GEAR REVIEW – A comparison review of Spot Gen 2 and 4 Satellite Devices

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What gear do you usually bring along on backcountry adventures? We just
discussed how recreationists, experienced or inexperienced, are moving more into the backcountry to avoid over-crowded trails or to avoid the ‘day pass’ system.

Back in the dawn of time, Alex wrote a review for the Spot Gen 2 Satellite Device (two generations ago!) in a previous Cloudburst article. In this article, he will compare his experiences using the Spot 2 versus Spot 4 as a navigation and communication tool.

Is Spot 2 Spot On or Spotty?
The Spot 2 Satellite Device has been a reliable check-in and tracking emergency device for many backcountry users. You can call home or call for help via sending messages of your GPS location, even in places with no-cell service.

Over the last seven or eight years, Alex has used Spot 2 for messaging and for mapping trails to repair or reroute trails that are no longer used. As others may have found, the Spot 2 messenger takes a little while to locate your GPS position and send a message. Of course, there are situations, like heavy forest canopies or deep gullies, where the device cannot get a clear view of
satellites to communicate – like any GPS device. However, this ‘spotty’ reception can be overcome since the usual workaround is to find a clearing and then have a snack while Spot 2 takes its sweet time to connect with satellites.

At the same time, it’s slow-connecting capabilities provides another benefit – the device can retain a lot more power and battery life; the Spot 2 only uses one-quarter the transmitting power of most GPS units, particularly if you keep it turned off most of the trip. Alex has only replaced the batteries (three lithium AA batteries) in the Spot 2 device regularly as part of his trip preparation of routine, since the voltage shows up as quite adequate – or unchanged – even after several years of sporadic use. On the other hand, if it is used as a tracking device, the battery life lasts only a month or two, so check out other alternate options if using this device to plot a route in heavy forest cover.

Spot 2 does perform well as an emergency beacon though; it has proven its worth in many cases. One notable example includes a BC Parks ranger who broke his ankle on the first day of an off-duty ski trip. The ranger was able to use the Spot 2 to beacon an SOS, and he was extracted before he had to spend the night out in the open. However, because the Spot 2 is a one-way messaging device, his partner skied back to their truck to report the incident by cellphone from the highway, just in case the message had not been received, but she found the local Search and Rescue team arrived at the trailhead already and started unloading their gear.

Is the Spot 4 worth an upgrade?
The redesigned Spot 4 Satellite Device offers new features, such as enhanced mapping and a weather-proof, waterproof cover. It also uses 4 AAA rechargeable or 4 AA Lithum batteries instead (one more than the Spot 2 device) and comes in a black case with orange trim with a black strap on a stylish, locking carabiner, instead of the Spot 2’s bright orange design with black trim. (Other hikers have noted that the newer device is easy to leave behind though, or, even worse, backtracking to a previous location). The Velcro closure on the black strap also isn’t completely reliable in snowy conditions.

Interestingly, Alex immediately replaced the black strap with a red dog collar (pictured) for visibility. He also recommends attaching the Spot 4 securely to a backpack using the metal D-ring or fastening it inside the backpack on the key clip.

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The new Spot 4 Gen Satelitte Device (pictured). Alex recommends replacing the black strap with a bright-coloured collar to ensure you do not lose the communications and mapping device along your backcountry journeys. (Photo: A Wallace)

The Spot 4 is still inexpensive at $150, and it can be tracked down for less.

You can upgrade your subscription to include enhanced mapping features, such as getting notifications if you enter out-of-bounds areas.

The subscription costs are just under $200 annually, if you add the $25 GEOS Rescue Insurance option. Some people may find this cost appalling, but the costs have remained relatively steady for the last decade at $18/month and are significantly less in comparison to alternate gear or transportation costs.

It’s a minimal expense for saving your life, if you hike or ski in the backcountry on a fairly regular basis. If you are shopping for a GPS device, there are more expensive devices available that include two-way messaging, but the Spot 4 is a reliable, waterproof, inexpensive basic device, even if it’s
not perfect.

One comment on “GEAR REVIEW – A comparison review of Spot Gen 2 and 4 Satellite Devices

  • Jay , Direct link to comment

    I have a Spot Gen3 and like that my wife knows where I am when I go out in the backcountry. It gives her more peace knowing that I can tell her if I’m late or can call for help. One small correction: The new Gen 4 takes four AAA batteries: either rechargeable or Lithium. I use the Lithium batteries in my Spot since they last a long time.

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