The best GPS communicator to buy for your next adventure

Rule number one for off-net adventures is "Come back alive." That's a very good rule, but there are also other important ones, such as "Do not make your friends and family worry about you," Do not miss "and other well-roasted chestnuts, Fortunately, there is a family of devices to help you meet all those rules.

Unlike the phone you use every day, GPS communicators do not require a cellular signal to work, instead they connect to the satellite network of the Global Positioning System (GPS) of the world. Not only can they be used to track your position, but they can also be used to send and receive small pieces of data.We are talking about 140 characters, as in the first days of SMS messaging.It may not seem like much, but it is enough to tell your loved ones where you are (or are late), receive medical advice and even download an updated weather report, some even allow you to update social networks. Ales to keep your fans up to date with your adventures in near real time if you choose. You can also call the search and rescue service virtually anywhere if the world if things really go wrong.

For this piece, I tested the five most promising GPS communicators from Garmin, Spot, Bivy and Somewear. I'm not going to sweeten it: none of these devices is perfect. That said, some easily eclipse others.


the best gps communicator to buy for your next adventure

Honestly, I was not even close. The inReach Explorer Plus is far above the best option. Let's start with the big screen in full color, easy to read. It takes full advantage of the pre-loaded topographic maps of Delorme. While all the other communicators we tested require using the screen of a paired smartphone to see where it is on a map, Explorer Plus is easily the most complete standalone unit. It's easy to add intermediate points, go back to where you started and expand the details.

The on-screen menu is highly intuitive, and that is a potentially critical feature. If you are in a survival situation, you will not (or may) be able to recall a series of disconcerting commands or extract an instruction manual. You may not even be able to take out your phone. Everything is highly visual and, again, everything you need is right on the device. Just press the Weather icon for a super detailed weather forecast. Are you not sure where you're going? There is a digital compass. Do you want to follow a route that you programmed before leaving or updating your Facebook or Twitter? Everything can be done from the device itself, a phone is not required.

That said, it is paired with your phone, which makes texting experience much better. On the device, you have to use the four-way D-pad to select one letter at a time (or choose predefined answers), which is slow and laborious. It's not horrible, but it's much easier to compose the text on your phone and then let the Explorer Plus shoot it into the skies. The application also includes a lot of details about its activities, which show things like distance, maximum speed and average movement speed.

However, as mentioned above, it is not perfect. The inReach Explorer Plus is large and bulbous, has a size of 6.5 x 2.7 x 1.5 inches and weighs about half a pound, so the ultralight hikers who really count every ounce will probably think twice. The screen scratches more easily than I would like, too. The biggest pain is loading routes and waypoints. It would be great if you could simply download a .GPX file from an excursion site and send it to the device through the application on your phone. Unfortunately, the way you do it is extremely intuitive. (I could tell you how to do it, but it would make this section several paragraphs longer than necessary.) You need to read three supporting documents to decipher it.)

Leaving aside defects, the device is reliable. Accurate and intuitive to use. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive of the units we tested. The device itself costs almost as much as many smartphones, and that does not include the service plan. If you are going to make many trips throughout the year, you can get an annual contract plan starting at $ 12 / month for 10 text messages per month, and prices will go up for more information. If you are only going to travel here and there or in certain seasons, then you can go with a Freedom Plan, which is from month to month, from $ 15 and up to $ 100. The plan prices are on par with competitors, and Although the device is more expensive, we believe that the independent capabilities, the incorporated TOPO maps and the intuitive capacity make it worthwhile.

8

Verge Score [19659012] While the inReach Explorer Plus includes almost everything you could want, it's quite large. For people like trail runners, ultralight hikers, snowboarders and others who generally want to reduce volume and weight, the inReach Mini is a very good option. It is the small brother of our main selection, and comes with 4 x 2 x 1 inches and only 3.5 ounces, but retains many of the same functions. It still has two-way messages, although writing it is even more painful than in the Explorer Plus, so you can choose a pre-set message when you can. That said, you can link it to a phone, and text messages have become easy again.

There is a dedicated SOS button, tracking and weather. right on the device. It does not have a color screen or maps on board, but when you pair it with your phone, you have all that there. It can also be paired with some of the Garmin watches like the Fenix ​​5S Plus, which even the Explorer can not. You only have half the battery life, if you're lucky, so it's probably better for shorter adventures, but it's so small you can keep it in your pants pocket, just in case. The device is approximately one hundred dollars less than the Explorer Plus, and has all the same options for service plans. The Explorer Plus is easily the best overall device, but if size and weight are scarce, the inReach Mini is your best choice.

7

Verge Score

1555079075 29 the best gps communicator to buy for your next adventure

The rest of the package options were not enough As robust as Garmin's, although some came closer than others. The Bivystick is distinguished by having a well-designed application that already knows thousands of routes (for hiking, cycling, canoeing, skiing, etc.), although you'll have to charge them while you're still in mobile service. It also acts as a USB backup battery, which is good because you can not really do anything without a paired phone. Unfortunately, it's on the bulky side, and it does not have a dedicated SOS button like the others.

Somewear has a fresh teardrop design and a very clean application, but unfortunately, it is not as fully presented as the others. Currently there is no way to load a route or waypoints; you can only track where you have been. If you want to share your location or have people track you, you need to sign up for a Somewear account, which is quite annoying. Even simple texts are filled with pleas for them to register in an account. I had high hopes for Spot X, which has a BlackBerry-style keyboard, but unfortunately, the keys are flat and rigid, and will not be paired with a phone, so you can not use it to map. Its user interface is extremely unintuitive, which is the last thing you want to be fighting in the forest. It is also a shame, since the device and the service are the cheapest.

6.5

Verge Score

1555079075 32 the best gps communicator to buy for your next adventure

Good Stuff

  • The application has thousands of routes to choose from
  • Can be used as a USB backup battery
  • Allows you to communicate with search and rescue after I have called SOS

Bad stuff

  • No dedicated SOS button
  • Big and bulky
  • Can not do much without a paired phone

5.5

Verge Score

1555079075 287 the best gps communicator to buy for your next adventure

Good stuff

  • The fresh design of the tear
  • The application is very well polished
  • Slightly cheaper service plans

Bad things

  • Can not load waypoints or routes
  • Friends / family can not see your location without creating an account [19659023] You need a phone to pair for everything except SOS

4.5

Verge Score

1555079075 950 the best gps communicator to buy for your next adventure

Good Stuff

  • Less expensive devices and service plans
  • You can do everything from own d
  • QWERTY keyboard and a built-in digital compass

Bad Stuff

  • Extremely unintuitive user interface [19659023] The keyboard is very flat and rigid
  • Can not be paired with a phone, so it does not there are maps

Photograph by Brent Rose for The Verge

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