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Review: Take a look at the latest SPOT Gen3 wilderness personal locator beacon

Always take navigation gear to stay found and help keep a survival situation from developing.
Review: Take a look at the latest SPOT Gen3 wilderness personal locator beacon

Can any electronic device guarantee your safety in the wilderness? Absolutely not!!! But this SPOT Gen3 might be a big help, and it could be a lifesaver.

by Leon Pantenburg

Disclaimer: SPOT provided survivalcommonsense.com with a loaner SPOT Gen 3 device and a three- month plan to test the device. It will be returned to SPOT after the trial plan expires. I was not paid to do this review. At the time of publication, SPOT has no sponsorship relationship with survivalcommonsense.com.

I live in Central Oregon because of the wilderness and outdoor adventure opportunities. I’ll go hiking, fishing or hunting at the drop of a hat, and go alone if there’s nobody to go along.

SPOt with map and compass

Any electronic device is as reliable as its batteries. Always take navigation gear along and don’t get a false sense of security from taking along a SPOT.

But since I had open heart surgery in December of  2012, my wife gets edgy when I head out on a solo trip.

She has good reason – in the 17 years we’ve lived here, several people have died in the Central Oregon backcountry. One is still missing after being lost almost 10 years ago. Deschutes County has one of the most active Search and Rescue teams in the country.

Still, even though I follow the safe wilderness travel protocol, it’s natural to be concerned if a loved one is out of cell phone range in an isolated area.

So I was open to the idea of checking out a wilderness locator beacon. Even 15 miles from my home, there are dead areas where cell phones don’t have coverage.

What is a SPOT?

The SPOT Gen3 is a locator beacon.  The basic idea is pretty straight forward: to help someone stay out of trouble in the backcountry by providing a method for them get help.

The concept is simple – push a button and emergency responders will come to your rescue, even if you don’t have cell phone service, almost anywhere in the world.

(Navigation expert Blake Miller did one of the first field tests on the SPOT. Check out his review.)


The SPOT is lightweight and compact, and easy to take along on any outing.

If you’re new to the SPOT, it’s a consumer-oriented,  personal locator beacon. The SPOT operates on a private satellite network, called GEOS, instead of the public, international one used by other similar devices.

 The benefit of running the SPOT service over a private satellite network instead of a public one, according to the  SPOT people, is that you can customize messages that are sent, and that includes the ability to send non-emergency or tracking messages to friends or family.

The receiver is relatively cheap – right now, you can get one for under $100. But SPOT makes its money on memberships. You can only get one for a year commitment, and that starts at $99. You must renew your membership annually, even if you’ll only use the SPOT on summer vacation.

When you do the math, you may decided a SPOT is too expensive for the little time it will realistically be used.

 Here’s what is new in the Gen3.

  •  The new Gen 3 buttons are made out of hard plastic and provide the appropriate tactile feedback that you’d expect from triggering a mechanical device. There’s a separate on-off switch now.
  • The new device also provides visual feedback (flashing lights) when it’s turned on and off, when you enable and disable tracking or when you send one of your two pre-canned message. The old SPOT II did this poorly so you never really knew if it was doing what you wanted.
  • In addition, the SPOT Gen 3 is also waterproof and has a USB port which you can use to add capabilities to it, upgrade the device’s firmware to fix bugs and future proof your investment, and which brings it into the world of “smarter” devices.
  • Unfortunately SPOT hasn’t upgraded the usability of their FINDMESPOT.com web site which you still need to use to activate service plans, customize your pre-programmed messages, and create shared route pages. The web site works OK, but I didn’t find it very intuiative. But  once everything is set up, you can avoid returning to it almost indefinitely.

Should you buy a SPOT Gen3?

  • If you’re going to rely on a SPOT as your 911 in the wilderness – no. The unfounded sense of security could lead to trouble. You may wander off into areas you shouldn’t go, with the false confidence that you could be easily rescued.
  • Any electronic device is as reliable as the batteries in it. If the batteries go dead, the SPOT won’t work.
  • A SPOT is not a substitute for navigation gear in the wilderness. You still need as a minimum a map and compass, and the knowledge to use it.
  • If you are only going to be on established, popular trails, you might not need a SPOT. If you hurt yourself, chances are someone will be coming along who can help you.

So what good is a SPOT?

When I’m off the beaten trail hunting or fishing, the area can be quite isolated, and there may not be any people through there for quite a while. The fall hunting seasons don’t have the large numbers of people that are out in the summer, and your chances of a rescuer stumbling across you could be pretty slim. In this case, you need a SPOT.

You can use the SPOT in a city. Give the SPOT to someone if you decide to go your separate ways and re-connect later in the day.

The area of emergency preparedness may be where the SPOT is most valuable. In the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado, cell towers may be gone, meaning no phone coverage. With your pre-programmed SPOT you can still message loved ones.

A SPOT is like a life insurance policy, spare tire, life jacket, extra compass or first aid kit. Most of the time you don’t need one. But when you do, you need it very badly.

So here is what sells the SPOT: Peace-of-mind. And that is priceless.

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View Comments (2)


  1. Leon

    07/23/2015 at 18:21

    I like the concept. I sent the SPOT out with my daughter today when she went on a hike with a couple of her friends. Can’t be too safe in the backcountry.

  2. Pete M

    07/23/2015 at 12:02

    Got one and use it all the time. For SAR it’s a great way to track search teams and makes command and control a lot easier. Checking in with the okay button saves radio traffic and keeps the net clear for real news. In the boonies my wife can see where I am and I can check in with her that I’m okay. I have the insurance so if I get hurt I can get medevaced for free. We use them for work as well for long road trips. We track progress and can give road, weather, and news alerts for routes/areas we’re in.

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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