Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Dartmoor testing of the SPOT GPS Messenger

It had only been two weeks and I was camped out back of the Plume of Feathers pub in Princetown once again. This time, I was waiting for Shaun and Jonathan to arrive Friday night, to embark on a wild camp. I made the decision to find a piece of flat ground down by the River Plym, but first task was making up a meandering walk to eat up the hours before we set up our tents.

Accompanying me this time was a new gadget; With the Bibbulmun in mind, I have been looking around for a decent way to reassure family of my well being when in some pretty remote areas. On the Overland Track, I was very conscious of being on my own, and perish the thought should anything have happened to me. Like the OT, most of the Bibb Track is out of mobile range, and with legs of up to fourteen days between towns, I really want to find a way to check in and avoid any unnecessary worry. As it is a charity walk, there is also the need to have a way of letting those following my walk know where I am.

SPOTWhat I was looking for was a gadget just like the SPOT2 Satellite GPS Messenger. Whilst not cheap, I decided you can’t put a price on reassurance, so I took the plunge and bought it.

“The SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger provides a vital line of communication with friends and family when you want it, and emergency assistance when you need it. Using 100% satellite technology, SPOT works virtually anywhere in the world, even where cell phones don't – all with the push of a button.” SPOT Website

The device cost me £99.99 on Amazon, which was the best price I could find in the UK, and it was with me in a matter of a couple of days.

Before you can use it though, you are hit with another charge; this time to subscribe to the yearly SPOT Basic Service, which cost me 99 euros or, at the exchange rate at the time; £81.04.

The basic package offers the following;

  • SOS – The one button I hope I will never have to use. This notifies the GEOS Emergency Response Center of your GPS location alongside a distress message, every five minutes until cancelled or batteries are depleted. They then alert the local emergencies services.
  • Help – Ask Family and friends for help. This button sends a pre-programmed SMS text message, including coordinates, or an email with a Google Map link showing your location. You set up the message to say, for example; “I’m OK, but I’ll need picking up from the following location.”
  • Check-in/OK – Lets contacts know where you are and that you are OK. another pre-programmed message, working much the same way as the Help button. This one could say; “Everything going well and setting up camp at this location for the night.”
  • Custom Message – Send a custom message to family and friends. Not sure what I’d pre-programme for this button. Maybe something along the lines of “Packed up and about to head off again;” or “Reached civilisation and checking into a comfy bed!”.
  • Social Media – Share your GPS location and message on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Spot Adventures – A related website where you can share your progress on a Live Map, create adventures and add photos and stories

Still feeling certain I was doing the responsible thing, and not put off by the increasing costs, I even purchased one of the additional services at 38.89 euros (or £31.85);

  • Track Progress – This service allows friends and family to follow your progress online in real time or to save waypoints so you can review your entire route at a later date. SPOT Track Progress automatically sends your GPS location waypoint to a Google Map every 10 minutes.

Setting everything up online was pretty painless, and before long I had learnt how to share a map, and determine my pre-programmed messages.

So, armed with this new gadget, I set out, with Shaun and Jonathan, onto Dartmoor to see how it would do. Attached to the shoulder strap of my rucksack, it was secure and no hindrance to my mobility. It quietly got on with the job.

Looking back at the data, there was a period of non-activity, but this was no surprise. The device requires clear view of the sky and in dense woodland, the GPS signal is blocked. As we made our way through the Norsworthy and Narrator Plantations, the Track Progress update failed to be sent until we cleared the trees.

We had lunch at Sheep’s Tor, overlooking Burrator Reservoir, with a clear view of Plymouth Hoe on the horizon.

We then descended the Tor and made our way across to the Drizzlecombe Stone Row, where we found a comfy location right next to the River Plym.

I sent off my Check In message, and, as I had also set it up to SMS myself, the message came through within seconds.

Further testing didn’t happen until the next day, on the walk out. The inclement weather didn’t affect the device, and once again, when we had returned to Princetown, the message sent was received immediately.

When I finally got to take a look at the route online, over breakfast, in the Fox Tor Cafe, I was very pleased.  To view the map, go to HERE

Main concern I had was battery life. This is hardly a worry; three AAA Energizer Ultimate 8x batteries can last a long time, dependant on use – details HERE.

Summing up; I think I have found the reassurance for the Bibbulmun I was looking for, and I certainly have plenty of time to put the SPOT2 through its paces. Yes it is pricey, with the subscription, but considering I walk solo quite often, I think it is worth it to let family and friends know I’m still alive! When I’ll be on the other side of the world, next year, that is even more important.