Five Low Cost Tools to Keep You Connected in The Great Outdoors


Believe it or not, cell phones don’t work everywhere….

We know, it’s a bummer!

But when heading into the wild, many of us still bring our phones along.

Why?

Apart from the fact that they make great cameras, maybe we’re forever hopeful that we can still use them if we needed to make a call.

But if you’re truly heading off-grid, you shouldn’t expect any chance of a cellular signal.

So what else could you bring to stay connected for safety reasons?

Below, we’ve listed the five lowest-cost product options that will keep you truly connected, and let you make “that call”, when you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no cell service:

 

1.) “SPOT Gen3” – $169.95 CAD ($160.00 USD)

**Get 50% Off a SPOT Gen3 (with mail-in rebate) until December 31st**—learn more…

If you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of SPOT—it’s a great tool for safety and peace of mind.

The SPOT Gen3 is the current model in this series of effective SOS alerting and messaging devices. This device is the cheapest and simplest option on our list.

You don’t use a SPOT Gen3 to make phone calls…this is a one-way messaging and alerting device—meaning you receive no confirmation that your message or SOS alert has reached its destination.

Regardless, 5,543 people (to date) have successfully been rescued after sending an SOS alert using a SPOT device.


The SPOT Gen3 is supported by the Globalstar satellite network’s “Simplex Data Service”, which provides global coverage. Check out their coverage by expanding the box below:

The SPOT GEN3 does three things very well:

  1. Check-In
    • Send a short, pre-written check-in text message to let friends and family know you’re safe and/or have reached your destination.
    • The SPOT has no keyboard, so you must program these messages into the device ahead of time.
    • A message is sent via email or SMS to up to 10 pre-determined contactswhich you can set up in your SPOT account online.
  2. Tracking
    • Enable this feature so friends and family can follow your progress online in near real-time. Also lets you save waypoints so you can review your route later.
  3. SOS
    • In true emergencies, hit the SOS button to alert search and rescue authorities. Then wait for help to arrive.

A monthly or annual subscription plan is required for service.

Plans cost $14.99/month (USD) or $149.99/year (USD) with a network maintenance fee of an extra $1.49/month (USD) or $14.99/year (USD).

 

2.) “inReach SE+”  – $499.00 CAD ($399.95 USD)

garmin inreach se plus

A step up from the SPOT Gen3, inReach products offer two-way, text-based communication, GPS navigation and SOS alerting.

inReach products can be used as stand-alone devices, or paired with your smartphone for added convenience and features.

Unlike the SPOT Gen3, inReach devices offer two-way communications. You can send a custom text message, as well as receive text messages—meaning you’ll actually know that your text or SOS alert was received.

The inReach products are supported by the Iridium satellite network’s “Short Burst Data Service”, which provide global coverage. Check out the Iridium coverage map below….as you can see, they cover the entire globe:
Iridium satellite coverage map-iridium voice services
The inReach SE+ lets you view a grid-map and breadcrumb trail directly on the device’s screen. You can also drop way points in any location. For more detailed map imagery, pairing this device with a smartphone will overlay the breadcrumb trail on a topographic map in the Earthmate App, which you download to your phone for free, from the “App Store” or “Google Play“.

In short, the inReach SE+ can be used as a stand-alone device for basic navigation/direction finding.

The inReach SE+ does four things very well:

  1. Two-Way, Custom Text Messaging:
    • The virtual (on-screen) keyboard lets you select letters to send and receive custom typed text messages to SMS and email addresses.
    • An easier option is to pair the inReach with your smartphone to create text messages using the Earthmate Application. This application also lets you use your smartphone’s existing contact list for added convenience when texting.
  1. GPS Tracking and Basic Navigation:
    • The built-in, high-sensitivity GPS receiver provides location and tracking data to within 5 meters.
    • The basic on-screen navigation features let you follow routes, drop waypoints and view detailed breadcrumb trails for back tracking.
    • SOS – Interactive:
      • In true emergencies, hit the SOS button to notify the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Centre, who will notify the local authorities in your area. Then, you can have a text message conversation with them to describe your situation in more detail.
  1. Weather Forecasts:
    • Request basic, premium, or marine weather forecasts for any location. You can receive weather forecasts for your current location, a waypoint, or GPS coordinates.

A monthly or annual subscription plan is required for service.

Monthly plans start at $19.95/month CAD, while annual plans start at $14.95/month CAD. There is a $24.95 CAD activation fee for all plans.

Monthly plans can be suspended a month at a time for no charge so that you can maintain access to the data stored on your account. You must unsuspended your service in order to have coverage.

 

3.) “Globalstar GSP-1700 Satellite Phone” – $475.00 CAD ($475.00 USD)

 

This is a full-blown satellite phone that will let you make and receive phone calls just about anywhere. You don’t need an SOS button, and you don’t need to pair it with your smartphone. If you need help, just make a phone call and ask for it!

At the moment, a limited supply of factory-certified refurbished units are all that is available for the GSP-1700 satellite phone—Globalstar has discontinued this product to focus their efforts on developing smartphone compatible devices. That being said, the refurbished units are still completely viable and highly sought-after products.

The GSP-1700 is supported by the Globalstar satellite network’s “Duplex Voice Service”, which provides regional coverage in specific geographic areas on Earth. Check out the Globalstar Voice service coverage map below:

globalstar coverage map

The GSP-1700 satellite phone does one thing very well:

  1. Satellite Phone Calls:
    • If you need help, or simply want to check-in with friends and family—just make a phone call.
    • You can call (or receive calls from) any landline or cellular telephone number.
    • Each GSP-1700 comes with it’s own unique phone number.
    • You can also receive 35 character text messages, but you cannot send a text message in reply.

A monthly or annual airtime subscription plan is required for service.

Monthly plans start at $79.99/month CAD with a $50.00 CAD activation fee for all plans. All plans come with a bundle of voice minutes included.

Annual plans start at $960.00/year CAD with a $50.00 CAD activation fee.

 

4.) “inReach Explorer+”  – $589.99 CAD ($495.00 USD)

The inReach Explorer+ includes all the features of the SE+ model, but offers improved navigation functions and comes pre-loaded with topographic maps.

Further, it has enhanced GPS and a built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer, which help you with actual navigational requirements.

You would choose an inReach Explorer+ over the SE+ model if you wanted professional navigation features similar to a traditional handheld GPS unit.

The inReach Explorer+ does four things very well:

  1. Two-Way, Custom Text Messaging
    • The virtual (on-screen) keyboard lets you select letters to send and receive custom typed text messages to SMS and email addresses.
    • An easier option is to pair the inReach Explorer+ with your smartphone to create messages using the Earthmate App. This app accesses your smartphone’s existing contact list for added convenience when texting.
  1. GPS Tracking and Professional Navigation
    • The enhanced GPS receiver provides location and tracking data.
    • Pre-loaded topographic maps and built-in navigational sensors give you extra location details and help you find and maintain accurate bearings.
    • On-screen navigation features let you follow routes, drop way-points and view highly detailed breadcrumb trails for back tracking.
  1. SOS – Interactive
    • In true emergencies, hit the SOS button to notify the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Centre, who then notify the local authorities in your area. Then, you can have a text message conversation with them to describe your situation in more detail.
  1. Weather Forecasts
    • Request basic, premium, or marine weather forecasts for any location. You can receive weather forecasts for your current location, a waypoint, or GPS coordinates.

A monthly or annual subscription plan is required for service.

Monthly plans start at $19.95/month CAD, while annual plans start at $14.95/month CAD. There is a $24.95 CAD activation fee for all plans.

Monthly plans can be suspended a month at a time for no charge so that you can maintain access to the data stored on your account. You must unsuspended your service in order to have coverage.

 

5.) “Iridium GO! Satellite Hotspot” – $1,089.95 CAD ($829.95 USD)

Classed as a satellite hotspot, you pair the Iridium GO! with your smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android only) to make and receive satellite phone calls, send and receive text messages, get weather updates, or access email. It even has a dedicated SOS alert button…just in case.

The primary user-interface is whatever smartphone or tablet you have connected to the Iridium GO! and all functionality is accessed through the Iridium GO! App. The Iridium GO! App is available to download for Free from the “iTunes App store” or “Google Play”.

Up to five devices can be connected to the Iridium GO! hotspot at any given time.

The built-in, programmable SOS button can be configured to notify the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Centre, or a list of pre-specified contacts.

The Iridium GO! is supported by the Iridium satellite network’s “Voice & Data Service”, which provides global coverage. Check out the Iridium coverage map below:

Iridium satellite coverage map-iridium voice services

Iridium GO! Data

When we say data, we mean low-speed satellite data for text-based functions like SMS, compressed email, and weather updates. You can’t use the Iridium GO! for browsing the Internet and it won’t give you a fast enough data connection to use your existing smartphone apps.

The Iridium GO! does six things very well:

  1. Satellite Phone Calls:
    • Pair with your smartphone or tablet and use that device to call, or receive calls from, any landline or cellular telephone number.
    • Each GO! device comes with it’s own unique phone number.
  1. Two-Way, Custom Text Messaging:
    • Use the Iridium GO! App on your paired smartphone or tablet to create and send a text message to any phone number or email address.
    • Uses the Iridium GO! satellite phone number for sending/receiving all texts.
    • An inbound text will appear on all devices connected to the Iridium GO!
  1. GPS Tracking:
    • Show current position.
    • Click on the Quick GPS send button in the Iridium GO! App to transmit your GPS coordinates to any email or text address.
    • You can set the GO! to transmit its current location at intervals of 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or all the way to once every week.
  1. SOS – Interactive
    • There are two ways to send an SOS alert:
      • Push the SOS button on the Iridium GO!
      • Enable an SOS though the GO! App on your smartphone.
    • An SOS initiated from the Iridium GO! App will provide the option for two-way voice communication with the designated contact.
    • An SOS initiated by pressing the SOS button on the Iridium GO! device will only send an emergency message with location information.
  1. Email:
    • Send emails through the Iridium Mail and Web App on your connected device.
    • Email on the GO! is conducted through the Iridium mail server using a new “@myiridium.net” email address.
    • Files may be sent as an attachment, or by using the “Photos” button in the Mail and Web App. Since the data speed of the Iridium GO! is slow, it could take some time to send these types of files. 
    • The Iridium Mail App will not let you use your existing email or web mail accounts with other providers.
    • To use your existing email accounts, you can download third party satellite mail apps and subscribe to their email compression service. Cost for this is about $10.00 USD per month (on top of the monthly airtime subscription that you need in order to use the Iridium GO! device).
  1. Weather Forecasts:
    • Press the weather button inside the mail and web app for local conditions.

A monthly subscription or prepaid plan is required for service.

Monthly plans start at $69.95/month CAD with a $25.00 CAD activation fee for all plans. All plans come with a bundle of “GO! data” minutes included.

The Canada/Alaska Prepaid plan costs is the best deal for Canadian customers, and is especially popular. The plan costs $355.00 CAD (plus a $30.00 CAD SIM card activation charge) and gives you 200 minutes or 400 text messages (or a combo of both) that will last for a period of six months.

Keep in mind that any Iridium airtime plan can be used with the Iridium GO! device, but the “GO! specific” plans offer better rates for Iridium data.

 

So the next time you head into the great outdoors, feel free to bring your smartphone…but consider bringing one of these devices as well.

Depending on your needs, they will surely keep you connected and will certainly improve your chances if something goes wrong.

Whatever you decide, please remember that these devices are not an alternative to proper planning and preparedness for being in the great outdoors.