is the real cost if you look at 4 ~ 5 years of use. The inReach is almost double. If the SPOT does not perform properly though, than I think that is even more expensive. I am leaning to the SPOT for its simplicity and price, to the inReach for its added functionality, reliability. Not decided as of yet.

  • tensai

    (Sorry for the bad formatting. I thought I inserted spaces for paragraphs)

  • tensai

    Thank you for your review (and blog in general).

    Being a solo hiker in Japan, I have been looking at both the SPOT2 and the inReach for a while now. Being dependent on a smart phone is what put me off of the SPOT Connect and inReach at first.

    I tried to compare the two by checking specs and looking at reviews and comments. There is some info out there that seems inconsistent or based on faulty assumptions. I thought I’d share some info from what I have gathered so far (please feel free to correct where I’m wrong, I’m not arguing for or against either device, just trying to compare them):

    The inReach works as a standalone device too, not with 2-way texting of course, but you can at least still send SOS and three custom messages, for which you will get send confirmation back to your unit. So you can use the inReach as a standalone device.

    You can use the inReach as you would a SPOT, but in the event of either help to friends or full on SOS emergency, you could pair it up for additional communication to help your people help you. This to me seems like a great functionality to have. If you want tracking with the Spot and the inReach, the multiple (say 4~5 ) year service fee for inReach almost doubles.

    Not a big factor for me but there is a difference in battery life, with SPOT lasting longer (between ~5 or ~7 days respectively). For me it makes sense to look at other devices you already have. I have a Petzl light that takes AA’s, so bringing a spare set would cover light and inReach. (But if I would go with a SPOT I could simply consider switching to an AAA powered light).

    What I like about inReach is the possibility of 2-way communication, both for the message send confirmation (which comes after message is received by satellite) and less so for actual texting – which is great but for me emergency only.What I really like about the SPOT is the separate buttons for the different messages (inReach custom msgs cycle through one button). If you are dehydrated, hypothermic, tired, wet, stressed the brain can make mistakes easier. Do you send out the right message to your contacts? Separate buttons makes this easier.

    I also like the smaller, lighter device of the SPOT and the cheaper price. Device is one thing but service is the real cost if you look at 4 ~ 5 years of use. The inReach is almost double. If the SPOT does not perform properly though, than I think that is even more expensive.

    I am leaning to the SPOT for its simplicity and price, to the inReach for its added functionality, reliability. Not decided as of yet.

  • I meant it was useful as a review of how it functions in real life rather than the features :)

    I’ve never understood why it’s not combined with a GPS readout.

  • JJ_Mathes

    Brian- I’m wondering if you have a faulty unit…I would contact SPOT direct via phone.

    I’ve been using a SPOT (first generation) since early 2008 and I’m still using the same unit and I’ve been very please with it’s performance.

    • I’ll reach out to SPOT for sure and I’m not trying to be down on their product or write a flame review – far from it, I want to like this product and use it. I checked the ESNs for the recall SPOT had on this model a few years ago because I was concerned it may have been NOS, but mine is not part of the recall. Glad to hear yours is working well.

  • JJ_Mathes

    Brian- I’m wondering if you have a faulty unit…I would contact SPOT direct via phone.

    I’ve been using a SPOT (first generation) since early 2008 and I’m still using the same unit and I’ve been very please with it’s performance.

  • Joe Newton

    Been using a SPOT II for a couple of years with largely positive experiences. Nearly all check-in messages appear to get through and I find the unit easy to set up and carry. I like being able to add the contact details of loved ones of people I’m on particular trips with and the feedback from them is that almost all messages go through.

    I tend to leave the unit firing away at the satellite for quite a while after I’ve sent an ‘OK’, far longer than SPOT suggest. I find the ‘tracking’ feature devoured batteries at an alarming rate and pretty much stopped using that function.

    I think it has it’s place in adventuring, certainly for me. In ‘front’ and ‘side’ country scenarios the unit is fine at keeping loved ones up to date and at ease. In ‘back’ country scenarios, such as for me the far north of Norway, it has proven itself adequate. When myself and Jörgen returned from our ill-fated ski tour of Finnmarksvidda we were pleased to hear that everyone was able to follow our blind procession into an (off map) dead-end canyon and subsequent ‘adventure’ with near-death slides and frozen feet! Loved ones followed via email, the curious via it’s integration with Twitter. In the days that followed our families could follow our progress, decision point and eventually our retreat due to Arctic storms. The odd ‘OK’ message that didn’t get through didn’t cause panic because we had warned family and friends that this might happen and that rescue contingencies should only be initiated if we failed to return according to our pre-determined schedule.

    For ‘real’ off-trail, remote, high-risk adventures then a sat phone and/or PLB should be considered but for what most of us ‘weekend warriors’ get up to I find the SPOT II useful and practical, if not quite essential.

  • Joe Newton

    Been using a SPOT II for a couple of years with largely positive experiences. Nearly all check-in messages appear to get through and I find the unit easy to set up and carry. I like being able to add the contact details of loved ones of people I’m on particular trips with and the feedback from them is that almost all messages go through.

    I tend to leave the unit firing away at the satellite for quite a while after I’ve sent an ‘OK’, far longer than SPOT suggest. I find the ‘tracking’ feature devoured batteries at an alarming rate and pretty much stopped using that function.

    I think it has it’s place in adventuring, certainly for me. In ‘front’ and ‘side’ country scenarios the unit is fine at keeping loved ones up to date and at ease. In ‘back’ country scenarios, such as for me the far north of Norway, it has proven itself adequate. When myself and Jörgen returned from our ill-fated ski tour of Finnmarksvidda we were pleased to hear that everyone was able to follow our blind procession into an (off map) dead-end canyon and subsequent ‘adventure’ with near-death slides and frozen feet! Loved ones followed via email, the curious via it’s integration with Twitter. In the days that followed our families could follow our progress, decision point and eventually our retreat due to Arctic storms. The odd ‘OK’ message that didn’t get through didn’t cause panic because we had warned family and friends that this might happen and that rescue contingencies should only be initiated if we failed to return according to our pre-determined schedule.

    For ‘real’ off-trail, remote, high-risk adventures then a sat phone and/or PLB should be considered but for what most of us ‘weekend warriors’ get up to I find the SPOT II useful and practical, if not quite essential.

  • I’ll reach out to SPOT for sure and I’m not trying to be down on their product or write a flame review – far from it, I want to like this product and use it. I checked the ESNs for the recall SPOT had on this model a few years ago because I was concerned it may have been NOS, but mine is not part of the recall. Glad to hear yours is working well.

  • I’d agree with you about the latency in email delivery between nodes and servers if we were talking minutes or hours, but days – no that’s not the case. My wife has experienced no other unusual email delivery problems other than these isolated SPOT messages.

    I’m 100% with you on the need to know how to triage injures and apply forst aid, in fact I was hesitant to carry the SPOT because of the bad press and reliance people seem to put on it – don’t want to get lazy. It was mostly for my wife’s peace of mind rather than the real (or perceived) need for medical help, which as you state wouldn’t arrive for many hours anyway.

    A PLB would be overkill for me IMHO and I’m definitely not at a stage where I need or want to have an Iridium SAT phone, although checking my twitter feed in the wilderness does sound fun – NOT!

    Thanks for the feedback Philip, right on the money as usual. Oh and no it wasn’t bought from REI :(

  • I wanted to know if mine was an isolated case, and it doesn’t sound as though it is. That said, it’s great to hear that you’re having a positive experience with yours and that it appears to be functioning properly.

  • GreenT

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for getting the word out about SPOT devices. My experiences are exactly the same as yours. I had a SPOT 1 and had trouble getting it to send messages, then I figured they’d fixed it with the SPOT2 and bought one. I was wrong. Despite the blinking “message sent” light, it’s not really an indication of if the message will get into the network to get delivered. My experience is that maybe 15% of messages ever get through. And if you can’t depend on it, what good is it really? My loved ones freaked out when the SPOT 2 decided not to actually send any of the messages I sent the first day, then it delivered a few messages the next day of the hike but didn’t deliver the OK message at a really nice backcountry site I wanted to record. I’m giving up on SPOT, maybe I’ll try something else so I can continue to take long solos while still feeling like I’m not leaving my wife in the dark.

  • GreenT

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for getting the word out about SPOT devices. My experiences are exactly the same as yours. I had a SPOT 1 and had trouble getting it to send messages, then I figured they’d fixed it with the SPOT2 and bought one. I was wrong. Despite the blinking “message sent” light, it’s not really an indication of if the message will get into the network to get delivered. My experience is that maybe 15% of messages ever get through. And if you can’t depend on it, what good is it really? My loved ones freaked out when the SPOT 2 decided not to actually send any of the messages I sent the first day, then it delivered a few messages the next day of the hike but didn’t deliver the OK message at a really nice backcountry site I wanted to record. I’m giving up on SPOT, maybe I’ll try something else so I can continue to take long solos while still feeling like I’m not leaving my wife in the dark.

  • I used to run operations for a company that sent email on behalf of customers – think mailChimp or Constant Contact. Google, Yahoo, AOL, all of the major ISPs throttle or block email messages, especially from IP addresses with bad reputations. I believe that is what’s happening with SPOT. They could pay to certify their email and ensure it gets through these sites without interference, but that requires a certain sophistication in the issue.

  • I don’t own neither have I used the SPOT 2 myself but I’ve participated on trips to Sarek National Park (Northern Sweden above the Arctic Circle, above tree line, occasional deep valleys) where SPOT 2 has been used and it worked flawlessly with manual check-ins to track our progress.

    But you’re not the only one reporting problems with SPOT service. For example my friend had problems with SPOT 2 tracking in Southern Finland on forested area. Because of these reports SPOT is not reliable device in my opinion. Neither is cell phone (coverage is very bad in the Northern Wilderness of Scandinavia) but the big difference is that with the cell phone you know if it worked or not. With the SPOT you can’t tell and you can’t trust it working. You can only hope. *

    I wrote a post ( http://korpijaakko.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/satellite-communication/ ) and another one ( http://korpijaakko.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/satellite-communiation-follow-up-1/ ) on satellite messaging devices on my blog. Might be worth reading.

    Since writing them I’ve been testing Yellowbrick YB3 on trips in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. It has worked flawlessly (Only once I didn’t get satellite connection indoors but that’s normal – and the device can tell you this!) It’s not as affordable as SPOT2 or as simple but you get a bunch of cool features and what’s even more important a reliable service! I highly recommend the YB3. Delorme InReach is more SPOT-like device but uses the same Iridium satellite technology that the Yellowbrick uses so it might be a good option if you want something simpler and cheaper.

    Btw. For tracking and mapping I recommend Social Hiking ( http://www.shareyouradventure.com/ ) it needs data from device like SPOT or YB3 but I believe it’s a lot better than SPOT’s own system.

    * It’s worth noticing that the blinking lights on the device only tell you that the process of sending message was done, not weather the message went through or not. Also it’s worth noting that SPOT doesn’t have satellites of their own and the system they use is unreliable in my opinion.

  • I don’t own
    neither have I used the SPOT 2 myself but I’ve participated on trips to Sarek
    National Park (Northern Sweden above the Arctic Circle, above tree line, occasional
    deep valleys) where SPOT 2 has been used and it worked flawlessly with manual check-ins
    to track our progress.

    But you’re
    not the only one reporting problems with SPOT service. For example my friend
    had problems with SPOT 2 tracking in Southern Finland on forested area. Because
    of these reports SPOT is not reliable device in my opinion. Neither is cell
    phone (coverage is very bad in the Northern Wilderness of Scandinavia) but the
    big difference is that with the cell phone you know if it worked or not. With
    the SPOT you can’t tell and you can’t trust it working. You can only hope. *

    I wrote a
    post (http://korpijaakko.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/satellite-communication/)
    and another one (http://korpijaakko.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/satellite-communiation-follow-up-1/)
    on satellite messaging devices on my blog. Might be worth reading.

    Since
    writing them I’ve been testing Yellowbrick YB3 on trips in Finland, Sweden,
    Norway and Iceland. It has worked flawlessly (Only once I didn’t get satellite connection
    indoors but that’s normal – and the device can tell you this!) It’s not as affordable
    as SPOT2 or as simple but you get a bunch of cool features and what’s even more
    important a reliable service! I highly recommend the YB3. Delorme InReach is
    more SPOT-like device but uses the same Iridium satellite technology that the
    Yellowbrick uses so it might be a good option if you want something simpler and
    cheaper.

    Btw. For
    tracking I recommend Social Hiking (http://www.shareyouradventure.com/)
    it needs data from device like SPOT or YB3 but gives you also things like altitude,
    etc.

    * It’s
    worth noticing that the blinking lights on the device only tell you that the
    process of sending message was done, not weather the message went through or
    not. Also it’s worth noting that SPOT doesn’t have satellites of their own and
    the system they use is unreliable in my opinion.

  • Snctool

    Brian…Is the device heavy enough to make a boat anchor? I have never used one and from your experience I think I will pass.

    • Unfortunately no, it’s pretty small and somewhat buoyant :)

  • Snctool

    Brian…Is the device heavy enough to make a boat anchor? I have never used one and from your experience I think I will pass.

  • Neddy

    I think a device on the Iridium network will give you better service.
    Here’s a good comparison chart of whats currently available on the market:-

    http://hikingtech.com/satellite-messenger-comparison/

    • Nice chart, but not 100% accurate. For example it implies that SPOT 2 has a Bluetooth and would be smartphone compatible. Not to my knowledge? Also generalizes things quite a bit.

  • Hu

    I think a device on the Iridium network will give you better service.
    Here’s a good comparison chart of whats currently available on the market:-

    http://hikingtech.com/satellite-messenger-comparison/

  • Yes, it’s certainly interesting to read about some of the other experiences on this thread. It seems the level of service is nowhere near consistent though I imagine there are a lot of different factors involved.

  • Advice: buy electronics at REI.

  • I do! However, I was in northern Michigan for Father’s Day this year and my wife and kids ran to the nearest outdoor store (Gander Mountain) and bought it there. That’s also why I was slightly concerned (and hoping) that it was NOS. No dice.

  • I have had the exact opposite experience, Brian. I just got back from a 6 day Colorado trip and it functioned perfectly.

    One key thing to mention is that (per SPOT) you must use lithium batteries. I tried the regular batteries before I left and battery life was spotty. I used lithium batteries on my trip and had the tracking running 12-14 hours per day. Worked like a charm. Family was able to track me at elevation (10K feet give or take a thousand feet).

    Messaging worked great, too. Usually you give it 20-30 minutes for the message to go through. I did that and they got the messages within a few minutes. My hunting buddy had cell service at one point so I checked in with the wife and she had received my SPOT message.

    I even tested it out at the bottom of a canyon and it worked great. Messaging and tracking allowed everyone on my list to see where I was and get my messages.

    I hope SPOT can help you out and give you an explanation on it.

    • I was using lithium batteries and had no problem with the device running out of power. The check-in/okay messages were all received by the satellites, but their delivery was drastically delayed. The gaps in the tracking data is annoying but less of a concern. Glad to hear your experience was good and thanks for taking the time to provide your feedback.

      So far, based on the comments here and on my Facebook page, it looks as thought it’s a 50/50 split between good and bad experiences with SPOT.

  • I have had the exact opposite experience, Brian. I just got back from a 6 day Colorado trip and it functioned perfectly.

    One key thing to mention is that (per SPOT) you must use lithium batteries. I tried the regular batteries before I left and battery life was spotty. I used lithium batteries on my trip and had the tracking running 12-14 hours per day. Worked like a charm. Family was able to track me at elevation (10K feet give or take a thousand feet).

    Messaging worked great, too. Usually you give it 20-30 minutes for the message to go through. I did that and they got the messages within a few minutes. My hunting buddy had cell service at one point so I checked in with the wife and she had received my SPOT message.

    I even tested it out at the bottom of a canyon and it worked great. Messaging and tracking allowed everyone on my list to see where I was and get my messages.

    I hope SPOT can help you out and give you an explanation on it.

  • Unfortunately no, it’s pretty small and somewhat buoyant :)

  • I was using lithium batteries and had no problem with the device running out of power. The check-in/okay messages were all received by the satellites, but their delivery was drastically delayed. The gaps in the tracking data is annoying but less of a concern. Glad to hear your experience was good and thanks for taking the time to provide your feedback.

    So far, based on the comments here and on my Facebook page, it looks as thought it’s a 50/50 split between good and bad experiences with SPOT.

  • Nice chart, but not 100% accurate. For example it implies that SPOT 2 has a Bluetooth and would be smartphone compatible. Not to my knowledge? Also generalizes things quite a bit.

  • David Gray

    I have been using a SPOT2 for a couple of years now with good results. We sent messages a couple of times a day on John Muir trail hike a couple of years ago, and to my knowledge they came though on a timely basis, including from Mt Whitney. Some hiking buddies who are now too old to make that hike got a major kick out of following us daily on the map. I agree that the website is clunky and prefer to use Google Maps or Google Earth to look at the locations instead.
    My son flies in paraglider competitions and many of the pilots use them. They are considering making them required equipment. We use the messages to retrieve them after landing, and my experience is that messages have been accurate and timely. Text messages come in before e-mail messages. You can just copy and paste the GPS points into Google maps. He uses the tracking function regularly during flights of 3-4 hours in remote locations and it seems to work very well, though there will sometimes be a 20 minute gap. Again, Google maps is much better for tracking than the SPOT website, especially on the iPhone. He said he has not changed the batteries in more than 2 years.

    • Great feedback David, thanks for sharing. Another positive experience with SPOT.

  • David Gray

    I have been using a SPOT2 for a couple of years now with good results. We sent messages a couple of times a day on John Muir trail hike a couple of years ago, and to my knowledge they came though on a timely basis, including from Mt Whitney. Some hiking buddies who are now too old to make that hike got a major kick out of following us daily on the map. I agree that the website is clunky and prefer to use Google Maps or Google Earth to look at the locations instead.
    My son flies in paraglider competitions and many of the pilots use them. They are considering making them required equipment. We use the messages to retrieve them after landing, and my experience is that messages have been accurate and timely. Text messages come in before e-mail messages. You can just copy and paste the GPS points into Google maps. He uses the tracking function regularly during flights of 3-4 hours in remote locations and it seems to work very well, though there will sometimes be a 20 minute gap. Again, Google maps is much better for tracking than the SPOT website, especially on the iPhone. He said he has not changed the batteries in more than 2 years.

  • Great feedback David, thanks for sharing. Another positive experience with SPOT.

  • Taedawood

    Brian,
    I have had the same experience of BrianT. I have had my generation 2 Spot for about three years and most of my use for it has been in the Arkansas Mountains. But my brother had the same results as me during his Colorado Trail hike two years ago.

    My check-in messages go through about 1/3 of the time, never more than 50% of the time. I leave the unit on for at least ten to fifteen minutes after the green light goes on to say it was sent. It is my understanding that just because it was sent does NOT mean there is a satellite in line to receive it!

    I still carry it for most solo hikes but my wife now knows not to freak out if she doesn’t get an ok message for half a day or so. I try to send five or six each day (a pain in the a@#!) hoping that at least one or two go through. If she did not get one for more than 24 hours, she would get concerned.

    I too am very disappointed and am interested to hear someone speak well of the Delorme In-Reach. Most reviews I have read of it are not very positive either.

  • Taedawood

    Brian,
    I have had the same experience of BrianT. I have had my generation 2 Spot for about three years and most of my use for it has been in the Arkansas Mountains. But my brother had the same results as me during his Colorado Trail hike two years ago.

    My check-in messages go through about 1/3 of the time, never more than 50% of the time. I leave the unit on for at least ten to fifteen minutes after the green light goes on to say it was sent. It is my understanding that just because it was sent does NOT mean there is a satellite in line to receive it!

    I still carry it for most solo hikes but my wife now knows not to freak out if she doesn’t get an ok message for half a day or so. I try to send five or six each day (a pain in the a@#!) hoping that at least one or two go through. If she did not get one for more than 24 hours, she would get concerned.

    I too am very disappointed and am interested to hear someone speak well of the Delorme In-Reach. Most reviews I have read of it are not very positive either.

  • Andy Bryant

    I’ve used the SPOT connect with some success for the last year. I’d say that it does give you intermittent coverage on tracks, although only when under medium to heavy tree cover, or if the batteries are close to failure (red light blinking).

    I have had some issues with the SMS service messages being delayed, so tend to only use email or the SPOT native messages routed through to the excellent social hiking http://www.shareyouradventure.com site (which provides a much more usable map interface, and gives you the altitude data).

    Initially I did have an issue with terrible battery life (only lasting a day), however contacted SPOT, and did a warranty replacement. The new one seems to last a good 3 or so days of walking (Energiser Lithium).

  • Greg

    I agree with your assessment. I have had the spot 2 for several years, hiking mostly in Northern California and the western US. Last week we got back from 3 days in Point Reyes. There is no cell service in the park so I used my SPOT to tell my family we were OK. Or at least I thought that’s what I was doing.

    This experience echoes all my prior outings with the SPOT. I have my email address on my list of contacts for Check-in/OK so I can see what messages came through when I get home. Each time I go to send a message, I turn on the SPOT and leave it out with a view of the sky for several minutes (I’ve found this tends to increase the likelihood of a successful message). Then I send the check-in/OK message, wait 10-15 minutes, and send it again, because in my experience the first Check-in/OK message fails about 90% of the time.

    I sent a total of 6 messages over 3 days from various locations in Point Reyes (3 locations, 2 sending attempts per location). Every time I sent a message we were on or near the Coast Trail with no trees to be found. Two of the messages were sent from the beach, 20 yards from the water, with clear sky and no cliffs nearby. The others were sent from our campground which had open sky. The spot was placed correctly and all the lights were confirmed as per the manual.

    Total result: out of 6 check-in/OK messages, I received two. The location on those was extremely accurate, but 2/3 of my messages disappeared. If we had a backcountry disaster I’d try the SPOT SOS function, but I certainly wouldn’t assume anyone was coming to rescue me.

    • Zorg Zumo

      You were using it wrong. There’s no reason to not leave it running so that it can update it’s GPS fix. User error.

      • There is every reason to not leave it running, battery life for one thing.

        Here’s the thing Zorg – I have no problem with you disagreeing with another reader if you’re being constructive with your comments, but don’t start blaming others for (what you think is) user error.

        I have zero tolerance for commenting trolls or misconduct. I have a play nice policy here and it’s my blog and I will ban people who are repeat offenders.

        • Zorg Zumo

          Sorry that you don’t understand how to use SPOT, but it’s not my job to placate you when you publish misinformation.

  • Greg

    (addendum to my prior message) By the way, this wasn’t an email failure. You can actually check your SPOT message history right on the SPOT web site; only the two messages I received show in my account history for the last 30 days.

    SPOT says they give higher priority to SOS messages, but based on the failure rate for the Check-in/OK messages I can’t say I have confidence in this system.

  • I haven’t used one, and based on your’s and other’s opinions that I find in high regard, I won’t be purchasing one yet. It’s very similar to my experience with SteriPen’s–great concept, but the technology needs some refining before I’ll trust it with my life.

    I guess it’s back to the “Give me 24 hours after I’m supposed to be home, THEN call S&R.”

  • “SPOT says they give higher priority to SOS messages, but based on the
    failure rate for the Check-in/OK messages I can’t say I have confidence
    in this system.”

    I’d agree with the bottom line. The problem isn’t prioritizing messages but bad, unreliable (satellite) technology. To my knowledge the problem is getting the message from the device to a satellite, prioritizing doesn’t affect this. Though the device will keep trying to send the SOS message for longer time than the other messages but not having two-way comms means that the device, or you, can’t know if the message went through or not. Not acceptable for me.

  • Chris

    Hey Brian,
    Thru hiked the PCT this summer and my experience with the new SPOT mirrors yours. Over the whole trip (156 days) or pressing the check/in ok button and working really hard to find clear shots to the sky, our unit resulted in an email 85% of the time. I would be really interested if you could get your hands on a 1st generation (bigger) SPOT because most of the people I have heard defending the unit’s performance are those who have the older unit. Not sure if the tracking experience is the same and I did not subscribe to that myself, but I’d love to swap my unit for an old one! Really interested to hear any follow up to your story as I have never had any luck talking to the company about these issues. Cheers.

  • Christopher Sussman

    Hey Brian,
    Used a new SPOT, SPOT 2, on a thru hike PCT this summer. We used it every single day for Check-in/OK messages (156 days) and the messages went through 80% of the time. A close friend of mine did the trail in 2009 using the first generation SPOT and he only missed one or two messages the entire trail. I have also heard a similar story from one other person with the first generation device — having better luck. Well, I know there are all kinds of hypotheses, but something definitely seems to be up/at issue with the new devices. Curious to find out what has happened in your situation — I have tried to contact SPOT several times, they had me do a “hard reset” of the device during the trail, but didn’t make a difference. I wish their customer service was a bit more responsive.

  • Skully

    My company uses SPOT to track and monitor our vessels while they are at sea. We do not use the check-in features, only the tracking feature. There are occasionally times when the SPOT misses one or two waypoints. Very rarely will it miss more, sometimes up to an hour. For our purposes it serves well enough. Also, there is an iPhone app that works really well and displays course and speed. It is called shared pages.

  • Ian Douglas

    I have been using the Spot messenger since 2008, and have travelled around Australia three times on my annual holidays. I send a daily message which goes to ten sites, including my mobile phone and my email address. I have always found that the mobile phone has rung within five minutes of sending the message (in areas where there is mobile phone reception), confirming that the message has gone to Houston and been relayed to my phone & others in Australia.

    The advertising says that the phone will float in water and do all sorts of things, but they don’t mention that when you leave it on the top of your car to get a good signal and drive off, it will happily drop onto the highway at 103kph, and continue to work for years later. You just need to get back to it before someone else runs over it.

    I have never had to use the non urgent Help button, nor the full EPIRB but with the experience I have, I am confident that those functions should work just as well as my OK messages.

    The only worry I have, is how long will the battery last. I was told seven years when I bought it, but surely it must be getting low by now. Does anyone know if you can get it serviced with a fresh battery anywhere?

  • bigDpelican

    Spot2 users who’ve had failed sends are likely to google “spot2 message fail” and find this site and post just like I am now – so the problem might look more consistent then it really is – I monitor 5 spot2s and we regularly get message fails despite the green light saying message sent. This is most often due to low batteries influencing signal strength and thus ability for a message to get through – but can be due to forest cover. I think it is also important to know the locations of the globalstar satellites – which receive the spot messages – I need a better app to be able to show positions of specific satellites…
    Despite this, I still recommend carrying one as it is a great tool to improve field safety (despite being imperfect). Confirming sent message received would be great and may develop – or we can spend a lot more to get true 2-way messages…

    • As far as I can tell, and based on the feedback I’ve received here, I’d say that the problem IS wide spread and consistent. I was using a brand new device with brand new batteries in California above the tree line where the was no forest cover. Those would all seem like perfect conditions to me, yet the device failed to track and send messages.

      I fail to see how that makes this a device still worth carrying to improve field safety, it’s unreliable and spotty – pun intended!

      I’m glad to see that people are finding this blog post via a Google search and responding with their own results and experiences. It’s also interesting to note that despite several attempts to reach out directly to SPOT for feedback and input, I have heard nothing from them. Makes you wonder of they care or even search the web to look for feedback on their products…

      My annual subscription was recently up for renewal and I chose to not renew it as I have no confidence in the device. That’s a shame considering how much my family paid for it in the first place.

  • Marina

    Using the spot 2 now for my ultrarunner son in Germany, Nick Hollon. It’s first use was a few months ago in San Jacinto, CA. No tracking problems, In fact, I was able to see where he got off track and slowed. Worked great. He’s in a 100 mile race called the Chiemgauer 100 at the moment, and I think he forgot to turn on tracking and only did the check in. His first check in was no problem. I expected he would have issues with the Bavarian forest blocking transmission, but really, if he is remembering to check in, I think it’s not a big issue as he does come into clearings. I’m inclined to think your unit is/was defective. I would recommend Spot engineers make a two-way messaging or a way to activate it remotely. Just to send messages like, “turn on your tracking!”
    Happy Trekking.

    • Marina, thanks for your comments and sharing your better experience. My issue was both with the tracking and check-ins. After several days in the mountains with tracking turned on and deliberate check ins at specific times, my wife received all of the check in messages on the same day – days after I had sent them. To me that was unacceptable and utterly useless.

      The tracking I can live without, it was a nice to have feature that drained the batteries anyway. The check in function was a must have. The failures I experienced gave me no confidence in the SPOT II’s ability to save me in a true emergency, so why would I carry it any more?

      I’m happy for those of you that the SPOT II works for. I wanted to love it because it’s a well designed, affordable, and conceived device. My personal experience with it and lack of ability to get any response from SPOT via phone or email turned me off the product.

      SPOT has an all new product about to be released in a few weeks, maybe they can win me back? I might wait to see how it works out for others first.

      Great to hear your son is an ultra runner! That blows my mind. I wish I could run for those sort of distances and enjoy it. That’s just not me. Thanks for leaving feedback. If you remember, let me know how your son does in the race!

  • Fiona

    Hi Brian – I am scanning these messages with a mixture of hope and blind panic. My husband left yesterday to hike the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, WA, with his new Spot technology apparently working. He checked in at his destination campsite for the first night at around 8pm and I haven’t heard a thing from Spot since. It’s now 1pm and it looks like he is still in the same place as he stopped last night. This is really worrying as he has 18-20 miles of walking every day and had told me he would be leaving around 8am every morning. He is a fit and experienced hiker but this is his first time with the Spot. He is conscientious and is very unlikely to forget to turn on the Spot again or leave it behind, as he knows how worried I am about him. He is meant to be away for the next 4 days but I don’t think I can bear another hour of this, never mind days.

    Do you think it’s possible that his Spot is sending out old data? It has a tracking note from 4 hours ago that he is still in the same place. This just doesn’t make sense – there’s no way my husband would be hanging around in the same place this late in the day unless something had gone wrong…

    Thank you for reading this – hopefully he will have been in contact by the time you get this.

    Fiona

    • Hi Fiona, I’m sorry to hear of your situation and the sound of concern in your message. In this case I certainly hope that this is a failure of the SPOT technology and that your husband is unaware that the device is not working. I was oblivious about how bad the service was when I was using mine, despite being every bit as conscientious as your husband.

      Please let me know when you next hear from him. There’s a high likelihood that you won’t hear anything until the end of his hike (day 4 or 5). You’ll be in my thoughts. – Brian

  • Geek Girl

    Brian, I too, have had consistent issue with my Spot. On Whitney as well. Huge gaps, inconsistent messages, etc. Basically the same experience you have had. Tree cover, obviously is not on issue on Whitney, (except at much lower elevations) so I am positive that is not it. I have been using it for quite some time, and it seems to me that it works fine in “civilization”. In other words, around SoCal in the Mt. Baldy area, where there is a ton of trees, it works just fine. Get out in the wilderness tho….and the failures seem consistent. I don’t know why that is, but if it fails where you really need it, then it’s useless, in my opinion.

    • Thank you! I’ve heard enough bad stories to know that it’s not just me, but to hear of someone having the same issues on Whitney as I experienced is a relief. I decided that I simply couldn’t trust SPOT anymore and once you’ve lost trust in a last-ditch emergency device why carry it?

      In my experience SPOT is great in an urban environment within sight of a Starbucks, but take it to the trail (not even off trail) and it’s hit or miss.

      I need to find a replacement. I know it won’t be the SPOT3 device, I’m done with SPOT. There are a lot of newer options on the market now so I need to do some research. Any suggestions or recommendations?

      • Geek Girl

        I haven’t made a final decision yet, but am leaning towards the Delorme InReach. It uses Iridium, and provides 2-way communication, which is significantly better than the 1-way that the Spot provides, but it comes at a much heftier price tag.

      • Zorg Zumo

        Is there something about Mt Whitney? Otherwise your experience makes no sense at all. There are zillions of happy SPOT users who tramp all over the US with great success (I’m one of them since 2008).

        • If SPOT works for you then that’s wonderful. It was a total failure for me and I’m pretty tech savvy. There may also be a lot of happy users (again, that’s awesome), but it’s interesting to see how many unhappy users there are too. And now SPOT is being sued for apparently not monitoring their SOS messages!?!

          There is no reason why SPOT should have failed on Mt. Whitney. I was above the treeline with a clear view of the sky and had the device perfectly situated. The fact that it did fail under almost perfect conditions led me to rethink it’s effectiveness and cancel my service. YMMV as they say.

          • Zorg Zumo

            Yea that makes no sense. Is Whitney the only place you hike? How has SPOT worked for you elsewhere? Were you on the north-facing slope (GPS satellites shaded by the mountain)? You really should evaluate what you were doing first, otherwise you’ll be disappointed with the InReach too (and be out a lot more money).

          • Of course it’s not the only place I hike. It was however one of the most open and clear hikes that I had done (almost entirely clear of tree cover) and my expectations of the device had been high. I have had constant spotty coverage (no pun intended) with this thing, but had attributed that to hiking mostly where there is significant tree coverage to disrupt signal.

            I ditched my SPOT a long time ago and haven’t felt the need to replace it with anything else – I’ll save my money and worry less about GPS :)

  • Crystal

    My husband has the SPOT and lately it has been doing the same thing; sending all of the messages at once and usually after the trip is finished. I also question its ability to send messages when it’s not in ideal positioning – which makes me wonder if it would actually work in an emergency situation. Thanks for the blog, you’re not alone on this one and it’s definitely not just your device…If you find a better alternative, please let me know!

  • Wow Sam, thanks for sharing this link.

  • Zorg Zumo

    SPOT was very open about this incident. Turns out the guy’s wife didn’t answer her phone and there was nobody else on the emergency contact list that SPOT could call to rule out false alarm. And ultimately the owner was at fault because SPOT is NOT a substitute for an EPIRB – which he should’ve had aboard.

    The boat was shattered very quickly and nobody had time to don life jackets – that’s why the best theory was getting crushed by a cargo vessel.

    If you want to objectively weigh the pro’s and con’s of SPOT, then you have do more than read a headline.

    • That does change things slightly, you’re right that he should have had an EPIRB which I think is a large part of the problem, many people assume that the Spot is one.

    • Andrew Davids

      Reading comments on here – appears that Zorg Zumo works for or is paid by SPOT… I have a SPOT II, just re-enabled it and messages aren’t being sent even though the device says they have been. SPOT Customer Service is useless. Multiple emails sent to them over multiple days – I still haven’t received a reply. If you’re considering buying a SPOT service, I HIGHLY recommend that you look elsewhere. It isn’t reliable. For me, it doesn’t work at all.

      • Zorg Zumo

        It is broken – move on.

  • Dale Broad

    I have the SPOT gen3 same problems! I wont be renewing!

  • Darren Quesnel

    Hey, Ill tell you im currently following a loved one on a half year remote trek with a SPOT and the ok messages do not always work…..thats really unacceptable.

  • Darren Quesnel

    I think its become clear that the SPOT is not reliable 100% of the time….unnacceptable!