There is no better way to find peace and solitude than in Colorado’s backcountry, however those very qualities can quickly make for a deadly scenario in the event of an emergency. Cell phone coverage is almost always nonexistent, so in keeping with the Boy Scout motto of “be prepared,” I recently purchased a SPOT satellite messenger.
First off, it’s important to note that this is not an avalanche transceiver — that is a totally different device with a different purpose. Also, technically the SPOT is not a personal locator beacon (PLB). These are much more expensive devices, are registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and operate on a network of government satellites. The advantage of a PLB is that although they are more expensive, you don’t have to pay a yearly subscription fee that comes with the SPOT ($100/year).
I decided to opt for the SPOT over the PLB because of it’s ability to send “OK” messages, something a PLB can’t do. These messages are sent via the SPOT using a commercial GPS satellite and can be delivered via text and email and include your coordinates. The message can be customized via a web-interface before you leave for a trip, and can be as simple “just checking in to let you know I’m OK.”
For an additional $50/year service fee you can enable the tracking feature on the SPOT, which will send out a signal recording your GPS coordinates every 10 minutes. You can enable a shared Google map that allows friends and family to track your progress, as well as creating a mapped record of your trip.
When it comes to emergencies, there are two buttons on the SPOT that can be used to call for help. The first is similar to the “OK” message, except this one alerts your designated contacts via text and email that you are in trouble. Again, you can create a pre-programmed message, such as “bring more beer.” If you need to call in the cavalry, there is an SOS button that will initiate a full search and rescue. Both the SOS and “help” buttons have protective covers so they can’t be accidentally pressed.
The SPOT is fairly rugged device and easy to use, but before heading out on a trip you should become familiar with its features and how to use them. It doesn’t hurt to bring the instructions in your pack, because otherwise the SPOT won’t do much good if you don’t know how to operate it. When sending a message it is especially important to use the device in an open, unobstructed area. Indicator lights on the unit will show if a message has been successfully sent.
Finally, for anyone who ventures beyond the sidewalks of Aspen, a Colorado Search and Rescue card is a must-have accessory. This will help reimburse organizations such as Mountain Rescue Aspen for costs incurred during a search (note: this is not insurance). You can pick up a 1-year card for $3, or a 5-year card for $12 at the Ute Mountaineer.
Get Your Own
SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger