Satellite Communications

Theresa is due in early August. As we leave on July 12th for our trip, there is a very small chance that she might go into labor early. It's unlikely enough that we both feel comfortable about me going on the trip still. That said, I want a way for her to get in touch with me on the trail if the need arises, so I could evacuate the hike and get to the hospital as soon as possible.


So what are my options? I've been looking into a few:

1. The  Spot Satellite Messenger.

This is an interesting little device. That allows for backpackers to send a distress call. When activated, the unit broadcasts it's own GPS location every ten seconds together with a distress signal. The distress signal can be "OK, Send Help, or Emergency" based on the buttons on front. Friends can track your spot beacon online and see where you are and that you are OK. Available from It weighs in at 7.4 oz and can run for 14 days on standby and 7 days when broadcasting.

Not very useful for my situation as Theresa has no way of communicating to me. It's outbound broadcast only, no receive capability.

2. Satellite Phone.

Satellite phones don't require typical cellular tower coverage as they use orbiting satellites to communicate. For best coverage you need a network that uses low orbit Satellites. There are two gigs in town for the US. Globalstar and Iridium.

The Iridium 9505 handset can be rented for about $40 / week but is heavy at 13 oz. It only has 3 hrs of talk time and 30 hrs on standby.

The Gobalstar GSP-1700 is better at 7 oz but rental rates are in the $100 / week range.

The standby time makes this less than ideal for me. I would have to arrange a few key times of the day to either call Theresa, or have the phone on waiting for an inbound call.

3. Satellite Pager

Also running on the Iridium network is the Motorolla 9501 Satellite Pager. It receives inbound text messages up to 160 characters. The messages can be sent easily via Theresa from a website.

It's the lightest option at 4.16 oz and has a standby time of an incredible 30 days! It also runs on a single AA battery so it's field-replaceable for any PCT'ers looking to getting encouragement from home.

Rentals are available from Their rental rates are quite reasonable at $25 / week. However they do stiff you on shipping at $50 to and from your home.

6 thoughts on “Satellite Communications

  1. Bob Spreen

    Your (now ultralight) dentist has given the Spot Satellite Mesenger a try and is impresssed so far. I’ve only tested it on day hikes, and it has worked absolutely as advertised, so it will be with us on the upcoming low elevation overnights and kayak-camping alternates that the persistent local snow level requires. The 7.4 oz. penalty is a good trade for the risk manager (as opposed to risk-averse) in me. It also helps to not be manic-ultralight (yet) so I can bring Spot, a cushy Mont Bell inflatable pillow, a backrest for my Thermarest pad, and, er, wine.

    …and still be half my former 40 lb. pack weight, all credit to smart friends like Brett. Thanks for getting me back out on the trail!

    Parents-to-be could also consider both Spot and the Motorola pager. Spot can constantly advise Theresa of your location. The pager can let you know of surprise events, and everyone’s status, and Spot can let home know you are okay (and on your way). Spot will report your postion so a pickup could be planned and your pager would advise you where to go. That’s 11.6 oz and no battery worries…but remember, I carry wine and a pillow.


  2. brett Post author

    Hey Bob! The combo probably is the safest bet – good advice. The wine I can understand – but a PILLOW!! 😉 Hey – whatever works to get out there and enjoy the outdoors I say…

    That prompted me of a few good posts…

  3. Bob Spreen

    My wife Jeanne wants to clarify that she is the one who carries the wine and I carry Spot. That led me to thinking perhaps you could carry the pager and slide Spot into Nigel’s pack when he wasn’t looking…

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