Remote Communications Test                                                            April 20, 2017 

This is a discussion of remote communications options with an in the field side by side test of different options.  I compared the inReach communicator, Spot locator and a satellite phone.

Based on my side by side in the field test of an inReach communicator and Spot locator it is clear that the inReach is the most reliable communication device for several reasons.    I’ve used a Spot for several years and last year I picked up an inReach.  When I had both units activated at the same time I went out in my local forested western Washington countryside for a 1 hr side by side test.    I live in forested river valley and made a large loop with some areas in the valley and some on top of a forested ridge line.  Over the 1 hour time I attempted to send a message from the Spot and inReach about every 15 minutes for a total of 6 attempted messages from each unit under the exact same conditions.

One difference between the Spot and inReach is that the inReach will tell you if a message has been successfully sent however there is no way in the field to tell if a Spot message has been sent.  As I proceeded on my walk and sending messages I knew that each of the six messages I sent had been successfully sent from the inReach.   Both units were set to send a check in message to my home email and a text to my cell phone as well as my wife’s computer and cell phone. 

When I got back home and checked for messages I found that all six inReach messages had went to all four addresses.  That was no surprise because I knew that they had been sent in the field.  Of the six messages I attempted to send with the Spot only one was actually sent.  That is five messages that did not go through and only one that made it.  The one that made it from the Spot was sent in a relatively open area adjacent to a river.    

Over the several years that I used the Spot in heavy timber to open country it normally worked about 75% of the time.  Over the last year with several trips with the inReach it has worked 100% of the time.   Many of these trips were in heavy old growth timber.   Some times is takes a few minutes to send a message but so far it has worked great. The Iridium satellite system that the inReach uses to send messages covers the whole earth every nine minutes and the inReach only need a little window to send or receive a text or email message. 

Even if you discount my experienced reliability of the inReach over the Spot there is another huge advantage to the inReach.  The inReach will do two way text or email communication and the Spot will do only one way communication (sometimes).   This two way communication with the inReach is a major reason most folks that look closely at the features choose an inReach over the Spot.   The subscription cost is about comparable and can actually be less with the inReach.   The Spot uses the Globalstar system for communication that does not cover the whole earth.

I also had an opportunity to test a satellite phone under similar conditions.  In timbered areas I was likely to make a phone connection but every time I got connected I was soon cut off as the satellite moved past any small opening in the trees.  The phone I was using uses the same Iridium satellite system as the inReach.  The inReach only needs a small window to send or receive a message and the satellite phone needs a continuous clear opening to maintain a conversation.   Other then not being able to maintain a conversation without a clear sky, the sat phone cost much more and does not give GPS locations with each call/message.  

Anyway, that is my fist hand experience.  I would only recommend the inReach as best current technology to send and receive emergency messages in remote areas.

Jim Thode