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8/6/2012 4:52 PM
 

Since the SPOT devices were mentioned, and it is in my lane, I thought I would comment.

I like to get away from technology as much (or more so) than the next guy.  However, a non-negotiable for me was having the ability to summons help should the need arise, as well as the ability to reassure love ones that all is well.  Most of my trips are of a solo nature.  I have given a fair bit of thought to the piece of mind I want to give my loved ones.  Also know that I do not carry a personal locator device expecting to rely on it for trivial incidents.  I have spent a lot of time and effort acquiring the knowledge, skills and abilities that I count on to bring me home.

I have been using SPOT for a number of years.  I have carried one of the 1st generation devices.  That device only allowed 3 types of comms; Send Help (sent to the SPOT rescue center), All OK and a Not OK (can't remember the last button's actual designation).  Those last two options are sent to contacts set up on the web account dashboard.

For a year now, I have been using the SPOT Connect device coupled to a DeLorme PN60W GPS.  The DeLorme GPS has base topo maps are part of its functionality.   I also carry an Iphone.

Each SPOT device is subject to the same kind of system and environmental restrictions as any SatCom technology.  Cloud cover, thick canopy and high canyon walls can block the acquisition of satellites.  However, in my 3+ years of use, I have never been unable to get an "all ok" signal to go out.  When I bought the SPOT and DeLorme bundle, an Iphone app for the SPOT Connect was just coming out.  I have recently downloaded the app and plan to put it through its paces for those times I don't want the GPS with me, but haven't done so yet.  Note: twitter and facebook connectivity are optional.  No one forces you to connect to those systems.

Like Evan, I am interested in the DeLorme In Reach.  Having two range texting capability opens up options.  It allows acknowledgment of the receipt of a message.  It also allows communications with rescuers should I hit the "Come get me" button.  That would be useful if I hit the button for myself, or more likely, on someone else's behalf in a backcountry rescue situation.  

One area I would like more information on is how actual emergency usage of a PLB goes down.  Thus far, the only information I have found has been marketing materials from SPOT.

I would like more connectivity between my devices, but robust connectivity between my Iphone and a personal locator has been slow coming.  Eventually, I would like to have all of my GPS/nav/comms capability handled by my Iphone.

 

I hope that extra info on the SPOT options is helpful.

 
New Post
8/6/2012 7:03 PM
 

Thanks for the SPOT info, definately helpful. Sounds like someone is eventually going to have to suck up the cost of the DeLorme so we can all find out how well it works in comparison. The two way definately makes me want to get one once I sort out my finance priorities. Personally I haven't yet done much solo adventuring but I'm looking into exploring some of the Virginia area while I still have the chance and I will definately need something that allows me to keep in touch if I'm out of cell service as a work requirement and something that will work reliably even if I find my self in some of the denser areas around Pennsylvannia. Normally I'm the group exploring type, but a divide and conquer fiasco we had a few years back elk hunting in a heavy snow storm (always check your weather reports folks and pack extra clothes) had me looking into things like the Rhino, but even that wouldn't have helped much in the situation since we couldn't get FRS Radio contact around the mountain we were on and he was supposed to be on. The DeLorme would have been perfect as I had cell service from where I was and he didn't, back then my buddy could have set up the DeLorme and shot us his grid and I would have been able to let him know to stay put while we tracked him down. Even the SPOT would have worked, but he wouldn't have known if we had service and might have kept heading the wrong way trying to reach someone. Thankfully we managed to get a radio signal before he got too far the wrong way and were able to turn him back toward the truck.

Other issue is my hiking buddy on the east coast is ETSing soon and heading down to the gulf coast to try his hand at civillian work so I'm stuck by myself for my day trips again not much use in paying extra for the Rhino's features if I don't have anyone that can find me with it.

I'm interested in more information how PLB rescues work, like you said there isn't a whole lot of information available on the subject.

JSonn -

Forgot to answer your final question in my last post (bottom of page 1). No you don't need to get locked into a service plan contract, the other option is a pre-paid monthly plan. The problem is you will either pay ALOT more for a good phone, or pay a good deal for a so/so smart phone on the initial device purchase. In the long run, based on your description of what you planned on using it for, I think it would be more cost effective for you to go with a monthly contract rather than a month-to-month plan. Just make sure you have decent coverage at home (you said you don't have a land line so this phone would become your home contact/emergency caller from home as well as out in the hills) with which ever provider you go with.

 
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8/7/2012 12:11 PM
 

PLBs - this information comes from a very good thread on 24hr campfire:

SPOT emergencies go to the "SPOT operations center", and from there they notify whatever they imagine the appropriate local resources to be. That's why the initial device cost is relatively low (loss leader) and then the device is worthless without a subscription to their ops center service.

PLB emergencies go to the international network for emergencies. The same network that ships use and all other resources are tied into. This is the SOP way of resources being notified and mobilized internationally. This is why the initial device cost is higher but then there is no subscription and it doesn't have any consumer friendly bells and whistles like special messaging. You are using the standard public ops center infrastructure instead of a private one.

Of the two, the PLB device is the real deal whereas SPOT is kind of a hokey setup all the way around.

I don't know how DeLorme Inreach notifications work, other than the general concensus that the Satellite network that it runs off of (different than SPOT) is much more robust.

My thinking was that I could see ending up with a DeLorme unit and perhaps a PLB on top of that. Also toyed with going straight to PLB and foregoing the other. For true drop dead reliable emergency only use, the PLB is the choice. To me, the benefit of the two-way messaging on the DeLorme isn't really getting confirmation back or communicating with rescuers, it is being able to be "reached" in case of an emergency back home.


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
 
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8/7/2012 2:25 PM
 

Evan,

I was using "PLB" to denote locating devices of a generic sort, but I see you made a more specific reference to those devices only used in for rescue.  That makes more sense.

I agree, that having two way comms with home is important for the reason you mentioned.

All,

I just spent 30 minutes trying to get my Connect to sync with my Iphone without success.  I'm sure I can probably chase down the cause and fix it, but to me the rocky start makes me concerned for b/c use.  We'll see.

 
New Post
8/7/2012 2:53 PM
 

This is the true PLB I'm referring to:

http://www.rei.com/product/815753/acr-electronics-resqlink-406-gps-personal-locator-beacon

From the product page:

COSPAS-SARSAT is an international satellite system that provides distress alert and location data to assist Search and Rescue operations. It detects and locates the signals of beacons operating on 406 Megahertz (MHz). The position of the distress and other related information is forwarded to the appropriate Search and Rescue point of contact through the COSPAS-SARSAT mission control center network. The goal of the system is to support all organizations in the world with responsibility for SAR operations, whether at sea, in the air or on land. The COSPAS-SARSAT system provides distress alert and location data to rescue coordination centers for 406 MHz beacons activated anywhere in the world.

The PLB also has a GPS unit and transmits GPS derived location information on that 406 MHz channel for greater precision. The old way to locate the rescuee that I'm sure most searchers are still set up for is radio triangulation based on that 406 MHz broadcast.

And here is the InReach unit:

http://www.rei.com/product/840417/delorme-inreach-2-way-satellite-communicator-for-apple-ios-and-android 

Based on the product description and subscription, it looks like it has the same sort of search support as SPOT -- meaning not the real deal. I'll bet we'll see someone soon come out with a device that is a true PLB linked into the COSPAS-SARSAT system, but also offers subscription based 2-way satellite texting. I'm guessing the problem is that it needs to be able to talk to 2 different satellite networks (SARSAT, private one for messaging), or the maker will have to cut a deal to get space on the SARSAT network for private two-way traffic. Lots of red tape.


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
 
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8/7/2012 3:32 PM
 

I need to dig in more to who is providing what services and what their street cred is.  It appears both the SPOT Connect and the In Reach rely on the GEOS system: http://www.geosalliance.com/whatisgeos.html

In Reach uses the Iridium network, while SPOT uses the Globalstar constellation of satellites.  Globalstar has had problems and lost market share to more robust networks (chapter 11, restructuring, aging satellites).  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalstar  Considering the issues Globalstar has had, I'm not surprised they turned to other commercial ventures, like SPOT. 

 
New Post
8/8/2012 11:27 AM
 

To my understanding PLBs only transmit when activated, so you would think that they could make a device that was programmed to transmit on the SARSAT network when the emergency setting is intitiated and work on another system for communications. There may be some regulation against this to prevent accidental activation though. Again, from my understanding, once a PLB is activated the rescues are swift and costly so avoid false positives due to user error is very important.

I've had some limited experience with Iridium phones and as far as I can tell they are very reliable. Using them for databurst messaging instead of real time voice communications should only make them work even more reliably. Frankly, for me, I probably wouldn't pop the emergency feature on the DeLorme period. Granted at home most of my friends are LE, Volunteer Fire/EMS, BLM/BLM Fire crew and alot are also active in the county volunteer SAR so if DeLorme or SPOT chose who they were going to contact locally, it'd be the same people that I would be sending my messages too anyway. So in my case I'd probably go the same way as you Evan, have the DeLorme and maybe a PLB for true emergencies, again the DeLorme would mostly be used for communication, specifically in my case for work. The DeLorme is definately going on a wish list for me, the PLB I still haven't thought of actual justification for, I just can't think of a time I would ever really use it.

 
New Post
9/13/2012 10:29 PM
 

This thread has WIN all over it. Just recently found it. Any misgivings or changes of opinion in the last month by the practitioners?

I'm trying to sort out any implications of this Apple/Samsung fight in court, if any, for the specific purposes Evan lists in the first post.

 
New Post
9/14/2012 12:56 PM
 

I'm still really happy with this setup. Used it just this morning as a basemap GPS to figure out which canyon I had off trailed myself into. I was pleased to find that I had made an illegal incursion over the line into the Colorado National Monument -- illegal because I had dogs with me. Country looks dry, but lots of stored water in tinajas down deep in the bottoms.


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
 
New Post
9/14/2012 5:27 PM
 

Thanks for the update Evan. I picked up one like yours this aft. @ Radio Shack for $99. I'll try to follow the same setup you described.

I have the same issue w/ dogs and Nat'l parks here too. Sounds like you've got that country pretty well figured out for survival.

BTW, my son just got his Eagle Scout, two weeks shy of his 18'th. I didn't make it nearly that far. I told him all his new cool gear was designed by a couple of Eagle scouts. He liked that.

 
New Post
10/7/2012 12:57 PM
 

An update -- I had my device out on a night where it got down to 28 degrees. The morning after, the thing was stone dead. Other cold-ish nights (high 30s) this hasn't been an issue. Perhaps the battery discharged due to temperature, and perhaps I accidentally left it on. Either way, it wouldn't boot up. I attempted to power it up using the portable battery pack I was carrying. The battery pack still had a full charge. Then I tried to power it up using the care charger. No dice on either count. I had to take it in to Sprint because I couldn't figure out how to do a hard boot. It turns out that what you have to do is hold the power button down while the device is plugged into power to bring it back from battery fully discharged stone dead. If I had known that, I presumably could have gotten it started again using the portable battery pack. Wasn't able to test that due to circumstances.

So:

  • Put your device in your sleeping bag at night
  • Know how to hard boot it before you need to
  • Carry backups for essential tasks (GPS is all I can think of)

My trip was 95% off trail with quite a bit of navigation necessary. On the way in, the device's basemap GPS functions were really nice for frequent course corrections. On the way out without it working, I got quite a ways off line (all those aspen cloaked ridge-lets look an awful lot alike) before I stopped and dug the backup foretrex out of my pack. It was back to good old UTM position plotting to get back to the rig.


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
 
New Post
3/6/2013 5:24 PM
 

A couple more updates:

  • Now that I sleep with the device in a napoleon pocket inside of my sleeping bag, I haven't had any battery problems.
  • I finally found an mp3 player that works well and has a lightweight footprint - the amazon mp3 player. There are some things I wished it did that it didn't, but those are minor UI things. Overall it is a stable and useful music player.
  • I was able to download topo base maps of mexico on backcountry navigator using the "open cycle map" map source. That ended up being handier than anticipated.
  • COMPASS!

On a regular app update, a compass suddenly showed up on BackCountry Navigator. I didn't pay much attention to it, assuming it was a GPS compass. I find those to be pretty rudimentary and overall useless. Then I noticed that it seemed way more precise and responsive than a GPS compass. I was trying to figure out what it might be getting a reading off of and turned off every communication method on the device and it was still working. I finally did some research and found out that my smartphone ships with an actual magnetic sensor in it, off of which people build compass apps. I spent some time looking at various compass apps and finally found one that is simple but fantastic. It is called "Smart Compass" and looks like this:

That's right. It is using the phone's camera hardware to provide a picture of what you are looking at, with the compass overlaid on top of that. Note that I could choose for it to give me true north instead of magnetic north. The crosshairs allows for a very precise bearing. Better even than a large compass with the sighting mirror. That bar on the right is another little goody. It is telling me how strong the magnetic field is. If the magnetic field gets too strong (like if I'm next to a big metal object), that bar turns red, letting me know that I'm likely not getting an accurate reading.

The one disclaimer on this app is that I haven't yet sanity checked it against a manual compass. Logically, it relies on the camera gathering a picture that is perfectly aligned with the real world without any distortion. That is probably a safe assumption, but I do plan on testing. Even if this test fails, the phone still functions as a very accurate digital compass, I just wouldn't have this very precise way of taking bearings.

 


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
 
New Post
3/8/2013 7:26 PM
 

Splendid tread, very educational and inspirational. I have been using an galaxy II for a couple of years but never used it for anything more than the rudimentary GPS stuff. Not so much for the hiking bit, but if I understand it correctly you fellows bike a bit as well ?

If so have you thought about running a SON dynohub for loading stuff ? www.peterwhitecycles.com/Schmidt.asp Nothing to do with the company, I will eventually order one but from Germany as its made over here in Europe.

 
New Post
3/12/2013 4:30 PM
 

 This was the thread that originally got me to register here. Very informative and usefull, it also helped bring me over the hump of finally upgrading to one of these smarty pants phones. I would like more info on how you "took control of the device" shutting off things like 4g and data connecton at will to save battery power.

Thanks for the update and keeping this thread alive.

 
New Post
3/12/2013 5:05 PM
 

 Just to add some additional info regarding PLBs.....I own and have carried an ACR Microfix in the past for solo mountaineering, backcountry skiing, or simply backcountry trekking.  It's credited with over 26,000 rescues since the 80s.  I now am carrying the Delorme InReach GPS version, paired with my Delorme PN-60W GPS.  This version pairs with this model GPS via a program called Zigbee.  It works off of the Iridium satellite network, and has been successfully tested globally.  Like any satellite based system, it needs "Y-sky".... a clear view of the sky.  The InReach can be used as a stand alone device to leave breadcrumbs which can be monitored remotely, it also has three available preloaded messages that can be sent from it.  Finally, it has the SOS function.  This is tied to the COSPAS SARSat network here in the US, or similar SAR structures in other countries.  When paired with the GPS, I can send and receive SMS text messages and also send/receive emails to whomever I have set up in the Delorme program (preset on the computer).  I recently tested it while doing some work travel in Mexico.  It worked perfectly. I was able to send and receive messages all the way to Virginia.  The InReach has also recently been credited with a successful rescue of a climber who became snow blind and holed up in a snow cave.  He was on Mount Aspiring in New Zealand.  His father was tracking his progress from Canada and saw that his son hadn't moved for a couple days.  The son also sent a preloaded message from the InReach to his dad, because he could at least feel the correct button to push, even though he was snow blind.  The climber also determined that he was not getting any better and could not self rescue, so he pushed the SOS button.  He was then rescued within a day.  The organization I work for is on the cusp of buying these for personnel who will be in certain countries that don't already have a good means of PLB function available to them (think several 3rd world locales).  Also, colleagues of mine from my past active duty life are buying them for forward deployed troops in the SOF community because the InReach can be set up as a closed system for mil, LE, and USG folks (so the bad guys can't access the data).

The other version of the InReach is one that can pair with an iPhone or Android based smartphone via Bluetooth.  The functionality is much the same as what I described for the GPS version.  I opted for the GPS version because I wanted the ability to have a rock solid, accurate GPS in the backcountry, mostly in areas where there isn't any cell overage anyway.  So, I have the very accurate GPS, and an outstanding PLB, which covers me anywhere I go.  With this set up, I can still communicate, have GPS nav ability, and a PLB that works stand alone or paired.  Finally, the InReach can be set up with different coverage packages, basically tailored to the user's needs.  This is pretty nice, because it only needs to be active for time periods when you know it will be needed, which keeps costs down significantly.


Hill People Gear Coureurs des Bois (Brand Ambassador). Victoria faveat paratam. De Oppresso Liber.
 
New Post
3/12/2013 5:18 PM
 

Flashman, the SON hub thing was a very enjoyable rabbit hole! I haven't used my bike for anything approaching an expedition for a handful of years now. A nice headlamp has served the purpose of night time lighting quite fine. However, if I start doing expedition style riding, I'll seriously consider that hub.

Brokennock, to "take control of the device" I did the following:

  • created a screen just for device management
  • went through all of the pre-installed widgets and added the ones that were for turning different functions on or off. Some of them are sort of redundant. I've got:
    • direct link to settings panel
    • mobile data on / off
    • Wi-Fi on/off
    • auto sync on/off
    • roaming on/off
    • gps on/off
    • Bluetooth on/off
    • auto rotate on/off
    • timeout length (3 position slider)
    • brightness (3 position slider)
    • airplane mode (toggles a few things at once)
    • audio profile (off, vibrate, sound)
  • Installed a couple of third party apps:
    • battery solo - just a good battery life indicator with battery history graph underneath it
    • JuiceDefender - this one was kind of scary to install because it has far reaching effects. It manages your settings system wide to optimize for battery life. I don't even know what all it does, but it works and has for several months now. For a full regular day of on-grid use, I'm usually at about 65% battery life by the time I go to bed. This app isn't relevant in the backcountry because everything it manages is toggled off for the most part. The only bad thing I've found about JD is a suspicion only. Sometimes my phone has a hard time "waking up" and getting a mobile data connection. Usually, toggling mobile data off and then on fixes it. Sometimes it requires a phone reboot. This could just be because of service area. This could be completely unrelated to JD. Or maybe, because this is one of the things that JD manages under the covers (only turn mobile data on periodically to check for updates, or only when I turn the screen on, rather than always on), JD is responsible. Don't know for sure, but if JD is the cause of it, it is a minor annoyance in exchange for the excellent battery life I get.
  • I also added some apps to this screen that are related to device management: google play store, speed test, task manager.
  • Wormed my way through all of the settings I could; learning about them, turning off what seemed extraneous, etc. Turning off 4g was initially hard to figure out because the actual setting is "CDMA only" as opposed to "LTE/CDMA". CDMA being 3g and LTE being 4g.

As a general rule of thumb, if there is a free and paid version of an app, I'll opt for the paid version. The prices are usually trivial and do away with ad banners that eat bandwidth and make the app slow to load because the banners have to come up too. Plus, will the app function at all if it can't get the ad banners working when it is trying to start up? It also closes security holes because you have to give ad supported apps network connectivity privileges to serve the ads whereas the paid version doesn't need or ask for those privileges. Plus, a useful product is worth paying for.


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
 
New Post
3/12/2013 5:23 PM
 

Finally, it has the SOS function.  This is tied to the COSPAS SARSat network here in the US, or similar SAR structures in other countries.

Ah... so the InReach *is* the "best of both worlds" I was hoping for above - true PLB functionality on the international SAR networks, plus a lighter weight 2-way functionality using other means?


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
 
New Post
3/12/2013 6:18 PM
 

evanhill wrote

 Finally, it has the SOS function.  This is tied to the COSPAS SARSat network here in the US, or similar SAR structures in other countries.

Ah... so the InReach *is* the "best of both worlds" I was hoping for above - true PLB functionality on the international SAR networks, plus a lighter weight 2-way functionality using other means?

Evan, not sure if you are asking a question, or wondering about some other aspect?  If it's a question, then yes...I do believe the InReach (either the GPS or smartphone version) does offer a great deal of functionality in one package.  If you desired, you could carry the InReach by itself and still use it for the breadcrumb, preloaded messages, and SOS beacon functions.  I saw a photo of a still newer model coming out that appears to have an alpha-numeric keypad right on the InReach, which will actually allow still more functionality as a stand alone.  When I was active duty, I also had experience with the SPOT.  We had people away from the US in places like Morocco and Jordan.  We could track with the SPOT and computer interface, but it was sometimes "spotty" coverage...pun intended.  It did work adequately, but not great.  Additionally, it requires the yearly subscription.  That's another reason why I have become a fan of the InReach system.  Plus, Delorme GPS units are very good.  They come with 1:50000 coverage for all 50 states, and cover Mexico and Canada, too.  Garmin wants another $200 + for map software.  The Delorme comes with everything for $349.    They have been in business since the 1920s, and also make the Gazetteer topo map books for the US....so they are pretty well versed when it comes to providing detailed topography.  No, I don't work for Delorme, but I am glad they offer some legit competition for Garmin.  I have a few Garmin models, as well.  My favorite among them is the 401 wrist GPS.  Appears I'm off the original topic, now!  Anyway, suffice it to say that my vote is for the Delorme InReach system...user choice for the GPS or smartphone version.


Hill People Gear Coureurs des Bois (Brand Ambassador). Victoria faveat paratam. De Oppresso Liber.
 
New Post
3/12/2013 6:29 PM
 

 Evan, your picture above looks similar to an app I have on my phone called Theodolite.


Hill People Gear Coureurs des Bois (Brand Ambassador). Victoria faveat paratam. De Oppresso Liber.
 
New Post
3/13/2013 5:47 AM
 

 Just to clarify a bit more....the InReach does INITIALLY link to GEOS, but according to the Delorme techs I spoke with, they do further link it to COSPAS SARSat in the chain of rescue sources, where available and most appropriate based on the location of the isolated individual.  Through the Iridium network, local authorities may in fact respond quicker to affect a rescue in a shorter time period.  This can be especially helpful given the"Golden Hour of Trauma", if the individual  is severely injured.  The same chain of response is used overseas, again where available and appropriate.  Benefit here is that the InReach doesn't only rely on one means for rescue.  The ACR series of PLBs (Microfix, Rescuefix, etc.) are fine if you don't require the two way feature.  Hit the button and someone will come to that device, but it is single use and must be sent back to the company for reset afterward.  But that's the least of your worries at that point.  A way to set up for success in addition to the rescue mechanisms that Delorme already has in place would be to include the contact info for locally based SAR for the area you'll be in and have that loaded as an available recipient in the InReach or listed in the GPS or smartphone it is paired with.  This is accomplished easily in the computer program prior to embarking on the trip.  

However, none of these devices are a silver bullet.  Nothing takes the place of having good situational awareness and preventing incidents from becoming catastrophic.  


Hill People Gear Coureurs des Bois (Brand Ambassador). Victoria faveat paratam. De Oppresso Liber.
 
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