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Backpacker Magazine – Editors' Choice 2011

Editors' Choice 2011: DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator

Here's a high-tech trifecta: Navigate the backcountry and call for emergency help and stay connected with those at home.

by: The Backpacker Editors

DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w/Spot Satellite Communicator (Steve Howe)
DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w/Spot Satellite Communicator (Steve Howe)

Wouldn’t it be great if you could send messages to friends and family (and yes, rescue personnel) from anywhere in the backcountry, at any time, with customized texts and precise location information? Now you can. By crossing a handheld GPS with a satellite transceiver, these two companies have created a revolutionary tool that integrates navigation and communication.

The all-new category could use a catchy name (GPS Messenger?), but here’s how it works. The PN-60w and its companion SPOT Communicator connect wirelessly to send geolocated text messages of up to 40 characters (up to 500 texts for $50 a year). It allowed our editors to map adventures in Capitol Reef, North Cascades, Denali, and Abu Dhabi and simultaneously beam real-time locations and status updates to the folks back home, who followed our real-time progress on Google Maps and received our notes via email and SMS. (See Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Dorn’s string of posts at backpacker.com/abudhabi.) It’s easy, too.

Before each trip, enter up to 10 contact groups in your online SPOT account, connect the GPS to your computer, and export the info. On the trail, use the GPS keypad to type and send customized (or prewritten) messages, post updates to your Facebook and Twitter pages, or notify 911 responders. And the GPS? The PN-60w is a top-shelf unit with high-resolution tracking, terrain and street maps of North America, 3.5GB of internal memory, a three-axis electronic compass, and a lightning-fast, dual-core processor.

In the event that the GPS unit is damaged or out of batteries, a covered button on the SPOT can still transmit SOS messages. $450 for the devices, plus $100/year for the required service plan; texts ($50/year for 500) and the Track Progress feature (real-time routes on Google Maps, $50/year) cost extra; 10.7 oz. (with batteries); delorme.com and findmespot.com

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READERS COMMENTS

Jimbo
Oct 05, 2011

Just bought a sat pjoce because the spot is crazynexpensive. Phone is 400 dollars now weighs, 8 oz with battery and. Cost 1 dollar a minute used. Much more useful...for me.

Doug
Aug 10, 2011

I was at the Delorme store in Maine this afternoon with this unit in my hand, at the register, about to purchase, when it occurred to me to check the specs related to the computer interface. It's Windows only. The store confirmed it. Windows only. I walked out empty handed but not before mentioning to the manager that they are missing a huge market by ignoring the MAC user. Bummer.

Anonymous
May 04, 2011

OK, this is uber-tech-cool, but how does this compare in price to a satelite phone service contract? (I admit it's probably a bargain in comparison to hiking with the dread of knowing my wife and in-laws are waiting for me to be an hour late before calling the police and forest rangers. Honest, they've done it twice and I wasn't even late yet - just out of cell range. And no it's not funny).

Aaron
May 03, 2011

I really want to like this and the price tag seems reasonable. However, $100 for an annual subscription is still a bit steep in my opinion.

Michael Silverberg
May 03, 2011

I cannot comment on the SPOT addition but i did buy a PN60 and had to return it. I am going to walk the Coast to Coast path across England this year and I thought the PN60 would be an ideal replacement for my old GPS unit. However, although it can use the Ordnance Survey Datum it cannot show coordinates in the British Grid system and EVERY map of Britain uses those coordinates. So just be aware that for any walking in the British Isles, the PN60 is useless.

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