Best Wilderness Communication

Brent Mccoy
• Tuesday, 17 November, 2020
• 14 min read

The Garmin reach Mini is tied for the best messaging device in our test group. It pairs with an app on your phone and can send and receive many types of messages.

machete survival sharp mastery
(Source: survival-mastery.com)


Depending on terrain, we rarely had to wait more than five minutes to acquire a satellite signal, and the device confirms whether your messages were sent or not. We also appreciate that the latest iteration of this device makes it difficult to send a signal accidentally but is not challenging to use quickly if you need to.

The Mini is expensive at the outset, but worth it if you want to send and receive a lot of messages in the field. You can still send messages from the device if your smartphone runs out of batteries, and it also has fully featured GPS capabilities and weather forecasting.

If you want longer battery life or more advanced navigational features, check out the Garmin reach Explorer+. Our only further wish of the Mini is that its app text messaging were seamless from satellite to Wi-Fi/cell signal.

They are similar in size and weight, and both use the same satellite network and contracted dispatch services. We wish that both the reach Mini and Livestock Blue had seamless messaging like the Oleo, Somewhere, and Satan have.

Weight: 4.1 oz | Battery Life : 1000 messagesFlexible and affordable subscription options The Somewhere Global Hotspot is a piece of hardware from a relatively new start-up that uses a proven satellite network and SOS monitoring service.

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(Source: www.pinterest.com)

With the nearly simultaneous launch of a small handful of similar devices and services, the competitors are being forced to compete on price. The initial purchase price of the Global Hotspot is similar to the other options, but the subscription plans are a little less expensive than average.

Depending on how you intend to use your wilderness communicator, the Global Hotspot can be much less expensive than the alternatives. For instance, with their “Plan Ultralight,” you can use the Hotspot a few times a month, over five years, for hundreds of dollars less than using another device in the same way.

With the reach Mini you can view or send rudimentary messages directly on the device and through the phone app. Unfortunately, this personal locator beacon does not in any way confirm that someone has received your distress signal.

The Higher Ground Satan is one of the more innovative new entries to the satellite communication market in years. The Satan is currently alone in employing an entirely different satellite technology and infrastructure.

The end result of the technology, device, and business structure is that you have access to fully flexible, prepaid satellite two-way messaging, inside the United States, for far less cost than any other option available. On the flip side, the Satan does not work anywhere in the world outside of North America.

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(Source: authorizedboots.com)

With this keyboard, the user can text readily without needing to link to a separate, battery-draining device. The SPOT X is unique, but it is exceeded in some ways by its close competitors, particularly in regard to size and satellite system used.

If that physical keyboard and its benefits appeal to you, there is no reason not to choose the SPOT X. Wilderness adventures of all kinds are suitable venues for testing satellite communications.

Aside from testing gear, Jed's primary work is in all kinds of mountain guiding. Whether on rock, ice, alpine, or ski mountaineering trips, Jed works full-time all around the world.

Aside from climbing and skiing, you can find him dabbling in mountain biking, canoeing, hunting, fishing, trail running, and occasional adventure travel touristic. Jed brings a level of professionalism, competence, and experience that we needed when testing these important safety devices.

Before taking over this category, he consulted for a few years for one of the major satellite communication networks. We started things off by carefully selecting ten models of satellite messenger and personal locator beacons.

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(Source: www.canoethewild.com)

The end result is a set of ten tested products that represent basically all the available satellite communication options currently on the market. We then purchased and activated these beacons and put them to the test for hundreds of hours, side-by-side in several distinct situations and locations.

Test settings have varied through most latitudes, terrains, and climate types. We paid special attention to how well the devices did things most important in the function of a messenger/beacon, like message transmission, signal coverage, and ease of use.

We also consulted with SAR experts and engineers most familiar with the underlying technology. You might choose to buck that convention, but your loved ones hope that you are at least considering such technology and service.

We head to the wild to escape certain types of communications, but we are also vulnerable there to poor comms. The entire communication process, from activating your personal locator beacon's SOS function to notifying local Search and Rescue (SAR) resources, can take seconds to a couple of hours.

Local, on-the-ground SAR response time will vary from hours to days, regardless of the technology used to summon help. All the satellite-linked (and cellular, for that matter) communication systems are similar enough in speed that they are essentially equal.

(Source: offgridsurvival.com)

It is local response resources and conditions that make your emergency resolution time vary the most. The initial purchase price of a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger is only part of the equation.

Some devices require subscription plans that vary over time, making comprehensive comparisons difficult. The Ocean Signal rescue ME PLB1 deserved a nod for its access to the proven and free international satellite SAR network and its tiny size.

Some newer offerings (Both Joysticks, the OLEO, and value buys Somewhere Labs Global Hotspot and Satan) shake up the subscription options further. In two major use patterns, the Satan is hundreds of dollars less expensive (over a five-year use cycle) than other two-way messengers.

A built-in GPS antenna on all tested products provides that location information. Once the hardware is there, it is a simple thing for manufacturers to add software that leverages this GPS information for more routine navigation.

However, the fact is that these navigation features are afterthoughts, and they drain the battery of a potentially vital piece of communication equipment. Modern smartphone apps work so much better for navigation than your satellite messenger.

(Source: isu.edu)

Because of that, we downplay (basically ignore) the navigational attributes of the satellite messengers we have assessed. If you are planning to do any navigation with your wilderness communication device, your only reasonable option, due to its extended battery life, is the Garmin reach Explorer+.

Sending an emergency signal is the primary reason to carry a communication device into the wilderness. All of these devices, with varying degrees of effectiveness, can be used to summon help in the event of a life or limb emergency.

When you push the SOS button on a personal locator beacon, you are sending your GPS coordinates and saying, “This is really, awful.” Satellite communications can be nearly instant, but wilderness emergency response will take hours or days in even the most accessible of wild spaces.

Provided your emergency fits the above criteria, your device sends a signal to one of just four satellite networks. Once your distress signal reaches its satellite network, it needs to get to a staffed, terrestrial dispatch service.

The staff at those services will identify your location and then work to secure local assistance for you. This final, crucial, local response depends on way too many factors to list here.

(Source: isu.edu)

For wilderness travel of any kind, the communication products on the market as of early 2020 are crucial and super useful. Of course, being able to relate more nuanced information and being able to answer questions from SAR responders is of great value.

Satellite messengers or personal locator beacons that allow two-way, customized communication improve emergency response. With the rest of the aforementioned private sector devices and services, you can text back and forth with the team coordinating your emergency response.

This network covers the entire planet and, with rare exceptions, is for emergency use only. It covers the entire planet and its track record over the past 5-6 years has been less blemished than that of Global star's.

Finally, the Higher Ground Satan uses a high altitude “geostationary” satellite that is more commonly used for cable TV distribution. Coincidentally, all the non-COSPAS/CARSAT devices we tested route SOS messages through GETS monitoring and dispatch.

Currently, regardless of whether they travel on the Iridium, geostationary, or Global star space hardware, private-network emergency messages go to local SAR through GETS. Left to Right: ACR Equaling, Spot X, Somewhere Labs Hotspot, Reach Mini, Ocean Signal PLB1.

(Source: isu.edu)

Some offer texting and location services that simulate smartphone functionality. Some devices can be configured to automatically send, on some preset interval, your location and a sort of implied status update.

Automated tracking is a function in which the device, on some predetermined time interval, will send location information to a front country correspondent. Similarly, the SPOT X, Joysticks (both Blue and Orange models), and Global Hotspot offer all the above forms of non-emergency communication.

It has a preprogrammed “OK” message functionality, with location data attached, and it has a few different tracking mode configurations. The reach Explorer+ works seamlessly with a smartphone app to send and receive text and location information.

The ACR Resoling View and Occasional PLB1 provide no explicit non-emergency messaging. That being said, through an inexpensive subscription to “406Link” you can replicate an informal “off label” non-emergency message protocol.

The test message could imply whatever you and your informal emergency response network determined in advance. It is currently (early 2021) operational and, with full understanding of all the involved parties, could provide a bare-bones sort of non-emergency messaging.

On a service farming trip in rural Puerto Rico in January 2019, we used satellite communications to coordinate logistics. With the apps from OLEO, Satan and Global Hotspot, you can have one conversation that moves with you from satellite signal to cell and Wi-Fi.

This is very nice for smooth communication on trips and for people that go in and out of the wilderness frequently. SPOT, Livestock and reach apps do not allow you to send and receive messages over cell/Wi-Fi.

For reasons, we hope are obvious, we could not and did not test the coverage and effectiveness of SOS messaging. Decades of history and anecdotal evidence confirm the global coverage and effectiveness of the COS PAS/CARSAT system that these devices employ.

The SPOT satellite network covers the major terrestrial wilderness destinations of an American adventurer. Satan uses a satellite that covers North America and has a license that works in the United States.

The reach, Ivy, OLEO, and Somewhere products use the same satellite network with global coverage. Within the inherent limitations of all satellite communications, the reach Mini truly does work everywhere we've tested it.

With the newest update, the SPOT X includes Bluetooth functionality and an associated app, increasing the overall utility of this model. Again, we found no real difference between message sending or receiving to and from devices on the same satellite network.

A selection of recently tested products, left to right: Satan, Oleo, Livestock Blue, Reach, Occasional InReach, when paired with a smartphone, also allows the user to watch the progress of the message with clear visual confirmation.

This is a lot nicer than trying to decipher the blinking lights on the SPOT Gen4, wondering if the message was sent or not. The SPOT X, especially in the latest Bluetooth version, rivals both reach devices in non-emergency messaging.

Personal locator beacon and sat messenger ease of use is a function of set-up procedure and in-the-field interface clarity and options. Set up complications range from a simple, one-time online form to an ongoing process of charging and deploying devices to remote locations.

In-the-field interfaces range from a button on the device, accompanied by flashing lights that must be decoded, or a paired smartphone app from which one can communicate and deduce various status information. You fill out an online form and await the arrival, via mail, of your free registration sticker.

Setting up the SPOT, Livestock Orange and Blue, Somewhere, OLEO, Satan and Garmin reach devices is similar. With both the SPOT and the reach, you can and should tailor the address list that receives your “OK” messages and tracking notifications to each trip separately.

The reach, Ivy, OLEO, Satan, the latest SPOT X, and Somewhere devices each have an app and associated Bluetooth tethering. With the reach's, the SPOT X, OLEO, and Somewhere Hotspot, you can send an OK message from the app or from the device itself.

On the Livestock Orange and the Satan all messages (routine and SOS) can only be sent from within the app. Tracking speed records (“Fastest Known Time” or “Fits” for short) is an emerging and important use of satellite communications.

For these purposes you want simplicity, reliability, great web interfaces for the spectators, and really long battery life. Using the two-way, customizable messaging attribute of either Garmin reach, SPOT X, Livestock, OLEO, Satan or Global Hotspot requires further effort but is well worth it.

Sending customized messages directly from the reach devices is slow, but it works. In this context, using your smartphone's familiar keyboard leverages the best attributes of the reach, Ivy, OLEO, Satan, and Somewhere options.

The OLEO, Satan, Livestock, and Somewhere do not allow the user to do any non-emergency texting without a smartphone. Sending messages from either reach device is tedious, but doable in a pinch.

How to carry your important compact electronics Most Plus or Sat Messengers are equipped to clip to the outside of your backpack or clothing, which suggests that they should be. While GPS navigators are often clipped outside your pack because they work best when they have a clear view of the sky, your SOS device shouldn't necessarily be on at all times, so you can turn it off and stow it safely away.

If you are tracking with your satellite device, it will work just fine inside the top of your backpack. A few seconds to take your backpack off won't make any appreciable difference in the response time.

The newly added Resoling View is heavier than the reach Mini and Livestock Blue and does little more than the ultra-tiny Occasional PLB1. The newly released SPOT Gen4 is about the same size and weight as the reach Mini or Livestock Blue.

Livestock Blue with a compact multi tool for size comparison. Our intention and hope here is to have shed some light on a confusing topic and category.

There are plenty of great reasons to carry modern satellite communications into the wild. Our reviews are carefully considered and based on testing of purchased equipment by dedicated wilderness travelers.

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