Comparing backcountry communication devices 0

I’m just back from four weeks of paddling: two in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and two on a canoe trip across Algonquin Park with my wife, dog and 7-year-old daughter. Prior to that, I was on a few more trips, which now adds up to 37 nights sleeping in a tent this year—not bad, considering it’s only mid-July. I’ll put together some notes on my trip soon, but for now, I’d like to share a review of the DeLorme InReach two-way messaging unit.

I’ve been a regular Spot and Spot Connect user for a few years now and have had real success using the product. Still, I thought I’d give the new competitor—the DeLorme InReach—a try this season. Yes, I’ll admit I can be a gear junkie at times. My main interest with the InReach is the fact that it has two-way communication. The product has similar abilities to the Spot and Spot Connect when it comes to SOS and tracking, the bonus, however, is that you can also receive messages from people while you’re out in remote areas where cell service isn’t available.

The DeLorme InReach costs more than GlobalStar’s Spot and Spot Connect—both for the device itself and the monthly fee needed to keep you connected, which concerned me at first. If I was only going to use it a few times a year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay a high monthly fee. The truth is, I looked around to rent one, but no outdoor store in my area was offering the service. DeLorme, however, now has a payment fee set up for limited use. There are three categories for monthly payments: Safety ($9.95/month), Recreation ($24.95/month) and Expedition ($49.95/month). I took the Recreation plan for the summer season and plan to change it over to the Safety payment plan for the rest of the year. The Safety plan limits your messages to 10 per month. (You can pay for more if necessary, but it doesn’t include tracking unless you pay extra).

I have to admit, getting used to the InReach was initially overwhelming. Part of the reason for my anxiety may be that I’m part of generation X; I’m not the most technology minded person. The major confusion was how to pair it with my Android smartphone. When it was all said and done, however, the Android app interface was pretty straightforward. The map system was pretty cool, too. It is also a bonus when it comes to having someone at home send you a message (up to 160 characters). They can reply to your text from their phone by simply replying to your message sent to them. It’s a little but more complicated when they answer your email though. They need to click on a link and reply by using a Web interface.

In the end, I still found myself using my Spot and Spot Connect for the most part on my two latest trips. The Woodland Caribou trip was remote and across Algonquin was with my family; I wasn’t familiar enough with the InReach at the time to depend on it alone. I even packed a GlobalStar satellite phone along to do a number of CBC radio interviews. The phone was incredibly compact and a good overall price—especially since I plan to rent the thing out to my buddies when I’m not on trip.

The ironic thing about all of this is that I had an emergency situation while on the Algonquin trip. I suffer from Benign Positional Vertigo and halfway through the trip I woke up dizzy and vomiting. In my pack I had the InReach, Spot, Spot Connect and GlobalStar Satellite phone. My wife and I decided, however, to wait out the vertigo for two days and deal with the emergency with medicine packed along and a head-spinning maneuver my physiotherapist trained me to do in case this ever happened on trip. The Calvary wasn’t called in and we continued our trip to completion. It’s a good feeling to have technology available with you in case Search and Rescue have to be called, but it’s an even better feeling to deal with the issue without it.

 

 

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