As the world becomes increasingly globalized and technology makes it easier and easier to stay in touch, we’re finding that more Boundary Waters visitors than ever want a way to get in touch with the outside world in case of emergency while in the wilderness or so they can keep up on any news from home. Tuscarora’s been offering satellite phones for a few years to help people with the somewhat incongruous goals of getting away from it all and still being reachable. For most people, having a satellite phone provides a sense of security for both themselves and their loved ones, the same way having a fully stocked first aid kit provides peace of mind on the trail. Like that first aid kit, a satellite phone’s meant to be just another tool in your pack in case the unthinkable happens.
But now that people have their phones on them almost every waking moment, sometimes people view a satellite phone as a clunky cell phone rather than an emergency device. This is when the three big “cons” of satellite phone usage pop up:
- Our satellite phone has a battery life of about 24 hours. This essentially makes the phone a call-out only device because it needs to be turned off for the majority of your trip to make sure it has enough “juice” to call in case of an emergency.
- You must be out in the open to get a signal for the phone. Satellite phones are notorious for dropped calls.
- Satellite phones are ‘spensive. Replacement costs are around $1300, so you really, really don’t want to accidentally drop it in the lake.
We figured there had to be a better way for people to do their canoe trips and still remain in contact.
Enter the DeLorme Inreach device.
A longtime time Tuscarora guest has been talking up the DeLorme Inreach device for a while and this spring we decided to give it a whirl. It’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison to compare the Inreach to a satellite phone, since you can’t make calls with the Inreach. Rather, the Inreach is a texting device that allows you to send text messages and emails (160 character limit per message) to people back home and have two-way conversations that way. There’s no monthly limit on messages that can be sent with our plan, so you don’t have to worry about racking up a big bill, no matter how much you use it during your travels.
The device also has an emergency SOS button that sends your location to emergency response and allows you to send a message describing the emergency. After the SOS button is pushed, it sends your location every 10 minutes to emergency response if you’re moving, or sends the location every 30 minutes if you’re stationery. Obviously, not a button you want to press accidentally, but handy to have, “just in case.”
Other things the Inreach can do:
- Post your location on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.
- Shoot waypoints on a map.
- Uses a whole lot less battery than a satellite phone. You don’t want to leave it on during your entire trip, but you can use it freely without worrying about the battery dying.
- Is water resistant and floats. Replacement costs are around $300.
A couple weeks back, Andy and his buddy Quinn decided to take advantage of this summer’s high water and paddle the Greenwood River about 30 miles southeast of Tuscarora. The Greenwood River not technically in the Boundary Waters, but it’s tucked away in some pretty remote reaches of the Superior National Forest. Arguably, you’re more likely to find assistance during an emergency when you’re in the Boundary Waters than in Greenwood country, since, more often than not, you’re on an established travel path while traveling in the BWCA. Down in Greenwood country, if you run into trouble, it’s going to be a long time before someone stumbles upon you.
While no one really thought Andy and Quinn would find peril during their afternoon trip down the Greenwood, Andy threw in the Inreach to see how it would work in a wilderness situation.
When we were testing out the DeLorme around Tuscarora, we found that it can take a little while for the messages to transmit if you’re not out in the open. Also, if you’re moving while the Inreach is transmitting, it can get a little confused and might send duplicate messages. However, when Andy was down at Greenwood, we were able to go back and forth with just a minute or two lag time between messages.
When you open the link in the email or text sent with the Inreach, you’re brought to a map that pinpoints where the message was sent from. You reply to the Inreach sender right in the little message box on the righthand side of the screen.
You can zoom in and out on the map to get a very specific location.
Even if you didn’t want to message anyone during your trip, it would be kind of neat to send yourself your location so at the end of your trip you have several snapshots of your route.
All in all, we’ve found the Delorme Inreach to be a viable alternative to a satellite phone. You might not be able to send or receive very detailed messages with it, but it is a good way to check in at home with a simple, “all’s well,” and with its GPS tracking capability, it’s a useful tool if you have the misfortune of ending up at the center of a search and rescue mission. It’s a device that satisfies the map geek and provides peace of mind.
Currently we have one DeLorme in reach available for rental at Tuscarora and if it proves popular, we’ll make more available. If you try one out, be sure to let us know what you think.