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1/16/2013
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Satellite GPS Works Off Grid

The Delorme InReach is a combination GPS on steroids and satellite communications link for all those who go boldly where few others go, and want a way to track their movements and call for help if need be.

I hate to refer to anything as "X on steroids", but the Delorme InReach really does earn that description.

inReach is for when conventional phone GPS isn't enough. It's an industrial-strength GPS radio and two-way satellite communications system for people who go off the grid: hikers, explorers, and folks who work in or travel through remote or rural areas. You can send predetermined messages from your location via SMS, and even send an SOS message to GEOS Search and Rescue in the event you're stranded somewhere remote. The rescue service is international, although it is only free in North America (U.S. and Canada). In other parts of the world, according to Delorme, "...rescue fees will depend on the local rules and regulations associated with wilderness rescue. You can buy rescue insurance through our partner GEOS."

The inReach itself is about the size of two packs of cigarettes, back-to-back, with a stubby antenna and a belt clip loop. Buttons on the face of the unit control power, mapping of movements, and sending of messages. The SOS button is protected by a slider: it's next to impossible to trigger it accidentally. Just as well, since sending a spurious rescue message to GEOS is not something to take lightly, for obvious reasons. You also need to set up not one but two emergency contacts for the system (e.g., a spouse and a relative), so that GEOS can contact someone if they must.

The Delorme InReach. Thank you Thing. Click for larger image.

Since I have little wilderness nearby to get lost in save maybe the Pine Barrens, I took the inReach for a trip across Long Island and into New York City. Rather than hang it off any of my gear and risk having it torn off, I tossed it into the top pocket of a backpack, which didn't interfere with the signal in any perceptible way. The SOS uses the satellite uplink, so even in an area with zero cell coverage you should still be able to get a rescue call out. That said, some line-of-sight with the sky is required for the satellite link to work, so folks like cave-divers may not be able to rely on it.

Pair the inReach with a smartphone via Bluetooth, and you can use the Earthmate mapping app (for Android and iOS) to see maps of your location. Maps can be cached locally, so they will continue to work even when you have no actual data connection on the phone. The data garnered from your movements can also be viewed on-line via your account's "Map" section. Automatic status updates can also be sent from your position minutes on a pre-set schedule. The intervals are 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 1/2/4 hours.

Earthmate (Click for larger image)

Because I'm not fond of throwing batteries away, I tried out the inReach both with the provided AA lithium batteries and a set of NiMH rechargeables. The biggest problem with using rechargeables, something I've seen with other devices, is that the inReach may deliver a spurious "low battery" warning.

As with a cell phone, the inReach unit by itself requires a service plan to be useful. The most basic plan is $9.95 a month, with some limits on message rates. Higher-tier plans ($29.95 and $49.95) are also available, which raise the message-rate limits and add a few other features.

Name: Delorme inReach

A combination GPS and satellite communications link for all those who go boldly where few others go, and want a way to track their movements and call for help if need be.
Price: $249 (Service plans run from $9.95 to $49.95 per month
Pros:
  • Pairs with smartphones via Bluetooth to provide detailed mapping and tracking.
  • Can send and receive messages via SMS even when there's no cell coverage.
Cons:
  • Requires line-of-sight with the sky for best results.
  • Spurious errors with NiMH rechargeable batteries.
  • Service plan also required.

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