Personal Locator Beacon (GPS)

January 3, 20151

From logging your route to requesting roadside assistance or even calling in the cavalry (search and rescue) in an emergency – personal locator beacons can serve a valuable purpose when camping off the beaten path!

I’ve owned the Spot GPS Messenger device for several years. While acquired for backcountry hiking and camping, I now take it with the popup camper on trips venturing outside of cell service.

$150 purchases the hardware and then you’ll spend about the same each year for the service plan depending on the specific options chosen. This provides valuable peace of mind whenever traveling away from cell signal. It’s also nice to have the Spot handy for going on hikes away from the camper.

I pay a little extra for the “GEOS Member Rescue Benefit,” essentially an insurance policy against having to pay for a potentially costly rescue mission to come assist me. I also sign up for the tracking service, logging my GPS coordinates as traveled, helping re-create the steps to visiting that perfect boondocking spot again! And finally, I also subscribe to the roadside assistance service so that a simple push of a button sends the tow truck even if I don’t have cell service to call them!

Pairing all of these options together, I have 5 functions available to me on any trip, including:

  • Track Me – which allows a friend or family member to follow my traveling progress on a map overlay from their computer or mobile phone.
  • Check-In Ok – which I use to notify a friend or family member via text message and email that we have arrived at the specified GPS coordinates.
  • Custom – which I have configured as a “Check-Out Ok” to let a friend or family member know we are leaving from our previously checked-in location.
  • Roadside Assistance – to summons a tow truck anytime it is needed.
  • SOS – for those “send the cavalry, someone is hurt” situations.

There are of course other devices out there that perform similar functions, like the Garmin InReach Explorer+ and InReach Mini. Regardless of the device chosen, keep in mind that trees, canyons, and other natural objects can potentially block satellite communication.

Extra Credit

I recommend using Lithium batteries in the Spot GPS Messenger for increased performance. An 8-pack AAA battery pack will provide you with 3 in the spot and an extra 3 to carry as a backup.

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I've been camping regularly since I was a kid, from quick Cub/Boy Scout trips to week-long backpacking trips and everything else in-between. We got a popup camper when our kids were 1 and 3 years old to enjoy more time outdoors together alongside a few conveniences like heat and running water. Since then, we've spent over 75 nights together as a family in our popup camper. I've learned a lot about the intricacies of a popup tent camper during this time and love to share those lessons here for the benefit of others.