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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Backpacker Editors' Choice 2008

The year's best packs, boots, tents, jackets, and sleeping bags. Period. Plus, a never-die headlamp, a life-saving beacon, a back-saving ultralight chair, and more innovative, trail-tested gear.

by: The Backpacker Editors, Photos by Steve Howe

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Spot

SPOT Satellite Messenger
Now you can call in a rescue–or simply send the OK signal–from anywhere.

First, the problem: Wilderness adventurers have always faced a dilemma when choosing how to call in help. Cell phones are useless in remote locations without reception. Satellite phones are generally reliable, but heavy and expensive. Personal locator beacons (PLBs) are lightweight and reliable, but they can only send one message–an emergency rescue alert, even if you just have an ankle sprain.

Now, the solution: SPOT, an internet tracking beacon that weighs less than 8 ounces and uses GPS to determine your location, then transmits it along with your safety status (see below) to your pre-selected contacts via email or text message. The waterproof, floatable, soap bar-size SPOT has three key functions:

911: Push this button and GEOS Alliance, a global rescue coordination company, contacts local authorities (24 hours a day) and directs them to your location. The signal repeats itself every five minutes. You can also cancel any distress call. Optional rescue insurance is available (see below).

Help: If you're stranded but not in any immediate danger, push this button and up to four people you pre-selected will receive an email with a link to Google Maps showing your location. This is useful if, for example, you've just got a twisted ankle or are lost but not injured, in which which case friends or rangers can find and help you. If they choose to alert authorities, rescuers will know the situation is serious but not dire, and can respond appropriately.

OK: This feature gives your anxious spouse, mom, or envious friends the peace of mind that you're safe, prevents them from initiating premature search-and-rescue efforts should you merely be overdue, and also lets them follow your trip with a Google Map link showing your location. Your contacts can log in to your account and check your progress at any time; you don't need to do a thing.

During six weeks of sending test messages from canyons, timbered ravines, and alpine cirques, the SPOT reliably broadcast "OK" reports anywhere we had a decent view of the sky (such as a canyon with a 30-degree arc of view overhead). Check the SPOT website for coverage details. Like a GPS, it needs time to orient, and should be left on for at least 30 minutes–ideally, stationary and face up–when transmitting. In risky situations, simply leave it on. Two AA lithium batteries last long enough for 1,000 to 1,200 OK messages, or several weeks of continuous tracking. 7.3 oz; $159 plus the basic subscription of $99/year. Options: Tracking for $50/year; rescue insurance for $8/year (pays up to $100,000 in SAR fees). (866) 651-7768; findmespot.com.


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Reader Rating: Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Jennifer P
Oct 19, 2009

We bought and used the new SPOT messenger last week while crossing the Sierra Nevadas on an eight day backpacking trip and it is terrible! We sent ~20 messages to family and friends across 8 days to let them know we were okay in a dangeruous storm, and TWO went through. Family and friends were worried. The worst part is that we came close to using the SOS/911 button and I now don't think it would go through. My brother spoke with the search ane rescue folks at the park when he did not hear from us and they confirmed that the SPOT devices are unreliable and not safe. I'm sending mine back today and cancelling the subscription. REI shouldn't even carry a safety device that is this poor.

mt_mtnr
Aug 31, 2009

Not sure why people have issues with the SPOT, I'm on my 2nd year using mine and love it. I use mine in the Montana Rockies in varying weather, rough terrain, valleys, peaks, etc. The device just has the same limitations as a GPS. The OK and Help features work well, I've been able to send both reliably. The Tracking feature is the only one with variable success. Unlike Help/Ok/911 a tracking message only gets sent once, regardless of success, they may not get through. You will also have to keep the SPOT on the outside of the pack to get tracking to work well. This is all so tracking doesn't run the batter down. I recently used tracking on a week long trip and the batteries (lithium) are barely used.

Pack your brain and your SPOT and help out your local SAR when they need to find you.

Laura
Jul 30, 2009

Doug Ward: Do you have the "SPOT" I will be traveling to COSTA RICA and was looking at getting this, if you have it does it work?

lcano@symvionics.com

thanks

Jasper
Feb 27, 2009

I always go to the Editor's Choice section FIRST!!! It has saved me countless hours at the local REI trying to figure out what's what. So Thank You Backpacker for being there and helping those of us who are not "self - proclaimed" gear experts. I have always found your advice to be right on track. Thanks Again

dilbert
Feb 24, 2009

The MSR debate is really frustrating. I tend to post about products that have failed in the field as compared to raving about expensive gear that worked as advertised. I hate to think MSR money created this award. I have to believe that the MSR award was based on that product working. However it is wrong of BP to use a single filter for the test given the history. At least ten filters need to be field tested - preferably 30. The thing has been strongly panned by folks that had issues. The issue significantly is that it stopped filtering almost immediately and could not be cleaned.

Steve Howe
Feb 10, 2009

Yo Ron, Just an fyi. The EC testing trip is only for the final elimination and discussion of EC candidate stuff. The whole process runs about 5 months, beginning when new products are rolled out at the Summer Outdoor Retailer show in August, and continuing until the very last deadlines (In the case of 09 EC, that was about two weeks ago).

So, that being said, yeah, I've been through Sonoran thornscrub (not a fan of the thorns, though the Sonoran is definitely cool), and your offer sounds intriguing...I'll follow up.

ronwthompson@frontiernet.net
Feb 05, 2009

Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park and Sangre de Cristo Range in November, what kind of testing grounds are these for equipment? You might as well test equipment in the parking lot of Wal Mart. Steve Howe has obviously not been to the thornscrub in the Sierra Madre of Sonora. We are leaving March 16th to look for jaguars, if you are interested Steve. Leave behind your equipment endorsements, all of them, as we will pay your way.

Bill from Florida
Feb 03, 2009

I have a SPOT and it seems to work great. Even on the dash of the car it will track and works without a problem. I do agree the blinking light user interface is a bit lacking, but it does work as I expected-- especially when there was no cell service.

Andrew
Jan 12, 2009

I purchased the Baltoro 70 because of the recommendation from BP and it is by far the best pack I have ever owned. I actually returned an Atmos 65 because it was uncomfortable and bought the Baltoro 70. I just got back from a trip that I carried around 35 lbs over about 8 miles and it seriously felt like I wasn't carrying anything at all. Great recommendation Backpacker!!

Robert Perkins
Jan 07, 2009

I'm not sure what standards you use for editors choice awards, but I can't believe the MSR Hyperflow would make it. I used this on part of the Sierra High Route in clean, silt free water and it was totally USELESS after a few liters of water. I followed their instructions on back-flushing to no avail, I was fortunate that I was in the high Sierras and I didn't really need to filter my water anyways. Fortunately I bought this at REI and they took this piece of c*** back. Don't waste your money!!!

John Barton
Jan 05, 2009

Methinks Mr. Reason needs to have his lithium dose adjusted.

The Voice of Reason
Jan 01, 2009

If there is one thing I can count on Backpacker for it is their complete disregard for product testing. SPOT is a a piece of JUNK (!!!)...except....if you're standing in an open meadow with nothing overhead. Oh yeah, make sure you hold it horizontally and not on your belt vertically as the antenna is meant to work horizontally. Since Backpacker can't seem to do a valid test, read any number of online tests which claim this technology is simply not worth the $150 for the unit, $150 for the service, the weight, and the what, 50% chance (at best) that it will work for you. I don't even want to mention the poor functionality, the lack of clear functions (blink little light, blink!), etc.

One other thing about Backpacker, GOOD GOD GUYS, figure out what light and ultralight actually means and break your habit of reporting about nothing other than the mainstream vendors (The North Face, Mountain Headwear, Kelty, etc.) as there are plenty of great cottage industry manufacturers out there who make better and lighter stuff (i.e. Backpackinglight.com, gossamergear.com, titaniumgoat.com, ula-equipment.com, mountainlaureldesigns.com, owareusa.com, etc.). SHEESH!

Steve H.
Dec 22, 2008

Hey Hector, I've been thinking about visiting El Junque for years (Trailside did a show there way back when). I'll propose it for upcoming editorial. Thanks for the reminder. And Feliz Navidad hombre!

Hector J. Gonzalez
Dec 21, 2008

When are you guys going to include el Yunque National Park. The rainforest @ Puerto Rico in your articles. Some countries go through endless summers and this place is one of them. Right now is 79 degrees F. Thanks a lot for your support.

Jason
Dec 18, 2008

For the -50 sleeping bag I agree, go for a Wiggys bag, made in the USA and guaranteed for LIFE. Plus their -50 bag is really two bags; a summer 40+ overbag that fits over the winter bag of your choice. I like mine a lot, but it's only a 0 degree.

Steve
Dec 11, 2008

People, people, people. Some of us have taken a negative turn or are at least a bit spoiled. I, for one, have grown to appreciate the Editor's Picks. There is a ton of gear out there, some good, some poor and some great and BP helps weed through it. Back in the dinosaur ages when I started backpacking in scouts (I'm 44), a waterbottle was a metal canteen or bota bag. High tech was when my younger brother spent an entire weeks worth of lawn mowing to buy a plastic waterbottle. It left a bad aftertaste, but was the cutting edge. Things have come a long way in a short while. In the space of a few years, the quality ON ALL FRONTS is much better. The rising tide floats all boats. Backpacker has helped encourage the improvements in quality. Of course, if a product does well their marketing department will sell the manufacturer add space. How else could a magazine stay in business. Now, I appreciate that they have people of different shapes, sizes and geography test the products. But the real test -- as far as I am concerned -- is when I use ANY product in the field or even at home. If I go back to it time and time again, it is a winner. I bet the editors of BP expect you to understand that these are their recommendations, not commandments. Oh by the way, you can now find a better waterbottle in EVERY convenience store and pop machine for the price of the soft drink, vitamin water or gatorade and they don't leak. Also, I'm not a novice. I have proven Editor's picks for myself on my successful Rainier climb, Mt. Hood, Northern Michigan, Honduras and the ultimate test of fixing the plumbing with the aid of a great headlamp.

Nicole
Dec 06, 2008

To person who wants -50 degree sleeping bag. Look into Wiggy's. It doesn't pack down. But it will keep your ass warm. literally.

COLD...burr
Dec 01, 2008

Wanted...A 50-degrees below zero sleeping bag?! Any help...

WindChaser
Nov 29, 2008

Anyone know where I can get a new set of knees-free?

Monte
Nov 18, 2008

I have the SPOT and the EL-8 everlite and they both rock. Next on my list is the Baltoro 70.

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