When You Want Them to Find You: SPOT Connect
One of the problems a family man faces when setting out on the John Muir Trail is letting his family know that he’s okay, or, perhaps more importantly, letting someone know when he needs help.
Enter the SPOT Connect.
This hockey-puck-sized technological dynamo allows tracks your progress in the backcountry (well, anywhere, really) and acts as a communications conduit between GPS satellites and your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. Neat.
How (They Say) It Works
They sure make it look easy, don’t they?
I found that while setting the device up wasn’t difficult, it wasn’t all that intuitive, either. Don’t expect to buy one of these off the shelf, sync up your phone, and hit the trail. I recommend a few test runs to get the hang of it before you put your life in its hands.
Once you activate your SPOT at www.findmespot.com, set up your account, name your device (mine goes by “Echo” — clever, eh?), and then go through the tasks of setting up predefined messages, contacts, contact groups (no more than ten), and hooking up your social media accounts, you have to pair it with your smartphone.
It also has a sort-of protected one-press SOS button which will transmit your location to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) to coordinate with a local rescue team. It’s worth noting that the protective cover for the SOS button looks a bit flimsy; I live in fear that I’ll press it by accident when powering the device on or off.
What’s All That Cost?
All this functionality will cost you. In addition to the $150 or so for the unit itself, you need to pony up $100 for an annual subscription to the SPOT satellite service, plus more if you want some of the well-touted add-ons like the tracker ($50) and the ability to send one-way messages. Your first five messages are free and will run you 50 cents each after that. You can save a few dollars by buying one of the SPOT message bundles, which run $30 for 100 or $50 for 500 messages.
I opted to buy the 100 message package, so my all-in cost on this was $330 ($180 for the services, plus $150 for the unit itself).
Still, not a bad deal for a personal satellite communicator. It’s worth noting that I have read that actually trying to unsubscribe from the SPOT service can be difficult (Notification needs to be in writing? Really? Why not a big, red STOP button on my accounts page?), but we shall see how that goes.
Oh yeah, it runs on two AA batteries. With a minimum of 14 days on the trail, I’ll certainly be putting their battery life claims to the test.
Which reminds me …
How do you keep all your devices powered on the John Muir Trail? More on that tomorrow.
Update: It looks like SPOT has replaced the SPOT Connect with the SPOT GEN3, which looks to have some improved features like longer battery life and motion-activated tracking. You still need a service plan, though.