I have a new toy! I’ve been thinking about getting a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) for a while and trying to justify the expense of buying and running one against the benefits of carrying such a device. I am a Type 1 Diabetic, I inject insulin several times a day and as a result there is a risk that I could experience a hypoglycaemic episode, basically this is where my blood sugar drops too low and when this happens and it remains undetected and untreated, it can lead to unconsciousness and hypoglycaemic coma. I’ve always managed my blood sugars well and feel confident that the risk to myself is minimal however that’s not to say that it will always be that way and doesn’t stop other people worrying about my safety and welfare while I am out on the Moor alone. Levels can be affected by exercise, heat, food consumed etc. and so walking on Dartmoor exposes me to a certain level of risk, especially if I am alone and on a remote part of Dartmoor. Carrying a PLB would be one way I could mitigate the risk and would also help reduce others worrying.

There are many types of GPS Tracker / PLB out there which all make claims around being able to track you in real-time, all over the world however in reality most of them are nothing more than a simple device with a SIM card which communicates with the same cell networks that your mobile phone does. This is all well and good when you are in a strong signal area however there are expanses of Dartmoor which don’t enjoy cell coverage and so these devices are unreliable. There is another type from goTele which uses a receiver unit which as to be within a few miles of your position and uses low frequency radio to communicate and relay it’s positional information. Perfect if you have a ‘support team’ out there with you but not much use for a lone walker. What is needed for reliable full coverage is the ability for full-duplex communication with satellites. The marine community have had PLBs for a while and they have been standard issue for Special Forces units for several years now however as you’d imagine, being able to communicate with satellites is expensive and so for the most part, PLBs have been out of reach for most people until fairly recently.

I first came across the Spot GEN3 about twelve months ago when I first started considering purchasing one. As with all this type of PLB, once you have purchased the unit you need to take out a subscription which allows you to ‘access’ the Iridium Satellite Network. Subscription prices vary between devices however the Spot uses the Globalstar network which only provides limited coverage and therefore you pay less. I was happy with the limited coverage as it certainly covered anywhere that I was planning on visiting however when I started to read customer reviews of the device I changed my mind fairly quickly. There were plenty of accounts where messages hadn’t been sent or received and even where SOS calls hadn’t been sent despite the user thinking that they had sent. The Spot GEN3 doesn’t allow for any sort of message reception, it’s a one-way communication, so once you’ve transmitted there is no way you can know that your message was received until that helicopter appears, or doesn’t. I thought that paying for something which may, or may not work when life was potentially at stake wasn’t going to fly so I started hunting around for an alternative.

After a lot of reading and research, all roads appeared to lead to Garmin. I am a huge fan of Garmin products and already own a cycle computer, activity band, fitness watch and my pride and joy, a GPSMAN 64 GPS unit which I use for my adventures on Dartmoor. Garmin offered several units however it was the InReach Mini that caught my eye; a compact and neat little device that could be clipped onto my rucksack and would just sit there doing what it needed to do with little to no interaction from me… unless I needed to press that SOS button. The InReach Mini allows me to send and receive messages, allows me to broadcast my position to anyone I choose from my address book, call for a location specific weather forecast, plot my route in real-time on my website and log my walk in minute intervals. Most importantly it has a dedicated gated SOS button which sent my position and SOS message to a GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Centre. If they received that message their job is to contact, liaise, direct & coordinate ‘local’ emergency services such as search & rescue, mountain rescue, coastguard etc. and would stay involved and in contact with me until I was found and recovered. Nice to have that peace of mind at the press of a button?

Garmin charge more than SPOT do for their device and subscription however the service is totally reliable and every report I’ve read says that there is no competition. The service works anywhere in the world, even in the middle of the Southern Ocean… so Dartmoor shouldn’t be a problem!