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Discussion: Tracker device

in: Adventure Racing; Gear & Toys

Dec 31, 2019 12:56 PM # 
What is everyone's experience with gps tracking devices while out adventuring? The Spot Gen 3 has caught our eye (simplicity!), but there are several other products on the market....
Has anyone used one of the devices that links to your cell phone via bluetooth?
We aren't looking to traverse the arctic any time soon (ever!), but are looking for something to keep track of each other on our solo (or semi-solo) adventures in areas of sketchy cell phone coverage (or for our families to keep track of us if we go adventuring together). FWIW.....there is sketchy cell phone coverage all along the north shore of Lake Erie.
I have read lots of reviews, but am curious as to what fellow AP'er have experienced.
Jan 1, 2020 12:12 AM # 
I have a Garmin InReach that I bought after seeing how well they worked for Wilderness Traverse. Previously, we used an older SPOT model that wasn't as useful. I also used to have a personal SPOT tracker until I saw the features of the Inreach tracker. I've been using the InReach for years. No complaints.

If you're going to get a GPS tracking device, I would get one that allows free form 2-way communications with just the device:

- If you're going to spend the money on a GPS tracking device, it's not worth getting a tracker that can only send pre-set outgoing messages like "I'm OK", "Help" or "SOS". At WT, I've received many communications from people carrying GPS trackers, and there is always more detail/nuance in their communications than you could get from a pre-set message. If there is an emergency, details are especially important.

- I'm not keen on GPS devices that require you to link to your cell phone to send outgoing communications. That means you have to keep two devices dry, charged and in your possession. WT racers haven't always had success with that. If you decide to get a GPS tracker, I would get one that can handle 2-way satellite communications (free form texts) on its own. It's awkward to write messages but the GPS devices tend to be more reliable and waterproof than cell phones. Linking to your cell phone by Bluetooth is easier and great when it works, so if the device can also do that, it's a nice bonus feature. But I wouldn't want to count on it.

A few products that work this way are the Garmin InReach, Garmin InReach Mini and SPOT-X (not the SPOT Gen 3). I haven't read reviews lately so there may be one that is better rated than the others. If the Mini is getting good reviews now that it's been out a while, it might be a good choice since it's a nice size and weight. Mike Simpson has one so you could ask him how it's been working.

Another thing to research is the plan for each device, which is like a phone plan. Garmin allows me to suspend my plan during months when I don't use it. I think I pay $3.95 while suspended and $45.00 in a regular month.

I suspect that many of your adventures would be suited to the "Find My" app on the iPhone (which has absorbed the former Find My Friends app). If you and your families don't have iPhones, maybe there is a similar app that works on other phones. This is the cheapest alternative. It doesn't require the person being tracked to have cell signal; the app uses the GPS on your cell phone. We have used "Find My" at Wilderness Traverse to check the locations of volunteers who don't have GPS tracking devices.
Jan 2, 2020 4:33 PM # 
Carbons Offset:
Exactly what Bash said. She covered all of the things I would want to point out.
I live in the Rocky Mountains (Canmore, Alberta) where many of us get into some remote/extreme terrain for backcountry skiing / ski mountaineering, scrambling, trail running, mountain biking, etc., and the fairly unanimous preference is the InReach because of its capability for two-way communication. That’s what I have and I like it (more than the other options). The Parks Rescue staff have even indicated their preference for this (InReach specifically), which carries a lot of weight for me.

I mostly carry my InReach for “just in case” emergency communication. This basic service plan is only about $23 per month (text messages and tracking are extra, per message). If you expected to use your device for more messages or tracking, then a plan like the one Bash mentioned would be the one for you. There are about three or four levels of plans you can choose from and as she mentioned, you can suspend your service while keeping your account and only pay $3.95 per month (Canadian dollars).
Jan 2, 2020 5:01 PM # 
I have been able to satisfy my SO’s desire to know where I am when out solo using the Find My app as Bash mentioned thus avoiding the more expensive Sat devices.
Garmin has a similar feature that allows you to provide a link to someone with the location of your device while it’s active. I haven’t used it much to realize it’s limitations. When I first found it you had to send the link each time you used it. There is also a ‘Crash Notification’ feature that recognizes an ‘impact’ and sends a message to a recipient of your choice. I have that active and it was set off when my bike tipped over when I was washing it recently. You get 30 seconds to avoid notification of your predetermined recipient before the message is sent. Fortunately I figured it out in time.
Jan 2, 2020 6:46 PM # 
I have used Find My, the garmin feature and Life 360. SO worries, kid wants to track when I’ll be home so chores are done and I don’t yell at him for not doing chores. For long/cold temps I keep my phone/garmin edge charged with a small anker battery pack.
Jan 2, 2020 7:25 PM # 
I use the builtin Garmin feature (for a couple months now). It emails the link to any emails I have saved to a list whenever I start an activity and my cellphone is in range of my watch.

The email at the start is nice since I don't always start an activity when I am with my SO so it lets her know that I am starting an activity. I don't think she regularly watches my activities but it is nice to know that if something happened there would be something.

If cell coverage is good than this feature is excellent. I do sometimes use it in areas with sketchy cell coverage and I have watched the tracks stall when there is no coverage. Eventually it catches a signal again and catches up but that is an obvious limitation. For the sake of an emergency it still seems effective to me because it would never catch another signal and no finish. You'd also have an idea of where the person is based on the last signal. Definitely better than nothing (assuming there is some cell coverage and not completely blacked out).

I have even lent the watch to my SO so I could track her in some recent races and we could meet her at the right places along the course at the right time. VERY USEFUL for this.

I can also confirm the crash notification. I can't remember if I even turned it on or not.

The other obvious limitation is needing to carry a device in addition to my watch. I don't like running with my phone so I don't use it for most runs. I would likely feel the same way about having to carry something extra like the InReach so either way if you want to be tracked you have to carry something more than just a watch.
Jan 3, 2020 7:46 AM # 
Another vote for the InReach. We started using them at Rootstock to communicate between TAs in remote areas. We also use them on scouting trips. In the US, you pay an annual fee but you can activate it month by month with three different payment scales based on how much communicating you want. You can shut it down and pay 0 the months you don’t plan to use it.
Jan 10, 2020 6:09 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
The other obvious limitation is needing to carry a device in addition to my watch

iWatch w/ cellular may be a workaround for less remote areas. The Find My app should track its location, and there's gotta be a way to get tracks out of it, bringing you back down to one device.
Jan 15, 2020 3:02 AM # 
Thanks, everyone. We really want to K.I.S.S. and avoid anything that needs to be linked to a phone (international data plans, areas without cell signal, challenges of keeping 2 devices charged etc.) . Stepping up to 2-way communication with a Spot X or InReach Mini isn't as crazy expensive as I thought, especially for the number of messages available even with the more basic plans.
Feb 10, 2020 6:05 PM # 
Weighing on this. I read the replies and went with the Garmin InReach mini. Used it this weekend for the first time and it was great. Easy to set up, use, etc. Glad I went with it and I appreciate all the good feedback here.
Feb 10, 2020 8:19 PM # 
Glad to hear it!
Feb 13, 2020 12:37 AM # 
We went with the Spot X. The basic plan on the InReach charged for each check-in message, whereas it doesn't on the Spot X. That way we can let our kids (or each other) know that we are still doing OK (or setting up camp or getting back to the car after some exploring or delayed by one night....or stopping for a wee dram in a cute pub in the Highlands of Scotland....or whatever we want to type on the blackberry-like keyboard).
Yes it is bigger than the InReach mini, but it does fit in the front pocket of my running/hydration vests. Like any battery powered device, I expect it drains more quickly in the cold. Fortunately, a koozie designed for a beer bottle (zipper on the "neck") fits it perfectly. I don't have a controlled replicated study to see if it really makes a difference, but it hardly used any battery on Sunday when I had it wrapped up, compared to Saturday when it was just in my vest pocket.
If I have any other revelations about it, I'll post them.
Feb 13, 2020 4:16 AM # 
Thanks! The specs - and the keyboard- look good but you’re the first person I know who has one so it’s great to get your impressions.

This discussion thread is closed.