GPS and not getting lost
June 6, 2016 8:38 PM   Subscribe

What is your recommended GPS gadget that can notify authorities/or family for hiking/camping emergencies?

I am interested in getting out and doing more hiking/camping but my sense of direction is a work in progress. Looking to get a GPS gadget that helps with maps and finding my way but also something that can notify my loved ones of any issues. I think there was something known as Spot (can't remember the name). The goal is to get something information during the activity (not post activity like some apps which give details on routes taken, etc. after the activity is over)

Any recos would be greatly appreciated.
posted by metajim to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think there is a device that does both of the things you want.

It sounds like you'll need a GPS and a emergency beacon. Your beacon options are Spot or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). PLBs are a little cheaper in the long run if you don't want tracking, as you don't need a monthly subscription to use a PLB (the signal is sent to the national SAR body instead of a call centre with the Spot). Spots are great if you want to be able to give your family the option to track you.

Carrying a paper map and compass is a good idea in addition to a GPS.
posted by ssg at 8:51 PM on June 6, 2016


They're mostly different devices, and neither is a substitute for map and compass. Apparently there's been a rise in people who are wholly unprepared for the terrain they'll be facing but who are overconfident from having a PLB and then get into serious trouble. Don't be that guy.

Outdoor Gear lab personal locator beacon reviews

Outdoor Gear Lab GPS reviews
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 8:53 PM on June 6, 2016


You want the Delorme Explorer. It is a full featured GPS navigator and a personal locator beacon with two-way communication. My friends in the mountaineering community who've had to use it in rescue situations (more than once, actually) swear by the two way messaging feature and its reliability.

http://www.inreachdelorme.com/product-info/inreach-explorer.php
posted by halogen at 9:26 PM on June 6, 2016


I've got a Delorme inReach. It allows you to call for help in emergencies, but also just send someone a message if you're running late. You have to pair it with a smartphone for the mapping, but that works well enough for me.
posted by bajema at 9:31 PM on June 6, 2016


As far as a bit of finding your way around, Gaia GPS is a pretty handy smartphone app if you've thought to load the relevant topo maps on it. Not something I'd trust my life with, and you probably have already noticed that the sort of places you want a map for don't have cell coverage either. But it's a nice adjunct to those tools when you're just out for the day.
posted by wotsac at 9:59 PM on June 6, 2016


Do you have a smartphone? There are good GPS apps for iOS/Android that allow you to download topo maps of the area you're going before your hike and use the GPS function in airplane mode. The bigger screen and ease of scrolling and everything except battery life make your phone better than a standalone GPS unit for most recreational use. Even with the shorter battery you should only be using GPS as a backup or to help pinpoint your location so it shouldn't be an issue.

Your options for messaging or calling for help come down to PLB versus satellite messenger. PLBs are bombproof and are the absolute best for being found by search and rescue but have no messaging function. It's purely for alerting SAR that you're in a life-threatening situation. I have an ACR Resqlink mentioned in Special Agent Dale Cooper's links. They run between $250-$300 and have batteries that generally last about 5 years. The battery replacement cost is over $100, so works out to $20-$30 a year.

There are two options for the satellite messengers: the SPOT or the Delorme Inreach. The SPOT costs $150, but also requires a $150 annual service plan. It is a one-way messenger. There's an SOS button for to call SAR, an "I'm OK" message, and a custom message. Most people I know who use one set their custom message to say that there's an issue or minor injury but I'm fine just going slower than expected. There are some reports that they don't work as well in heavily forested areas or in some parts of the country, but more often than not they should work in an emergency.

The Delorme Inreach is $300 (there's a $380 model that lets you use it as a GPS but you're using your phone, right?). The Inreach service plans are a little more complicated and there's an activation charge, but the basic plan should work out comparable to the SPOT plan. The big difference between this and the SPOT is that it's a two-way messenger. You can send preset messages or use an app on your phone to send custom messages, and also receive messages from your family. It also of course has an SOS function.

If messaging is something you really need I would pick the SPOT because if you're just messaging your family that you're okay it should be sufficient and it's cheaper. I'm personally comfortable giving my family my planned route and ETA (which is very important no matter which gadget you choose) and just carrying a PLB which is much cheaper in the long run.
posted by edeezy at 10:14 PM on June 6, 2016


You can also look into satellite phones. You can rent them for a week at a time and they are more reliable than cell phones deep in the wilderness. I worked in outdoor education for years, and that is what we always carried.

If your sense of direction is still evolving, you should look up outdoor clubs in your area. Examples are: the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Colorado Mountain Club, and the Mountaineers in Washington state. Outdoor stores like REI also offer lots of classes. Don't assume that a GPS unit will get you out of every jam. For instance, if you get lost and get off your route and you can't read a topographical map, then your GPS unit can tell you where you are on the map, but it won't be able to tell you what the safest route back is.
posted by colfax at 2:41 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


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