Devices to Track Daily Paddler Progress in the Wilderness

Glenn MacGrady

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Some members here are already writing about long wilderness trips they are hoping to do this summer. It would be great if they would take along some sort of mapping/tracking device, so that we all could follow their daily progress via our computers.

Alan Gage did that on a lengthy Canadian trip a few years ago, and that was one of our most popular and guess-working threads ever. ("Why has he been stopped on that island for two days?" "Look at how much mileage today!") I've also followed trans-ocean rowers who were using some sort of public tracking device.

I know nothing about such tracking-via-maps devices. Could we have some discussion of what they are, how they work, and how much they cost?
 
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For real-time tracking I carry an inReach Mini. Since I use it year round I pay the monthly fee of $25 to Garmin. Though they have three levels of monthly plan ($10, $25 and $50) based on how many messages you want to be able to send/receive.

For everything else I use my phone as a camera, GPS and when I have signal, communications . AllTrails is my go-to app for tracking mileage and location and there is both a free and Pro (paid) option. For backpacking I carry a 30000mAh battery USB charger and plan on getting a solar setup for our long canoe trek this summer.

The Pro version of AllTrails allows you to create your own maps/routes with mileage, print the maps, etc. Even with the normal version you can download maps to the phone for use when there is no signal.
 
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I have a spot but not tracking. Looking at new options that include messaging.

I recall someone posting their tracking to another bulletin board. Didn't affect him. It was fascinating. You could follow him to the thunderbox at a campsite.

If I make a trip plan, and I intend to, I can look into turning on tracking and figuring a way to post. No idea if one map could have multiple people - far, far beyond my tech abilities.
 
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The Yukon River canoe race rules, especially the 1000 mile, required use of SPOT one-way tracking devices. The more advanced Inreach two way communicators were not available until fairly recently. SPOT was a good idea with its real-time GPS tranmision every 10 minutes for safety reasons during such a remote location race. Race officials (and anyone else with an internet connection and the individual racer's SPOT address code) could keep track of every boat in near-real time. Race offiicals had a website showing every raceer's location on a map. In addition, I wrote a rather extensisve MS Excel based program that my pit crew could load with my location coordinates and time. It would compare my actual location to pre-race predictions, then it would update my speed and progress based on previous SPOT inputs to accurately predict my future location arrival time at any next point on the river, especially the finish time.

SPOT early generations were limited to four one-way signal options. 1.) Automatically transmit GPS location data every 10 minutes. 2.) It had a manual button that transmitted the message "I'm ok" with GPS data. 3.) Another button could transmit to race offiicals and pit crew: "need help, but not a critical emergency at this time". This was to be undrstood by my pit crew with that transmission that we are safe, but for some reason unable to continue in racing mode. As long as you see we are continuing to move downriver, meet us at the next available access point on the river. 4.) Finally there is a button that transmsitted to rescue services: "SOS emergency, need immediate help sent to this location". Thankfully, in five such race trips, I never had to transmit any message to ask for help in any way.
 
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The Garmin InReach has tracking available as part of the service (regardless of which device or plan you choose). It's done through their mapshare feature and anyone with access to the link can see your location in real time and, yes, even zoom in to examine terrain features on their topo maps.

Additionally, the tracks are searchable by day and time ranges if you care to. Personally, I like the "daily progress" map as part of the trip report.
 
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I have a SPOT X now that has tracking, but I didn't use the tracking feature this past trip to Quebec as I wasn't sure about the battery. I just turned it on to send messages to my wife and kids.

The nice thing about the Spot X is I can turn off service fees till I'll need it again, which is good for me, who needs a signal device sitting next to the wood stove all winter. Come spring, I'll reactivate it and do a test with it, see how long the battery lasts for a 7-10 day period while tracking and sending messages.

If the battery holds up I'll join in and share my tracking for any trips this coming year. Nothing epic planned, but it might be interesting non the less and I'd like to support Glenn's ideas, he's been on a roll. (y)
 
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The lithium batteries I used in my SPOT devices, both Gen1 and Gen2, I know will last for several days, but since constant access was required by the rules during the Yukon River races, I changed batteries every day to be sure of required location transmission. If it failed, race rules called for a time penalty to be added to the finish time.
 
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SPOT X has a rechargeable battery, it can’t be changed as far as I know. I guess I should buy a battery power pack anyway, they are not all that expensive, just more stuff to carry.
 
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I haven't used the feature, but for an additional $6/month the Zoleo SOS/2 way satellite messenger device now offers location tracking. You set the interval and up to five of your contacts can view a map with your breadcrumb trail.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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You set the interval and up to five of your contacts can view a map with your breadcrumb trail.

What I had in mind were devices that allow anyone in the world to log into some sort of link to watch a daily bread crumb type of trail. It's still not clear to me that SPOT or inReach provide this capability.
 
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I'd feel like I'm on a leash if I carried such a device and it would take away from my wilderness experience. I don't take a watch either. For the precious little time I get to spend on trips I want to be free.
I can definitely see that side of it and sometimes feel the same way. I would have preferred to take no tracking device along but my mom was insistent.
I don't leave the tracking on but instead just send an "I'm ok" message when I reach camp for the day. In some ways I think the tracking device leads to more worry than not having it at all. If I ever forgot to send a message it created a lot of anxiety, as did sending messages from the same location for multiple days when wind bound or when I needed to back track there was anxiety trying to figure out why I was going backwards. Heaven forbid it should be lost or broken.
Overall it's really not a hassle for me personally except when I forget and have to get out of bed and do it at 11pm.

Alan
 
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Alan,

I can sympathize with the notion that a tracking device could lead to more anxiety. Even just an itinerary can lead to anxiety. When Kathleen and I paddled the Thelon River in 1993, our itinerary was 40 days (almost Biblical!) to reach Baker Lake. We left a copy with the float plane company, the RCMP, and Kathleen’s parents. We reached Baker Lake on the 37th day, and Kathleen called home. Her mother was so relieved, and said, “I was so worried. If you didn’t call on the 40th day, I don’t know what I would have done.”

By the way, Sweetfancymoses, Kathleen also does not like to wear a watch when tripping. Just one more way to separate from civilization. Every little bit helps.
 
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I'd feel like I'm on a leash if I carried such a device and it would take away from my wilderness experience. I don't take a watch either. For the precious little time I get to spend on trips I want to be free.
Me, too. All the electronics are weighing me down. But my spouse wants me to at least carry the Spot.

I find a watch necessary for seeing where I am on paper maps and my rate of travel. They sort of go together.

For the Liard, one outfitter would drive my rental car to the take out, which I though was great, not having to meet a shuttle.
 
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What I had in mind were devices that allow anyone in the world to log into some sort of link to watch a daily bread crumb type of trail. It's still not clear to me that SPOT or inReach provide this capability.
spot does (or did at least) do just that.
 
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What I had in mind were devices that allow anyone in the world to log into some sort of link to watch a daily bread crumb type of trail. It's still not clear to me that SPOT or inReach provide this capability.
As Bill mentioned, and I also indicated earler, anyone who you give your SPOT address link to can monitor your device's transmissions of geolocation whenever it is transmitting. For those at home, or having internet capability as a pit crew member, they could monitor near-real-time precision GPS locations of their team every 10 minutes. The Yukon race officials obviously have every racer's SPOT addresss, and during the race they run a free web page link with a map showing the location of every racer open for anyone in the greater world who cares to view it. I am told it was quite addictive to follow.
 
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My Garmin is paired to my iPhone, and I can share tracking with someone else logged into Garmin’s “connect” app. I think. But this is predicated on having cell service. And it’s invitation-specific so not open to everyone. Or maybe that’s just because I try to clamp down all that data.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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As Bill mentioned, and I aslo indicated earler, anyone who you give your SPOT address link to can monitor your device's transmissions of geolocation whenever it is transmitting. For those at home, or having internet capability as a pit crew member, they could mnoitor near-real-time precision GPS locations of their team every 10 minutes.

Okay, thanks. I misunderstood who could have access to the transmissions.

I've never taken any tracking or communication device on a trip other than a PLB, which is solely an "SOS" device. However, I don't quite understand why the "I need to feel detached from civilization" philosophy or psychology would be infringed if I just pressed a send button once a day for the psychological benefit of faraway others. If I'm never receiving any communication or information at all from the outside world—and I could even be watch-less and GPS-less—I don't think I would feel any encroachment on my wilderness experience.
 
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I've never taken any tracking or communication device on a trip other than a PLB, which is solely an "SOS" device. However, I don't quite understand why the "I need to feel detached from civilization" philosophy or psychology would be infringed if I just pressed a send button once a day for the psychological benefit of faraway others. If I'm never receiving any communication or information at all from the outside world—and I could even be watch-less and GPS-less—I don't think I would feel any encroachment on my wilderness experience.
The simple answer is different people have different tolerance levels for modern technology and some have strong feelings.

While I understand that, I don't understand why anyone bothers to respond to a post asking about the various options for satellite communicators/trackers by giving their reasons why they don't want to carry one. It reminds me of the joke about how to tell if someone is a vegan? Don't worry, they'll tell you.
 
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I'm glad this thread got started. Since my June trip will be solo, I was either going to rent a device, or buy one. I see the Spot costs about the same as the rental I was looking at. I've seen some reviews that complained about Spot; others, rave. It is interesting to me to see people here share their good experiences.

I just don't have the budget for the $400 devices
 
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