PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

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PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby DamnAnotherDragon » Sat 02 Sep, 2023 5:50 pm

I've done tons of reading but feel more confused.

I do lots of hiking in the Royal, and have many plans to do some flyfishing trips in the Blue Mountains and Snowies.
My first aid training is pretty good, I can navigate, and I think I have a fair amount of common sense.
I've also got a wife and 2 boys.

What do you reckon is the best all round emergency device, possibly with built in ability to tell my wife I'm ok?

Inreach 2 looks solid, Explorer+ is great but expensive, and then you have the sat phones.

I'm in the UK now where I can get most things minus 20% (gotta love VAT and buying on the company) but then I understand you have to register it to Australia when I return.

Any tips/advice/real life experience would be great!
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby headwerkn » Tue 05 Sep, 2023 9:41 am

We've had two InReach devices (Explorer+ and 66i) for a few years now and - other than the 66i being a bit heavy on its battery perhaps - we've never regretted the investment for a second.

They aren't the cheapest option to either buy or maintain; PLBs get registered once for free, InReaches and other sat communicators require ongoing subscriptions). But if you're walking or outdoors regularly, then the convenience of always-available two-way messaging, tracking and weather reports in a device that also provides emergency SOS comms (again, two way) and in most instances, a very usable GPS mapping device, is very very high.

For solo adventures I'd consider them almost mandatory eg. it's hard to activate a PLB if you've tripped and knocked yourself out, but if your tracking path doesn't match your trip intentions and messages aren't replied to, those monitoring at home will soon realise something's up and can take action.

They're also very useful for non-emergency comms... coordinating meet-ups on track, organising changes in pick up locations and/or times, having mates bring in an extra battery bank or salt and vinegar chips, etc.

There's some debate as to whether InReachs and the other equivalent satellite communication systems (Spot/Globalstar etc) have similar kinds of range and output to PLBs. They are different systems and both are definitely not immune to line-of-sight issues and atmospheric conditions. Sometimes messages will go through in seconds, sometimes it takes several minutes. I think for canyoning in particular, PLBs have the edge in terms of sheer power, but on the flipside, the two-way aspect of an InReach or similar device at least allows for confirmation that messages are getting through... if you're got get any responses back, you know you need to find higher, clearer ground. Also consider the ability to communicate the issue/injury, receive medical advice and also get some kind of ETA on when help might arrive. I know of a relatively recent incident here where rescue was delayed by two days due to weather, but due to someone having an InReach, EMS was able to maintain contact throughout the ordeal.

With a PLB, you're basically left wondering until there's a helicopter overhead.

I think for really serious trips into remote areas, you'd take both a satellite communicator device and a PLB, just in case (I'd probably also take an Airband radio for communicating with aircraft, but you need to be licenced to use one). That said our PLB hasn't come on a trip in a long time.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby johnrs » Tue 05 Sep, 2023 11:39 am

Dear DAD
I would pretty much agree with Headwwerkn, although my emphasis is slightly different.
That is a lightweight bomb proof PLB before the Inreach, but both on long serious trips.
John
Oh and its looking like the satellite communication features will converge on high end phones soon too!
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Neo » Thu 07 Sep, 2023 8:45 pm

I already have a PLB. Would probably take it as a group or if solo, definitely if I was going to do some off track exploring.

For other comms I'd like the Garmin mini but probably don't need it enough to justify the plan costs. Plus I like to navigate with senses and traditional maps, I have maps on free Avenza on the phone and a breadcrumbs trail option with my watch, so wouldn't use any GPS SOS device for maps or navigation when I have a bigger screen of the phone in my pocket anyway.

An interesting option is the Bivy Stick which lets you SMS via satellite using your phone and has an SOS button. Apparently the cheaper no contract option too. It doesn't do internet so probs can't check forecasts or other things when out of mobile reception range.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby MrWalker » Fri 08 Sep, 2023 8:07 am

Since you have family at home, who may be interested in how you are going, I would support the InReach option.
We use them, and our family likes to follow the trip with our 10 minute updates on position. We usually carry a PLB as well, but if I fall over a cliff or have a heart attack, stroke, whatever, the InReach will continue to show my position, without needing me to be capable of setting off an SOS message.

Two way communication with others is a huge bonus when plans change. It can take 15 min for messages to go back and forth, but that is much better than no contact at all.

I have used the version with and without built in maps, but much prefer the map version. My phone does maps a bit better, but the InReach battery lasts longer. It has also been handy to show weather reports for the specific location with reasonable accuracy.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby JohnnoMcJohnno » Sat 09 Sep, 2023 10:00 am

Lots of good advice here. I reckon a lot depends on the length and scope of your trips. I started with a PLB when walking with family on 2 or 3 day walks and it was enough. We weren't going into untracked wilderness and we were never gone so long that anyone was going to worry much. Fast forward 7 years and I now mainly walk solo, the trips are longer, and the PLB is close to its use-by date. When trips get longer the forecast at time of departure becomes more iffy, and I've been caught before with heavy rain and creeks to cross - I want regular forecasts. And I want 2 way comms mainly to confirm pick-up times but also to signal all is well if necessary. So I bought an Inreach Mini which gives me the two way comms, a daily basic weather forecast, a GPS, and an SOS button. For navigation I'm old school, I've only ever used paper maps, compass, and a GPS (now the inreach) for position checks. I thought about getting one of the inreach models with a bigger screen but none of them were as good as a smartphone if I wanted an electronic map.

If my journeys were primarily short duration I might be tempted to get one of the smart phones with sat comms but I haven't seriously looked at them as an option. Good luck with your choices.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Baeng72 » Thu 04 Jan, 2024 10:28 pm

Hi, is there something that does what the InReach mini does, but better?
I've had the mini for nearly 5 years, and it's never worked well. Years ago on the overland, it wouldn't send messages or tracking from Windy Hill to Narcissus.
It sometimes sends messages, and no tracking or vice versa, when I'm in a valley, but starts to work just after the iPhone gets 4G.
I've contacted Garmin many times, and get the standard run around, basically it's my fault for not syncing, even when I have.
Occasionally they say there's a Network issue, if I have timestamped photos of the time and location I tried to send a message/tracking not working, but it's never their fault.

I need a device that will send tracking, I mean the iPhone knows where it is, but the InReach says no GPS signal.
I do stop and wait to send a message when in a deep valley, but the tracking won't update, and my partner thinks I'm not moving or not sending messages.
It's very expensive for something that only works well when in perfect conditions.
I turned back from a trip today half way up Howitt Spur because it wasn't updating tracking on messages sent at different times. They all looked like they were sent from same spot, which itself looked like I'd teleported instead of a tracking trail.
Thanks for any help.
Bit of a frustration rant there, :)
Last edited by Baeng72 on Fri 05 Jan, 2024 8:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Baeng72 » Fri 05 Jan, 2024 8:33 am

I've done a bit of searching.
There's InReach mini 2, InReach Messenger, Zoleo, Spot 4, Bivy Stick.
InReach mini 2 - longer battery life, utilizes 4 or more GPS satellite systems so might be better at tracking. Same antenna as InReach mini. Messenger app can send through SMS/Mobile data if available.
InReach messenger - longer battery life (than mini 2), utilizes 4 or more GPS systems. Different antenna (patch) which has more gain, does that translate into better tracking/messaging? Messenger app can send through SMS/Mobile data if available.
Zoleo - cheaper and no screen on device. Needs phone for typing messages, but that's OK, I don't use the InReach mini for creating messages. Has I'm OK button and SOS line InReach devices. Less powerful transmitter from what I've read and not good in steep valleys.
Spot 4 - Seems to have nice keypad, but not as functional as InReach, but I haven't read much.
Bivy Stick - seems lower end too, but haven't read much.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Dexter » Fri 05 Jan, 2024 9:06 am

Reading back I wouldn't be surprised if your InReach has an issue. That sounds next to useless and I'd have expected it to be well reported if it were that unreliable?


I have been keeping an eye on these things. Every time I look into the InReach gear I'm put off by subscription costs. Part of me just thinks if I'm stuck in a situation I'd wished I'd just stumped up the money though. My issue is I can only get time off work and get away a handful of times a year and generally when me and a couple of friends can get our schedules to align. So signing up for a contract seems excessive, and the activation fee makes it expensive if it's only used off and on. It would be great if there was some kind of prepaid option where you could just top it up when you needed it. The Bivy Stick looks like a decent option but I couldn't easily find the activation costs.

I'm kind of just hoping Google enables sat comms on the Pixels. I carry a PLB so really that's the only feature I'd love. I've considered going back to Apple for that feature. Even though their phones are stupid expensive I have to factor in the cost difference of a satellite communicator as well.

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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Baeng72 » Fri 05 Jan, 2024 9:36 am

It does work sometimes as expected. It's just not reliable. And it costs a fair bit.
Trouble is, the deal I have with the missus to let me go on these ill-advised solo adventures is that she's able to see where I am, and I send the odd message to let her know I haven't rassled a tiger snake and come of the worse or tripped and found a quick way down a mountain. The SOS hopefully is never used.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Baeng72 » Fri 05 Jan, 2024 10:28 am

I've just checked the messages that were sent, and they had different GPS location coordinates. So that was working, but as the tracking wasn't, it just appeared as dots in very similar location (embarrassingly slow up the steep bit at the bottom of Howitt Spur). If it had tracking it would have been obvious that I'd moved a little bit. I'm gonna ask on Reddit if the InReach mini 2 or messenger is better at tracking/sending messages than OG mini.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Dexter » Fri 05 Jan, 2024 11:23 am

That's fair and worth it for communication with the family.

I'm guessing you've looked at things like a factory reset and firmware on the device? You're in Vic right? There is a place in Malvern that rents out devices. You could potentially rent a new version and find out if it's worth the upgrade. Maybe even a chat with those guys would help with info.

https://www.ozsatelliterentals.com.au/i ... mmunicator

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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Baeng72 » Fri 05 Jan, 2024 3:25 pm

Dexter wrote:That's fair and worth it for communication with the family.

I'm guessing you've looked at things like a factory reset and firmware on the device? You're in Vic right? There is a place in Malvern that rents out devices. You could potentially rent a new version and find out if it's worth the upgrade. Maybe even a chat with those guys would help with info.

https://www.ozsatelliterentals.com.au/i ... mmunicator

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Nice idea. I'm thinking of buying an InReach mini 2 if I get a feel that it's better at tracking and whatever than the original.
I've done the factory reset dance a couple of times this year. Desperate people do desperate things. :)
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Dexter » Sun 07 Jan, 2024 2:30 pm

Would be keen to hear which direction you go, and how you find the new model.

Equally if you decide to hire one (if they have the new versions to rent out), I'd be interested to know if they are good to deal with.

I think that route would suit me better than paying for a subscription.

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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Baeng72 » Sun 07 Jan, 2024 5:18 pm

No worries.
The do have the InReach mini 2 for rental.
I did contact the rental place, and was considering it.
But at $70 for a week, plus $25 postage each way, it seemed a bit steep.

Discussing it with the boss, I mean, missus, I was going to get a new something, and the mini 2, at least from specs seemed closest to something that would do the job.
I ended up buying it from Anaconda for $570. Which seems to be about $100 less than most places.

I've only used it once, on the southern part of the Tanglefoot Track near Toolangi today, and it worked well.
The new messenger app seems to be an improvement over the the old EarthMate app.
It would use mobile data when it was available and switch to satellite when not. Tracking just worked.
Sadly it lacks a leech repelling function, but can't have everything.

Caveat: I'll need to try it out on more isolated places, like Howqua Valley, or if I develop a self-punishment streak, back to Strath Creek where the old one just didn't work for hours, neither tracking nor messages last Monday.
But, no complaints first outing.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Dexter » Mon 08 Jan, 2024 7:51 am

Ahh yep. That postage is a killer. I'm not too far from Malvern (used to work there) so can just pick up and drop off.

Sounds like so far so good. Keep us posted.

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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby phs » Sun 25 Feb, 2024 8:48 pm

We have PLB, on our second ( first expired and could not get the battery replaced ) used a mini in reach very handy for the text function while not j an emergency, I sort of think the iPhone SOS is a game changer, we use it for navigation anyway so it’s with us and now has emergency SOS
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Dexter » Mon 26 Feb, 2024 8:29 am

It's a great backup, but I'm not sure I'd want to rely on a phone for my only option. I'm hoping the same feature comes to Pixel phones, but I think I'd still be taking along a PLB.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby myrtlegirl » Mon 26 Feb, 2024 12:47 pm

Devil's advocate here: what if the owner of the InReach is the one who needs medical attention and is incommunicado?

A PLB can be operated by anyone who can read, all they have to think of is to look at the side of the PLB for the instructions.

An InReach needs some knowledge of operation. While I'm sure every group does a quick InReach training session just before every walk (*cough*), when things go bad the memory of said training can go out the window.

I'd carry both. Note that this is what I think we all should do; what I actually do may vary.

Side note: I've been on a trip where the sodding InReach failed. Luckily a quick scoot up a peak meant there was enough mobile reception to text, and there was a calm friend on the receiving end of texts.
We all also installed the app 'Emergency Plus' after that trip, and we may even have looked at it once since then to see how it worked.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Dexter » Mon 26 Feb, 2024 1:23 pm

myrtlegirl wrote:Side note: I've been on a trip where the sodding InReach failed.


Failed in an emergency? :shock: Or just couldn't get sat reception to send a text? Which InReach was it?
There's actually a youtube video from a fairly well-known hiker/youtuber that had one fail on him and not send out the SOS alert, or at least there was a breakdown somewhere between Garmin and SAR. It has made me question using a device that introduces another variable into the mix. Perhaps Garmin have well and truly plugged that possibility, but still doesn't inspire confidence. It leads me to believe the best combo would be a sat communicator without nav or extras. Just for comms. And a dedicated PLB.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby myrtlegirl » Mon 26 Feb, 2024 3:42 pm

Dexter wrote:
myrtlegirl wrote:Side note: I've been on a trip where the sodding InReach failed.


Failed in an emergency? :shock: Or just couldn't get sat reception to send a text? Which InReach was it?
There's actually a youtube video from a fairly well-known hiker/youtuber that had one fail on him and not send out the SOS alert, or at least there was a breakdown somewhere between Garmin and SAR. It has made me question using a device that introduces another variable into the mix. Perhaps Garmin have well and truly plugged that possibility, but still doesn't inspire confidence. It leads me to believe the best combo would be a sat communicator without nav or extras. Just for comms. And a dedicated PLB.



It failed in an emergency - grrr. Screen frozen, couldn't reboot, needed specialist help to fix it. I don't know which model it was, I believe it was not old. I checked with SAR a few days later, they confirmed they didn't get anything from the InReach.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Dexter » Tue 27 Feb, 2024 9:19 am

That's horrendous! It sounds like you managed to get some help though? That really doesn't inspire confidence, and reinforces my feeling that it's better to have a 'one job' PLB with no other complications.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby johnrs » Tue 27 Feb, 2024 2:45 pm

And something similar happened to my Avenza maps.
Backups are good!
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby myrtlegirl » Tue 27 Feb, 2024 3:48 pm

Dexter wrote:That's horrendous! It sounds like you managed to get some help though? That really doesn't inspire confidence, and reinforces my feeling that it's better to have a 'one job' PLB with no other complications.


We did get help, it was a gorgeous day to be in a helicopter, and the patient has made a full recovery.

Even before the InReach seemed to be not working, someone had scooted up a peak to text to a reliable friend. They contacted SAR and acted as conduit with sensible questions.

I agree with the 'one job' idea. And as mentioned - get the Emergency Plus app!!! That gave us the lat/longs to give to texting friend.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby phs » Tue 27 Feb, 2024 8:03 pm

Dexter wrote:It's a great backup, but I'm not sure I'd want to rely on a phone for my only option. I'm hoping the same feature comes to Pixel phones, but I think I'd still be taking along a PLB.


I think the phone is superior in every way,
You can see the battery charge, top up as needed with battery bank, you can actually see if it is working and if they are receiving your SOS

As far as reliability new phones are fairly good, water proof and failures are not really common + if you are with hikers they have a back up as well, the vast majority of people have phones
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby johnrs » Wed 28 Feb, 2024 8:00 am

And a bit more support for a dedicated single purpose PLB!
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Nuts » Wed 28 Feb, 2024 8:25 am

Ironically, outside a situation where you actually use a device, carrying no plb probably makes your planning and movement safest. I like the Garmin mini, add tracking and you have the the most useful (for non-emergency and for SAR services in a rescue) option available. One of our rescume failed to send a signal, luckily another walker had a satellite phone. Sat phones are great but prob a bit less robust & signal not always great. If a plb, the Aussie GME would be my next purchase.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Dexter » Thu 29 Feb, 2024 9:53 am

myrtlegirl wrote:
Dexter wrote:That's horrendous! It sounds like you managed to get some help though? That really doesn't inspire confidence, and reinforces my feeling that it's better to have a 'one job' PLB with no other complications.


We did get help, it was a gorgeous day to be in a helicopter, and the patient has made a full recovery.

Even before the InReach seemed to be not working, someone had scooted up a peak to text to a reliable friend. They contacted SAR and acted as conduit with sensible questions.

I agree with the 'one job' idea. And as mentioned - get the Emergency Plus app!!! That gave us the lat/longs to give to texting friend.


Great to hear. And yeah, a paramedic friend made a post about that app, installed immediately.
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Baeng72 » Sun 21 Apr, 2024 7:38 am

I have taken the inreach mini ii out a few times, not as much as I'd like, but enough to try it in varying conditions.
No issues so far, tracking just works, it switches between phone network and satellite to send messages automatically.
I think a separate app (not messenger) is needed to use it for navigating, but I use Avenza for that since the old inreach was so unreliable.
I have yet to try the SOS function and don't ever want to.
Anyone want to buy a second hand inreach version 1 that is, erm, quirky?
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Re: PLB/Sat Phone....too many choices!

Postby Warin » Mon 06 May, 2024 4:58 pm

A rather disturbing report from South Africa where the in-reach emergency service failed .. dismally!

https://www.advrider.com/f/threads/garm ... t-50410873

They were contacted .. a day later! And told that something purchased in the UK would not work in Africa... yet it was purchased in South Africa. Extremely poor is an understatement.

-------------
Note. I don't think the same would occur here, our emergency service organization is well known and able to cope .. provided in_reach do contact them with the details. But in some parts of the world there maybe no service or very limited service eg one ambulance that is busy elsewhere (or broken down, etc) ...
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