GPS, Phone, SPOT, or DeLorme?

9:17 p.m. on November 5, 2013 (EST)
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I am thinking of getting a GPS receiver, or possibly one of the SPOTs or one of the DeLorme devices.   But I know really nothing about this stuff, or if I even "need" one.  Want and Need being different, as I know some of you gear junkies think it's the same thing.  :)

First Me:

I rarely get lost, and the few times I have I have un-lost myself.  I always use a map and compass am fairly good at Land Nav. and reverse Triangulation.  The GPS or Phone app would just be for double checking your location or in clouds and fog where you don't have much visibility. 

SPOT or DeLorme: 

I would get one of these so my family and anyone else could follow me on long hikes and then of course for the extra security.  But I followed someone using a SPOT this summer on the PCT and they had less then stellar results in the mountains or bad weather.   It was the basic model, so I don't know if the newer ones are better or if DeLorme is better.  I don't think either brand gives you your GPS location, but I maybe wrong on this as I know both companies have been coming out with new gear. 

GPS receiver or Phone App:

A stand alone GPSr device would be the best for path tracking and way-point finding (following someone else path) and continuous operation.  But I am far from convinced that I need that.  This brings up the Phone option.  Smart Phones have built in GPSr and with a map application it would seem that this would be a better option, or at least cheaper.  A I am due for a new phone, so I am trying to figure out if this is something I should look into.  As in Android vs I-phone vs. Windows 8?  I was thinking of staying with an Android phone, but is there a better option on one of the other systems?

Then if I do get a GPSr any thoughts on brand and models?  SO MANY to chose from!!

Thanks for all the help!

Wolfman

10:26 p.m. on November 5, 2013 (EST)
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I'm not sure what you're looking for, because I have chosen yet another option. I am also a map & compass guy, and don't look for frills. Reliability is also a must for me. I only use a PLB, McMurdo is the brand that I settled with. Their company uses NOAA SAR technology, without the subscription fees. ACR is another reputable company. This technology does not have anything to do with personal Nav, but I don't think you're looking for that, right? This is the stuff that keeps family & friends comforted (and yourself if you fall and can't get up).

I am only posting to help and give you other options, please disregard if this is not what you're looking for...

1:11 a.m. on November 6, 2013 (EST)
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Hi Sean, no that is great!  I actually Don't know what I am looking for or if I really even need something.  I guess that is why the topic is so general. 

I have seen the PLB advertised, but I guess I always associated them with water.  They are Emergency Only correct, they don't send you location at given times or anything.  That would be a good backup and a nice security factor, and given that I hike alone a lot it would probably be a good idea to have something. 

I guess what I am asking or desiring is a general discussion on these devices and who uses what and how well it works.  Mostly trying to get informed on what works for people and why.  And what people think is a good idea or not.

7:06 a.m. on November 6, 2013 (EST)
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Wolfman,

First off I would search for the posts and articles from Bill S on this topic. He explains the difference in Satellite networks which I found really helpful.

I've been using the DeLorme SE since last summer. Since 99% of my trips are solo and not in cell phone range, I bought it just to communicate with my wife. It's a standalone device although it can be paired with a smartphone for more functionality. The feature that separates it from the others (at this point anyway) is the ability to send and receive text messages. I simply entered my wife's cell phone number as a contact and send a text either ad-hoc or from a predefined list. And likewise she will reply to let me know she is OK. The phone number is dynamically assigned (it changes from time to time so it's best for me to initiate the communication). It does tracking and SOS but I just use it for texting. The subscription after tax is around $11 per month for 10 texts (inbound or outbound), and they have different plans.

So far I've been impressed with the coverage. I have never had a message not get delivered. Although recently I did find myself camping in a deep, heavily wooded valley and was not able to get normal confirmation that my text went (but it did).

There are many options out there but this is the only one I have any experience with so take it for what it's worth.

8:47 a.m. on November 6, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks Pat!  I will look into the DeLorme SE unit.

I did a search on GPS but it only brought up gear reviews no forum threads.  I remember Bill's posts, but could not seem to find them.  Do you have a link? Maybe I'll ask one of the site bosses. :)

Wolf

9:56 a.m. on November 6, 2013 (EST)
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I have been using various models of the Iphone over the last few years. It is not my hands down prefered choice. Is it THE best GPS device out there? No, absolutely not. But, for 99% of what I need it for it far exceeds my expectations. I wont ramble on about the benefits and uses of a smartphone as i have done that in numerous other posts. But in short its my gps, electronic maps, phone, camera, weather radio, notepad, video camer, backup flashlight etc.

Would I go out and buy an iphone etc solely for the GPS? No. But if you are planning to get a smart phone anyway i highly advise checking it out. I love mine and bring it with me on all my trips. I can even facetime with my wife and kid while I am on a trip now when i check in, which makes her a very happy wife.

I find the gps on the iphone just as accurate as my garmin rhino. The only difference is if i am in really steep terrain it an be difficult to get good signal on the iphone at times, the larger antenna of the rhino is better in that situation.

I always carry a map and compass. I really only use the gps to mark points of interest, water sources, and to occassionally check my position. I have used in it fair weather, foul weather, cold, hot, rain, hail, snow, you name it and it has yet to fail me.

11:08 a.m. on November 6, 2013 (EST)
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Wolf

 

try this search in google:

 

GPS, Bill S site:trailspace.com/forums

11:17 p.m. on November 6, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks Pat, I found several pages worth.....  I guess I got some reading to do. :)

Rambler, great info, although I am looking at Android phones I think for the most part your information holds true.  I actually am on my third smart phone, I have had this one for almost 3 years.  So I am due for a new one.  But what you do with the phone is what I have been thinking about too.  Only in my neck of the woods the phone reception is far and few out in the woods!  But I don't need the cell service for GPS reception and I can upload maps to the phone too.  Although this has been less then stellar in the past.  Hard to read on that little screen.  I have been thinking about the Note 3 (Samsung) but that is a pricy phone! 

9:44 a.m. on November 7, 2013 (EST)
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I am exploring the same thing and have been talking to OGBO about the different devices and the areas in which they function best. Want to do a spot connect type follow of my trek in Peru next August. Bill has used devices in the Andes so am hoping that will help me decide which to get. I used the SPOT with the iPhone in Nepal and it worked GREAT...well, until that little incident where I dropped the iPhone into the squat toilet....yeah....uh...ahem. So I am figuring this out too Wolfy.

9:57 a.m. on November 7, 2013 (EST)
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http://www.trailspace.com/gear/mcmurdo/fast-find-210/#review27597

Here is a link to my review for the McMurdo PLB i was referring to. 

I would personally be interested in something like the DeLorme for its communication capabilities, but my wife enjoys the peace & quiet when I'm not around... 

2:19 p.m. on November 7, 2013 (EST)
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Spots work well and all I know of have a message feature which allows you to tell a loved one, "Made it to the summit, everything OK" to a 911 feature, and also a feature to say that you are OK to the 911. One thing to remember with any such device, is to know it inside and out. Recently, a couple of climbers on Mt. Andromeda in the Canadian Rockies got stuck and activated their SPOT, but turned it off later to save batteries. The SAR teams didn't then have enough information on the climber's location. When they unstuck themselves(long story) they neglected to contact SAR through the SPOT to say they didn't need rescue.

2:40 p.m. on November 7, 2013 (EST)
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Erich said:

Spots work well and all I know of have a message feature which allows you to tell a loved one, "Made it to the summit, everything OK" to a 911 feature, and also a feature to say that you are OK to the 911. One thing to remember with any such device, is to know it inside and out. Recently, a couple of climbers on Mt. Andromeda in the Canadian Rockies got stuck and activated their SPOT, but turned it off later to save batteries. The SAR teams didn't then have enough information on the climber's location. When they unstuck themselves(long story) they neglected to contact SAR through the SPOT to say they didn't need rescue.

 

Indeed…I met a fellow a couple of years ago with a SPOT tethered to his smartphone. He had created some predefined messages but had not synced his device with the server. When he thought he was sending “made it to first camp all is well” he actually sent “We have one member with a non- life threatening injury and need help”. Needless to say there was serious confusion when his wife sent SAR to find him and his group smoking cigars and drinking bourbon around a campfire.

Which is one reason I like the DeLorme SE..I can get replies which the SPOT cannot. Also get confirmation of message delivery (usually) which the SPOT doesn’t (last time I checked anyway).

6:12 p.m. on November 13, 2013 (EST)
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Sean Van Cleve (MO) said:

http://www.trailspace.com/gear/mcmurdo/fast-find-210/#review27597

Here is a link to my review for the McMurdo PLB i was referring to. 

I would personally be interested in something like the DeLorme for its communication capabilities, but my wife enjoys the peace & quiet when I'm not around... 

 LOL  ,  me too

10:37 a.m. on November 15, 2013 (EST)
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i usually shut my phone off when i'm in remote areas.  keeping it turned on ends up sucking the life out of the battery as it repeatedly searches for a faint signal.  i'll turn it on at the end of the day, see if i have reception, then do what i have to do.  my wife appreciates hearing that i'm OK and can live with text messages.  i try to manage expectations and tell her that i may not get reception, though.

while having a gps function (dedicated receiver or smart phone) isn't a must, it is very helpful.  it is most useful for navigating in weather where landmarks aren't available, dense fog and white out.  i sometimes use one in the summer, but mostly to play with it; i always bring it in the winter or if i expect bad visibility.   

regarding dedicated receiver vs. phone, i like having a dedicated device, for a couple of reasons.  first, you can find good dedicated receivers that have buttons you can operate with gloves on.  second, it has replaceable batteries, so i bring spares and don't have to worry about tapping out my phone.  third, you can opt for a device that is more likely to survive an accidental drop or water immersion than most smart phones (i personally wouldn't opt for the touch screen gps receivers.  they look cool, but i think you lose some of the real world functionality and durability by going in that direction). 

8:50 p.m. on November 15, 2013 (EST)
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I need to get back to work so I haven't taken the time to read everyone's posts. Rambler already said a lot of what I would have. I'll just add, even though I had the Gaia gps app for my phone & really like it except the battery consumption which is easily rectified with a battery pack charger, I did go out and buy a dedicated GPS. Mostly cause I was used to that type and didn't have the battery pack at the time or the sense to put it in airplane mode when I was in areas with no cell signal, which really kills the battery. I plunked down about $300. on a Delorme PN-60 and have been pretty unhappy with it from day one, especially compared to the iphone/gaia app., to the extent that I hardly ever bring it with me anymore. The only category I would put the Delorme in over the phone gps would be durability, but haven't broken the phone yet.(damn, shouldn't have said that...)

I primarily use the GPS to track & log my trips, then I can overlay the trip track onto maps & even Google Earth for trip reports & reviewing where I've been. The Gaia app wins hands down in this category. The Delorme software is only Windows comparable (yes, seriously) and has the appearence & functionality as if it is still based off a 1980's DOS platform.

Compared to the phone with touchscreen, the Delorme's screen is like a postage stamp and still depends on a bunch of figity buttons & a lot of scrolling.

10:38 p.m. on November 15, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks for the info and advice! 

I have not decided yet on a dedicated GPSr unit or just using a phone. 

Here is what I am thinking on each, PLEASE let me know if there is more or something I may have wrong.

Dedicated GPSr

PROS:

  • Able to continuous track
  • Able to track at given time (like every 5 min)?
  • Better battery life
  • Better durability (maybe?)

CONS:

  • Additional Cost of the unit
  • Software and maps to download and possibly buy
  • Additional weight
  • Can't recharge in the field? (Not really sure about this)
  • Another piece of equipment to keep track of.

 

Using the Phone as a GPS reciver

PROS:

  • Lower total cost equipment cost
  • Can recharge on the trail (Have solar that I will take)
  • Larger screen to view
  • Lower weight
  • Phone is already there, and can be used for other things.

CONS:

  • Battery Hog
  • Continuous tracking requires LOTS of battery
  • Tracking at fixed time segments requires leaving the phone on (off Airplane mode)
  • Not as reliable as a Dedicated unit on location and speed (Maybe?)
  • Durability could be an issue (Depending on phone and case)

From this the only thing that I see that can be a determining factor is path tracking.  Although I like the idea of this and being about to post my tracks and things like that, lets be real, I hardly have time to blog, I can't even get my gear reviews done, when am I going to have time to post tracks and all that!  :)

So for me it seems like the phone would be a better option, now what phone and what mapping app!!????  Maybe a new thread.  :D

Wolfman

1:16 a.m. on November 16, 2013 (EST)
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Since my name has been taken in vain several times in this thread, I guess I ought to chime in. First a warning - this is really long, but it is packed with stuff you really need to know and think about. A bit of background -

I have been using GPS receivers in many applications for quite a few years, as well as having spent 10 years working on the modernization of various components of the Navstar Global Positioning System (which is The GPS - the handheld widgets are GSP receivers and signal processors). In particular I was Systems Analyst and Designer for the Ground Segment and similarly for the next generation of GPS satellites. I have done testing for several of the GPSR manufacturers as well as modules that ride in other satellites. As a hobby, I do geocaching and teach land navigation courses, and as a volunteer as part of the American Climber Science Program, I train and oversee the geotagging of the sampling that the researchers do in our environmental studies.

First point is that way too many people consider a GPS receiver to basically be a toy. If you learn how to really use it, it can be a very useful tool. Now, in no way does it replace knowing how to read the terrain or the various navigation tools like map and compass (to repeat myself in a dozen or so other threads, a simple $15-$20 baseplate compass is all that is needed by any backpacker or hiker - but that's another thread).

The short answer to your question is - You do NOT need anything other than map and compass, shelter, food, and water. You definitely do NOT need a GPSR, cell phone, or any other electronic widget with you in the backcountry .... with one possible exception - you really ought to take a camera, and these days that means an electronic widget. NO! not a cell phone camera. Take a REAL camera! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, smartphone cameras are getting better and better. But they still are a long way from matching real cameras. Just learn how to use it properly.

I will impose on Wolf to add some comments to his list of pros and cons (not a complete analysis, but close enough for now). I apologize for using bold face for the comments, but Trailspace does not allow for other fonts or colored fonts other than black:

Wolfman (Wolfgang Greystoke) said:

Dedicated GPSr

PROS:

  • Able to continuous track --- Generally, yes, for any handheld GPSR currently on the market
  • Able to track at given time (like every 5 min)? --- The better handheld GPSRs have adjustable intervals. Normally the default is track points at 15 second intervals, though some auxiliary units like the SPOT and inReach devices (which are not for navigation) are 10 minute intervals)
  • Better battery life --- Far better than the phones, plus since they are standard AA cells (lithiums are better than alkalines), you can get replacements readily. You can use rechargeables (I recommend Eneloops) which you can recharge in the field with small solar panels.
  • Better durability (maybe?) --- Than a phone? Definitely!
  • To add one, the chipsets in handheld GPSRs are far better than those in the phones for accuracy. For one thing, very few of the phone GPS chipsets incorporate WAAS, and the location services in many cases will default to cell tower triangulation, which is a couple of orders of magnitude worse that even the cheapest dedicated GPSRs.
  • Adding another, with a phone you are paying additional money for the phone service to stay in operation to give you the location on the supplied maps (which generally have to be downloaded automatically behind the scenes when you go to a distant area - I ran into this in Austria - and it costs you digital bytes on your digital plan)

CONS:

  • Additional Cost of the unit --- Yeah, if you are counting it as an addition to carrying a phone.
  • Software and maps to download and possibly buy --- The software usually comes bundled with the GPSR. There are optional more detailed maps, such as full 7.5 min USGS quads, which do not come on the phone. Plus you can get topo maps for a large fraction of the world on your handheld GPSR, while your phone is often limited to road maps for foreign countries.
  • Additional weight --- True enough
  • Can't recharge in the field? (Not really sure about this) --- I answered this above. I recharge my various GPSRs from a small solar panel in the field, using AA Eneloops.
  • Another piece of equipment to keep track of. --- True enough

 

Using the Phone as a GPS reciver

PROS:

  • Lower total cost equipment cost --- If you are counting on paying for both phone (including its monthly and minute charges) and GPSR (which has no monthly or minute charges for as many years as you use it - my son is using a 10+ year old GPSR of mine, which works just fine)
  • Can recharge on the trail (Have solar that I will take) -- No different than the GPSR
  • Larger screen to view - True, except if you go to the inReach (Bluetooth or SE versions), in which case you are looking at the map on the same screen with real USGS topo maps, which can also be done with an iPad or various Android tablets.
  • Lower weight -- Yes.
  • Phone is already there, and can be used for other things. -- Except that you will often be out of range of cell towers and the phone is extra weight.

CONS:

  • Battery Hog --- Definitely!
  • Continuous tracking requires LOTS of battery -- Definitely!
  • Tracking at fixed time segments requires leaving the phone on (off Airplane mode) --- Only thing Airplane mode shuts off is the wifi.
  • Not as reliable as a Dedicated unit on location and speed (Maybe?) -- Definitely! As mentioned above, the phone GPSR chipsets do not give as accurate fixes (well, to be fair, they are often good to 100 feet or so, much worse than the 15 feet of a dedicated GPSR with WAAS, which all handhelds have these days - but surely you can find your way with a 100 foot circle)
  • Durability could be an issue (Depending on phone and case) -- I have seen a lot of broken screens on cell phones, especially in the back country.

There is another alternative you haven't mentioned, and that is the Delorme inReach. This is primarily a texting device, but with the free software (Earthmate, which has excellent maps), it can be used for some navigation. Because the messages are relayed (2-way) via the Iridium satphone satellites, you have no worries about cell towers. Iridium has full global coverage. I have used mine all over the US, including Alaska), plus Europe and South America. Messages generally get through in 2-3 minutes (though someone has to be paying attention, since it isn't like a phone which rings). The recipient can get the message via email (so either their computer or smartphone). You can use the inReach SE autonomously, which allows composing and reading the messages, or link it to your smartphone (Apple iOS or Android - and I switch back and forth between my iPad and my Android phone). The phone or tablet will display the maps in large size. There are limitations - as a "regular" user (that is, not an enterprise with a dozen employees running around to remote areas), you are limited to 10 minute or optionally longer tracking intervals. Message time (equivalent to talk minutes) is 100 hours, so you could probably do the JMT on a single charge.

 Early on, Sean asked a question that you need to decide - why do you want to "call home"? Do you have to (i.e., absolute requirement) report in, or arrange dropoff and pick up, stay in contact with "the office" or something like that? 90% of the time, I just prefer to go off for a week or a month with no communication home. I suffer too much from the "curse and the blessing" of instant cell phone communication within the US, Europe, or even Peru.

Or do you need/want an emergency/911/rescue in case of something so serious you can't handle it yourself? If the latter, then the PLB route is easier, cheaper, and negligibly heavier.

If you need the communications, is an occasional short text message sufficient to calm the home folks, to call for rescue (inReach or SPOT will do that), or arrange for pickup when running ahead or behind schedule? In Peru, we needed to call for the shuttle van to pick us up after a couple weeks in the field, and to specify where the pickup point was going to be.

If you need voice contact, then you might want to consider a satphone, although that is pretty expensive. There are only 3 viable satphone companies at this time - InMarSat (which introduced a handheld version of their many-years comm system a couple years ago), SPOT (which is just a re-labelled GlobalStar phone, but also comes as a newer version of their original emergency+short text device that competes somewhat with Delorme's inReach), and Delorme's inReach, which is the only one of the 3 with full global coverage. I have used the inReach satphone (voice) in Antarctica (at 80° South), Peru, and in the Alaskan Bush, and found it very dependable. It is expensive, but I wasn't paying the bill (disclaimer- I did testing on SPOT 1, SPOT 2, and SPOT Communicator, and on the Green, Blue, and SE versions of inReach, as well as working on the Iridium satellites before I retired from the aerospace industry - I choose my devices on what works, not who I worked for years ago, and I will tell you of all the warts I can for the production models).

Personally, the bottom line is you do not really need anything other than map and compass, plus tell your significant other your schedule - where are you going, when will you be at what place, who the contact person/agency is (with their phone numbers), and that's all. You may not want to do what I do - go off solo for a couple weeks with nothing more than food, sleeping bag, and some type of rain shelter (if you are going to rain or snow country).

3:05 p.m. on November 16, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks Bill, I figured that if you got poked enough that you would finally chime in! :)

First, what do I need it for, or do I need communications with home and others?

I would say yes to the communications, this is all in prep for my 2104 summer thru hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail.  This trail is very different from trails like the PCT or even the CDT.  The trail averages about 2 or 3 hikers a year, although it has been going up, and there is not an established trail so route finding can be important at times.  Other times your walking roads, which are hard to get lost on as long as your paying attention....   I'll just leave it at that. 

So being able to call home and Hotels, or a Park headquarters is a requirement.   There for the phone is coming along.  It also holds a lot of music and PDF's, Excel files, and other information that would be a backup to a paper copy.

My main navigation and route finding is going to be map and compass based.  But maps get out of date and logging roads and trails come and go.  My though on a GPS device, be it the phone or a stand alone, is mainly to check my location and some general route finding in hard conditions, be it fog, low clouds, snow on the ground, etc.  Like I said earlier, yes a continuous track would be cool, but I hardly need one.  That is why I was / am? thinking that a phone would work.

I looked at the Delorme's inReach and the Spot Communicator(?) and although the initial price is not too much, the monthly service is far from cheep.  And the year long contract seems harsh for 2 or 4 months of use.  Yes, I could continue to use it through out the year, but I just don't see the need.  I rarely put myself  in a situation that I would feel that having a SPOT or InReach would be advisable, but as we all know stuff happens, it would be a nice backup.  I guess I need to look into these two options more.  (Note: Pricing seem different then I first though.)

As for power, I have a solar panel that I will be taking (Goalzero - Nomad 7) and it has a direct connect for USB charging, of course I got the one with out the build in battery charger, but I can get that as an add-on.  Then I would just get rechargeable batteries for anything that used AA or AAA.  My camera, a Nikon Coolpix AW100, has removable batteries but so far I have not found any way to recharge them other then a wall outlet.  Which REALLY sucks, although now I have three batteries so that will last about a week, maybe less depending on how much I use it and what I have turned on, flash, GPS, etc.  I would love to figure out a way to charge these off the solar panel. 

I am in the market for a new phone, does anyone know if any of the android phones has a build in GPS chip?

Again thanks for the input Bill, with is additional information would you still recommend a stand alone GPSr or the InReach?

Wolf

3:17 p.m. on November 16, 2013 (EST)
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Most of the Android smartphones have GPS chipsets, though I rarely use the one in my Samsung Galaxy. If I need positioning, I turn on the inReach SE.

Take a look at the Delorme inReach plans -the Recreational plan, which you can choose to use in 4month blocks may be just what you want. You do not need cell towers to get the messages through with the inReach. Also sat phones have plans that charge only for the minutes you use and do not need cell towers.

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