The most difficult aspect of my elk trip won’t be crawling out of the tent before sunset, scaling mountain ridges, or covering mile-after-mile looking for elk. No, the hardest part of this trip is going to be spending so much time away from my wife and kids. But, as difficult as that will be, it will be much tougher for my wife. She’ll be the one at home with two kids, while her “third kid” is halfway across the country fumbling through the mountains. She will no doubt wonder how I’m doing, if I’m safe, or if I’ve been eaten by a bear.
When the idea of this trip came up, I promised her that I would find a way to let her know that I was doing OK throughout the trip. So I began looking at different means of communication. I considered looking at cellular network coverage maps of different areas, but of course they can’t be relied on. I then looked into renting a satellite phone, but they aren’t cheap (daily rental fee, plus talk time, plus insurance to cover the cost of the device). I considered the original SPOT Messanger, which would be able to send “I’m OK” messages, as well as call for help in an emergency situation, but I wanted to be able to send custom messages “on the fly”.
More than just “OK”.
Thankfully, SPOT expanded their line and came out with the SPOT Connect. The Connect device is even smaller than the original SPOT device, yet it has enhanced functionality – thanks to the fact that it connects with your smartphone, via Bluetooth. Basically, the device is an intermediary between your smartphone and the satellite network. The SPOT Connect smartphone app can be used to create and send text messages, which will be delivered to the contacts of your choosing, via the SPOT Connect device and the satellite network. These messages can be delivered to the contact via text message or e-mail.
The beauty of the SPOT Connect is that you use your phone. So if you have cell service, you can go ahead and call/text from your phone as normal, but if you are out of service, you can use the SPOT Connect to check in with any of your contacts. The SPOT Connect app can even send your messages to your Twitter or Facebook accounts. (Which means that I’ll be able to publish hunting updates during my trip!)
I’ve been testing the Connect to get familiar with it before my trip, and so far, I’m pleased. The Connect app on my iPhone makes it incredibly easy to create and send a unique message (or select for a list of pre-defined messages, which I can create in the system), see a history of messages sent, as well as some other features.
As reassuring as it will be for my wife to receive updates from me, and to be able to see my exact location on a map, and as “cool” as it will be to share live hunting updates on Facebook and Twitter, we can’t forget the potentially life-saving aspects of this device. The SPOT Connect, like all SPOT devices, is able to send “SOS” messages to the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC). The IERCC can then coordinate and deploy rescue assistance to my exact location. Chances are, I’ll never need to use this function. (And I pray that’s the case!) But think about it – just a quick slip and a broken ankle could become life-threatening, if it happens five miles from the trailhead and no one knows exactly where I’m at.
There are plenty of other use-case scenarios for the SPOT Connect. For example, I’ve talked with hunters that have put packers on stand-by, and then sent a message and coordinates to the packer when they get their elk on the ground. That’s cool!
The SPOT Connect isn’t the only device of its kind on the market, and this isn’t mean to be a review of the SPOT Connect (although, that will be coming later this fall!), but let’s quickly consider a downside and an alternative to the SPOT Connect.
There’s one thing that the Connect doesn’t do – receive messages. It is a one-way, send-only device. That seems like a big deal, at first, but the more I thought about it, there are actually massive downsides (in terms of time, money, battery consumption, etc.) to trying to have two-way communication in the backcountry. That said, if it two-way communication is a “deal breaker” for you, then take a look at the DeLorme inReach products, which are two-way satellite communicators.
I have talked with several inReach users that are happy with their devices and the service, but there are some downsides to be aware of. The inReach is more expensive, larger, heavier, power-hungry, and is more convoluted when it comes to sending group messages or posting to social networks. That’s not said to bash the inReach by any means, but just to point out the facts and briefly mention that there’s a literal and figurative cost to that alternative. I’m not here to say which device is right for you, because the “devil is in the details” when it comes to selecting a satellite communication device, and your needs may be different than mine.
There are plenty of reasons why you should consider a satellite communicator if you are hunting in remote wilderness, especially if you are going on an extended trip, as I am. I hope that the SPOT Connect lives up to its claims, as it has in my initial tests, and I look forward to testing it thoroughly this fall. My wife can know that I’m safe, and YOU can catch live updates from my hunt via my Twitter and Facebook pages. That’s a win-win!
(PS – Like all technology products/companies, SPOT is constantly improving. SPOT has a new device coming out this year, and although I haven’t heard the details, the rumors surrounding this device are very interesting!)