Reliable Communication Without Cell Service…
Related: Reduce Snowmobiling Risks
Why should we use SPOT X for snowmobiling? In today’s world, we’ve become accustomed to (and reliant on) instant communication with family, friends, businesses and emergency services. Most often, we communicate by cellular phone or text message. However, this only works in range of a cell tower. Or in an area with a WIFI internet connection.
But as snowmobilers know, while riding on groomed trails or in the backcountry, cell service is quite often intermittent or non-existent. This is especially true in more northern parts of the country, and even in some rural areas far from towns or highways.
Stay In Touch With SPOT X for Snowmobiling
Fortunately, SPOT X provides 2-way satellite text messaging via the Globalstar satellite network, even when you are in the middle of nowhere. The SPOT X is a rugged, weatherproof, compact unit that takes very little space in your sled’s glovebox or LinQ tunnel bag. It’s -20˚C rated battery life is incredible, lasting days or even weeks, depending on actual usage. Its utilitarian design is well-suited to the rigours of outdoor adventure use. And that includes SPOT X for snowmobiling!
We logged over 10,000 km last winter with a SPOT X on Ontario and Quebec trails, many in remote areas. Al Fletcher was the primary test rider for this product review and here’s what we found…
Send & Receive Text Messages
SPOT X can send and receive text messages to/from any cell phone. And since it has its own cell number, others can send you a message. So, you can rest assured that you can message for help even when there is no cell service.
For example, what if you’re out exploring on or off trails and find yourself with an unexpected emergency? One afternoon last winter we had to tow a machine home with a broken suspension. But there was no way we could make it to a dealer before closing time. With SPOT X, we were able to contact a friend and have them pick up the parts for us. This saved our weekend riding!
Get Emergency Help
What about in the case of a serious accident or health emergency? SPOT X can contact Emergency Services. Using the SOS button, you can contact search and rescue agencies directly (where services are available). In addition, you can reach out to your own emergency contacts. GPS coordinates are automatically sent with your message, allowing emergency crews to be able to find you.
Track Your Route
Another cool feature of SPOT X for snowmobiling is to enable tracking available with the SPOT Mapping Service. Every few minutes your GPS coordinates are sent from your SPOT X and saved. This allows you to view your current position live. You can also review your day or entire trip route on your phone or computer whenever you wish. You can even share the map with your spouse, kids or friends. This way, they can follow you online while you ride from town to town on your saddlebag tour.
In the event of an emergency, this information could also be helpful for EMS personnel. With it, they can follow the same trails or another route to where you are located. Of course, how frequently you want SPOT X to track and communicate your location coordinates can affect the duration of your battery charge.
SPOT X for Snowmobiling Connects To Your Smart Phone
What’s more, you can connect SPOT X to your cell phone via Bluetooth and use your phone’s familiar and larger colour touchscreen interface. You also have the option saving contacts right on the unit. Or when connected via Bluetooth, you can access your phone’s entire address book. This is very handy in the event you need to contact someone you hadn’t thought to preload on your SPOT X.
Custom Messaging & Check Ins
Just like cell phones, SPOT X has various monthly subscription plans. They are priced based on the number of custom messages you plan to send. And how frequently you want to track your location or movements. Their Flex plans allow you to only activate service for a month at a time or just the winter months. Perfect for snowmobilers!
But even the least expensive plan allows unlimited check-ins. With a single button press, these check-ins send your location via text or email to your list of designated contacts. Also, you are able to send an unlimited number of pre-defined messages. You can create and save up to 14 of these that you can select without retyping or affecting your plan’s message limits.
If you are on a snowmobile trip, you might have pre-defined messages such as “Heading out for our day’s ride”. Or “Arrived at the hotel for the night”, “Was a beautiful but cold day”, “Very scenic ride – wish you were here”. You can also type a custom message or have an in-depth text conversation, but the number of these messages count towards your plan’s limits.
Social Media Updates
For those active on social media, SPOT X can send your day’s updates via Twitter or Facebook when you are out of cell range. However, the Facebook account must be a business account due to privacy limitations. My preference is not to update social media until I’m back at the hotel using their WIFI and enjoying a cool beverage after the day’s ride. But if you’re someone who likes to make updates throughout the day, go for it!
Compass & Waypoints
SPOT X also has a built-in compass and allows you to set waypoints. These are great features for finding your way if you get totally turned around the while backcountry riding. But for snowmobilers navigating OFSC trails, the Go Snowmobiling Ontario App is a better alternative, as it shows the trails and also your current GPS identified location.
Using SPOT X for Snowmobiling
Like any other satellite device, SPOT X has a few traits worth knowing about. When first powering up the unit, it may take up to 15 minutes to acquire the satellites and be ready to send or receive messages. So I suggest powering it up while your sleds are warming up in the morning. With the long battery life, I could leave it on all day while riding. Meanwhile, orienting SPOT X so that the antenna is facing upwards toward the sky will improve performance. Keep your SPOT X at least 12 inches away from other GPS devices.
Also, SPOT X needs a clear view of the sky to acquire satellites. So there is a chance that it may not connect in a very dense forest or down in a deep valley. Or indoors while stopping for lunch. So you’ll have to move to a better location. And what if you end up at a remote hotel for the night where there is no cell service or WIFI available? You’ll most likely have to stand in a freezing parking lot to send your messages, so keep it short!
You can also use SPOT X as a stand-alone communication device. The unit is functional for this purpose, but its utilitarian design lacks the latest ergonomics that we have become used to with cell phones. But then, it’s not intended to be a smart phone. The LCD screen is black & white only and sometimes difficult to see in varying light conditions. But you can press the Power/Backlight Button to turn on/off keyboard and screen illumination for easier use.
It’s also not a touchscreen. Being an avid smart phone user, I found myself constantly trying to press the icons on the SPOT X screen as if it was. Strange, that never worked!
My Last Word on SPOT X for Snowmobiling
One of the biggest benefit of SPOT X is intangible. SPOT X provided us with consistent peace of mind while snowmobiling. Just knowing that in case of emergency or breakdown we would be able to message for help was huge. Plus, in a worst case scenario, SPOT X could actually save someone’s life.
Meanwhile, having family able to follow our route and knowing they were only a text message away even in remote areas, was a big boon for them. Reassuring loved ones also allowed us to enjoy our favourite winter pastime even more.
All in all, SPOT X is a worthwhile investment. In my opinion, every avid snowmobiler should seriously consider SPOT X as part of their regular riding equipment. And every riding group should carry at least one unit, just in case.
Thanks to Al Fletcher for the great feedback using SPOT X on the snow!
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The tips and advice in this blog are the opinions of the author, may not work in every situation and are intended only for the convenience and interest of the reader, who has the personal responsibility to confirm the validity, accuracy and relevancy of this information prior to putting it to their own use.