You’re alone and isolated in the wilds. You are injured, cold, and thirsty. You are shivering; the outlook is not good. The surest way to be rescued and survive is with a Satellite (Sat) Phone. The next best alternative is the Personal Location Beacon (PLB).
But how much do these things cost? And what do they weigh?
Let’s start with Sat Phones. They are expensive, weigh about a pound, and involve plans. See what I mean? In this example, you can get a free phone and pay over $300.00 a month for service, or buy a phone for $588.00 and pay $15.00 a month for service. Let’s face it, most hikers are not going to make this investment. Rentals are possible but also expensive; one example I saw charged the user $1.75 a minute, but to avoid paying higher rental fees, the user would have to buy a minimum of 200 minutes.
I think Satellite Phones are a good idea if a leader is in charge of a hiking group and the cost can be defrayed among the hikers.
The PLB, sometimes known as a distress radio beacon or an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons), is an alternative. However, you can’t converse on PLBs; they are used to signal your location. The phones are almost as expensive as some Sat Phones, but don’t require a subscriber plan. I’ve heard of one instance where PLB’s can be rented at Ranger Stations. Be sure to read the comprehensive user reviews for the “Fast Find” PLB at the website just above.
Now for something kind of in-between. While not a satellite phone, the Spot Connect device turns your smartphone into a satellite communicator. You pair your smartphone with Spot Connect and get connected to a global satellite network. You can then send one-way text/typed message via satellite. You can’t have a conversation; you send vital details and wait. But I like the idea and have noticed their ads in Backpacker Magazine.
The Spot Connect system weighs 5 oz and costs around $150.00. It can be bundled with a basic service plan costing $100.00
I think any serious hiker going solo should use a PLB, or a device like Spot Connect. I’m going to pick out something for a Christmas present to me. I do see one problem, however. Just as cell phones seem to give one a false sense of security in the wilds, leading to more and more rescues of hikers that are foolish and unprepared, PLB’s are going to make hikers take increased risks more often. If a type-A hiker wants to bag that one last peak, or wants to get across that gushing river somehow, he’ll chance it with a PLB. And that’s not wise.
Give me your thoughts. See you next time.
Our friend has a small garmin unit he uses for navigating his boat on the Chesapeke. This summer he bought a micro SD card for the unit and used it to hike the Alps. Point is, some devices already purchased for car and boat navigation can be used for hiking. Probably they’re cheaper. Most boaters have a handheld with 2-way voice capability.
Thanks for this infomation, Beth. The more I look into the communications topic, the more possibilities I see. I plan to do a followup post.
Great article Ray. I hadn’t heard of the Spot Connect device before. Just had a quick look at their website – looks like a great device and a good alternative to sat phones and PLBs. I’m going to do a bit more research.
It’s true PLBs and sat phones are expensive devices and I think more suited to commercial expeditions than personal hikers.
One thing to keep in mind when choosing a device is where you are hiking and what emergency services are available. It’s all well and good contacting a relative to say you’re in trouble if you’re hiking in the US or Europe where there are established moutain rescue services to contact. Not so helpful if you’re in the Himalaya, Siberia or some other remote location!
There are more and more solutions on the market and prices are coming down which is all good news for hikers.
Good points, Phil. Like you say, these devices are coming down in price. They will also get smaller and weigh less.
Great info. I walk a lot, though it’s been years since I’ve done any long distance stuff. Walked half the AT 40 years ago. I’ve got a blog on which I post photos, videos and thoughts from my walks, etc. in the Finger Lakes of New York State. I was out on the Finger Lakes Trail yesterday. http://ithacafingerlakes.com
Thanks, Tony. I bet you have a lot of outdoor’s wisdom you can offer us. I’ll check out your site.