About | Blog | Forums | People | Free Newsletter
Trailspace is a product review site for outdoor enthusiasts. Use it to find and share great gear.

Electronic aids?

2:10 a.m. on April 13, 2012 (EDT)
12 reviewer rep
613 forum posts

OK, crew, I am a total moron where electronic-digital gadgets are concerned and have never used a GPS, PLB or any of these aids to safety and family peace of mind.

I am now going to buy some of these as I am planning a couple of longer term trips into some very remote BC and "Territories" wilderness areas and am going solo as finding a good partner for this type of endeavour is not really possible.

I would appreciate some experience-based suggestions on the BEST GPS, Sat-Phone, PLB and also the name of those little flashing beacons that the Coast Guard, etc, uses if somebody ditchs into the chuck.

I seem to have lost the info. I once had on this computer on a GPS and while price in money is not a concern, quality is numero uno.

Just to be clear, I am NOT into arguments on this and I want to hear from those with actual mountain and dense forest use experience with them, as I understand that some ambient conditions diminsh or eliminate the functions of such devices.

Any suggestions as to best places to purchase, etc. are welcome, but, it is functionality and durability that are my primary concerns.

10:39 a.m. on April 13, 2012 (EDT)
245 reviewer rep
1,469 forum posts

Coast Guard beacon thingy is either ,

EPIRB

or

GPIRB (more current)

1:55 p.m. on April 13, 2012 (EDT)
TOP 25 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,264 reviewer rep
1,247 forum posts

i use an older version of what is now the Garmin GPSMAP 62st.  what i can say about the older model is that it has been very reliable/durable.  highly water resistant, has buttons (i would avoid touch screen GPS units, personally), fairly easy to use if you play with it some in the field and learn the menus.  has a bunch of features built in that you may or may not need.  a little on the chunky side to carry, if that matters to you. 

2:33 p.m. on April 13, 2012 (EDT)
1,347 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

The one you're asking about (the PLB) is the McMurdo Fastfind. You have to register it with the government when you buy it, but an emergency signal goes straight to SAR and not through a service. As you say, it's same procedures and signal that you'll see used for locating a plane, and it's what the Coast Guard would use to find you. No subscription to pay for, but it's an either/or - you either need help now or you don't.

3:18 p.m. on April 13, 2012 (EDT)
MODERATOR
38 reviewer rep
1,737 forum posts

Dewey, the first thing you need to figure out is what do you need and which device will serve that purpose.

BillS has some posts on some of these devices including some tests of the SPOT. You should be able to find them using search. If not, let us know and maybe we can find them.

I am no expert, but here is my take on these-

PLB (personal locator beacon such as the ACR or McMurdo):

What it does-when activated, it sends a beacon signal to a government operated satellite system that locates your position using GPS coordinates. SAR is notified and they come looking for you. Similar to those used on aircraft and boats (known as EPIRB).

Pros: relatively lightweight, extremely reliable, usable just about anywhere in NA. Can be rented (look online)

Cons-somewhat expensive (about $500), sends a beacon signal only-no communications capability.

brief summary from REI-

http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/personal+locator+beacons.html

SPOT-an alternative to the PLB-

What it does-sends a beacon signal and can send short messages; uses a private sat system that requires a subscription-the messages go to someone's computer (friend, family)

Pros-relatively cheaper than the PLB, can send short messages.

Cons-not as reliable as the PLB, cost includes a yearly subscription, coverage may be spotty in some areas (not sure about the Far North up your way).

Bill did a test on these a while back, newer models are available. REI sells them (I only mention REI as one source because they have them and are a reliable retailer).

DeLorme-I know nothing about these, but REI sells them, they work with a cell phone somehow.

http://www.rei.com/category/40005158

GPS-

What they do-locate you using satellite triangulation, can plot courses, store maps for almost anywhere.

Pros-reliable, functions depend on model-there are dozens.

Cons-like all of these devices, require batteries, some have a fairly high learning curve (I still don't know how to use mine all that well).

Cost-anywhere from about $100 up to $600 or more.

I would recommend, if money is not a big factor, one of the newer Garmins. I have a 76CSx, which is the marine version of the 60CSx. Newer Garmins have touch screens and are smaller.

Other people may recommend DeLorme or Magellan, but I like the Garmin. Found mine on Craigslist, but it is still a current model. REI sells several different ones, but there are many online stores and websites to learn about them.

http://www.rei.com/search?query=gps

www.gpsfiledepot.com is a good site for Garmin users.

SatPhone-all I know about these is from reading about them. The best appears to be the Iridium phones made by Motorola and others (Iridium is the satellite system). There is another system used in Europe and the Middle East.

Pros-it's a phone, far better than a cell phone in terms of coverage because it is satellite based.

Cons-expensive ($1000+) and talk time is expensive, although different sellers offer the equivalent of phone cards and texting is cheaper than talking. Again, battery power is an issue.

Can be rented online fairly reasonably, which is what I would try first before buying.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite_phone

http://www.iridium.com/default.aspx

One example of a rental company (no endorsement-just found them on the net, but you can see what they offer)-

http://satellitephone.com/

 ACR also makes the flashers you are talking about. I think others do too, but ACR is the one I have seen.

http://www.acrelectronics.com/products/b/outdoor/catalog/rescue-lights

 

 

5:12 p.m. on April 13, 2012 (EDT)
RETAILER
8 reviewer rep
210 forum posts

Dewey -

We rent the GlobalStar SAT phones through Bear River Outfitters, or through SkyCall Communications.  If one can live with the service right now, which means that you have service for 10 minutes or so, then nothing for 10-20 minutes, then service is ON again, they work fine, and have better voice clarity than Iridium.  It is supposed to get better later this year, so they say.  All I do is turn it on, set it somewhere, and wait for the audible tone to let me know that I have service.  Works for me.  

I also carry a SPOT for real emergencies.

9:43 p.m. on April 13, 2012 (EDT)
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,219 reviewer rep
5,181 forum posts

Dewey,

Of the information posted, Tom D's is the most accurate and complete. I have added some clarifications to his post below.

This is long, but there are lots of details involved in the decision.

Tom D said:

Dewey, the first thing you need to figure out is what do you need and which device will serve that purpose.

BillS has some posts on some of these devices including some tests of the SPOT. You should be able to find them using search. If not, let us know and maybe we can find them.

I am no expert, but here is my take on these-

 I have, and have used some version of all the devices mentioned, and I believe I am sufficiently familiar with the conditions you will be operating in (having spent some time there myself). They have significantly different uses. In the photo below, starting at top left, these are SPOT 2 (current model), SPOT Communicator, inReach, GMRS radio (line of sight, good for communication to others in your party nearby, not for what you want), Yaesu ham radio handheld 4-band (the 6 meter band will communicate far enough for some of what you want, but you need to get the amateur radio license), ACR ResQLink PLB, McMurdo FastFind PLB, and SPOT generation 1. I will make no further comment on the GMRS, ham handheld, or SPOT 1, since they are not what you want.

Note, that as Tom points out, all these devices require batteries. So for long outings, you have to carry a sufficient supply of batteries and/or some means of recharging the batteries, such as a solar panel. In any case (I know you know this, Dewey, but some readers might not), you should always carry one or more backups (like a map and compass {9=>D)


Radiocom.jpg
BIG CAVEAT!!! - all these electronic widgets have a shelf life of 6 months or so before a NEW! IMPROVED! version comes out. Well, not the PLBs, since they must meet international government treaty specifications.

PLB (personal locator beacon such as the ACR or McMurdo):

What it does-when activated, it sends a beacon signal to a government operated satellite system that locates your position using GPS coordinates. SAR is notified and they come looking for you. Similar to those used on aircraft and boats (known as EPIRB).

Pros: relatively lightweight, extremely reliable, usable just about anywhere in NA. Can be rented (look online)

Cons-somewhat expensive (about $500), sends a beacon signal only-no communications capability.

brief summary from REI-

http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/personal+locator+beacons.html

 

PLBs (Personal Locator Beacon) are strictly for emergency use, calling for rescue only. They are autonomous radio transmitters that work through a constellation of satellites in a couple of orbital families. Certain models have flashing lights as well to act as a visual beacon.

 Tom's description is pretty close. Only correction is that the aircraft emergency beacon is referred to as an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter), though functionally is is very close to the EPIRB, which is for marine use. Both have GPS receiver chips in them these days, but the marine version floats and rights itself The aircraft version automatically starts up on impact (including hard landings), while the marine version starts when dunked in water. The REI site is quite complete in its description of Personal Locator Beacons (PLB). Important point is that when you buy one, the price includes the activation fee, a one-time cost with no subscription needed. You do have to register a PLB for the country you will be operating it in. And operations are via US, Russian, and other government satellites (COSPAS is the Cyrillic equivalent of the US SARSAT). The bottom line is you get the local area governmental Search and Rescue looking for you - activate in emergency only!!!!! Current PLBs include a GPS chipset, hence provide much better location than the versions of just a couple years ago. They do not, in general, provide messaging, due to some very strong requirements on capability in emergency conditions (24 hours minimum of transmit time at end of life, which is something like 5 years), though ACR has told me that the newest models will be able to send a small fixed number of canned "OK" messages. Based on my knowledge of the companies and their long-term experience, I would recommend the ACR units, although the McMurdo are less expensive (I have never had to use one, so no actual experience of being rescued off the Arctic ice cap or the jungles of South America).

SPOT-an alternative to the PLB-

What it does-sends a beacon signal and can send short messages; uses a private sat system that requires a subscription-the messages go to someone's computer (friend, family)

Pros-relatively cheaper than the PLB, can send short messages.

Cons-not as reliable as the PLB, cost includes a yearly subscription, coverage may be spotty in some areas (not sure about the Far North up your way).

Bill did a test on these a while back, newer models are available. REI sells them (I only mention REI as one source because they have them and are a reliable retailer).

 

SPOT (originally stood for Satellite POsitioning and Tracking) is primarily for emergency use, but can be used for tracking and some minimal one-way communications. Some versions are autonomous, while others can link with Delorme GPSRs or cell phones.

 SPOT comes in several versions - SPOT 2 is stand-alone (the original SPOT is obsolete for practical purposes, and I would not recommend it at this point). SPOT Communicator is controlled via the Delorme PN60w GPS receiver, while the SPOT Connect is controlled via Apple iPhone or Android phones. All SPOT devices forward their messages via the GlobalStar satellite system, digital service (not the voice service). This means (1) the region of coverage is limited to the continents except the southern part of South America and South Africa, plus a cutoff at about 80 deg N latitude, some coverage in oceans close to continents (though I have used mine on Easter Island). All SPOTs can transmit tracking points, OK (for your home team), Help (for your backup team), and SOS/911, which goes through a private company (GEOS) that coordinates SAR in the vicinity of your emergency call (NOT your home or backup teams). The Communicator and Connect have the capability of sending short free-form messages. As Tom notes, because of using GlobalStar (more on this later under satphones), getting the message through is not as reliable as COSPAS-SATSAR (the PLBs). I was never able to get a message out when I was in Peru, and my experience with GlobalStar satphones is that a 20 minute outage is common. Note that SPOT requires an annual subscription (automatically renewed until you cancel)

DeLorme-I know nothing about these, but REI sells them, they work with a cell phone somehow.

http://www.rei.com/category/40005158

Delorme has a variety of products from GPSRs for navigation to several levels of communication, including emergency, one-way short messages, and 2-way short messages. The communication devices can be used autonomously or linked with their PN60w GPSR or cell phones.

Delorme is a long-time mapping company that has been in the GPS receiver business for more than a decade. They have several satellite emergency and communication systems. I mentioned the SPOT Communicator, which is driven by their PN60w GPS receiver. In addition they have a device called the inReach, which is on the market in 2 versions - one driven by the PN60w GPSR and the other by many Android cell phones. The inReach is essentially a 2-way text messaging device, with the capability of autonomously sending messages you program ahead of time (such as "leaving trailhead", "at the fishing hole", "back at the trailhead, pick me up", and so on) to a stored address list, tracking points, free-form messages you compose with the PN60w or Android phone to addresses in your address book or ones you enter with the message, and emergency SOS/911 messages, which go to GEOS (the private SAR manager also used by SPOT). Some users have expressed reservations about GEOS, though in situations I have heard about directly, they seem as reliable as the government agencies. inReach uses the Iridium satphone system digital service, which has full Earth coverage, including polar regions and all oceans. My experience is that the messages going out get there within seconds (though the recipient might not have their email or texting phone turned on to see it right away). Incoming messages sometimes take 5 or 10 minutes. I would not be surprised to see an iPhone version of inReach in the near future.

Like SPOT, you have to pay a subscription fee, plus there is a limit on the number of text messages you can send each month, depending on which plan you sign up for. It is actually cheaper than texting on your cell phone, though. Plus you can switch plans or shut off the service for periods you won't be using the device for, say, a couple months.

GPS- [correct term is GPS receiver or GPSR - "GPS" refers to the entire system - satellites, ground control segment, and individual receivers - OGBO]

What they do-locate you using satellite triangulation [correct term is "trilateration", since they measure distances to the satellites, not position angle], can plot courses, store maps for almost anywhere.

Pros-reliable, functions depend on model-there are dozens.

Cons-like all of these devices, require batteries, some have a fairly high learning curve (I still don't know how to use mine all that well).

Cost-anywhere from about $100 up to $600 or more.

I would recommend, if money is not a big factor, one of the newer Garmins. I have a 76CSx, which is the marine version of the 60CSx. Newer Garmins have touch screens and are smaller.

Other people may recommend DeLorme or Magellan, but I like the Garmin. Found mine on Craigslist, but it is still a current model. REI sells several different ones, but there are many online stores and websites to learn about them.

http://www.rei.com/search?query=gps

www.gpsfiledepot.com is a good site for Garmin users.

 

GPSRs are primarily navigation devices, although some (Garmin) can be linked in groups to keep track of members of your group, some can be linked to ham radio APRS systems for tracking group members, and some can be linked to messaging devices of various capability levels.

 I have, and have used, handheld GPSRs from Garmin (heavy, aggressive marketing), Magellan, and Delorme. Garmins are popular, mostly because they advertise so heavily and have been visible for so long. I like some of the Magellan models I have. However, both Garmin and Magellan have gone heavily into touch-screen versions. From experience in winter camping, climbing glaciated mountains in South America, and in Antarctica, touch screens are not very usable in cold conditions when you are wearing heavy gloves. There are special "touchscreen" gloves, but they are not very reliable, and they tend to be thin, so no so good at keeping your fingers warm. So I stick to real push-buttons when I am going to be in cold conditions. The basemaps that come with GPSRs that show topography are vector maps, meaning they do not have a picture of the map, but rather a grid of points which are used to interpolate the contour lines. The result is a pretty crude and often woefully inaccurate representation of the terrain. You can get downloadable maps that are better detailed, and in some cases, you can get scanned raster maps that are actually photographs of the local country's government mapping service. However, the maps available for the part of Canada you will be in leave a bit to be desired. Still, the maps are sufficient for an experienced backcountry traveler.

I have had a Garmin 60CSx for several years and found it to have two significant flaws. First, the built-in barometric and magnetic sensors (for altitude and magnetic compass) are super battery hogs. Second, while the magnetic compass can be turned off, the barometric altimeter is on all the time and the only altitude readily displayed is the barometric altitude. This means that you have to be continually recalibrating the altitude. As you know, Dewey, the barometer fluctuates over the day, with wind speed through the passes, and the lapse rate is never the "standard" lapse rate anyway, the result being that the displayed altitude is often significantly off. While I would have recommended looking at the 60Cx version (without the sensors), the 60-series has been replaced with the 62-series. While I haven't used one much (don't have one), the reports in the local geocaching community, which loved the 60-series, are fairly negative in comparison to the 60-series.

My current recommendation is the Delorme PN-60 for a straight GPSR, or the PN60w or PN60wSE, if you are thinking about getting an inReach or SPOT Communicator to go along with it (navigation plus communications). I have had my PN60wSE for about 3 years now and have used it on 4 continents at altitudes from -200 ft MSL (Death Valley) to 19,500 ft, temperatures from -40C to +45C, in rain and snow, dropped a few times on rocks (not intentionally!). I still use my Garmin 60CSx from time to time and my Magellan 610 (had that one in Antarctica in addition to the Delorme PN60wSE - only problem was trying to use the touchscreen with gloves or get the gloves off and back on without getting frostbite).

SatPhone-all I know about these is from reading about them. The best appears to be the Iridium phones made by Motorola and others (Iridium is the satellite system). There is another system used in Europe and the Middle East.

Pros-it's a phone, far better than a cell phone in terms of coverage because it is satellite based.

Cons-expensive ($1000+) and talk time is expensive, although different sellers offer the equivalent of phone cards and texting is cheaper than talking. Again, battery power is an issue.

Can be rented online fairly reasonably, which is what I would try first before buying.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite_phone

http://www.iridium.com/default.aspx

One example of a rental company (no endorsement-just found them on the net, but you can see what they offer)-

http://satellitephone.com/

 

Satellite phones (satphones) are primarily for voice communications, though some can be used for digital comms. They can be used like any cell phone, except without the limitation of cell towers needing to be within line of sight.

Satellite phones. These are basically just a big cell phone. Except that the cell towers are replaced by a constellation of satellites. My direct experience is with Iridium and recent Inmarsat system that has a phone of similar size to the Iridium and GlobalStar. I also have indirect experience with GlobalStar, both with a borrowed phone, watching a companion use his during a week-long trip, and via the SPOT units. My top choice would be Iridium at this point, based on my usage in Antarctica and Peru, plus using the inReach units which utilize the Iridium satellites. I was pretty impressed with the Inmarsat unit we had with us in the Andes as well. My main reservation with the GlobalStar system was the number of outages, although they tended to be fairly brief (10 to 20 minutes). GlobalStar has been launching new satellites, which should improve the coverage and the outage problem. However, GlobalStar will still have limited polar coverage, due to the assigned orbits of their satellites and other limitations due to using a "bent pipe" system, as opposed to Inmarsat's geosynch satellites and Iridium's much better constellation coverage. I should note that both GlobalStar and Iridium have financial problems, though Iridium has a large customer, called the US military, which may be a more stable financial base.

There are a number of companies that rent satphones, as Tom points out. You can, however, get a used one for a moderate price, and buy bundles of minutes ("pay as you go", like cell phones in some countries). Depends very much on how much you will use it. I have had this company, Telestial, recommended to me by several people. I have not used them, although their prices seem reasonable, compared to others I have found on the web.

My personal choice would be the Iridium, based largely on my experience in using them, though the Inmarsat one looks good (and Inmarsat is the company with the longest record, all ocean-going ships of any size and many smaller boats having Inmarsat system comm systems on board - the Inmarsat phone, which is shown on the Telestial site, is their new portable phone).

 ACR also makes the flashers you are talking about. I think others do too, but ACR is the one I have seen.

http://www.acrelectronics.com/products/b/outdoor/catalog/rescue-lights

 ACR and McMurdo build in flashers in their PLBs. You might check with a SCUBA shop or marine supply. I know that some of these carry flashers.

8:18 a.m. on April 14, 2012 (EDT)
1,347 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

Correction, the McMurdo PLB only costs $225, not $500.

As has been pointed out, what you need varies depending on where you want to go, and why you're carrying the emergency transmitter in the first place.

I'd have to call myself 'old school' in a lot of ways. I don't understand why someone would listen to their Ipod on the trails, and I only carry a cell phone for emergency communication (where they work!). If someone wants to send me a text message, they can wait until I get back for an answer.

In most locations, GPS systems work well for figuring out where you are, but you'll see many warnings about relying solely on them. There's no substitute for a map and compass. But they're not meant for getting help in an emergency. If you want to tell people where you are a SPOT works well much of the time, but it's limited by factors such as  how long it will take the service provider to contact local SAR if there's a problem.

Personally, I have no desire to stay connected to the computerized world - part of the reason I go hiking is to get away from all that. If you want to send your friends text messages or have a conversation with them, that's fine, but it contradicts why I'm out there in the first place!

But if you have a real emergency and need rescue, what you need is an absolutely reliable transmitter that will send a clear signal directly to SAR giving a precise location. The government systems have enough redundancies built in that you can be sure that someone out there will KNOW you need help, and will come to the rescue.

But again, it all depends why you're carrying it in the first place. Some people just like to chat all the time, and check their emails or their Facebook status.

Just my personal opinion, but I'll save the PLB for when it's really needed.

2:04 p.m. on April 14, 2012 (EDT)
119 reviewer rep
456 forum posts

Great information Tom and Bill!  I have also been looking at this stuff and trying to figure out what if anything I actually need.  I am much more of a map and compass guy then the GPS, besides wheres the fun in knowing exactly where you are!  :D

But the Spot or the PLB is something that I think might be a good idea, especially if you are doing a lot of Solo hiking.  Better safe then sorry. 

Wolfman

2:47 p.m. on April 14, 2012 (EDT)
REVIEW CORPS
405 reviewer rep
814 forum posts

I have limited experience with GPS units, so cannot comment except to say there is a learning curve. I have used Sat phones on most of my Yukon/NWT/Nunavut trips. Globalstar used to be OK until they started losing satellites. You still had to expect coverage for perhaps 30% of each day. Today, most folks use Iridium, as coverage is better. Parks Yukon uses them.

3:42 p.m. on April 14, 2012 (EDT)
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,219 reviewer rep
5,181 forum posts

peter1955 said:

Correction, the McMurdo PLB only costs $225, not $500.....

 Depending on the model (and dealer), McMurdo PLBs range from $210 to $995. REI's price for the 210 is $249. ACR's ResQlink 406 (intended for backcountry travelers) is $280 at REI, and the ACR SARlink 406 (with a small number of "OK" messages) is $499 at REI.

Whether or not to carry an electronic widget (or even a map or compass) is a personal choice. Some people take a tracking device (SPOT, inReach) to let their friends and family keep track of them. For example, Karen (Giftogab) used her SPOT Connect (controlled by her iPhone until dropped in the "pit") to relay that she was ok to her family, particularly her father who is very ill (a way of reassuring him that "I'm ok, Dad, no worries"). Some people are on sponsored treks, with the sponsor wanting to use updates for publicity. In some areas, there are legal requirements (for example, on Mt Hood, you are required to carry a specific locator beacon, and in Antarctica, you must check in daily when on the long ski treks, like the Hercules Inlet to the Pole, Last Degree, and Shackleton's Last 100).

Like everything else, there is a right way to use the electronics and a wrong way, and there are personal preferences.

4:05 p.m. on April 14, 2012 (EDT)
RETAILER
27 reviewer rep
103 forum posts

Wow Bill S that was a dam dissertation. Mad respect for just typing that. hahaha

I recently saw the new Suunto Ambit GPS watch. Its a really cool tool. It uses a 12 point GPS system as opposed to the traditional 3 or 4 satellite. IT hits the market soon and should be going at 500$. It has a number of really cool functions that you wouldn't need for your trip but a bunch that you would also.

-MJG

4:33 p.m. on April 14, 2012 (EDT)
MODERATOR
38 reviewer rep
1,737 forum posts

Thanks Bill.  I was hoping you'd post on this since I knew you had experience with most of these gadgets. We should take that post of yours and make it a sticky somewhere because Dewey isn't the first or last person to ask this question.

"Like everything else, there is a right way to use the electronics and a wrong way, and there are personal preferences." Bill S

A bit of history-the first person to set off a PLB once they were authorised and on the market was a canoeist from Ohio in upstate NY in 2003. After being rescued, he went back for his gear, which he had left behind. This was in winter.  He then set off his beacon a second time because he didn't feel like hiking out again (my characterization). After being rescued a second time, he was arrested and fined for misusing the beacon.

btw, the reason I recommended the Garmin is because that is what I have. For my purposes it works fine and I only paid $100 for it. Bill's right though, Garmin is the only GPS I've ever seen advertised on tv (which isn't cheap), so no wonder people buy them. I bought a friend of mine one of their car units and it works great. Their customer service is pretty good as well.

One more thing. I belong to a website - www.groundspeak.com which is a site for geocaching, which is essentially organized Easter Egg hunts for geeks (people hide things in little boxes, post the coordinates online and then you take your GPSr and go look for them). I found it a good way to learn how to use the thing and their forums are for owners of any brand of GPSr.

Also found a DeLorme forum online. Since Bill recommended one, you may want to check it out as well-

http://forum.delorme.com/index.php?sid=f853e4ba56dbe943f4a244f518d081ac

This thread is on comparing the Delorme 60 with the Garmin 60 and 62

http://forum.delorme.com/viewtopic.php?f=181&t=28582&start=15

Finally, a story about how these devices can work together-

http://forum.delorme.com/viewtopic.php?f=181&t=27941

 

7:28 p.m. on April 14, 2012 (EDT)
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,219 reviewer rep
5,181 forum posts

Tom D said:


One more thing. I belong to a website - www.groundspeak.com which is a site for geocaching, which is essentially organized Easter Egg hunts for geeks (people hide things in little boxes, post the coordinates online and then you take your GPSr and go look for them). I found it a good way to learn how to use the thing and their forums are for owners of any brand of GPSr......

 C'mon, now Tom. Be honest. They aren't "little boxes". Mostly they are Tupperware plastic boxes filled with "trade items" consisting of their kids' discarded plastic toys. Some are ammo boxes. And some are home-made containers that all too frequently are mistaken by the bomb squad for pipe bombs (which subsequently get blown up). And then there are the ones that have only a tiny scroll of paper to sign (bring your own pencil) that measure about 1/4 inch in diameter or less by 1/2 inch long, hidden in a drilled hole in a wooden post, with the end painted brown (to match the wood), requiring tweezers to extract. Many are cleverly camouflaged (sometimes real rocks with a hole drilled in the underside or rotten logs (sometimes plastic and sometimes actual rotten logs and branches).  Sometimes they are hidden under lamp post skirts, and often they are waaaayyyyy out in the woods, or require scuba gear to find or are a technical rock climb to get to (one I located in Utah was 2 pitches up a 5.6 climb - it was a Tupperware that had cracked and was filled with water from snowmelt from the previous winter).

11:16 p.m. on April 14, 2012 (EDT)
MODERATOR
38 reviewer rep
1,737 forum posts

I'm in an urban neighborhood in LA, so what people hide here tend to be things like Altoid tins stuck to the back of a street sign with a little notepad or buttons in them. There is (or was) one on my street stuck to the side of a power box on the seawall next to the marina. Another one was a few blocks away on the back of a parking sign. Still haven't found a couple of them.

You are right, though, from looking at the website, they could be anything, anywhere. I saw something on tv about geocaching a while back. They were out in the woods somewhere in the Sierra.

4:41 p.m. on April 15, 2012 (EDT)
4 reviewer rep
106 forum posts

Hi Dewey, if you decide on getting a GPS, I would recommend the Garmin Rino series, I own the 650 model, here are some of the features it has that you may find useful while backpacking:

1. you can easily mark points on the map such as river crossings, water sources, where you left your car etc... and it will take you straight to them.

2. It has a barometric altimeter, tells you how high you are.

3. Waterproof and shock resistant.

4. Tells you time and date, no need for a watch, also tells you when is sundown and sunset.

5. Has built in 5 W FRS/GMRS radio, if you are alone its not much besides that it tells you radio weather reports and weather graph on map, but if you are with a friend you two can separate and communicate with each other.  If your friend also has a Rino GPS you can see his position on your GPS.

6. It's glove friendly for winter time.

7. You can purchase a battery pack that uses 4AA batteries, on longer trips you can use it only when needed, battery life is about 14hours depending on which battery you need, that's of actual use not standby or off mode.

8. You can load custom maps of where you are going on the internal memory and even switch between maps.

On top of all that the GPS is very user friendly, took me about 1 hour and I found out how to use all features, barely needed to read manual to know how to use settings that I was unfamiliar with.  You can customize almost all of the features, it also comes with a nifty belt click you can clip on your pack or wherever you want.  You can check their website for more of what it does, this is just what I use it for.

9:46 p.m. on April 15, 2012 (EDT)
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,219 reviewer rep
5,181 forum posts

To comment on Maxx's comments:

In brief, Garmin does nothing that is not done by Magellan, Delorme, Trimble, Lowrance, or the other smaller manufacturers.

1. All GPSRs except the very cheapest ones can do this. The majority can also interface with a number of mapping programs, so you can pre-mark waypoints on the map, build a route, then download the planned waypoints and routes to the GPSR.

2. Yes, but any current GPSR can display GPS-derived altitude (just as it displays the coordinates - the first 2 dimensions of the 4-dimensional position it is deriving from the GPS signal, altitude being the 3rd, and time the 4th). Except Garmin - Garmin does not allow setting one of the datafields to display GPS-derived altitude continuously. You can briefly display it during the calibration procedure. All other manufacturers allow switching the barometric altitude off (helps save battery life as well). When you mark a waypoint on a GPSR, most GPSRs store all 4 dimensions (the less expensive Garmins do not store altitude). The barometric altitude has to be updated (calibrated) frequently at known positions or from the GPS-derived altitude, since the barometric altitude depends on (a) the match between the measured barometric (air) pressure and the ICAO Standard Atmosphere Tables, and (b) the measured pressure at the location of the GPSR, which varies with the weather (changing atmospheric pressure is what determines whether it storms or is sunny). The GPS-derived altitude is within +/- 30 ft, where the changing air pressure can shift the calculated altitude at a fixed position by 100 feet or more over a given day, even without a noticeable change in the weather (that's 0.1 inches Hg reported pressure). Hiking up a peak and gaining (or losing), say, 3000 ft, can end up with the barometric altimeter calibrated at the lake being 200-300 ft at the summit (since the atmosphere doesn't really care what the ICAO Standard Atmosphere says about lapse rates).

3. Virtually all current GPSRs, no matter the company, meet the IPX7 standard (immersion to 1 meter for 30 minutes). Garmin is no different from any other GPSR manufacturer for their commercial handheld units. Same with shock resistance - you can drop them from your hand onto a rock and no problem (I don't suggest doing this, since you could always drop it at a funny angle - Geocaching.com forums are full of reports from people breaking every make and model out there, sometimes by dropping it over a cliff or off the roof of the car, where they set it while loading the car and forgot to retrieve it before driving off).

4. Virtually all but the cheapest handheld GPSRs from all the major companies give you date and time (that's part of what's need for computing the position, plus the informatioin is included in the message from each satellite - your GPSR is continuously updating and is good to the nanosecond, though Garmin in particular only displays the minutes). All the midrange and above GPSRs display sunset/sunrise, moonset/moonrise, and in some cases the tide tables. You may have to dig through the menus to find out how to change the displayed data fields.

5. Garmin's Rino series is indeed unique in this for a single handheld unit that transmits in the GMRS/FRS band. However, remember that GMRS and FRS are limited to line of sight, and there are no FRS or GMRS repeaters. But there are a number of ham radio handhelds that have built-in APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System), which is done by using the built-in or optional GPS chipset and APRS module. These can relay via repeater, though the locations the OP, Dewey, is going have no or few repeaters. I had a chance a couple weeks ago, during an emergency training exercise, to experience the use of the Rino - frankly, it was not very accurate in its map display (people were often more than 30 meters from the reported location, and over a kilometer in one case).

6. Any of the button-equiped GPSRs from any of the manufacturers match this.

7. That reported battery life does not match the field experience in the training exercise. 8-10 hours was the time-span achieved on the Rinos. Garmin GPSRs are notorious on Geocaching.com for their 10 hour or less lifetime, apparently due to barometric altimeter and magnetic compass draining the batteries so fast. 12-14 hours is fairly typical of GPSR battery life for most companies, and GPSRs need only 2 AAs. I get more than that when I use Ultimate Lithiums or the rechargeable lithium pack that are available for most manufacturers units.

8. All midrange and above GPSRs from all the major companies have downloadable maps, including scanned USGS quads. These are a fairly expensive "extra cost option", especially since you often have to download a large number of "cut maps" to cover the region you want. Garmin's vector maps are fairly poor, as are vector maps in general. However, the major manufacturers all offer scanned raster maps and satellite photos (though you do need to be skilled in photo interpretation to get much out of the satellite and aerial photos - in areas such as the OP is headed, the canopy cover hides trails, streams, and even rivers in the sat and aerial photos)

A final comment - the accuracy and precision available on "non-authorized user" GPSRs is identical, regardless of the brand and model ("non-authorized" basically means "non-governmental", where "authorized" means military who are approved by the Pentagon - some of our allies, and certain governmental agencies). Namely the 2-sigma error circle is 7 meters radius horizontal, 10 meters vertical. The cheaper units may often display positions that are only to the nearest 0'.01 lat/lon (20 meters). But that's cost-cutting, not the achievable accuracy. But the mid to upper range GPSRs will get you within 20 feet, subject to constellation quality (measured by DOP), multipath, and variable atmospheric effects (a solar storm has a noticeable negative effect. Positions may be improved if a WAAS satellite is in view to something like 3 meters (10 feet). "Authorized User" real time accuracy is much better than this, and if you average plus use post-processing (a tedious task, even with a large computer), you can achieve sub-cm accuracy - surveyors and geologists studying plate tectonics do this all the time. You can't do it with a current consumer handheld, no matter the brand. But if you can't find your tent when you are within 7 meters, you have bigger problems.

Yeah, I know. Someone is out there waving his hand saying "My Garmin/Magellan/Delorme says the EPE is 2 or 3 feet." Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but, aside from the method by which the "Estimated Position Error" is calculated being "propriety", if you capture a few hours of data at a single position at 2 second intervals (the update rate used by almost all handheld GPSRs), you will find the scatter diagram with averaging turned off has a 2-sigma radius of close to 3 meters with WAAS and 7 meters without (WAAS is based on a system of measuring stations in the United States, so the atmospheric component of the error contribution good only within the US). I have done this measurement with several different models from each of the Big 3.

Disclosure - the last 10 years of my working life were spent as a systems analyst on the updated Global Positioning System.

10:32 p.m. on April 15, 2012 (EDT)
1,347 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts

I assumed we were referring to the McMurdo Fastfind which is the one a hiker would buy. That one is $225 Canadian, perhaps more in the US. Unlike most consumer GPS units and SPOTs, the signals are strong and reliable enough to work in any terrain under any circumstances.

Dewey wanted solid examples, and I can offer a rescue in central BC last summer in terrain that is infamous for getting hikers lost. Dewey probably heard about it. A group got trapped by rising stream levels and tried to take a shortcut out; of course that made it worse.Their beacon worked in dense forest and from the bottom of a deep valley, and SAR got them out. It turned out they were in a completely different area than they thought they were; had they been telling SAR their supposed location via a cell or Satphone, the rescue would have taken much longer.

While I may be wrong, Dewey doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who is interested in fancy toys, but again, what he buys depends on what he wants to use the unit for.

1:35 p.m. on April 16, 2012 (EDT)
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,219 reviewer rep
5,181 forum posts

In his original post, Dewey said:

....I would appreciate some experience-based suggestions on the BEST GPS, Sat-Phone, PLB and also the name of those little flashing beacons that the Coast Guard, etc, uses if somebody ditchs into the chuck....

To cut to the chase and give the direct answer that Dewey asked for:

PLB - I have never been rescued or used a PLB, EPIRB, etc for real. Every time I have been involved with a rescue or evacuation (very rare, and always involving another party, never my group), we "self-rescued" and did our own evac to the trailhead or at least to a ranger station. And I have only carried such devices when required (prevention is the best remedy - ALWAYS!). But based on longevity of the company and comments from SAR teams, I recommend the ACR ResQLink. McMurdo is fairly new to the game. The basic units suitable for his intended use are priced pretty much the same ($200-300, depending on the store). But all approved PLBs have to meet the same standards. You do have to register the unit in the country you are using it, which may involve some extra cost, depending on the country.

GPS receiver - I have and/or have used (in the land navigation courses I teach) most of the handheld GPSRs currently on the market. I recommend Delorme's PN60w or PN60wSE as the best one currently available (SE has more memory for maps, but you can always put a 32GB SD card in it for as much memory for downloaded maps you could ever use). I will repeat the usual precautionary "always carry map and compass". (Dewey knows and practices this, so it is for the benefit of other readers)

Satphone - my experience is that the Iridium phones are dependable and have as good sound quality as you can get. The Inmarsat phones of similar configuration we had in Peru worked well, too, but the Iridium just worked better (we often were using them side by side).

The best combination system in my experience is the Delorme PN60wSE with the inReach. This gives the full GPS functionality with as good maps as you can get on the tiny screens plus text messaging (to and from regular email or the usual plethora of "social" sites) via the Iridium system and tracking and location messages, plus an emergency 911/SOS service that will activate SAR.

6:26 p.m. on April 16, 2012 (EDT)
4 reviewer rep
106 forum posts

Hey Bill S, I'm not going to try to dispute the technical info that you mentioned since you worked 10 years for GPS system analyses (except the battery life thing) and I only own my Rino for about a year, but some of the things you said were a bit off from what I was trying to tell Dewey. Many GPSRs allows you to upload maps to it, but the Rino allows you to get a map from something like the national geographic, or from a print out of a part you are visiting, and upload it to the GPS, you can even draw your map and match it with Google earth and transfer to the GPS and use that map. I don't know what Rino you guys tested, but I have used mine for over 8 hours, with some features disabled, and the battery was well over half full, maybe if you turn on all the features and use walkie talkie continuously the battery life will be low, but so is with whatever other electronic, the more stuff it's doing, the more it drains power. None of the features of the Rino are unique, but they sure put them together nicely, I'm not even sure if this GPS is what Dewey is looking for since he hasn't posted since his original post, but I use it and love it, I recommend it to however is looking for a GPS for backpacking. And Dewey, you should always check out videos of people using any gadget you are looking to buy to make sure it's right for you!

6:42 p.m. on April 16, 2012 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
105 forum posts

YouTube is your best friend for reviews.

8:02 p.m. on April 16, 2012 (EDT)
12 reviewer rep
613 forum posts

My thanks to all who posed useful info. on this thread, I now have the facts that I require to make my decision concerning exactly what electronic emerg. aids I require and will go from there.

Thanks in particular to BillS, a guy who knows his stuff, has BTDT and "tells it like it is".

The mods can close this thread, if they wish as it has met all of my needs and contains some very valuable suggestions for me and I think, others as well.

9:24 p.m. on April 16, 2012 (EDT)
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,219 reviewer rep
5,181 forum posts

maxx,

The Rinos are a fun toy for what they are intended. And they can be a useful tool when used properly for situations like dealing with a youth group, where it's like herding cats and you have to keep close track of where everyone is. Remember that the FRS (Family Radio Service) and similar GMRS are basically VHF versions of the old 11 meter "Good Buddy" Citizens Band radios in handheld version. But it takes 4 batteries to get a battery life similar to what standard GPSRs get with 2 AAs and what straight GMRS and FRS radios get with with 2 or 3 AAs (depending on the model). GMRS or FRS is not suitable for what Dewey said are his use conditions (solo much of the time, far from others with similar radios, and in areas where the line of sight limitation is a serious one - I have been in the region he said he is going). You are absolutely right that the more functions you have on, the shorter the battery life will be. In the training exercise I mentioned, frequent check-in was mandatory, use of the GPSR functions and the automatic position reporting was necessary.

Note what Dewey said about the applicable scenario:

I am planning a couple of longer term trips into some very remote BC and "Territories" wilderness areas and am going solo as finding a good partner for this type of endeavour is not really possible.

Take a look at Google Earth and the good Canadian government topo sheets for the area he mentioned. Line of sight radios, especially low power ones like GMRS and even worse FRS just don't cut it in those conditions.

April 17, 2014
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

 
More Topics
This forum: Older: Looking for a Lowe Alpine Elite Jacket Newer: Walrus tent?
All forums: Older: For Sale: Pivetta P-5 Handmade Italian Leather Boots, Size 8 AAA – Vintage NEW/UNUSED Mint Condition Newer: Traveling for Extender Period of Time (6 months to a year)