Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taking SPOT for a Walk

About 4 years ago my son gave my wife one of the original SPOT's for Christmas.  The intent was that I would carry it to let her know that I was OK, thus giving her a bit more peace of mind.  It was a bit clunky but it did generally work and let her know at least once a day that I was still alive and well.  But it was a bit challenging to share any kind of change of plans with her once I had left the trail head.

The original SPOT and four buttons, including the power button.  I could send an OK message, a Help message, or an SOS message.  For the OK and Help messages I could set up a list of email addresses and/or phone numbers that would get each message I sent from the device.  The messages sent would include my pre-canned text as well as my location coordinates and a link to my position on Google Maps.  The SOS message would be sent to the SAR folks and fortunately I have never had occasion to test that one out.

Last year I upgraded to a SPOT Connect.  This device is used in conjunction with my Android phone (also works with iPhone) to allow for sending one of a number of predefined messages or a short on-the-fly message you type into your phone.  You can also now select who you want to send the messages to, including Facebook and Twitter.

I used this quite a bit last year, keeping my wife and other interested parties updated on my position as well as an occasional Facebook post.  I liked the ability to customize the messages as well as direct them to specific people.  The Facebook posting was nice as well although not nearly as important.  Also very nice is the reduced weight and size of the Connect.  If you are going to be lugging a phone out with you anyway, then there is little downside to requiring the phone be connected to send a message, other than a bit more futz factor.

SPOT also has a Tracking feature that will automatically send out a position message every 10 minutes.  I tried this the first year but was unhappy with it and did not bother with it again until this year.  I am now setup to track my trips and found it worked fairly well on the first trip out.  At this point I am planning on doing this for the remainder of this years trips, including the PCT in August.

One of the neat things about the Tracking feature now is the ability to share a map of the trip with the rest of the world.  There are several ways of doing this, including the live map at the bottom of this page.  It will show each received tracking message as it comes in, allowing anyone who is interested to see where I am along the trail, and where I have been.  This map will only contain the most recent 7 days worth of messages, but will be good for providing current trip data.

The trip data can also be imported into an Adventure Map, providing a permanent record of the trip data.  This map also allows for embedding pictures and a trip description.  This looks pretty cool so far.  But I have yet to figure out how to load more than the most recent 7 days of SPOT data into it; so a longer trip may be problematic.  Hopefully I will have that figured out prior to the August trip.

I am heading out in the morning for a trip up the Skokomish River in the ONP.  If all works as advertised, and you are interested, you should be able to stop back by here periodically and see how the trip is progressing.  When I get back I will update this blog to indicate anything else I have learned.



This map not be functional until SPOT starts sending data, likely by 9:00 AM PDT on 6/20/2012.  The data in this map will start disappearing after 7 days.




Update 6/21/2012: As you can see from the above map, the tracking did work; kinda.  There were long stretches where nothing got through, a suspect because of heavy tree cover.  I carried SPOT on top of my pack in the correct orientation, so I was not blocking it.  Looks like it should be useful for keeping the wife updated, but probably not something that would do a wonderful job of documenting the trip.  I did have Backcountry Navigator running on my phone on the trip up.  Looks like it did a better job.

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