I camp alone (my wife says her camping days are over) but my wife and I like to stay in touch. She likes knowing I'm okay, and I don't want her to worry. So I usually try to call or text at least once a day.
This year I want to spend some time in the mountains, far from civilization along some remote forest road. Probably no cell signal for days. I wanted something that wouldn't cost much over time and would allow texting
, and maybe a bit of tracking, via satellite anywhere
I went, for 2-3 months out of the year. And of course the ability to hit an SOS button for rescue if the SHTF
sounds nice. So I researched these little satellite communication gizmos and wound up buying a BivyStick. The following was my thought process, ymmv. BTW, most if not all of the following devices have an SOS feature and also will indicate one's location coordinates in with a text.
First consideration, I want one that has the best chance of communicating with a satellite. The Iridium satellite based devices seem to have a better track record of hooking up than the Globalstar based ones such as SPOT. Besides that, Spot's lowest monthly fee is $15, plus a re-activation fee (each time I want to re-up for a month) of $20, plus a $25 annual fee. So I eliminated the Spot, even though the Spot Gen4's usage of common rechargeable or alkaline cells greatly appeals to me versus a built-in lithium battery which, when it eventually dies, renders the unit useless.
Iridium based devices include the Garmin InReach units (Explorer+ and mini were the main candidates I looked at), the Zoleo, the BivyStick Blue (not the older, huge Orange), and the Somewear. I looked at initial cost, recurring plan cost, and features of each.
I have some Garmin GPS products and I haven't been overly thrilled with their interfaces (not as intuitive as I'd like) and how they support their products (like, free maps for "lifetime" is not my
lifetime, and the maps no longer fit in their entirety on the device). The Mini offers much in a small package, but reviewers sometimes comment that it's hard to deal with the tiny screen and the user interface. The Explorer+ is interesting, but largest and heaviest of the ones I considered, and I'd rather not have a 2-in-1 device especially when I already have an Etrex Vista; besides, if I don't pay for satellite service, will the GPS still give full functionality? The lowest cost, no-commitment Freedom Plan is about $15/month for 10 custom texts (but unlimited preset check-in texts), but $35/year annual fee tacked on. Say I want the unit active for 3 months out of the year, that's $80. Plus they charge a bit extra for track points to be put on the map for family to see your progress.
The $200 Zoleo was next on my radar. Their Basic plan is $20/mo including 25 messages. It can be suspended for a $4/month fee, which holds one's assigned email and phone text number. I don't think the Zoleo offers tracking (allowing track marks on a map as one moves, to be viewed by one's family and in the future by oneself). For 3 months of use that comes to $96. Zoleo will automatically choose cell or wifi if available before rolling to satellite link.
The $280 Somewear (unlike the Zoleo and Bivy) has no external buttons for sending check-in texts, but it does have a physical SOS button. All texting therefore is custom via the phone app; if one's phone dies, I think maybe the only thing that works is the SOS. Like Zoleo, it will use cell or wifi if available before looking to satellite. They offer an 'ultralight' annual plan for $8.33/month ($100/yr) with 10 messages, or the lowest month-to-month plan is $15 for 20 messages/150 tracking pin drops, and free pauses in service (but email/text contact info changes the next time one subscribes for a month or so). For 3 months of use that's $45, not bad! I thought long and hard about this unit; it was in my final two (along with Bivy). It would be thrifty if I wanted to do a lot of inexpensive tracking; setting it to drop a pin once per hour, I could track myself just about all day and it would count like having sent one message. A couple of things I didn't like about Somewear were the form factor (round things are easier to drop, maybe) and the attachment method (when that little shock cord ages a bit, will it get sloppy and slip off the hook, losing the unit along the trail?)
The $350 BivyStick Blue is an upgrade from their earlier Orange model, which was clunky due to its oversized battery and ability to use it as a backup recharge power source. The Blue is slim, trim, lightweight, and has good attachment features: a large hole in the body as well as a 1/4"-20 female mount point. It can utilize GoPro mounting. It can't default for cell or wifi signals, but I can check my phone and if I have cell service I can use that without the device! No activation fee. No annual fee. They promote user freedom, start and stop your service as desired (although one will get a new email & phone text number when restarting). $18 gets 20 credits, good for the month, but if service is continued into the next month any unused credits for the first month roll over to the next month. Each credit is good for one action:tracking for an hour, sending or receiving 1 custom text, getting 1 weather report, sending 1 location share. Unlimited pre-set check-in texts. 3 months of Bivy service will run me $54, and I could theoretically check in to my wife every 2 minutes if I wanted to (wanted to drive her crazy, that is).
Check-ins can have my coordinates attached. Pre-set check ins can be via the phone app or the dedicated device button. Lights indicate status of messaging and of satellite signal (app tells this also). As with most of the other units, maps and other data can be accessed via the app. Bivy was recently purchased by ACR and they're transitioning to a yellow color, but the unit and app are the same otherwise.
For someone whose usage pattern is different than mine or who values different features more highly, the choice could be entirely different.