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How to Share a SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger on Group Backpacking Trips

Spot II Satellite GPS Messenger
Spot II Satellite GPS Messenger

On my last winter backpacking trip in the Presidential Range a few weeks ago, I hooked up my SPOT II Satellite GPS Messenger to send out twice daily status updates to my wife and the spouses of the other hikers who accompanied me. This is something that my wife and I have been doing for the past 3 years whenever I go on solo overnight trips or trips into more remote territory and it’s something that she finds comforting when I’m cut off from all other forms of communication. The SPOT II also works just about anywhere inthe world because the signal bounces off of Satellites and doesn’t require cell phone service or the Internet to function.

While it took a little bit of  education on my part to bring my friends and their wives up to speed on the SPOT II, it can be a useful tool for group expedition hikes where one person has a SPOT subscription (which costs me $160/year) and the others don’t AND you want to the ability to let significant others know that you are ok.

What follows is a detailed explanation of how to share one SPOT across multiple people on a group trip.

Non-Emergency Status Messages

While the SPOT II can be used to send out an emergency signal to Search and Rescue services, it is also capable of sending 3 different pre-canned status messages including the lat/lon coordinates of your current position. These are customarily set as follows, but you are free to tailor the messages for your own purposes.

  • All is Well
  • I am fine, but delayed.
  • This is not a life and death emergency, but I do need help at my current location.

Unfortunately, the SPOT isn’t foolproof when sending out status messages, which are relayed via a network of email servers to recipients after bouncing off a satellite. About 1 in 20 messages fail to get delivered, so my wife and I developed a system where I send her an OK message at breakfast and dinner each day, which usually ensures that one message gets through every 24 hours. My wife also knows not to panic when one or two consequtive messages are dropped.

Spot Satellite Messager 2 - Sample Ok Message
Spot II Satellite GPS Messager – Sample Ok Message

While it is possible to set the SPOT to continuously broadcast a lat/lon position every 15 minutes, I avoid this because it burns through a set of batteries every 2-3 days and I feel it provdes less useful information than a manually initiated message, even if it is pre-canned.

SPOT Device Profiles

Every SPOT II has a  device profile that you can set up and change on the FindMeSPOT web site.

Warning – the FindMeSPOT web site is very poorly designed and a bit quirky to use, so be patient and verify that everything you think you set up is working before you leave for a trip. 

SPOT Device Profile
SPOT Device Profile

In addition to defining your three pre-programmed messages, you can also specify a different set of email addresses that receive each message. For our Presidential Range trip, I set up all the messages to be cc-ed to my companions’ spouses. Later this spring, I’ll add the email address of Challenge Control to the messages (in addition to my wife) so they can track my progress when I hike coast-to-coast across Scotland in the TGO Challenge.

Emergency Instructions for SPOT Message Recipients

None of my conpanions or their spouses had any experience using a SPOT before, so I sent them detailed  instructions about how to interpret the messages they would be receiving and what to do in an actual emergency.

Here’s the email I sent to prepare them:


*****Please read this entire information sheet very carefully.******

Your husbands have given me your email addresses to add to the SPOT Satellite-Based Personal Locator Beacon that I will be carrying this weekend on our Presidential Traverse Hike Attempt.

I will be transmitting messages twice a day each morning at breakfast and at night when we set up camp.

The SPOT can transmit 4 different messages: 3 non-emergency status messages, and 1 search -and rescue distress call. You can only receive the non-emergency status messages, but that is still a comfort in knowing that we are ok and not in a life-threatening situation.

The three pre-programmed messages you may receive over the weekend are:

1) Hi – All is well. – Philip

2) I am fine, but delayed.

3) This is not a life and death emergency, but I do need help at my current location.

All of the messages will include a lat/lon location.

You should consider messages 1 & 2 to be status messages only.

If you receive message #3, please call the New Hampshire State Police at 1-603-223-4381 (Calling their 800 number will connect you to the MA state police which you don’t want). They are responsible for liaising with NH Fish and Game who will coordinate any backcountry assistance required. If the State Police dispatcher tries to conflate the call-out as an emergency make it clear to them that it is not a life and death situation. We do not want to take precious rescue resources away from someone who may need more urgent help. If the dispatcher does not understand that NH Fish and Game must be contacted to coordinate the rescue, explain it to them. Some of us have had to educate the state police dispatcher in the past, so be polite but forceful if required.

In the event of a real emergency, a satellite message is forwarded directly to Search and Rescue authorities with our lat/lon coordinates. My wife is the only person who will be contacted by the authorities since I am the SPOT owner. She has your phone numbers and email addresses and will contact you when she has information to pass along.

IMPORTANT: The SPOT Personal Locator Beacon is not a fool proof device and fails to send the pre-programmed status emails about 5-10% of the time. So, if you don’t get a status message every morning and night, don’t panic, and don’t call out a rescue if you don’t hear from us. Also be advised that cell phone coverage where will be hiking on Friday and Saturday is extremely poor. It is possible to receive voicemail messages at Mt Washington in my experience, so please leave a message with Alex if you need to reach us at 617-XXX-XXXX since he has indicated that he will be bringing a phone with him.

I have also shared a document with you on Google docs that has all of our contact information on it including your email addresses, phone numbers, and the hiker’s cell numbers. Please make sure you have access to it.

I will be adding additional information to that document before we leave including our planned route, car spot locations, and license plate numbers which is all information that search and rescue would want to have in case of an emergency.

I will be sending out a test ok message (#1) shortly after sending you this email. Could you please confirm receipt of it by this evening so I know that our notifications are properly set up.

Many thanks!



In the Event of an Actual Emergency

When you subscribe to the annual SPOT subscription service you can qualify for up to $50,000 of rescue insurance (per incident, up to $100,000 per year). See http://www.geosalliance.com/sar/SAR-tsandcs.html for details and exceptions.

However, if you have an emergency, there are a few things that you should know about when it comes to sharing a SPOT amongst the members of a group and who is liable for the cost of the rescue. Many thanks to my friend Alex or researching this information. For details, please contact SPOT directly.

  • The device owner is not liable for rescuer charges in the event they ‘press the button’ for somebody else.  They do, however, need to remain with them until help arrives, because otherwise the rescuers will think the victim is moving to somewhere else (GPS & all).
  • The accident victim WILL be liable for any rescue charges that result from the SPOT call.
  • The device owner can add family members to their SPOT for $18.95/yr each.
  • The device owners can add *anyone* to their spot for $24.95/yr each.  And for these folks, you can change who they are depending on who’s coming with you on a given trip (you need to keep the website up-to-date for each trip).  So you can think of these purchases as ‘trip spots’ rather than specific people.

This is useful information if you want to share ALL the benfits or a SPOT amongst a group of individuals, including status update messages and rescue insurance.

Spouse Feedback

Everything went as planned on my Presidential Range group trip and I sent out SPOT OK messages every day at breakfast and dinner. My friends’ wives received the OK messages and lat/lon coordinates in their emails, which I’m told were a BIG hit, and I suspect I helped sell a few more SPOT II devices that weekend.


If you thought that the the main purpose of a carrying a SPOT II is to call in a Search and Rescue Team in an emergency, think again. While it can do that, I view its primary function as a non-invasive way for me to let my wife know I’m ok when I travel in the backcountry. Weighing just 4.1 ounces, it’s a small load to carry to make sure that your family knows you are safe. Still, in the event of an actual emergency requiring Search and Rescue Services, a single SPOT can be used to offset emergency rescue costs or call in emergencies for the members of a group provided they have purchased additional rescue insurance. Though not perfect, the SPOT II can be a very useful addition to personal or group expedition hikes in the backcountry. I don’t know of any comparable device other than a satellite phone that provides the same level of convenience, but at a fraction of the cost.

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  1. There is a DeLourme satellite device that can send and receive messages. Via Bluetooth link to cellphone. More easy and practical to manage.

    • Do say more. What if your cell phone battery is dead. We are talking expedition style travel here. Does Delorme provide rescue insurance? How much does it cost per year?

    • Without the cell phone extension, the inReach has the same 3 precanned message limitation as the SPOT. I am down on cell phones because the battery drains in cold temps so quickly even when turned off.

      • 1) If using ANDROID phone pull the battery. Most modern smart phones have a lithium battery, and if designed well should not discharge if they are off. use common battery saving use technique and make sure you warm it up when trying to use it. Put into airplane mode will shut off all radio communication and save more battery, before pulling the battery.
        2) IPHONE should turn all the way off, and not discharge while off completely. Put into airplane mode for more savings and security. You will need a smartphone when you get to the nearest cell tower in the area for more communication urgency anyway (let loved ones know more). Use the apps SIGNAL and COVERAGE for IPHONE to tell where the nearest towers are before you hike, and use as reference.
        3) There are cellphone chargers that you can get and carry with light weight four pack of lithium AA batteries. if you leave without a fully charged phone.

  2. I have been using a Spot-I (first generation) for the past five years, in the same way as you describe, to let the family know that everything is ok. I use it in particular when I go on one of my multi-day solo backpacks in remote corners of AZ/UT/NV. The hardest part was to come up with a protocol on what your relatives have to do when there is no Spot message at all for an extended period of time. I once dropped my Spot down a slickrock slope by accident, on the second day of a 5-day trip. It survived intact, but had it broken, I practically would have had to run back to the trailhead to make it out in time to keep the absence of messages for >36hrs from triggering the “..if you don’t hear from me..” emergency bailout rule that I had left in the instructions with my relatives.

    Since then, I changed to a “no news is good news, daily news is even better news” type of protocol. Bears a certain risk, but at least the risk in this case is all mine, and not with rescuers who get called out for no reason.

    • When you say “no messages for an extended period of time” what is the cause if that? Is it the dropped messages I describe or device failure due to loss or breakage? I was once of the grid for 4 days but my wife didn’t call out the dogs. Not because she knew what to do but because I was in another country and she had no idea who to call. Believe me I felt terrible about that. The any new is good news protocol you describe would have given her more guidance at least even if it is to do nothing.

      • > cause
        Broken device more than dropped messages. The dropped messages happen, but quite rarely, and I’m sending an OK ~5 times per day, whenever I’m taking a break to snack or eat, since the device works a lot more reliably when kept stationary for >10 minutes.

  3. Very informative. Thanks

  4. Hi Phil,

    Useful and interesting method of including companions spouses in the recipient lists. I do something similar with family and friends following my hikes, but on my last trip with a few mates, I realised that it would have been comforting for one of the spouses to get updates from the field. I will definitely offer the connection next time.

    Regarding the logging (every 10 minutes on mine), I have a different view. One of the backcountry emergency possibilities is that you are beset by an emergency but are unable to press the SOS button. This could be a fall involving loss of use of your arm, unconsciousness, or separation from the device during the fall or event. If you have left an breadcrumb trail, emergency workers have somewhere to start looking.

    My friends and relatives enjoy seeing where I am walking, and if my morning ‘Ok’ message does not get out for some reason they will soon see the breadcrumbs appear so there is less concern about a missing status message.

    I’m not sure where you get the 2-3 days life when tracking from, I get at least 8-9 days out of a set of Spot2 batteries (lithium) when tracking all day and turning off when making camp at the end of the day. For instance, last TGO, the first set of batteries ran out when climbing up Lochnagar on Day 10.

    I have also moved on from Spot2 to Delorme InReach. The reliability is better, the device maintains 2-way communication with the network and the network is Iridium instead of Globalstar. I use the standard messages activated by the message button on the device rather than firing up a smartphone to send a message, unless I have something specific to send or reply to (a message light on the device blinks if there is incoming messages)

    Leaving the smartphone off (iPhone5) I have never had issues with smartphone battery life while on a trip, my attitude is that I keep the battery capacity for urgent use and I have finished 7 day walking trips with 80% or more battery. Of course, the lack of IP weather ratings on smartphones renders them vulnerable in poor backcountry conditions and I leave mine securely contained in a waterproof pouch and buried in my pack for that reason,

    All the best,


    • Good Intel about the inreach. I may have to try it. Can you answer my questions about its cost and whether it comes with a rescue insurance plan?

      • Looked it up. I get out a lot, so this would cost me $50 per month or 600 per year compared to the $163 annual I pay with the Spot. That’s a Showstopper for me and there’s no rescue insurance option. But I am interested in how you mount the Spot externally for continuous tracking.

      • I think the Rec plan would be fine. It has unlimited messages, unlimited predefined messages, and 40 smartphone messages per month.

        Unless you are a SMS junkie, 40 smartphone messages is a lot. That’s like 10 per week, every week of the month. I’ve never done 10 in any week but I probably don’t get out as much as you.

        On that plan, the service costs about twice that of Spot with tracking. Whether the benefits are worth the extra expense is up to the individual. All I will offer is that the network is more reliable and the hardware is good.

        If you do run the device on your shoulder strap, I would recommend a tether. There have been cases of Spot’s being lost from a shoulder strap because of the leather case accidentally opening. If you look, you will find a tether location on the Spot itself. The InReach also has a tether point on the casing.


      • Oops. Sorry, that should be:

        It has unlimited tracking, unlimited predefined messages, and 40 smartphone messages per month.


      • Guess I misinterpreted what a message was since I probably wouldn’t use a cell phone with the inReach. Regarding wearing a Spot, I wonder if I can rig up a mesh bag over the top of my Gorilla backpack, so I don’t have to constantly be reminded that I am wearing a PLB.

    • How do you insure that the device has a clear view of the sky which I presume is required for continuous operation?

      • Hi Phil,

        Where you are, the InReach costs about US$250. Subscription plans vary between $9.95 and $49.95 per month: http://www.inreachdelorme.com/product-info/subscription-plans.php I have mine on the Rec plan, so $299 PA. You get more than the Spot and it costs more too…

        I am not aware of an insurance offer supported by Delorme similar to the Spot offer.

        Ensuring the device has a clear view of the sky is in the same league as with the spot. I just hook it on the shoulder harness of my Mariposa and we’re good to go.


      • I may give the shoulderstrao technique a try then. Seems a little invasive to me but maybe I can get used to it. I try to get away from my wired existence when I am away, but another battery test would be worthwhile. Thanks for the suggestions and info!

      • Thanks all for making it clear about the differences. They are both great devices to have, and should be a MUST HAVE if you lead a group.

      • As long as people dont call out search and rescue when it is not needed. Those resources are very limited and should only be used in life and death situations. Search and rescue is usually staffed by volunteers and they risk injury every time they get called out. It can also take days for a SAR team to reach victims, the rule of thumb is approx. 4 hours for every mile from a trailhead with a road. What every leader should have is WFA training and Leadership Training. Devices can’t replace training and experience.

      • agreed that tech is a supplement to good training.

      • I just checked regarding S&R from GEOS.

        GEOS does offer Search and Rescue membership to InReach users. Private membership with up to US$100,000 is $18.95 PA. I think this is the same price as the Spot offer.





  5. When my wife was down with a foot issue I started hiking solo. For both of our piece of minds I purchased an InReach. The rec plan meets my needs since the canned messages allow me to send start hike, end hike, ok but delayed messages to my hearts content. I retain the ability to send other messages through my paired iPhone if needed.

    I clip the unit to a side compression strap and put the tether through a different strap to lessen the chance of it dropping off. I’ve have no issues with the unit coming loose and there have been no communication issues even when under heavy cover.

    My wife appreciates the ability to watch my movements while I’m out and having a SOS button if needed is great for my mental health.

    It’s a great unit.

  6. I have a Spot 2 and use it quite frequently when hiking or backpacking. I have even taken it on road trips and when flying to different cities. My wife likes getting the status updates letting her know “I’m ok”. Also, when I don’t feel like cell phone texting or I’m in an area without cell service, it’s easy to hit one button and get a message out.

  7. Phil,

    I just wanted to thank you for such great advice. I hadn’t thought much about getting a device such as this, but you really helped shinned some new light on these tools. I spoke with my fiancé about them, and we are going to look into getting one this week. In addition, I greatly appreciate the tip on the rescue insurance. Sarah has informed me that this is going to be purchased as well.

    We mostly rely on our phone service, but we all know how unreliable they are. Thanks again and I look forward to reading more!

    Cullen’s Travles

  8. Thanks for the liability information. I just registered my SPOT, but I got it in the mail last week. Luck would have it that the one hike I went on in between receiving the unit and activating it, my group found a hiker with broken leg! Everything worked out just fine, since we managed to get cell reception at the summit, but it really justified the potential utility of my purchase. It made me wonder though, how much are you getting yourself into if you press the button for someone else? (not that it would be a real consideration in the moment)

    Rescue picks here: http://ted-albers.net/2013-March-Mt-Dix-ADK.html

    I definitely got the SPOT because it would keep all of the worriers in my family sane while I’m out and about, but the rescue portion seems much more real now. I guess my girlfriend is getting SAR insurance for her birthday :)

  9. I used SPOT during a private rafting/hiking trip with family and friends in the Grand Canyon. I set it on a flat surface out in the open when we stopped for lunch or hikes and turned it on. Spot would locate a satellite within a few minutes and send a message along with location. Once the message was sent, I would turn it off. The batteries lasted the entire trip – though I had spares.

    The rescue insurance was a plus, as I would have bought trip insurance anyway. There were two evacuations involving other groups that we encountered during our 16 days on the river. Both of those injuries occurred off the river.

    My partner, who was unable to go, along with other family and friends in Maine followed our progress down the Colorado River on Google Maps. It was great!

  10. Based on this gear review I purchased a SPOT2, the SPOT3 wasn’t available yet, for a kayaking expedition to Isle Royale National Park next week. I heavily plagerized your letter to the family left behind as we head out to the wilderness. One difference is that I purchased the tracking option, mostly so that our family and friends would be able to see where we were and track our progress, but also so so I could see where we went after we get back.
    I set up two messages instead of 3, and made my fiance the central point of contact in case of emergency or needing assistance.
    I’ve also set up a communiction link through Thunder Bay, ON via ham radio using a light weight field deployable antenna on a hand held radio. I’m interested to see how well that works. We’ll use it to check in nightly and pass messages from home.

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