The three beacons I tested were the ACR ResQLink, the SPOT, and the inReachExplorer.
Why did Bob ask me to test out these three devices?
Bob Wells is the owner of CheapRVLiving.com, a website set up to help people live their best lives by living in a van or other vehicle instead of a stick and brick (a house). Bob asked me to test these devices because he was often approached by van dwellers, and other nomads, who expressed their concern about camping alone in remote locations, and they tended to be especially concerned about what they would do if they broke down on a dirt road in the backwoods. So when I tried out these PLB’s, I was looking for several things:
1. Ease of use ~ For people like me who haven’t owned too many small gadgets in their lives, and may be technically challenged, elderly, or just have no interest in learning a complicated device. Prior to doing these tests, I didn’t own a smartphone and I actually purchased one specifically so I could use it with the inReach.
2. Affordability ~ Many (not all) Van dwellers are on a strict budget, such as a government pension, disability income, or are living on minimum wage, which is why they are living this lifestyle; it’s more affordable than living in a stick and brick. So, with those people in mind, I tried to ascertain which device (I felt) had the most safety features for the buck.
3. Best Choice for a Boondocker ~ I considered what I thought would be the best choice for someone living in a van or other recreational vehicle, full-time, year-round, and who would mostly be boondocking (camping for free on public lands).
FYI – Even though I’ve taken the above things into consideration in my tests, I’ll be talking about these devices in the first person (I, me, etc.) because all the above concerns also apply to me.
My decision and thoughts in the post below are only my opinions, and I’m not suggesting that you should follow this recommendation. I hope that my ideas will help to get those brain-juices flowing so that you can make the best decision for yourself and your needs.
Please read this post to learn more about the three devices: Personal Locator Beacons Part One – With Links to Videos.
And the one I chose to keep is…
Drum roll pleeeeeease…..
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Why I didn’t choose the ACR ResQLink+
There is little doubt that the ACR ResQLink is an incredible life-saving device, and if all you want is the ability to be rescued in a severe life-threatening emergency, then this no-fuss, no subscription, waterproof and resilient device just might be the PLB for you. It’s simple to use; just lift the antenna, face it to the open sky, push the button and wait for help, but it wasn’t the right fit for me. However, I have climbing friends whom I think it would be ideal for. They go out into the wilds in groups to climb some sheer rock face, and should one of them find themselves seriously injured on the side of a mountain this would be the ideal time to use their ACR. However, they are usually in groups, so if their vehicle breaks down or they get lost, they have each other to assist in fixing the vehicle or getting out.
I’m often on my own in the boonies, so I feel it’s important for me to have a way to get help should I hurt myself in a none life-threatening event, or if my vehicle were to break down on a dirt road 40-miles from anywhere, in addition to being able to send out an SOS if the worst should happen.
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Why I didn’t choose the inReach Explorer
I really liked this device, and I vacillated for a long time whether I wanted to keep the inReach or the SPOT.
We decided to purchase the Freedom Expedition Plan for one month for me to try out, so in addition to using the navigation features I would be able to text back and forth as much as my heart desired, and also get weather reports should I feel the need. I have to be honest though, having never used an instrument other than a compass and map to find my way around before, I caught myself doing the whole hike and suddenly realizing I’d forgotten to test out the navigation features on the device. Old habits die hard I guess.
Also, I found the inReach a little overwhelming. Learning how to use a smartphone, and a GPS device with navigation features, waypoints, mapping, texting, route-finding, Facebook posting, along with an online program to sync it with and more, required some commitment to studying the user manual. I hadn’t used such a device before, so this wasn’t as simple as just registering the device and then going out and using it.
When we got the final bill, the total for the month including additional fees was $114.67. To learn more about all the features of this device, please visit part one of this two-part series, I’m not going to cover it in this blog post because it’s too complicated and off topic.
Of course, there are other subscription choices, so I researched what my subscription options were if I chose to keep the inReach. My decision is based mostly on the affordability of the plan and getting as many safety features as I can for the lowest price as I mentioned in #2 above.
The safety plan starts as low as $11.95 a month, but I believe it comes to about $15.00 a month with the various additional fees.
The good: I thought that $15 a month sounded pretty good; The safety plan included 10 text messages a month and unlimited preset messages so I could check-in often and let family and friends know where I was and that all was well. I could get a basic weather forecast for the cost of a text, or pay for a premium weather report should I need it. I liked the idea of being able to text a message to someone if I was delayed on the trail for some reason, or for explaining my emergency situation should I need to get help, and figured that if I went over the limit of 10 texts and had to start paying for them, well, it would be worth it to save my life. I was very tempted indeed.
Roadside Assistance? Then I started researching the possibility of getting roadside assistance with the inReach and realized that the only way would be to text a friend and ask them to call for a tow for me via my insurance company’s roadside assistance service (which is very affordable but has limitations). So getting roadside assistance is possible, however, if I wasn’t on a paved road but was 25-miles down a rutted dirt two-track with deep sand, the tow out would be at my expense and that can cost a LOT of money, and since my living budget is $500 a month, that could be a huge financial hit.
I vacillated some more and decided that as much as I loved all the bells and whistles available with the inReach, being able to get towed out of the backwoods at no extra cost was more important to me.
And the final reason, is one you might not expect: While I had this device in my possession, I found myself texting back and forth to my friends and family fairly often and thwarting off the loneliness of being on my own in the middle of nowhere with no company, much the way many people do by sharing texting on their phones, or sharing things on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and other social platforms when they are all alone in their home. I used it to get the weather once during some stormy weather in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and I used it to see if a guy I knew in Utah was free to come and explore a slot canyon with me. It was wonderful in so many ways…
However, one of the reasons I go out into the backwoods away from people and cell service is to actually get away from people and cell service, so that I can immerse myself in nature without the distractions of the modern world and of other peoples lives and other pressing matters. The idea of going out into remote places on my own (at least sometimes) is to be alone, and learn to embrace being alone, and even learn to embrace being lonely should that occur. With a satellite texting machine sitting on my dashboard I found myself reaching for it when I felt a little lonely, or scared, or undecided, and often checked it to see if anyone had been in touch, and I was annoyed with myself for this, and after a while, I got annoyed with the actual device!
There I was, out in this stunning, wild, rugged, remote location, but instead of melding into nature completely and letting the rest of the world vanish from my psyche, I was being distracted by this piece of modern equipment, and it’s invisible tentacles were drawing me back into civilization, and civilization is what I was trying to get away from.
And so I turned my eyes to the SPOT instead…
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Why I Chose the SPOT
Tested for a Year: I’ve used the SPOT-Gen3 for a whole year now. I’ve activated the check-in feature on it at every campsite I’ve stayed at during that year, except in the summer when I was working in the Colorado mountains and pretty much only had two campsites ( both on private property). I’ve activated the tracking features on it on many of my hikes but not all of them, however, I always carry it with me. Fortunately, I’ve not had to activate the SOS feature.
This device is simple to use. You have three kinds of messages to send out, which you create on your SPOT account online, then upload to the device. If you choose to activate the SOV, then one of the buttons becomes dedicated purely as a roadside assistance button. This is a very simple device to use, and it comes with the ability to post your location on Facebook and notify your family where you are, and with the tracking they can even follow your hike by logging into a website which you create a password for.
Roadside Assistance with SOV: In June of 2017 I broke down on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I couldn’t get a cell reception or internet reception, and although there were hundreds of cars passing by, not one of them stopped to see why I had my hood up and ask if I was in need of help. This was my chance to test out the SPOT, so I pushed the button that was dedicated purely to SOV (Save Our Vehicle), and sure enough, a few hours later a tow truck showed up ready to tow me away, at no additional cost to me.
The SOV is an option that can be added to the basic service, and it covers roadside assistance from anywhere in the US. Yes, ANYWHERE, no matter how remote, even dirt roads. It includes five assistance calls a year, and tows up to 50-miles, and it only costs $30.00 extra on top of the $149.99 basic service plan (as of January 2018). To learn more about this please see my post: Using the S.O.V. Feature on the SPOT Device, which (hopefully) has all the information you’ll need. I also made a YouTube Video of this experience which you can watch here: Using the SPOT S.O.V. Feature When I Broke Down on Trail Ridge Road.
Basic but Adequate: I can’t text message with the SPOT, but I can let the family know where I am and that I’m okay with the ‘OK’ button. I can let family and friends know that I’m in need of assistance that is none life-threatening by activating the message button. I can get help if my vehicle conks out at the side of the road by activating the SOV button, and I can put out an SOS call if I get into a dire emergency.
I can’t use it to navigate, route find or find my way home if I get lost, but I have a compass for that, and I love maps. Even more so, I love testing my ability to route find even without a map and compass, by using my mind to remember landscape features, along with common sense and intuition. I’m not saying I’m an expert at this and will never get lost, I’m merely saying that I love to practice it to keep my senses tuned; we could call it a use it or lose it type of attitude.
However, it just so happens that someone gave me an eTrex Vista Personal Navigator GPS Device the other day. I’d already made my decision to choose the SPOT, but now I have this device in addition to the SPOT, so I actually do have the ability to find my way back to camp if I get lost, assuming my batteries are good and I remembered to create a waypoint before I left the trailhead. The only thing I can’t do is have a conversation with another person, but I can still get rescued, and that is the most important thing.
What Tipped the Scales? Without a doubt, the ability to get roadside assistance from anywhere is what tipped the scales for me. If the inReach offered the same roadside assistance program as the SPOT, I would have gone with the inReach. For others, this may not be an issue. If you can afford to have your vehicle towed out of the backwoods then I think I’d recommend the inReach, but for someone who has to be very careful with their money, I recommend the SPOT.
It works out at $20.00 a month for the basic service plan and the SOV, and for that, you get peace of mind knowing that if you have an accident on the trail, or break down 40-miles down a dirt road you will be rescued. I cannot stress how much better I feel driving into some of the more remote parts of Utah when I have the SPOT with me. I’m still going to be careful hiking, after all, I don’t want a broken leg or a rattlesnake bite, and I’m not going to drive like a crazy person because vehicle repairs are expensive, but should something go wrong, I have help at the touch of a button and that makes my backwoods experience so much more enjoyable.
And that’s it. This concludes my review of the PLBs. If you’d like to see some video’s that Bob Wells and I created, please see part one or visit the Personal Locator Beacon playlist on my YouTube Channel.
If you wish to purchase a SPOT or one of the other devices, please visit my Nomad Store.
Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature
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