Up the creek without a paddle? That’s so 90’s. These days, jeopardy in the great outdoors has gone a bit more hi-tech. One of the greatest dangers to the hiker, the biker, fisherman and mountain climber comes in the form of a device about yay high and yay wide, that’s sometimes orange and brown (though can come in many colors), has got buttons and nobs or one or other other, and it’s most distinguishing characteristic is…It’s Missing! As in, not packed, not even considered sometimes, and certainly, not ready to save your life.
Emergency Communication Devices (ECDs), as you probably guess, can save you a night in the cold, a stomach full of suspect stream water, or worse. While their features can vary, not to mention the expense of obtaining one, ECDs all have one feature in common…They can save your behind!
Here are details of four classes of ECDs, and more on the business of keeping you safe.
Fast Find (McMurdo)
The several versions of Fast Find share one commonality: They only send out an emergency signal, one which includes the position of the sender as determined by the unit’s global positioning system. No need to hope that a cell phone tower is nearby with this device, which can be comforting at 18,000 feet.Furthermore, while you won’t be able to text with your cousin Rob while awaiting helicopter rescue, the outgoing signal is a reliable one, carried over a network – COMPAS-SARSAT – funded by governments worldwide. Simple to use and carrying a reasonably low cost, Fast Find devices are among the more popular ECDs. Furthermore, the rechargeable battery, although not cheap, can last up to 5 years with proper use.
SPOT Satellite Devices
(SPOT) Maybe the first thing to know about SPOT devices is that they run on the subscription-requiring and somewhat troubled Globalstar satellite network. That being said, these devices offer more message flexibility than Fast Find. You can send an “I’m OK” text with your GPS coordinates, or a message that you have created pre-trip, to recipients that you choose. You can also send an SOS to the proper authorities. $200 and up.High end versions of SPOT also permit bi-directional texting by synching with a mobile phone, although it might be best not to blindly rely on this capability that depends on a complex configuration. One plus: SPOT devices run on AAA batteries, which are easier and less expensive to replace than the specialized Fast Find batteries. SPOT devices can also beat Fasts Find on price. $100 and up.
Iridium Satellite Phones
Pick one of these, and the first issue is that you have $1000 less spending cash for your trip! If you don’t mind the price tag, however (and sometimes you can rent), satellite phones basically give you the capability of making a phone call from just about anywhere on earth. Satellite phones have been shown to be mostly reliable, although not as much as Fast Find. Approximately $1,000.
Aside from the fact that you won’t have escaped the image of your kids texting all hike long(!), the good old cell phone is sometimes your best bet. Rule 1, of course, is to be sure your adventure will be confined to cell-served areas. Rule 2, surprisingly, is that if you happen to have an old ‘dumb’ phone lying around, bring it along, as these earlier models often get better reception and have longer battery life than the latest Smart phones. Rule 3, and of course, now we’re back to texting, is that text message transmittal is significantly more stable than actual calling in areas with marginal signal reliability. Additionally, you can buy a small external antennae to boost your signal in low reliability areas. ($ If you’re on a contract – Oh, let’s not get into that…)