As GPS technology advances and prices creep down, satellite communicators are slowly becoming a standard piece of backcountry safety equipment. While there are plenty of options available on the market, it's best to stick with brands that have a reliable network and proven track record. In Canada, it comes down to Spot vs inReach.
For the sake of this comparison, we'll be talking about the flagship models from the respective companies. That's the Spot Gen3 and inReach SE (the InReach Explorer is technically the latest model but is out of the comparative price range). So now for the pros and cons of each. SPOT vs inReach, let the games begin.
Pricing it Out
One of the biggest considerations for people purchasing a satellite communicator is price. SPOT Gen3 clearly has the edge here with a MSRP of $169 CAD, compared to $395 CAD for the inReach SE. That's less than half of its competitor, leaving the inReach in the dust in terms of bare bones value.
Price: Edge to SPOT Gen3
Simple, light, affordable and effective. The SPOT Gen3.
The price difference is pretty obvious once you look at the feature of two-way communication. InReach has had this feature since its first model, a benefit of utilizing the Iridium global satellite network. SPOT's satellite network and device technology only allows for one-way communication ie. outbound messages from the user. The benefits of two-way communication cannot be overstated. Receiving weather updates or instructions from Search and Rescue authorities when in the field can save a lot of time for both parties. Plus, getting messages back from your loved ones can be a moral boost when on long expeditions.
The inReach SE can also pair with the proprietary Earthmate App on a Android or iOS device to track progress on a digital topographic map. The app can also type and send a custom message while in the field. (The SPOT Connect device can also do this, but relies on a smartphone's short-lived battery to function, which is why it's not included in this comparison)
Other than that, both units can track progress, send generic or pre-customized messages and call in the cavalry with the SOS button.
Features: Edge to inReach SE
Texting on a smartphone paired with the inReach SE. This feature saves lots of time and allows customized messages from the field.
In line with its exemplary utility, the inReach SE allows you to send messages to any contact in your phone (when paired). At the opposite edge of the spectrum, the Gen3 requires the user to enter a maximum of 10 contacts in their online account. While this is relatively easy in North America, some international users have complained about the effort needed set up SPOT contacts in foreign countries.
The SPOT Gen3 has five buttons (Help, Message, Track, OK and SOS) whereas the inReach SE has an LCD with over a dozen navigable functions. It's pretty clear which device is easier to use, especially if you factor in the bluetooth pairing capability of the inReach.
User Interface: Edge to inReach SE
When travelling in remote locations such as Tajikistan's Fedchenko Glacier, a satellite communicator is crucial.
Like any network communication device, you need to pay a subscription to maintain the satellite connection. SPOT opts for the more basic package here for $149 USD/year (annual plan required) with various add-ons such as enhanced tracking or roadside assistance. The inReach package is more expensive starting at $34.95 CDN/month for a set number of tracks and messages. However, you can also suspend your inReach plan and only pay $4/month to avoid cancellation/re-connecting fees. This is a boon for those who only embark on expeditions on certain months of the year.
Service plans: Tie
The inReach SE requires a charger when on long expeditions
SPOT Gen3 goes the traditional route of 3x AAA batteries, typically Lithium to for longer life. The inReach SE has a rechargeable internal battery, which can be connected to a charging device with an Android USB cable. The batteries of either device will deplete at the rate the device is sending or receiving signals, but without the LCD the Gen3 can confidently last a winter season on one set of Lithium batteries without the need for a charging device.
Battery Life: Edge to SPOT Gen3
SPOT vs inReach - Choose Wisely
When purchasing a satellite communicator, it all comes down to function, budget and personal preference. If you already own a GPS device, then the SPOT Gen3 can act as a veritable check-in and emergency communicator at an affordable purchase and subscription. But if you are embarking on multi-week expeditions and want a relatively cheap alternative to a satellite phone, the inReach SE is well worth the investment.