Here is why the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger is a must-have piece of gear for hunters and other lovers of the outdoors. It can potentially save your life.
If you’re like me, many of the areas that you love to hunt have limited or no cell phone service. Obviously, this can make it very difficult to get help if you run into trouble (like this guy). Fortunately, the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger is specifically designed for these situations and can help you get assistance in an emergency or just check in with your loved ones to let them know that you’re alive and well.
The SPOT Gen3 is a small (~3.5 inches x 2.5 inches), lightweight (~4 ounces), GPS messenger that is designed to allow you to communicate from remote locations around the world. Since it is a GPS messenger, the SPOT Gen3 is not dependent upon cell service for communication, making it perfect for backcountry hunters, fishermen, hikers, and campers who spend a great deal of time outside in areas with limited cell service.
Where the Spot Gen3 Works
As you can see on the map below, the SPOT Gen3 will work in the vast majority of places in the world. Unless you spend time in extremely isolated parts of the world like Antarctica, extreme southern South America, or Siberia, you should be able to communicate using a SPOT Gen3 with no issues.
Features of the SPOT Gen3
Most prominently, the SPOT Gen3 allows users to send a distress signal with just a push of a button in case of an emergency. This sends your GPS coordinates along with a message saying you urgently need help to their emergency response coordination center, which is manned 24 hours a day.
The SPOT Gen3 will continue to broadcast your GPS coordinates and distress signal every five minutes until you either tell it to stop or until the batteries are dead. The people at the emergency response center will coordinate a rescue attempt with the appropriate local authorities and will also notify your pre-identified emergency contacts.
Obviously, this is a function that should only be used in a serious emergency. For this reason, I cannot comment personally on how effective their rescue service is. That being said, SPOT has a detailed list of instances that users have used a SPOT GPS messenger in an emergency and have been rescued on their website that you can peruse.
However, I am very familiar with the other features of the SPOT Gen3. In addition to the ability to send an S.O.S. message, the SPOT Gen3 also allows users to send a series of custom messages to friends and family. For the vast majority of users, these are the functions that will be used most often.
As you can see in the photo below, the SPOT Gen3 has five buttons, each with a different function. From left to right, top to bottom, those buttons are: Help/SPOT Assist, S.OS. (covered above), Custom Message, Track, and Check-In. Both the S.O.S. and Help/SPOT Assist buttons have a cover on them to prevent you from inadvertently pushing them.
More on the details of what each button does below.
- Help/SPOT Assist: Gives your contacts your GPS location and tells them to request non-emergency help (like for a flat tire). The big difference between this button and the S.O.S. button is that it only sends a message to your contacts, not the emergency response center.
- Custom Message: Gives your contacts your GPS location and sends a second (different) pre-determined message. While you can make the message say anything, I program this button to send a message saying “Everything is okay and I’m heading home.”
- Track: Automatically saves your GPS location every few minutes and allows contacts to track your movements using Google Maps.
- Check-In: Notifies your contacts that everything is fine and gives them your GPS location (see photo below). I use this button to give my wife a daily notification that I’m alive and well during extended hunting trips.
Users can log into the SPOT website and custom build each individual message (except the S.O.S. message) and choose a specific combination of email addresses and phone numbers to send them to via text message and/or email.
Below are two examples of what messages from the SPOT Gen3 look like when received by both email and text message. In the interest of privacy, I obscured part of the GPS coordinates and the websites to see the location of the device on a map. However, the SPOT Gen3 sends GPS coordinates with five digits after the decimal point and has a location accuracy of approximately 20 feet (5 m) according to the SPOT website.
Sending a message using the SPOT Gen3 is very easy: once the device is turned on, simply push and hold the appropriate message button until a green light appears above the button. After a few seconds, the green light above the letters “GPS” at the top of the beacon will flash, followed by the green light above the “Message” button on the top right of the SPOT Gen3.
If you see a red light flash, the SPOT Gen3 does not have a good connection with the satellite and you need to move to a location with a better view of the sky. I have only seen this happen when I tried to use it inside, though it could also happen if you tried to use it in a canyon or a similar location.
One thing to keep in mind about the SPOT Gen3 is that it requires a paid subscription to use. Their subscription plan features and costs vary, but they start at $99.99 a year and go up from there.
What I Like About the SPOT Gen3
I’ve used my SPOT Gen3 extensively while hunting in some very isolated spots in northeast Washington and east Texas. In both cases, I was hunting in places far removed from cell phone service. However, I was able to contact my wife each day with regular assurances that I was alive and well. I also felt confident that I would have been able to call for help using my SPOT Gen3 if I would have experienced an emergency.
During those hunts, I never had a message fail to get through and I never had an issue with my SPOT Gen3. Even when I was in my car, in extremely thick woods, or inside my tent, my SPOT Gen3 was always able to get a good connection with the satellite and successfully send my messages quickly and accurately.
What I Don’t Like About the SPOT Gen3
While the SPOT Gen3 is a very good piece of gear, it is not perfect. One of my biggest complaints is that there is no way to tell if my messages were received by the people I was sending them to. The SPOT Gen3 does provide confirmation that it successfully sent your message, but you just have to assume that the message was successfully delivered and that your intended recipient was in an area with cell service, his or her phone was on, etc. I personally have not had an issue with a message not getting delivered by my SPOT Gen3, but it is still something that I worry about.
In this same vein, you must remember that the SPOT Gen3 will only send messages and cannot receive them. So, you can tell your friends and family that you are alive and well, but they have no way to let you know that they are experiencing some sort of emergency and you need to cut your trip short. This is not so much a complaint about the SPOT Gen3 as it is a warning about the limitations of the device.
My last issue with the SPOT Gen3 is with the subscription service. While the company advertises a “monthly” cost, if you read the fine print, it actually comes with a minimum of a 12-month term, so you cannot go month to month with your subscription. Once again, not as much of a complaint as it is something to keep in mind.
All in all, I’m very happy with my SPOT Gen3 and I recommend it to backcountry hunters and other lovers of the outdoors who spend a great deal of time away from civilization and reliable cell phone service. While the system is not perfect, it is still a reliable and reasonably priced way to communicate when you are in remote areas of the world.
Get one here for $169.95 or find a retailer near you.
All photos, unless specified, via John McAdams
Like what you see here? You can read more great hunting articles by John McAdams at The Big Game Hunting Blog. Follow him on Twitter @TheBigGameHunt