Spot Gen3 Tracking

When Madelyn and I set out on our two-day methods trial run, we tracked our movement with a personal locator beacon, or PLB. In this case, we used a Spot Gen3 that I purchased for the Wyoming trip.

Spot clipped to my backpack.

Cost: $150.00 (but after a 50% rebate, costs $75.00) + $150 – 200.00 for an annual service plan.
Weight: appx 4 oz
Size (inches): 3.5 x. 3.5 x 1

The Spot device is pretty cool – it pings the user’s location at designated intervals (in our case, five minutes) and sends each coordinate pair to the Spot server for 30-day storage. The user can then access the points later for mapping purposes, or just to know where he/she has been.

There two photos from the Spot app show how the device tracked my movement throughout McKinney Falls. The satellite map view shows our path to a river testing site. The standard map view shows our GPS points for four different test runs. You can switch easily between views – both are useful for different purposes.

Even cooler, Spot is able to transmit GPS pings to friends, family, social media, and emergency personnel. Four buttons on the PLB allow the user to send a pre-written check-in message (“Made it safely!”), a personal message (“I miss you. Talk to you in two days!”), a non-life threatening emergency ping (ex: flat tire with no cell service), or a life-threatening emergency ping (ex: stranded in a crevasse).

At McKinney Falls State Park, we tested the PLB to see if it could follow our path through forest and on trails. We also wanted to know how far we’d walked with our heavy packs, just for funsies.

A few things I learned:

  • The Spot device is better suited for backcountry use or in remote areas where cell service is limited. In situations where you have cell service, apps that use cell GPS are better for tracking movement.
  • The Spot device is a great one-way communication device, but is more reliable sending messages through email as opposed to SMS texting. We’re on Project Fi, so the text SMS messages did not deliver when using the “check-in” and “message” functions. However, the messages did reach through email reliably.
  • Spot has the ability to track on more frequent intervals at a higher cost, but it probably isn’t worth it. at least for my purposes, the five-minute tracking is sufficient.

Below are images taken from Google Earth to display our routes. I imported points from Spot (technically, I called Spot and requested the .csv file). Then, I outlined our route and used Google Earth’s measurement tool to approximate distance. This is the methodology I’ll apply in the field, but it probably won’t be as easy in a remote location since I won’t have a trail to guide the path I draw for our route. Instead, I’ll have to do my best to look back on the five-minute points and connect the dots using best judgement. Given that route tracking is only a secondary function of the Spot device (it’s primarily for emergency communication), this doesn’t really bother me.


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