While this may not look like much, sometimes its the small things that just might save your life... Introducing Spot.

Part of the thing that so much of us love the most, going into remote places where people are few and far in between can also put us at risk.   Its great to wheel into that remote mountain lake, but what happens if you get hurt there?   What happens if an unexpected storm hits or your trusty steed fails you?   In just the last few years I have read of people getting caught in snow storms and being cut off, vehicle rollovers on remote trails, and it seems that these events are on the rise.   Why?   Because more and more of us seek that respite away from the pressures of our jobs and the city's.  

So what do you do when the unthinkable happens?  How do you get in touch with the people that can help you, whether that be anything from medical help to friends to get you repair or parts help to search and rescue to get you out of the back country?   And what about your family back at home?   How do you let them know when everything is going OK so they are not home worrying about you?

This is where spot comes in.   Now you may be saying to yourself that this sounds like a PLB, or Personal Locator Beacon, and in a way it is.   PLB's send out a signal that is picked up search and rescue personnel so they can find you and render assistance.   But this is where Spot goes beyond the capabilities of the normal PLB.

 So what makes the Spot so special?  Spot allows you to not only call for help if disaster strikes, but it also lets you send messages to friends and family letting them know that your OK.   You can ask friends for help or send tracking logs so others can see your progress back at home.   Because it uses 100% satellite technology, it will keep working when your cell phone stops and will work almost anywhere in the world.

Spot has 4 different modes: Check In, Track Progress, Ask for Help, and Alert 911.

The Check In mode lets you send a message to friends or family letting them know that all is OK.   You can send the message via email or as a message to a mobile device such as a cell phone.   Emails include a Google Maps link so friends can see exactly where you are.  Before you go on a trip, you log into your Spot account and can program the contacts for your trip, including a personalized message that will be sent when you press the Check In button.

Track Progress mode the Spot automatically sends a Check In message every 10 minutes so friends and family can track your progress in real time.

Ask for Help mode is the way you can ask friends or family for help when you don't need an emergency response.   Maybe its a simple stuck or breakdown, with Ask for Help you can send a personalized message letting your contacts know that your OK, but you need help from them.   Once activated, Spot will send an Ask for Help message every five minutes for one hour or until cancelled.

Alert 911 is for when you need immediate response from emergency personnel or you need to let them know you are in a life threatening situation.    Once activated, SPOT will acquire its exact coordinates from the GPS network, and send that location along with a distress message to a GEOS International Emergency Response Center every five minutes until cancelled. Depending on the condition of the battery's, it can continue to send this emergency message continuously for up to 7 days.   The Emergency Response Center notifies the appropriate emergency responders based on your location and personal information which may include local police, highway patrol, Coast Guard, Search and Rescue our the country’s embassy or consulate as well as notifying your emergency contact person(s) about the receipt of a distress signal.  

Now onto the second best part... you can actually afford it!   The units MSRP is $169.99 including free 2nd day shipping, but I also found it for $149.99 at the REI website.   The unit does require a subscription, and there are a few different options there.   For $99.99 per year you get unlimited Check In, Ask for Help and Alert 911 usage.   For an additional $49.99 per year you get the Track Progress feature.   Keep in mind that you can press the Check In button and generate your own waypoints, a sort of manual version on the Track Progress feature, so it all depends on how much you think you will use this feature.

So now the final question for the day… how much is your life worth? $269.99 for the first year and then $99.99 per year is a small price to pay for peace of mind for you and your family.   I know that for me personally this will solve the age old problem of checking in with my family when I am out on the trail, far from cell phone range.  Every trip I come home to “why didn’t you call me?” Never again. And if an when that day does come that I need help on the trail, I know that its only a push of a button away.

Want to know more? Read on below!

You can download the Spot User Guide here.
You can download the Spot specification sheet here.
You can download the Sales Brochure here.
You can view the tv commercial here.
You can download the GEOS brochure here.
All pictures are here.

Here is the Spot unit as we received it.
Inside the box is the Spot unit, batteries, a user manual and supporting documentation.
The spot unit is much smaller than I had imagined it would be, and weighing in at just under 7.5oz wont weigh you down.

The unit is sealed and uses 2 AA Lithium batteries.  It is waterproof up to one meter for 30 minutes.   

With these two batteries, it is expected to last approximately 1 year with power on (not being used), in Spot Tracking mode it will last about 14 days, in 911 mode it will last about 7 days, and for normal check in messages it should send about 1900 messages on a set of batteries.... not too shabby!

For size comparison, here the spot is next to a can of soda....

So now that I had the Spot out of the box and working, it didn't take long to log onto the Spot website and enter my information.   I had no problems getting all of my information entered, the website was easy to use.   

The first step is to enter your messengers serial number and authentication code.   Once this is done you can enter all your personal information for ownership of the Spot.

From the website you can define different profiles.   The different profiles can have different contact lists so when you send messages they go to different groups, these can be used for different trips or maybe different areas that you visit.   For example, if you visit Moab (Utah) every year you may have a set of contacts for the Ask for Help feature that are in that area, vs a set of contact for when you go on a trip to the Rubicon Trail (California).   There are also different sets of contacts for different events: one set for Check In, one set for Ask for Help etc..   You can have up to 10 contacts listed for each event.
This page shows a track log from our recent trip to Visalia California to Petaluma California.   The unit was placed on the dashboard of my car and was moving around during the four and a half hour drive.  Looking at the gaps in the markers, you can see that sometime the unit was in a position on the dash where a signal did not get out, but for the most part it worked.  It was under another item on the dash sometimes and this may be the cause of the signal gaps.
Below is a coverage map showing expected coverage for the Spot unit.
What about the price you may ask?   The Spot is the least expensive device of its type that I am aware of.   As of the day I am writing this, the REI website shows 4 PLB's: 1 for $650, one for $550, and one for $450.... and then the Spot for $150!
We have been using the Spot for a while now and its great peace of mind.   My wife has also used it when she drove on school field trips to places that cell phones did not work, its nice to know that should the need arise you are always able to contact emergency personnel.
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