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What is it? SPOT is a personal beacon that transmits SOS messages, or “I’m safe” messages so you can notify friends and family that you’re safe at the end of a walk (especially relevant in remote areas without mobile signals).
First Impressions. It’s very much like a little orange GPS without a screen. In the same way it weighs much more than you’d expect, feeling like a small stone in your hand. It’s also brashly orange, not that there’s another type of orange, which sets me in mind of the ubiquitous survival bag with which this device has a lot more in common than you’d think. Other than the obvious colour, it’s not something you’re going to want to use, but you’re always going to carry. When you do come to use it, they could both save your life. Though, very much like a GPS device, you can choose to use it as a purely emergency device or you can make use of it to the full and use it to mark yourself safe at the end of your walks.
Setting it up… You’ll need to do a couple of things before using the SPOT. Logging onto the SPOT user pages is simple and the set up from that point onwards pretty intuitive. You can assign email addresses for the device to send messages to, which was easy, and a text message number that seems a bit more awkward. Virgin Mobile and T-Mobile were present for the UK, but Orange, O2 and Vodafone were absent. Typically these three are the networks we use in our household, so it was rather awkward.
Despite that, whenever I’m at the end of a long, remote day with no access to a phone and even less chance of a mobile signal I don’t want to be worrying about having called back home. The advantage this device has is that the messages are sent back using satellite phone technology, not the usual mobile networks. I wish I’d had one in Scotland in April where after 28km of wading through deep snow I had to worry that I wasn’t able to phone home to say I was safe. Such is the problem that many solo walkers will have in remote areas. If I had a SPOT, I’d have pressed the OK button and put the device back in my pack to ensure it sent the message that I was safe.
You can set up a sharing page too. This page can be public or private. More of this later.
The Device… It’s similar in size to a typical GPS, only squarer. The exact dimensions are : 111 mm x 69 mm x 44 mm and it weighs in at 209g. It feels reassuringly rugged, which is vital for a device like this. If you’ve just rolled down 50 metres of hillside and broken a leg, you certainly don’t want the one device that can get you out alive to have suffered in a similar way. The instructions insist on Lithium batteries as they’re more reliable and don’t get drained by the cold. Battery life is good, partly down to that reason, claiming 1 year’on’ but not broadcasting.
It’s also waterproof, sufficiently so that it should put up with the mesh pocket of a rucksack and a bit of Welsh rain.
In the field…In use, there’s little to say. Press the OK button to send a message that you’re safe, the Help to tell your designated’team’ that you’re in a bit of trouble. Presumably, you could use this in a situation where there’s a team of people within range, or you don’t want to go through the 911 process. If you do get in real trouble, then pressing for a few seconds will send a signal to an emergency response centre. So far, there have been a few people rescued in this country as a direct result of the SPOT.
A further use of the SPOT is for people to monitor your location in real time on a webpage. This was easy to setup on the SPOT setting page and worked pretty well. The same page can also be used to show your location when you send an OK message. Accuracy was pretty good. One OK message I sent, pinpointed me exactly (just off path, and at a position I could recognise on the aerial photos). Some of the continuous tracking points were a bit off, but the device was deep in my pack at the time so I was being rather unfair. Most of the points were ok (as you can see on the image).
Conclusions…If it weren’t for the cost of the device, this would be in everyone’s pack. Certainly there will be those who say it will be abused, probably by the same idiots who ring mountain rescue as they’re thirsty. But in responsible hands, this has the potential to be a lifesaver. I reckon this sort of device will become a must in all outdoor centre packs in the coming years, especially as the price will inevitably come down.
Recommended if you visit remote and less visited mountain areas, especially if you’re adventurous and go looking for places
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siDave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.