SPOT Gen3 Review
Safety is a big concern when running long distances out on the trails. As the distance go longer and more extreme, the higher the likelihood that something can go wrong. Ultrarunning has a great community of runners that sometimes gather together for the long run adventure, but unfortunately this does not always work out as work, family and other priorities make group outings difficult to attend. For me, it is rare that I run with other people because of odd work hours and family obligations and because of this my family worries greatly about my safety.
I often go on very long outings in some very backcountry locations, sometimes off trail or in deep areas where the chances of someone finding me may be weeks or longer. Almost every national park and most national Forests, there is zero cell service. Calling for help if injured is not going to happen. My only option at the time is to make a copy of my maps and trace out my intended route.
After talking with friends and family that were concerned I decided the SPOT Gen3 was my best option. When I had the opportunity to do a product test of the Gen3 I was excited to see how it works.
What is SPOT Gen3
The SPOT Gen3 is a satellite based one-way communication device. It works when your cell phone won’t. This gives you a chance to let family know you are ok or need help. It comes with 3 buttons to set custom messages that you can send including a button to start tracking, and an emergency button.
- I’m ok button. I set to say “Everything is going as planned”. I usually push at the start of a trip, halfway through, and when done.
- Custom button. I set to say “I am fine but going to be later than expected”. I use this when I get lost or taking way longer than I thought (it happens often).
- Help button. I set to say “I need help, don’t call search and rescue yet”. I use it for an emergency that I think friends can help me out of.
- SOS button. Push this and Spot will send search and rescue. Likely a helicopter will come and a hospital visit is happening. Only use this in a real life emergency. Helicopters cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.
- Tracking button. Push this to start recording GPS tracking onto Google Maps. More about this later.
SPOT Gen3 Size and Weight
The Gen3 is the third generation of the company’s one-way communication device. Through the three generations the device has gone from a large 7oz case with 2 AAA batteries to 4oz and 4 AAA batteries. It is about the size of a deck of cards and can fit in almost any pocket. The device comes with 4 AAA lithium batteries. Through the three months I tested this device I never had to replace the batteries.
Using the SPOT Gen3
In order for good satellite communication the SPOT Gen3 requires clear view of the sky. There is a clip attachment location on the top of the device to be connected to a pack. I tried this and couldn’t handle the swinging and bouncing it was causing. My hydration pack has a mesh rear pocket and I was able to get a clear signal with it in there. I also tried it in my closed pocket of my ski pants while out ski mountaineering and it was able to get a signal through it.
I never had a missed message that I sent, and it was always showing the exact location of my position. I was very impressed with its accuracy and I feel confident that it will work if I actually need it for help.
Communication through the device is limited. It only sends the 4 messages I listed above and only goes out (won’t receive messages). Through the Spot website (www.findmespot.com) you can choose up to 10 contacts by text or email the device will send out. When messages are sent the contacts chosen by text, they will get themessage but it will not show any locations of where the messages are being sent. The contacts chosen by email work better because it gives the contact a link to click that shows a pinpoint of where you are. I decided to choose 5 people with a text and an email to each. Most people have a smart phone now and can check their email to find the location. I hope that Spot in the future generation will give a text with a link attached.
Tracking with the SPOT Gen3 is the limiting factor if this product. I was not thrilled with how well it worked, but look forward to improvements in the future. You decide how often the tracking is sending GPS coordinates in the amounts of 2.5, 5, 10, 30, and 60 minute intervals. You can set up a live tracking website page that links to Facebook so friends and family can see what you are up to, but unfortunately, the page only lasts 7 days. This is not long enough for big backpacking trips.
For those of you who are attempting a speed record or an FKT of a trail can set up the page for proof of your mission. The bad thing is that even on the extreme tracking of 2.5 minute intervals the clarity of the route is poor. It would not show someone cutting switchbacks or cutting big corners of the route. I was not at all impressed with the tracking ability or how poor the website is for viewing your trips. It is nowhere close to as accurate as a GPS watch or other GPS recording devices. The reason for this is likely the need for larger battery that it would take to send enough signals to make it more accurate. I did a long run in the canyons of the Western States Trail with my Garmin GPS watch that I uploaded to Strava and compared it to the SPOT Gen3. (See images above and below.) The SPOT Gen3 is a great option for emergencies but not for recording your routes.
You can purchase the SPOT Gen3 online or from outdoor retailers like REI and Cabela’s for around $150. You also have to pay for an additional annual fee of $150 for the basic and another $50 on top to add extreme tracking. Seems very expensive but with over 4200 recorded rescues that Spot has done because of their products it is worth it. Plus SPOT owns the market for one-way communication devices. Your only other option is to buy a heavy and more expensive Satellite phone. I have been using the Gen3 as a loaner just for this review but I will be purchasing one when I am forced to return it. It’s a small cost to have your life saved in a real emergency. I still carry my cell phone with me so I can make calls when cell service is available. This is not a replacement for an avalanche beacon when traveling in avalanche terrain.
The addition of a GPS messenger like the SPOT Gen3 is a great tool to have. However, having safety tools with you is not an invitation to do more dangerous adventures. TIME had written an article about the statistics of adding seatbelts to cars. The article analyzed the rise of car accidents after they were installed due to people having the feeling they were safer, which changed their driving behaviors. Going into the backcountry can be a very rewarding and beautiful experience. The best use of having this device is to not ever need it.
Do your research with maps and check weather before going. Take an avalanche safety course and carry an avalanche beacon with you in the mountains in the winter. Slowly increase the distance of your adventures as you will gain more knowledge every trip.
Safe travels and have fun! The world is our playground.
This review was written by Luke Garten from Auburn, CA. He runs on the Inside Trail Racing Team and usually runs 70 to 80 miles a week while training for ultramarathon races or adventure runs in the High Sierras. Luke is also a father, husband, occasional cyclist, and a professional Equipment Mechanic. He reviewed the Stryd Powermeter for URP here.
The product was provided to URP for testing purposes without any expectation of a positive review. All words, thoughts, an images are from Luke/URP. And yes, Luke has to return it. I know where he lives.