For many years we have been fans of the SPOT messenger. It is a rugged, lightweight, and simple device that for the most part operates just as the manufacturer claims it will. There were definitely tight spots- meaning high and close canyon walls- that inhibited our ability to send messages on more than one occasion. But I think this will be the case for any satellite communication device- they must have a clear view of the sky to operate.
We have been happy with our SPOT. However, we recently received an email from SPOT that stated our subscription option was no longer available and that our annual cost was increasing by $50. There was the addition of the tracking feature with the new cost, meaning the SPOT would send a message every so often as we traveled along the trail in the same way it sends one of our preset messages. This was definitely not something we would use. It was enough to prompt me to look into other devices, and it was easy to find unlimited information on the options. If you search for “personal locators” or “satellite locators” your search will likely return the DeLorme inReach, the SPOT Messenger, and one of the ACR devices.
Since we weren’t in the market for an actual personal locator beacon (the ACR devices), we focused on the DeLorme products and found our replacement in the DeLorme inReach SE. This satellite communicator has all the features of the SPOT Messenger including preset messages (SPOT has 2, inReach has 3), a tracking option, and of course SOS mode. But it goes many steps further- it will link to your smart phone, you can send and receive text messages (to phone numbers or email addresses), it has a GPS function that allows you to see your exact grid coordinates, and the Iridium satellite network that it operates on is a step up from the Globalstar network that SPOT operates on. With Iridium you have truly global coverage with the inReach, and potentially more accuracy, speed, and better chances for getting messages out.
A Few Points of Comparison
There are really so many features on the inReach that it would take a while to cover them all, so I will point out the features important to me. The DeLorme inReach SE will cost $300, while the SPOT Gen3 will cost $150. (Note that there is also the inReach Explorer, priced at about $380, that has even more features.) My perspective is that the additional features of the inReach SE make up for the additional cost. While I won’t use most of the features, the GPS and the ability to send a text saying I am staying out a couple of more nights is worth the extra investment. There are also sounds that can be associated with the various functions, just like with a smart phone. There is a convenient “send” noise that I decided to leave in place; it is helpful to know when the message has sent so I can turn the unit off and conserve battery life.
The inReach weighs just over 8 ounces, the SPOT just over 4. The inReach is larger than the SPOT, but not by much. The inReach features rechargeable lithium batteries with a 100 hour life expectancy. It can be recharged via USB or a standard power outlet. The SPOT uses 4 AAA rechargeable NiMH batteries or 4 AAA disposable lithium batteries- a plus in my opinion as you will be sure that the unit can operate without having to find an outlet to recharge it. The SPOT can also be connected to a USB power source.
Operating costs, and associated features, vary for the inReach. There are too many options to explain them, so the chart from their website is included below. It must be noted that the inReach has an “as needed” cost option- their Freedom Plan. This means that if you need it for the summer, you pay just for the summer months, then turn your subscription off in the meantime. No data or settings are lost when you turn it off. Turning the service on and off is as simple as logging in to your online account, and following the prompts. Of course there is an annual cost for that option, but in the long run it can easily work out to savings if you are a part-time user. The SPOT cost is about $150 per year, with very few options available on top of that, mainly enhanced tracking. This simply means that instead of a tracking point being sent out every 10 minutes for example, you can choose when it goes out.
In the long run, if you are looking for a means to send an SOS if it ever came to it, both devices are good options, although as noted above the satellite system is better with the inReach. If you want features- texts, GPS, sounds, and a Bluetooth link to your smart phone, then the inReach is for you. You can see the DeLorme inReach SE at Amazon.com. The SPOT Messenger Gen3 is also available at Amazon. You can read more about our desert adventures, the gear we use, and more at the Desert Explorer website.