Oct 192012


A SPOT device is a one-way satellite communicator designed for outdoor use. It’s a handy little contraption that sends “I’m doing dandy” messages to paranoid loved ones left at home who are sure you’re walking to your doom every time you step outside your door. It will also send a “God help me” message to local emergency authorities should you find yourself in trouble and unable to obtain cell phone reception. It’s for wussies. And this is why I’ve always thought so.

Why I’ve Always Been Just a Little Too Badass to Carry a SPOT Device

  • Well the number one reason is because stuff happens to other people and not me. Period.
  • I carry a copy of “Wilderness Survival For Dummies” on my Kindle in my backpack. It’s got everything I would need to know in an emergency.
  • I’m super fit.
  • I wouldn’t mind clawing my bloody self through sand, dirt, or snow to get to civilization if I had to.
  • If I’m meant to die, I’m meant to die.
  • I couldn’t possibly afford the weight of it in my pack. Tequila I’ll make room for, but a wussy satellite gizmo? No way.
  • I could always set the woods on fire if I needed to to get attention.
  • The point of being in the wilderness is to get away from electronics.
  • There’s other hikers out there who would find me if something happened. One of them would likely have a SPOT or be willing to hike x amount of miles somewhere to get help for me.
  • I’m young.
  • I’m not afraid.
  • I know how to cope with pain.
  • I love the thrill of knowing I’m out there on my own and my survival is entirely up to me.
  • I’m familiar with wild edible plants and I know how to melt snow for water. 
  • I have one of those little mirrors on my compass and a whistle on my backpack.That’s totally enough.
  • People will judge me as a wuss if they see me carrying it. I must appear strong and independent. Because I am. Dammit.
  • Batteries? Omg I would have to carry batteries too?? No.
  • I am an invincible superhero incarnate and a SPOT just wouldn’t go with the cape.

For those of you who haven’t read any of my previous posts, I was taken off the Pacific Crest Trail this year by having a subarachnoid hemorrhage stroke, a big fat nasty I-have-no-idea-who-I-am brain explosion, on the side of a mountain in the Sierras. There was no cell reception. There were no available carrier pigeons or owls. There were other hikers, but it was at least a day’s walk to the closest civilization. Blood was POURING into my skull at a repulsive rate and because I didn’t have a SPOT, the poor souls in charge of my survival had to get very creative about getting me necessary medical attention. They did, but it took 10 hours. 10 HOURS! According to all current scientific data, there was no way I could’ve survived 10 HOURS of brain hemorrhage without help. I did. It was a miracle. Really, it was. And the gratitude I want to express for the miracle I received is a responsibility to my own well-being as much as possible from this moment in time forward. I will carry a SPOT. I AM badass. But I will carry a SPOT. And I will be ridiculously grateful for the luxury of doing so. 

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  10 Responses to “Why I’ve Always Been Just a Little Too Badass to Carry a SPOT Device”

  1. Although you may be an invincible superheroine incarnate – you’re SPOT on with the idea…in the end it’s all about ‘location, location, location…’

  2. I’ve read mixed reviews of the SPOT (I’ve never carried one either, but I am starting to reconsider as well) so you may want to consider some of the alternatives available and look into which have the best preformance reviews. It’s no use having it if the HELP messages don’t get sent for hours and hours after you press the button (apparently the use of the “I’m ok” check-in can be seriously delayed in sending).

    Yes carrying a method of calling for help is a very good idea, even for those of us who are badass 😉 Your story has inspired some of us to more seriously consider safety (beyond bear spray and first aid kits) out on the trail.

  3. I have to say that I wouldn’t recommend a SPOT. Of course it might help you but in my opinion it’s far from a foolproof safety equipment. In my book it’s more like a nice electronic gadget to play with. (See for example: http://www.briangreen.net/2012/09/spot-ii-gps-messenger-disappointment.html)

    If I’d want something super reliable to be used in emergencies only, I’d buy and carry a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) device. They are solely meant to save your ass when you are in trouble.

    But as I like also gadgets to play with and like to share my goings I carry a Yellowbrick device (http://www.yellowbrick-tracking.com/). It can do a lot of things though it won’t alarm the emergency authorities but emergency contact of your choise (one or several, by SMS and/or e-mail). During a year of testing the device it hasn’t failed once. It’s super reliable. Only once a message didn’t get through but at the moment I was indoors and it doesn’t necessarily work indoors. But unlike SPOT, the Yellowbrick is able to tell you if the message went through or not. This one I can recommend.

    After reading what you experienced on the PCT I started to thinkt hat maybe I should mark the pocket where I’m carrying my Yellowbrick and include a little note about how to use the thing (It’s super easy: flip a cover and push the red button…) if situation is bad as it might be that Iäm not able to do that myself. Didn’t come to my mind earlier. Thanks for your post!

  4. I’m not in particular attached to the SPOT as the device for communicating, just that I have a device for communicating.. And yes, instructions would be wise! I couldn’t even tell anybody how old I was or what my name was while it was happening, let alone how to operate a gizmo 🙂

  5. Kim, I have carried a Spot 2 Messenger for the last 2 years. Mobile phone reception is often patchy in the UK hills and mountains, I almost always hike on my own and it something which would ensure my safety if needed and it gives peace of mind for my wife. Only once in dozens of trips has it failed and that was because I believe my son was messing about standing over the top of it when we were in a remote part of Scotland.

    Some people say why carry it if you cannot guarantee a message being received. I say if you don’t carry a Spot and have an emergency you have got no chance at all! I think it is a superb bit of kit that I hope I never have to use except letting my wife know that I am OK !

  6. Mark: I’m not trying to run an anti-SPOT campaing or anything but I’d like to point out that there are other options for emergency comms and they seem to be (or can be verified to be) more reliable. Of course in the end it’s a personal choise and comes down to priorities and maybe also to costs.

  7. I’ve been using a SPOT Messenger for the last 8 months and have been fairly pleased with its function and reliability. I’ve not owned or tried any other devices so I can’t speak to The SPOT vs. other, but so far I’m pleased with how it’s worked for me. I especially like that the unit will send out 4 different email /text messages – 3 of which are user defined. I’ve set up mine to send a simple I’m OK and here’s where I am. Another message that says I’m OK – but will be late to a destination. The 3rd message alerts my contacts that I’m having a non-911 problem and need some help, and the 4th message is the pre-set 911 call. Even though the emergency notification is preset, I’m still able to load personal info (eg. my health, any medications, backcountry experience) onto the SPOT website that would be relayed to SAR or emergency responders.

    The unit is small, lightweight and connects right to my camelback. The only problem or issue I’ve had with the SPOT is that it doesn’t track or send out messages in deep forest cover. I do a lot of solo MTB-ing in Northern Wisconsin and when I’m trying to send a message with the unit, I’ve got to try to find an area out from the leaf canopy (just like most GPS devices). The SPOT also seems to work better in a certain position with the face of the unit aimed to the sky. As for messages not being delivered, every time I’ve waited for the green light on the unit to show that the message has been sent – it’s been delivered.

    I’m sure just like any device the SPOT is not foolproof, nor should it be used to replace commonsense caution. I was given the SPOT as a gift by my wife and kids after I had a crash in an area with no cell signal while on a solo ride. Luckily I was able to walk out with a couple of dislocated fingers and bruises across my forehead from helmet meeting tree. Being really stupid that day – I didn’t tell anyone where I was riding. Even now after that crash, (and a few more) I’m sometimes still that stupid. At least now with a press of the button at the trailhead I’m covered at the homefront, and won’t get yelled at nearly as much if I’m an hour overdue.

  8. Hi Jaakko, yes I understand that you are not running an anti spot campaign. I have found however the product to be very reliable for me, but each to his own. I am however interested in your comments and the posts you have done on this subject. I am interested in the potential two way communications outside of normal mobile signal. Must read your posts again.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story. This post really spoke to me. I backpack solo mostly, and though I always tell my roommate where I am going, I never bothered with a SPOT or anything like it precisely for the reasons you refer to. Am finally going to look into getting one of these.

  10. […] family, to friends. But, I remain unconvinced. A few weeks ago, I read what seemed, at first, to be a rather compelling argument for bringing one. She […]

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