A while back I talked about some of my strategies for personal safety on the trail. One of the pieces of that strategy is a GPS tracking device. Whether I’m traveling by car, motorcycle, or foot, this technology is something I greatly appreciate. Especially when I’m solo.
Why carry one?
There are various mindsets about carrying a GPS tracker. Some folks feel it plays into paranoia, fear, and an unreasonable need to stay connected. However, most people I talk to like having access to help in unexpected situations. When I’m out of cell phone range on an adventure, being able to do the equivalent of dialing 911 doesn’t seem over-the-top to me.
Is it necessary? Of course not. But given how accessible the technology is, I prefer having a means to communicate in an emergency. It’s a small, easy precaution that has big benefits when the shit hits the fan.
Why DeLorme inReach?
Up until now I’ve been using a SPOT Connect. It’s served me relatively well for most of the time I’ve had it. Then it failed me entirely at the beginning of a 1,500-mile solo motorcycle trip last September. Not cool.
After a lengthy discussion with Delorme reps at Overland Expo East, it became clear it was time to retire my old soldier and think bigger. Delorme has upped their game considerably in the time since I originally compared SPOT and inReach many years ago.
Apples and oranges…
Here’s the deal: the various SPOT trackers and Delorme inReach devices are not the same beasts at all even though on the surface they perform the same basic function. Yes, they are both GPS trackers. And that’s where the devices part ways in terms of functionality.
Here’s a breakdown of what I like about the inReach:
- inReach allows for two-way communication, SPOT tracking devices do not. Is that a big deal? That’s up to you. Here are a couple of things to think about if you are uncertain. First, if you need help, with SPOT you don’t know if or when the message was received and when you might expect help. That will impact your decisions about how to help yourself in the meantime. Second, you may be having a fine adventure but something has gone wrong at home and they can’t let you know. I think it’s probably clear where I stand on that… I prefer the richer communication.
- Delorme’s inReach uses the Iridium network of satellites whereas SPOT uses Globalstar. That means the inReach has much better coverage worldwide. My experience with SPOT’s coverage was often very sketchy. So far the inReach coverage has vastly outperformed SPOT.
- The inReach has some useful features like an altimeter, compass, waypoint setting, social media interfaces, and trip stats to go along with the main feature of tracking your position and hailing for help.
- An internal, rechargeable battery means charging is simple. No need to carry spare single-purpose batteries like with my SPOT. I can recharge from my bike as I ride or from my Goal Zero Venture 30 (click here to buy at REI) that can charge any of my devices.
- The cell phone app is a nice interface but the device still works without the interface. My SPOT connect needed that connection in order to use anything more than the SOS feature and for people to track me online.
- Both companies offer online mapping for your friends and family to track your progress but again, DeLorme outperforms SPOT in that function. The interface simply has more features and better usability. Different subscription levels offer more precision on location detail.
- Overall, the DeLorme inReach will cost you more on initial device purchase as well as the recurring subscription. However, put in context, you’re getting much more value for the investment. And DeLorme offers various levels of subscription service as well as the ability to switch between them on a monthly basis or even temporarily suspend your subscription.
- The SOS feature on the inReach is far more sophisticated than SPOT. You can detail the situation you need help with and you can cancel it if you’ve mistakenly triggered it.
- While the inReach far-and-away provides more functionality overall, programming and entering info from the device itself is cumbersome. The good news is that it’s easy enough to set up online and bypass having to inch your way through menus and entering data on the device itself.
- The inReach doesn’t import .gpx files for geocaching. That realization elicited quite a poetic string of profanity from me because I really, really want a geocaching device that works out of cell signal but I don’t want to carry yet another device. So “Dear DeLorme, please make this happen. I will be your biggest fangirl. You owe me for the atrocity that is the PN-40…” (see below) (UPDATE 3/21/16: My initial information was that the device didn’t support .gpx files… BUT it turns out the Explorer does and I know have geocaches loaded on my device. So I guess I’m officially DeLorme’s biggest fangirl. 🙂 ]
Why did I wait so long?
My initial entry into the GPS tracker arena was colored by a few factors. My first look at both DeLorme and SPOT options left me underwhelmed so I didn’t get one at all. After a while, I figured something was better than nothing so I had to make a choice. Both companies got less-than-favorable customer service reviews at the time so it came down to cost and experience. The SPOT Connect I chose was a little less expensive in initial device cost as well as average subscription cost.
One other nebulous factor was feeling like the increased functionality of the DeLorme inReach was simply feature creep in my life that I didn’t really need.
The real tipping factor was my utter detest of the DeLorme PN-40 which I’d been using for geocaching. It had been nothing but a frustration of technical difficulties and I can honestly say I’ve never hated a piece of gear so much in my life. As you can imagine, I had a very unfavorable opinion of DeLorme overall as a result of my experience with the PN-40. So note to companies… a bad experience stays with your customers a very, very long time.
The big picture…
If you’re in the market for a tracker, I hope this information helps. I think it’s quite clear I’m sold on DeLorme’s inReach Explorer and now count it as one of my essential pieces of gear.
Disclaimer: Delorme gave me a professional discount on my purchase of the inReach Explorer to test and review the product here on Val in Real Life. My opinions are my own. Your experience and results may vary.
Adventure on, friends!
[Update: DeLorme was purchased by Garmin as of April 2016 and now offers several versions of this product.]